Friday, September 18, 2020

Peace still elusive in Zimbabwe

By a strange coincidence, the views expressed by the leader of opposition, Dumelang Saleshando in Parliament on the situation in Zimbabwe on Monday are similar to those  made by Kgosi Linchwe II  concerning the same country 37 years ago when most of the current crop of MPs were  unknown in the political arena. Interestingly again, both men’s concerns were made during the month of August. To my knowledge, the month of August seems to be full of coincidences. Kgosi Linchwe’s speech was made on 12th August 1983 while that of Saleshando was on 10th August, a difference of two days. Both speeches concerned Zimbabwe. This is a real case of history repeating itself. But, I must indicate from the onset that Kgosi Linchwe was prevented from delivering his by the government. Zimbabwean Prime Minister, Robert Mugabe was due to visit Mochudi on that day as part of his engagement during his five day state visit. Mochudi had prepared well to give Mugabe a rousing welcome with groups of male regiments having been rehearsing throughout the week. Kgosi Linchwe had provided the Foreign Affairs with an advanced copy of his speech. They felt uneasy with it and demanded the removal of some of the aspects they were not happy with. Kgosi Linchwe was not a push-over. There was a deadlock as he refused. Had he agreed to the proposed changes, it would have meant that the mouth reading that speech would be his but the pen that wrote it would be that of somebody else. The government broke the deadlock by shifting Mugabe’s visit from Mochudi to Molepolole at the eleventh hour, leaving the Bakgatla community frustrated.

The Botswana Guardian which was the only active private newspaper following the sudden death of the Examiner newspaper, published Kgosi Linchwe’s aborted speech for the benefit of readers who would otherwise have been kept in the dark  about the cause of the collapse of  Mugabe’s visit to Mochudi. In that speech, Kgosi Linchwe was to tell Mugabe face-to-face to end the war that he was waging against the people of Matebeleland through what was called “Operation Hukurahundi”.  That was what our government feared. Linchwe would have been the first person to hold the bull by the horns in the whole of Southern African region if the visit did not abort. The only voices condemning Robert Mugabe’s human rights abuses were heard far away in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Linchwe’s speech started with him congratulating Mugabe for the victory over what he termed “the forces of colonialism which wanted to cling tenaciously to power”.  In the middle of the speech, he wrote these words, “may I, at this juncture, express a concern, a deep concern that my people and I and indeed the whole of Botswana have over the unrest that your country is experiencing. It would be a pity that after great sacrifice that Zimbabweans made as a nation, would allow themselves to disintegrate as tribal elements from that oneness that characterized their struggle against the colonizers. If it came to the push we would not hesitate to give full assistance to the nation of Zimbabwe to overthrow a colonizer, but when a brother fights a brother we are thrown into an invidious position. We are not in a position to point a finger at anybody as being the cause of the unrest”.

I watched Saleshando making his statement on Zimbabwe on Monday.  He echoed similar sentiments about human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. He spoke about disappearance, abduction and killing of opposition activists and arrests of journalists. Saleshando had wanted to make his statement the previous Friday but was denied that chance because the Speaker of the National Assembly, Phandu Skelemani wanted to discuss it before delivery as it apparently contained matters he feared would bring tension between that country and Botswana. He even wanted to draw the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations, Dr Unity Dow into the issue. Ruling party members seemed to be in support of the Speaker’s decision. However, opposition members were indignant about the way they were being treated arguing that there was no reason why the statement should be delayed to a later date. Their point of contention was that whatever Saleshando was going to say, would not be blamed on the BDP or on the government. It seems to me that they were making a very strong point in that argument. It is common knowledge that governments and political parties throughout the world have the tendency of dissociating themselves from statements made by opposition members claiming that what had been said did not reflect their positions. The problem often arises when the offending remarks had been said by a member of the government or a high ranking party official. In the case of Saleshando, I am of the view that he should have been given the floor on that Friday because the government would convincingly tell their Zimbabwean counterpart that what the opposition leader had said about them did not reflect Botswana’s foreign policy on Zimbabwe. They would simply get away with it unless Zimbabwe wanted to further expose herself to the international community that they did not subscribe to democratic principles if the explanation did not satisfy them. In fact, this is what they the Zimbabweans did to Botswana in 1983 after their own opposition leader, Joshua Nkomo fled to Gaborone. Their own newspaper carried a nonsensical editorial comment inciting the Zimbabwean army to raid Botswana to capture and bring Nkomo back. The newspaper said the fact that Nkomo was not taken to Dukwi Refugee Settlement and instead he was housed in a luxurious dwelling, was indication that Botswana was conniving with him to destabilize their country. Harare was quick to tell Gaborone that the views expressed by the newspaper were not those of their government.         

He stayed for a few days in Gaborone before fleeing to England. I can vividly remember that event relating to Nkomo’s presence in Botswana because it led to my arrest and detention for several hours by the country’s Special Branch which preceded DISS. They had heard that I was following the story of Nkomo’s presence in Gaborone for the Daily News and they wanted to silence the press. I had to endure a grueling interrogation by five or six officers surrounding me.

I had the opportunity of working closely with Skelemani when I was still active in journalism and him as a prosecutor, attorney general and cabinet minister. As a prosecutor, he was always a shining star in courts whether at the level of magistrate, high court or court of appeal. The first time I watched him was in 1977 when he and Sam Arwich were the prosecutors in what was known around media circle as the BL 1 trial. That case involved destruction of Kgosi Linchwe II’s car. Skelemani was a marvel to watch. From there I watched him at the High Court when he was the prosecutor in the case where two men had murdered two Bontleng Primary School pupils in Gaborone for ritual purpose. He secured a conviction and the men were subsequently hanged. It was him who dealt with the Bakwena chieftainship dispute where he told one of the claimants that Kgari Sechele was “designated as kgosi more than 20 years ago with no one complaining adding that “you slept on your rights, your father inherited nothing and you too, you inherit nothing”.  I could quote more if I had space.

As attorney-general, he acted as parliamentary counsel where he used to participate in the debate. He was as good as in court. So when I watched him on television explain his discomfort about Saleshado’s statement, I asked myself the question, “is this the Skelemani that I know?”  But I must say I was disappointed by Pono Moatlhodi. He had quoted the standing order which gave the leader of the opposition the right to make a statement so brilliantly that some us listening agreed with him that the Speaker was contravening the standing orders. It turned out clear later when Skelemani referred to another standing order that Moatlhodi had selected the part that supported his argument and omitted that which gave the speaker powers to the contrary. By doing that, Moatlhodi may be damaging his credibility.

Let me demonstrate by citing another incident to support my observation that the month of August seems to me to be pregnant with coincidences. On 28th August 1976, a day after my 24th birthday, Kgosi Linchwe’s car was destroyed by a powerful explosion at a local bar in Mochudi having been parked there on arrival from a football match between Mochudi Rovers and Maletamotse in Lobatse. I was the last person to leave the vehicle intact. My colleague, Razor Motlhagodi was the last to open and close the car boot. Both of us recorded statements with the police but mine was admitted so I did not give evidence. Razor did and defense counsel, Advocate Jack Untterholder asked him if he knew the chief’s car. When he answered “yes=, he asked him if it had a steering wheel. That annoyed Razor. Instead of yes or no, he said, “I have never seen a vehicle without a steering”.  The coincidence to this is that Kgosi Linchwe died on August 21. This was in 2007.

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