Sunday, April 21, 2024

“I have never changed my identity!”

Olebile Gaborone, the Honourable Member for South East North, writes in the Sunday Standard of November 21 to 27, 2010, in response to my characterization of his conduct in returning to the BDP, a Party he previously left to join the BNF, as akin to “eating his own vomit”, which it most certainly is.
Even as I wrote what I did, I was kind to the Honourable Member, for I could have been much nastier. I was not being personal, but was expressing a principle in dramatic terms, which drama the Honourable Member clearly found “revolting and demeaning”. As I then said, I had known him to be a man of principle, and it was out of character, I thought, of him to have left one political Party for another, to later return to the first, all because neither Party had suited his personal interests. Many have, since my article, said I was wrong to ever have thought Hon. Gaborone to be a man of principle. Regrettably, events seem to bear them out.

In my book, a person may justifiably leave one political Party for another because he has come to realize that the first represents that which is fundamentally disagreeable, objectively viewed, and the one he goes to he finds to substantially accord with his beliefs and convictions.
It speaks most unhappily of the nature of such a person when he then leaves the second Party to return to the first. In those circumstances, it must be the case that there may be nothing wrong with either political party, and that the problem must be with the man. Manifest in such conduct is the spectre of joining political parties for personal gain, for one’s political allegiances change according as one perceives where such gain might be found. Kgantele, motho o tswa rete la tloko! Makgoa one a re pendulum!

The Honourable Member tries to hit back, getting personal and repeating the tired nonsense some in his new Party.

This story ka nna se setse se dule pina ya tshwene ga Domi because they cannot answer me in substance! It is in personal attacks that scoundrels find refuge because they cannot deal on the principles engaged in the discourse. What the Honourable Member has written is, for me, water off a duck’s back. I respond only because there are facts he gets entirely wrong.

First, I never renounced Botswana citizenship. Yes, I did obtain South African citizenship and held both citizenships. To get South African citizenship, I did not have to renounce Botswana citizenship because the law in South Africa permits dual citizenship. Had it not done so, I would have found another way because under no circumstances would I have renounced Botswana citizenship.
My taking South African citizenship was perfectly lawful under the laws of Botswana, for I had checked the law before I acted. I published in the press my analysis of our citizenship laws when the controversy arose to demonstrate that our laws permitted dual citizenship. The law was then amended to exclude dual citizenship, or so they thought.
I do not understand why we seem so hung up about dual citizenship. Dual citizenship is the norm amongst most modern democracies, including leading democracies. I do not see that they have come by any harm on account of it. Dual citizenship is a growing trend in a rapidly globalizing world. And so it should be.
The notion that there is a necessary link between citizenship and the values of loyalty and allegiance has long been imploded.

When the mischievous made it a political issue in Parliament when I was at the office of the President, I determined to renounce South African citizenship, not because I thought anything wrong with holding both citizenships, but in order to quell the noise in the hope that the Members of Parliament concerned would return to the work in Parliament for which they had been elected.

Although the questions raised in Parliament concerning me were asked by an MP belonging to one of the then opposition parties, it was an open secret that it had been instigated by some BDP MPs who sought to embarrass then President Festus Mogae. I then renounced South African citizenship, which I had obtained purely as an expedient.

The second false allegation made by Honourable Gaborone is that I emigrated to South Africa. No, I did not emigrate; I retained Botswana citizenship and had, before I went to work in South Africa, just completed building my home in Mochudi, to which I returned frequently. Not only did I come home frequently, I conducted many cases here while working in South Africa. I also came to assist in the election effort in Kgatleng East in 1999 even as I worked in South Africa.

The Honourable Member claims to know me. No, he does not, but relies on falsities informed him by those who have proved unable to answer the substance of that which I write and say. South Africa is not the country of my real origin; Botswana is. Nor is South Africa the country of my parentage. My mother was born and raised in Mochudi, and only worked in South Africa, as did thousands of parents from Botswana communities who live along our very long boundary with South Africa. She was buried in Mochudi when she died.

