It is a sign of the times. Barely two minutes into parrying softball questions thrown at him, Kgosi Lotlaamoreng II suddenly pauses mid-sentence. He leans forward on his desk and sharpening his gaze, enquires sotto voce: “Can I see your press card?”
Past the resolution of that awkward moment, the brand-new Goodhope-Mabule MP reveals fear that the stranger sitting across the table from him might be an undercover agent of what, for the past eight years, has been the one and only intelligence services show in town – indeed in all of Botswana. For some time now, that has been the story of my life. With this latest association, I make a mental note to use my share of the economic stimulus package to charter a private jet to Durban and wash off with deep-sea water, the Directorate of Intelligence Services stink that must be hanging heavy around me. Ironically, in the post-interview banter when he is now more at ease, Lotlaamoreng reveals that while a student at the University of Bophuthatswana (UNIBO) in South Africa, the campus grapevine falsely alleged that he was an undercover agent of the South African Police Service.
While he won the Goodhope-Mabule four months ago, Lotlaamoreng officially became an MP a fortnight ago today. As Tawana Moremi before him, he is not new to the parliamentary precincts, having served as a member of Ntlo ya Dikgosi, the lower house of parliament for the past 13 years. In his early days at the latter, one of the issues that the house had to tackle was a motion on the regulation of Chibuku trade which tabled by then Bakgatla Regent and current President of the Customary Court of Appeal (South), Kgosi Mothibe Linchwe.
Mothibe felt that for public health reasons, Chibuku should be packaged in smaller cartons because such quantity would mean that guzzlers don’t have to drink from the same carton. Elaborating on that observation, he stated that there was strong possibility of a male drinker contracting a “rape virus” if he drank from the same Chibuku carton with a rapist. When he got a chance to get a word in edgewise, Lotlaamoreng regaled the house with a richly textured tale about how Chibuku drinking was impacting on agricultural productivity in his tribal territory. In the fashion of good-natured ribbing that is permissible between Barolong and Bangwaketse within the context of fictive kinship, Lotlaamoreng quipped that his subjects could not find suitable herdmen because all the eligible Bangwaketse had taken virtual residence at Chibuku shebeens. In 2015, he would be happy that a certain kgosi from the northern part of the country has eased this southern discomfort through the stringent Liquor Act.
Typically, new MPs undergo extensive orientation but as someone who is not altogether new to the legislative body, Lotlaamoreng was only stir-fried on the new rules during a meeting with the Parliamentary Counsel and staffers from the National Assembly’s Human Resources Department. At least at the time of the interview (Tuesday morning), he hadn’t given notice to table any parliamentary motion or ask a question. He would also not have done enough politically to incur the wrath of ruling party MPs whom he says still call him by his royal title ÔÇô Kgosi ÔÇô during informal interaction.
Explaining why he took the short walk from Ntlo ya Dikgosi to parliament, Lotlaamoreng says that as an MP he can talk more openly that he could as a kgosi.
“I’m not saying that now I have leeway to be disrespectful to other people but that I can address any subject which wasn’t the case at the other house,” he asserts.
In order to preserve the role of dikgosi as unifiers of the tribe, the government of the newly independent Botswana enjoined traditional leaders from active participation in party politics. Naturally, this means that political – or perceptibly political issues, are off-limits. As an MP, Lotlaamoreng now gets to fully exercise his freedom of speech. He says that the other constraint that Ntlo ya Dikgosi imposes on the ability of members to fully represent the interests of their constituents is that its sessions are very short.
“The meetings take only two weeks, with the House itself sitting for just one week because the other week is used for briefings. You cannot achieve much in that period of time,” the MP says.
However, having more time to represent the interests of his constituents may come at a cost. Like President Ian Khama (who is Bangwato kgosi) and Tawana (Batawanakgosi), Lotlaamoreng is still the supreme traditional leader of his people. As a matter of fact, a month after his election he officiated at an annual bonfire gathering in Borolong that comes on the eve of Independence Day. The MP-elect lit the fire in his capacity as Barolong kgosi.
“Barolong know that I am their kgosi and when I visit a Borolong village, people know that their kgosi is around,” he explains.
To the point that dikgosi who dabble in politics cannot unify their people because there will always be a perception that they favour a certain section, Lotlaamoreng says that such perception will always exist regard of what the facts are. “Even when a kgosi is politically neutral, there will always be perceptions that he sympathises with some political movement. What’s important to realise is that like every Motswana, dikgosihave a right to be politically affiliated and to vote. However, when they are serving in the kgotla, they are not supposed to show their political colours.” In case there is any charge that might stick on him, he hastens to add that he is not the only kgosi dabbling in politics.
Today, unlike in the past when dikgosi would abdicate to go into politics, they prefer to hedge their bets. Any time they want, Lotlaamoreng, Khama and Tawana can retrace their steps to the kgotla ÔÇô the seat of traditional power. Defending this practice, Lotlaamoreng says that the Bogosi Act doesn’t prohibit dikgosi from taking active participation in politics. The other point that he advances is that occupying the kgosi seat is their birthright. Such sentiments notwithstanding, he is unclear on whether he will resume his seat when this political gig is played out.
“It is difficult to answer that question because I don’t know what will happen in the future. However, I would have no problem with going back to the kgotla,” he says.
A law graduate from the University of North West (formerly UNIBO) in Mafikeng, South Africa, Lotlaamoreng is the second child of late Kgosi Besele II and Mohumagadi Alinah Montshioa. Since his installation in February 2002 and in accordance with Setswana custom, he has been using the regnal name ofKgosi Lotlaamoreng II. In an earlier interview withSunday Standard he said that he would retain his full regnal name but the secretariat of the National Assembly seems to have decided otherwise because he was sworn in only as Lotlaamoreng II.
The reason the Barolong kgosi has traded his leopard skin for a yellow suit is in Selebi Phikwe. Only seven months into his five-year term as Goodhope-Mabule MP, James Mathokgwane, who had won the area’s seat on an Umbrella for Democratic Change ticket, made a shock announcement a shock that he was taking up a plum government position at the Selebi Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit. Lotlaamoreng says that personally he never lobbied to replace Mathokgwane but was asked to do so by a parade of UDC activists who came to see him.
In explaining why he didn’t put up any resistance, he explains that while a student at UNIBO between 1996 and 2000, he developed a passion for leftist politics and became a member of the African National Congress Youth League. A relative of his, Dr. Modiri Molema, became the National Secretary of the ANC in 1949. Years later, the latter would serve on the constitutional committee that set the Bechuanaland Protectorate on its road to independence but died a year before the Republic of Botswana came into being.
Around the time that he was a student, Lotlaamoreng was also a member of the Botswana National Front. Such membership lapsed in 2002 when he was installed as kgosi, replacing his father who had died a year earlier. Although he wouldn’t reveal how he has been voting through the years (“my vote is my secret”) one can put two and two together to divine the answer. That answer would explain why he has resisted overtures from acquaintances whom he says tried to recruit him to the Botswana Democratic Party. Some two or so months after his election, there were press reports that the BDP had him in its sights.
“That’s not true,” he says.