Wednesday, June 19, 2024

‘Verbum sapienti satis est’ ÔÇô MP Boko

On days that the Leader of the Opposition, Duma Boko, and other polyglots think that on its own English would be inadequate to describe the mental agility of the wise they simply say, “verbum sapienti satis est.” To an ear trained in Tsotsitaal, the only recognizable word is satis but the sentence has nothing to do with doing anything on a Saturday. Setswana speakers may also recognise the approximation of an English-origin word for an undergarment worn by females.

Granted, it will be brief but the parliamentary Latin season officially started last Tuesday. Granted again that the speakership uses some Latin (sine die) but there is one individual who characteristically inaugurates the season in question. At the end of his contribution to the Whistleblowing Bill and a few minutes before missiles (missilis in Latin) started flying, Boko offered his own proposals of how the bill could be improved. He ended his debate with, “These are suggestions that would immensely improve this Bill. We say in Latin, ‘verbum sapienti satis est’ – a word to the wise is enough.”

Away from politics, Boko is a lawyer who has had a stint at the University of Botswana as a lecturer. While Sir Edward Coke, an early 17th century English commentator, counseled that projicit ampullas et sesquipedalia verba (Disdain bombast and words half a yard long), the legal profession continues to borrow – both promiscuously and ceaselessly ÔÇô from a language that has otherwise fallen into disuse. As a matter of fact, the acquisition of Latin is part of legal training and Boko has incorporated phrases from the ancient language into his rhetorical repertoire.

Among those included in the non-royal “we” that Boko used would be Maun West MP, Kgosi Tawana II, himself a lawyer who worked for Debswana Diamond Company as a company secretary before going into tribal administration ÔÇô and politics thereafter. Taking to the floor immediately after Boko, Tawana prefaced his comments with “I guess you heard verbum sapienti satis est?”

Before Boko, former Gaborone West MP, Robert Molefhabangwe (whose name was mentioned in a different context last Tuesday) was the only legislator who flew the Roman flag, at one point prompting then Shoshong MP, Duke Lefhoko, to ask if the use of Latin was permissible in the house. At independence and largely due to the fact that the Speaker was a white person who didn’t speak Setswana, only English was used. At the turn of the past century, the rules were amended to include Setswana and the requirement is that an MP should be consistent in the use of a language he chooses ab initio – from the beginning. The other context in which Molefhabangwe’s name was mentioned relates to scorn that opposition MPs poured on Okavango MP, Bagalatia Arone, when he rose to debate the Bill. Arone recently defected from the Botswana Congress Party to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party. Outside parliament, it has been claimed that the BDP bought Arone “on credit”; inside, his erstwhile opposition colleagues are asserting that the party will “spit him out like it did Molefhabangwe.” Following his loss to Botsalo Ntuane in 2009, Molefhabangwe left the Botswana National Front for the BDP and is now back with the former after what seems like an unhappy stint with the latter. It remains unclear whether this return occurred sua sponte (of Molefhabangwe’s own accord) or whether he was recruited back.

Last Tuesday will also go down in the history of Botswana’s parliament as when Mogoditshane MP, Sedirwa Kgoroba, literally threw a water-filled bottle at Gaborone South MP, Kagiso Molatlhegi, and as a result, figuratively throwing the house into chaos.


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