Momentarily stung by a snide remark that the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Slumber Tsogwane, had hurled at him from across the floor, Gaborone Central MP, Dr. Phenyo Butale, replied in kind when he recovered.
“I do not know why they gave you the role of the Father of the House when you do not know certain things,” Butale quipped.
A recently adopted title in the Botswana parliament, “Father of the House” traces its roots to the House of Commons in the United Kingdom and refers to the longest-serving male member of the house. That honour goes to Tsogwane who became an MP in the same year (1999) as the Mother of the House – Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi. In the House of Commons, the current Father of the House is Sir Gerald Kaufman who has been an MP since 1970.
Acting on conviction that Butale lacked knowledge about how he earned this honour, Tsogwane decided he would “teach those who have just arrived in Parliament.” In doing so, he just happened to hurl another missile in the direction of the new arrival.
“It would be wrong and the public would get it wrong if they think that Father of the House is given. It is not given; you achieve it by being voted several times by your constituency. So it is not given like your doctorate,” the minister said.
Then it was MP’s turn to school Mr. Tsogwane on an academe fact that he felt the latter was clueless about.
“Let me explain something. The Father of the House, sorry if you were not given, but you see, there are two types of PhDs: there is one that is given and there is one that is earned. Mine is earned thank you very much,” Dr. Butale said.
This exchange takes place a few weeks after President Ian Khama returned from South Korea where he was given an honorary doctorate by a university there. He joins a short list of Botswana Democratic Party politicians who have been given similar honour. Elsewhere officialdom and the state media don’t refer to honorees with the Dr. title but Botswana is a completely different case. In the particular case of Khama, the Speaker, Gladys Kokorwe, set the ball rolling when she became the first person to officially refer to him as Dr. Khama after he gave the state-of-the-nation address. Virtually all Southern African Development Community leaders have honorary PhDs (Robert Mugabe has a stack of them) but the media in those countries never feels the need to refer to them as Dr. Internationally, Khama joins the likes of United States rappers Kanye West and LL Cool J, Hollywood actors Ben Affleck and Kerry Washington, boxer Mike Tyson and Kermit the Frog who have also been awarded honorary doctorates. Dr. Frog is a puppet show character who was given the doctorate by the Southampton College in New York.
By standards of the day, the Tsogwane/Butale exchange was far too tame because much later, Francistown West MP, Ignatius Moswaane, would refer to opposition MPs as “bo-tlhogwana moimele.”