Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Mogae killed women’s movement by co-opting its leaders

In throwing its weight behind a campaign to adopt a proposed International Labour Organisation standard against gender-based violence at work, the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) has rapped former president, Festus Mogae, on the knuckles for weakening Botswana’s women movement.

“The gender activism movement scaled down when a number of women who were at the forefront of the movement were co-opted into the current system by being given plum jobs,” said BOFEPUSU’s deputy Secretary General, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa, a fortnight ago when explaining why the Federation was part of this campaign.

In elaborating on that statement on Friday, he named names of the women whom BOFEPUSU believes were so co-opted. The first is that of the Attorney General, Athaliah Molokomme, whom Mogae appointed High Court judge at a time that she was a women rights activist-cum-scholar at the University of Botswana. From the High Court, she joined the executive branch as Attorney General. The second name that Motshegwa mentioned is that of the Minister of Education and Skills Development, Unity Dow, who rose to prominence after she won a case that forced the government to extend citizenship to children fathered by foreign nationals. She later became the first woman to be appointed High Court judge. The third name is that Linah Mohohlo, the current and first woman to become Governor of the Bank of Botswana. Others fall in a category of the record number of women who were appointed permanent secretaries during Mogae’s administration. Mohohlo and others were not activists and Motshegwa only mentions them to make the point that they were promoted to pull wool over the nation’s eyes.

His contention is that these elevations didn’t represent any sort of victory for women but were a clever ploy to neuter the women’s movement, to quieten down voices that were agitating for the representation of women in positions of power with no substance behind that elevation. Motshegwa adds that while the women in question may have benefitted personally, the women’s movement didn’t.

“The system of patriarchy hasn’t changed and some of the women who were appointed permanent secretaries have since been removed from those positions. These women should never have been allocated positions, they should have been the ones allocating positions,” he says.

He also echoed a statement made in the last session of parliament by the Leader of the Opposition and Umbrella for Democratic Change president, Duma Boko, which in turn was endorsed by the Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development and Mahalapye East MP, Botlogile Tshireletso. Using unusually robust language to describe successful women as a group, Boko essentially said that the successful ones among them don’t carry along the less fortunate.

“Sometimes I just walk around and talk to people,” the UDC leader said. “I talked to some young, successful female CEO and I raised this issue with her. I said to her: ‘you women who break through are apparently very arrogant, very detached, and very aloof.’ And she said, ‘yes, that is true, in fact in my own life’ – that is her speaking – ‘in my own life as a woman professional rising through the ranks, I have met only one woman who was a model boss.’ She gave me her name actually and because it is something very laudatory, it is praise, I will say the name. She said a certain Mrs. Tiny Kgatlwane was the one who was this model boss.”

In agreeing with Boko’s point, the Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development and Mahalapye East MP, Botlogile Tshireletso, expressed the truism that the “truth hurts.” Citing her own experience and in reference to the role-model aspect, she pointed out that generally women don’t support each other.

“Honourable Moitoi was my role model during the time that I joined politics and became successful. I was faced with problems because of other women. It is indeed an undisputable truth especially when he talks about rural women – more so that I am from Mahalapye. It is a given that he cannot paint us with the same brush but it is the truth,” said Tshireletso, referring to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi. 

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