In the 1950s and 1960s, most working Batswana found work in South Africa because there was almost none in the Bechuanaland Protectorate, and later none in Botswana, for people with their very low level of education. In fact, much of the money our parents made in South Africa they brought to Bechuanaland, later Botswana, to raise and support us. Such money also swelled Botswana’s foreign exchange with which imports from South Africa were purchased.

My mother was never South African. My mother was never married, although I knew my father, who was South African. I was raised by my maternal grandmother in Mochudi, and after she died in 1974 by my mother’s sisters.
My mother needed to work in South Africa in order to send money home to meet our needs. One does not have to look hard to find Batswana of mixed local and foreign parentage, of whom there are thousands. A good place to start is State House.
Further falsities, the Honourable Member writes. I did not retrace my steps back to Botswana when President Mogae took office as president. I came in May 1998 to congratulate him on his ascent to the highest office, and to seek an understanding of why he had thought it necessary to bring now President Ian Khama from the BDF to become vice president when there were more qualified and more suitable candidates in the Party.

Ever the transparent statesman, he told me what I needed to know. At that sitting, I raised with President Mogae the rumours I had heard whenever I came home, which included the allegations which make Honourable Gaborone think he is on to something. O tshwere nnoto! I told President Mogae what was true and what was not.

I specifically informed him that I had dual citizenship, and that I had taken South African citizenship, having before satisfied myself that the law in both countries permitted me to. Still at that meeting, President Mogae asked me to return home to take up a role here. I said to him that I had gone to South Africa to grow in the profession because the scope was much broader there than here, and assured him that I would return home so soon as I felt I had grown enough.
Yes, Botswana made me what I am, but I also had a role in the making of me. It is more accurate to say that both Botswana and I made me what I have become, whatever it is.

Scores of Batswana increasingly go to work in South Africa, our other neighbours, and other countries in the world. We do this well knowing that we will always come back because Botswana is home like no other place can be. No Motswana need apologise for working outside our country; on the contrary, it is something to be encouraged because we come back with skills and experience that can only enrich our economy, and our country. I think that I am a better lawyer than I was before I practised at the Bar in South Africa, where I learnt much that I had not learnt here.

No, Honourable Member, I did not trace my steps back to Botswana after President Mogae took office, nor did I ask President Mogae or anybody else for any job. One of the things I have learnt, Honourable Member, is to ask no man for a job. When you do, and you get it, you risk becoming less of a man. You compromise your independence, and put yourself at another man’s mercy. When he fires you, you become bitter and leave his political party for another.
When it becomes apparent to you that that other political party will not, by popular will in a democratic setting, give you the exalted position you want, you sulk and go back to the political party which you left out of bitterness because you had been fired from a job you coveted. The tragedy of this is most eloquently illustrated by the case of the Honourable Member.

It is another tragedy of our times, Honourable Member, that when some of us proudly eat on our feet, others, by their own choice borne of lacking character, have descended to the lowest levels of the human condition. These others are fed by your esteemed friend on their knees, others of them on their bellies, all with their hands tied behind their backs. Intelligent and good men and women have become caricatures of their former selves. They have allowed themselves to become mindless and feeling-less, and permit another man to think and feel for them. I will pray that you be spared that terrible de-manifying and de-womanifying fate.

Far from tracing my steps back and asking President Mogae or anybody else for a job, I was offered one. This is the chronology of how it happened. During the year 2000, and while I lived and worked in South Africa, President Mogae invited me to serve on the Balopi Presidential Commission of Inquiry. Although it meant spending months away from my work without earning any income, I accepted and did it for love of country. When the Balopi Commission completed its work, President Mogae informed me that he intended to create the position of Special Advisor to the President tenable in his office because he perceived a need for it.

He asked me to not return to South Africa because he intended to offer the position to me. I was honoured to accept, but said to him that I would return to South Africa, continue to do work there and here, and would come back home once the position he proposed to establish was ready for me to assume. Once the position had been created, I accepted the offer of it and returned home to take it up in September 2001. There are many who think that I did make myself of some use.

