The Office of the President (OP) and the Serowe-based Sir Seretse Khama Day Commemoration Association found it difficult to get on the same page on many more issues than the venue. It has emerged that the two rival parties also failed to converge on figures and message.
Desirous of laying on a spectacle befitting a president and kgosi, the Association presented an indicative budget of P500 000-plus to OP. However, no response came until a few weeks before the July 1 event when the Association was offered only P23 000 – which was only 4.6 percent of the amount that it had sought in the first place.
OP never had any real interest in commemorating the day and the decision to do so was hastily made at the last minute. Civil-servant sources in all departments that routinely participate in commemorative events say that OP issued instructions for preparatory work a few days before the July 1 event. While the event that was held at the National Assembly in Gaborone was billed as “national”, it was in fact a face-saving, public relations gimmick. National events are planned and budgeted for well in time and also have a national character. That was not the case with the Sir Seretse Khama centenary which saw two rival events, one in Gaborone, the other in Serowe.
Beyond the gimmickry, the Gaborone event was meant to take the spotlight away from the Serowe one, which had actually been planned for as early as 2019. As an indication of OP’s level of disinterest in the centenary celebrations, no sort of support was pledged in the cursory response to the letter that the organising committee submitted to the Office in 2019.
Sir Seretse Khama Day is rooted in Serowe and the Bangwato capital was the natural commemorative venue. The day honours a Serowe-born man and its commemorative event has always been held at the Serowe kgotla, just a short, if steep climb to a hilltop cemetery where he is buried. It resulted from years-long campaign by Serowe residents and over years, some rudimentary organisational infrastructure has been built around it. At the National Assembly in Gaborone, Khama exists only in the form of a bronze statue that looks nothing like him.
In the final analysis, Khama’s centenary celebrations were not about Botswana’s founding president but President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who headlined the Gaborone event, and former president Ian Khama, who headlined the Serowe event. It was just another opportunity for the Botswana Patriotic Front to engage in a public spat with the Botswana Democratic Party. Even among some members of the Sir Seretse Khama Day Commemoration Association, there was a great deal of consternation that the event had a BPF character to it. Speeches by Gen Khama and Foster Seretse, both of whom are BPF members, had unmistakable freedom-square undertones.
The BDP rightly feared that the BPF would use the event to gin up political drama and mobilise support. Resultantly, it deployed its Secretary General, Mpho Balopi, to an event that no one had been invited to attend as a political-party member. Balopi, who is also the Minster of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development, was very clear about the fact that he was representing the BDP and not the government.
Caught in the middle of this war are people who have genuine interest in the event, including civil servants who, for reasons of job security, did their best to not appear supportive of the Serowe event.
The irony of the whole debacle was that as an army general, Khama should have heeded what another army general (Napoleon Bonaparte) said about warfare: “Never interfere with the enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself.” Masisi’s whole attitude to celebrating a figure who is revered in Serowe will cost him dearly at the polls. All Gen Khama had to was sit back in his high-backed leather chair but he interfered.