Fresh from winning the New Xade council seat, Jumanda Gakelebone has lost a battle to wear Sarwa traditional dress to his swearing in at the Gantsi District Council last Friday morning.
A prominent Mosarwa activist, Gakelebone had intended to come decked out in an all-leather ensemble of loins’ shorts, sash and sandals as well as a pair of Steenbok horns and ostrich-egg beads. However, he says that at an orientation that took place two weeks ago, Council staff told new councillors about a strict dress code of tie, suit and formal shoes for men that they had to observe without fail. Still dissatisfied with such explanation, Gakelebone says he approached management and explained why it was important that he wear his traditional dress to his swearing-in ceremony ÔÇô to no avail. The result was that when he took the oath of office on Monday morning, he was tied and suited like everybody else.
He feels that he has been denied his right of cultural expression. “Traditional dress is a source of my identity as a Mosarwa. When I take an oath I should feel like Jumanda, I should feel like a Mosarwa. I feel that way when I am dressed in my traditional attire. Having me wear a suit when I would prefer to wear traditional dress is cultural oppression,” Gakelebone said on Friday morning after he was sworn in as New Xade councillor. Fortunately though, he is now in a position to do something about such oppression. He says that he is going to study the laws of Botswana and the Council standing orders with a view to making them culture-friendly. “The process will entail consulting with fellow councillors so that I mobilise enough support. It is important that we should protect our cultures because otherwise they will disappear and we will become invisible.
I want my own culture to be officially recognised,” said Gakelebone who is also a senior official of the First People of the Kalahari, a pressure group prosecuting Basarwa’s right to live and hunt in the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve. By degrees, FPK leader, Roy Sesana, is transferring power to Gakelebone. Lately the latter has been wearing Steenbok horns that the former is known to sport. The explanation is that this symbolic of such transfer of power.
Gakelebone is the first ever FPK member elected to the Gantsi District Council, having run on an Umbrella for Democratic Change ticket. The ward he represents is a resettlement village made up of a Basarwa community that previously lived in the CKGR and was controversially relocated by the government in 2003.