Saturday, March 6, 2021

“…One woman’s struggles”

Director of proceedings, I consider it a great honour to have been asked by the Hon. Speaker of the National Assembly to launch her autobiography entitled: “Madam Speaker, Sir! Breaking The Glass Ceiling; One Woman’s Struggles”

I have come across a few books written by politicians. Dr Nasha is amongst the few who can write and write, with breathtaking simplicity. Her writing is simple, engaging and conversational almost to the point of begging for a response. In my mind a combination of simplicity and brevity, in a book, is a mark of sophistication. It is therefore appropriate before delving further into my speech to say to her, congratulations Madam Speaker Sir!

The Honourable Speaker has not told me why she thought it proper that a member of the judiciary should do the honours, but it seems to me that the reason is not difficult to find. The Judiciary and the Legislature constitute two independent and interdependent organs of the State. As a speaker of the National Assembly, the Hon. Dr Nasha performs the tasks akin to that of a Judge. During the course of the proceedings of the Assembly, she must keep the scales of justice evenly balanced and ensure that proceedings are conducted fairly and almost judiciously. She is enjoined by tradition and law to be independent and impartial. Just like a Judge, her rulings must be reasoned and not arbitrary. That the Honourable Speaker is acutely aware of all the above is plain from the book. At the end of the day, she must not only do justice to all participants, but she must also ensure that justice is seen to be done. I suspect it is this common trait that partly explains my task today.

In essence this autobiography, is, as the author says, a story of an ordinary girl, who suffered and persevered to excel in school and ended up as the first female speaker of the National Assembly of Botswana.

“Madam Speaker Sir” is a moving and exhilarating biography. In it she reminisces about her childhood days.

Her life began in Kanye, the capital city of Bangwaketse, her home village. She was brought up like any other Motswana child of that time. Her upbringing wasn’t rosy. She had to walk about 10 km each day to school. Her regular packed lunch comprised of dikgobe (a mixture of beans and sorghum), kabu (dried corn kernels that are boiled), and lohata (boiled sorghum) and motogo (sorghum porridge) Getting up in the morning and the long distance they had to traverse, meant that they did not have time to bath before taking off. In her typical humorous style, she recalls that their teachers were well aware of this no bathing culture as the body odour easily gave it away.

It would seem she didn’t quite like being assigned to do babysitting by what she refers to as “lazy mothers” because quite often, or so it would seem, she would pinch the baby, so that she could be relieved of the task.

Dr Nasha was raised in a patriarchal environment where a woman was a minor and even subject to the authority of her son. In that environment, a girl was thought to have been brought into this world primarily to get married; bring lobola or bogadi (bride price) to her family and bear children.

To illustrate this point, Dr Nasha writes in detail, how after the passing of her father, her mother, as a widow, did not have much say in the administration of her husband’ estate. At the time of his death, her father had left behind cattle, small stock and masimo that could sustain his family. However, the control of the estate rested with his brother and Dr Nasha’s mother could only deal with the estate with his permission. This particular portion of the book is pretty emotive and can easily move a man/woman to tears.

In this book Dr Nasha traverses issues around holy matrimony, and discusses the joys and challenges she faced with amazing frankness. She has fondest recollections of her mother-in-law who was her best friend.

This autobiography on the life and times of Dr Nasha combines the personal and the political. It is much the story of her life as it is the story of our nation.

She discusses the world of politics in detail ranging from matters of internal democracy of political formations to democracy at national level. The book is most fascinating when discussing the rough terrain of politics characterized by backstabbing and double standards. It is most refreshing when interrogating the concept of democracy. This is what she wrote on democracy: “…..Democracy to me means government of the people, by the people and not government of the people, by men. Democracy by nature should be inclusive, with proportionate representation of most, if not all sections of the population of a country”.

Chapter 8 of her book in which she narrates her campaign to replace her old friend, DK, as Secretary General of her party is one of the most interesting chapters of her book. And so is Chapter 9 in which she discusses the Bakwena Chieftainship crisis. At the time Kgosikwena was the sitting regent and by tradition he had to welcome her to the Kgotla. Dr Nasha records that when Kgosikwena stood to speak the Kgotla seemed to shake with excitement. And this is how the regent started: “Bagaetsho, ke kopilwe gore ke amogele Ministera mo kgotleng e. mme, ke maswabi go le raya kere, nnyaa, ga ke mo amogele. Ministara, ga o amogelesege mo kgotleng e ya ga Sechele e”.

Any lesser being would have been shaken by this but she brushed it aside and prepared herself to address the tribe.

To have withstood the regent’s remarks, that she is unwelcome and have managed to remain cool and collected, speaks volumes of this political colossus of a woman. Colossal not because of her size, but because of the sheer depth of her convictions. I consider that as evidence of some kind of greatness, worthy of being archived by history to serve as future inspiration of generations yet unborn.

At the end of the day, it seems to me that Margaret Nasha’s story, demonstrates how a human being is shaped by history, and how she acts to change it. For as one philosopher has pithily remarked, human beings make their own history but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.

Dr Nasha has achieved a lot. At a time when it was difficult for a woman to be head of foreign mission (High Commissioner), Member of Parliament, Minister, and almost inconceivable that a woman could lead parliament as Speaker, Dr Nasha did all four.