That position, which the Honourable Gaborone calls plumb, paid me on the FO scale within the arrangements obtaining in Government, which for me represented a substantial fall in income. I was happy to make the sacrifice, again for love of country, remembering always that Botswana and Batswana had contributed immensely in the making of me. And so, Honourable Gaborone, I was not opportunistic.

This thing about names keeps coming up. I know many people, some of them my friends, who I initially knew by a certain name when we grew up. Then later you discover that either they had names you had not known because they did not use them before, or they had taken on other names.

Some examples nearer home to the Honourable Member will illustrate the point. The Honourable Member has a most prominent friend who, initially, had a first name, no middle name, and a surname. In time, he added his father’s name and surname as his additional names, resulting in him having three names and a surname.

A member of the Honourable Member’s Party was known by a certain name and surname. When he ran as a candidate in a by-election his other name, hitherto unknown to the public, or a name he did not have before but took on, surfaced during the campaign. Whatever his reasons for raising this name, which he was entitled to do as he broke no laws, there was an unnecessary cynicism about it in the press. There is nothing wrong with what either of these men did, whether you call it changing names, which I do not think it is.

I think we need to have the modesty to accept that we know very little concerning the identities of people to whom we are not close. We get to know more about people as we get to know them better. We must not be swift to infer that something is sinister when we discover something about an individual which we did not know before.

Often you will find, on inquiry in appropriate spirit, that it is all entirely innocent. People, in fact everybody, has that which is good about them and that which could be better. We need to learn to accentuate the good, and exploit it to maximum benefit for the public good. If we emphasize the not so good aspects, we will all eternally swim in a sea of cynicism, which will serve nobody. And nobody, I say nobody, will escape the strike of cynicism!

This matter of my association with South Africa is often invoked to give the entirely wrong impression of my commitment to Botswana. Everything I have done belies the distortion. I have served in many roles, including in the public service.

A year ago I virtually led a team of lawyers from Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland in an international arbitration against South Africa arising out of a dispute at SACU. Assisted by two lawyers from the Office of the Attorney General and a team of experts from the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, we won the arbitration. Botswana was able to keep about P1 billion which the South African Government had previously paid us and had gone to arbitration to force us to pay it back. On top of that, we won Botswana another Billion Pula. Having said that, I must also say that the credit goes, not to me, but to the team as a whole. It is obvious what point I am trying to make.

I engage in BMD politics for reasons I have stated on numerous occasions. The country needs, not just us, but all opposition Parties, for only we can save it from the path of destruction on which Hon Gaborone’s BDP is taking it. And this we will do with or without Hon Gaborone’s best wishes. One needs only look at the BDP of today from the BDP of several months ago to see how much BMD has done for them; we have saved them from a tyranny which, even as it still exists because those who perpetrate it could never change in their monstrosity, it has lost its fire. We will do more for the BDP. We will save them from self-destruction, and from destroying our country, both of which will benefit them in the same way they will benefit the rest of us.

I must assure the Honourable Member that I am not ashamed of working in South Africa, of having obtained that great country’s citizenship, of anything I did there. I have nothing to hide, have brought harm to no one by anything I have done, and do not live in a glass house. The Honourable Member may throw all the stones he wishes, for he will break nothing. Nothing he and his friends says or do is capable of intimidating me, nor of deterring me le Bakaulengwe in the opposition and in the labour movement from the course we have set ourselves of liberating Botswana and Batswana from the marauding incompetence and corruption of the BDP Government. It is time for change, and there is no stopping change, and there is no stopping us bringing it about at the next opportunity of elections! Until then, we will keep you on your toes as you never have been before!

I must end by assuring BMD and opposition members and supporters that I will die before I eat my own vomit! Honourable Ntuane, Moyo, Modubule, Mangole, Motlhale and Mmolotsi say to tell you the same concerning them. And it is so that we proclaim that only men and women of honour can take that vow!

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