The Minister of International Affairs and Cooperation, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, has rapped the Selebi Phikwe West MP, Dithapelo Keorapetse, and private press journalists for fighting out of the wrong corner in the current Botswana-China standoff over the Dalai Lama.
Late last month, the Chinese Embassy sponsored a trip to China by a group of senior Botswana journalists. It turns out now that Keorapetse travelled with the journalists and Venson-Moitoi is smelling a rat. Last Tuesday, the MP asked a question about the controversial visit by the Dalai Lama to Botswana next month. After reading out an official written response, the minister had to field a supplementary question from the MP, whereupon she remarked that she was the one supposed to ask the latter questions.
“It is common knowledge that Honourable Keorapetse just returned from China,” said Venson-Moitoi, adding later that the MP’s questions were surprisingly similar to those earlier asked by the Chinese Ambassador to Botswana and China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. “I ask you Mr. Speaker: should I engage with China on the parliament floor or not?”
While she said she had no problem with Keorapetse travelling wherever he wished, Venson-Moitoi pointed out that it was suspicious that his trip to China coincided with that of a large group of local journalists. The latter, she added, were encouraged to criticise their country in their coverage of the Dalai Lama issue.
Of the MP, she added: “The source of my suspicion is that while I am still tackling an issue this monumental, an issue whose origins I fail to understand, Honourable Keorapetse comes back from China and asks me questions that are similar to those asked by the Chinese Ambassador. I have reason to wonder what his interest is. Is he asking these questions on behalf of his Selebi Phikwe constituents?”
Keorapetse took umbrage to the insinuation in the minister’s words and faulted the Deputy Speaker, Kagiso Molatlhegi, for not protecting him from what he deemed an unfair personal attack.
“I don’t know on what basis she raised the issue of my recent visit to China. The visit included government officials in the form of government journalists. She is imputing improper motives and I thought you would advise her,” he said.
Apparently, the Chinese Embassy has been doing a lot of lobbying behind the scenes. Venson-Moitoi said that Embassy officials lobbied individual ministers and traditional leaders – including Bangwato Regent, Kgosi Sediegeng Kgamane who is holding the fort for President Ian Khama.
Of the journalists who were taken to China, she expressed the largeness of the group with an active Setswana verb (gogoba) which conveys the visual impression of heavy floods washing away a large quantity of objects in their path.