I am certain that no one can credibly challenge me, if I assert, as I hereby do, that from the dusty roads of Kanye to the first female Speaker of the National Assembly is no mean achievement. Dr Margaret Nnananyana Nasha stands as an indisputable example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be smashed! Our daughters growing up in a changing society where increasingly women are occupying real positions of authority may never appreciate the thickness of the glass she had to smash!

She is a reminder, if one is needed, that as a nation, we need to create conditions in which the girl child has the same opportunity to succeed in life as the boy child! To realize this dream, we need to invest in education, for as we all know education is the greatest equalizer. It is also the key to liberation.

Ultimately this book, both at the personal and national level, is a beautiful story of significant triumphs and some challenges indeed. It confirms that our democracy is still a project under construction, with major achievements and some challenges. It is a story of a country where botho, humility, freedom of expression, tolerance, (to mention just a few) are the defining features of who we are as a people.

This book is littered with many examples that show that Dr Nasha fought tirelessly for gender equality, in particular that women must be proportionately represented in decision-making structures of our republic. In her book Dr Nasha laments the low level of women’s participation in decision-making structures of the country.

It is now well settled in our part of the world that patriarchal attitudes, negative traditions and customs that do not recognize women as equal partners with men in development are partly responsible for low participation of women in politics. As a nation, we need to double our efforts to address these challenges.

If we can heed her call, we will contribute in no small measure to building a more democratic and just society. Women’s equal representation is needed not only in politics. It is needed in all spheres of life, in churches, in business and in the judiciary. We must abolish once and for all this notion that to be born a girl is to be condemned to a life of indignity and suffering. Whilst women must be encouraged to support each other, men too must support women’s rise in their societies for the simple reason that equality for women ÔÇô and indeed all marginalized groups, is progress for all.

Director of Proceedings, the latest Botswana National Census Household Survey show that, Botswana women constitute about half of the population of the country and are known to play vital roles as mothers, producers, community organizers, and political activists. But despite the major role they play and their population size, the society has not given enough recognition to these and the fact that women are often discriminated against.

Speaking for myself, the time is long past where women are treated as chattels or second class citizens who must play second fiddle to men. One recalls with immense pride the memorable words of Horwitz J (as he then was) in the leading case of Dow v Attorney General when he said: “I do not think that I would be losing sight of my functions or exceeding them sitting as a judge in the High Court, if I say that the time that women were treated as chattels or were there to obey the whims and wishes of males is long past and it would be offensive to modern thinking and the spirit of the Constitution to find that the Constitution was framed deliberately to permit discrimination on the basis of sex…..” I must say with greatest of respect that these golden words are as relevant today as they were then, over twenty (20) years ago. The Honourable Speaker says as much in her book. I am certain that God never intended for women to be less than men in anyone’s estimation. In the eyes of God and that of our Constitution they are equal.

In her book, Dr Nasha suggests that the struggle for women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality may be regressing and that the long envisaged birth of a society founded on equality between men and women may be long in coming. We surely cannot afford to be complacent. If this society, based on equality, envisaged by our constitution is taking long to be born, then, all of us here must act as midwives and assist in the birth of a more equal society ÔÇô even if it means it is born through caesarian birth. This we must do because by advancing gender equality and removing all barriers to women’s empowerment, we will be contributing to reducing gender inequality and promoting an inclusive society.

The right to gender equality and non discrimination of women is enshrined in our constitution. But we must always recall that entrenchment of fundamental rights in a constitution is only the beginning. It is just a mere promise ÔÇô on paper.

In order to ensure that the promise is kept, we need an active and vigilant civil society and an independent parliament. We also need a fearless, informed, credible and ethical media. More significantly we need an independent, impartial, fearless and human rights oriented judiciary to effect the promise of the Constitution.

It is only if the aforementioned ingredients exist that people can internalize a democratic culture that promotes constitutionalism or the values of liberty. The internalization of democratic values by the people is important because if constitutionalism dies in the hearts and minds of men and women of goodwill, no constitution, no law, no court, and no church can save it.

In one of his most celebrated dissents on the Court of Appeal of England, the legendary common law jurist Lord Denning suggested that if the powerful still abuse their powers without restraint and fundamental human rights entrenched in the Constitution are not respected it is thanks to a timid and fearful judiciary that does not appreciate that if all else fails the judiciary should be the people’s last line of defence.

In her first term as the Speaker, Dr Nasha has championed the independence of Parliament as an institution and positioned it as an equal partner in governance. She also understands that no Parliament, however bonafide or eminent its membership, no President, however, formidable be his/her reputation, no official however efficient or well meaning, can make any law or perform any act which is inconsistent with the Constitution.

In conclusion, I am clear in my mind that this book illustrates, beyond doubt, that she carried high the banner of her convictions, without fear or favour. She is among a few people, who when she finally leaves public office, people will look back and say ÔÇô she was who she is to the end and at no time did she sell her soul for a penny.

Dr Nasha’s life story has given women and the girl child in this republic a reason to smile and to dream big; the real life option of leading their nation ÔÇô I see this as ground-breaking and admirable. This book is an essential read for anyone interested in public administration of this country. It is bold, incisive and occasionally controversial! I recommend it strongly.

I must with respect end where I began and say, once again, congratulations and well-done my dearest sister. Madam Speaker Sir is hereby officially launched! Thank you.

*This is a speech by Justice Key Dingake at an occasion to launch an autobiography of Margaret Nasha ÔÇô Speaker of the National assembly

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