Former High Court Judge, Mpaphi Phumaphi has accused the government of marginalizing minority tribes by refusing to endorse the teaching of their languages in schools.
Speaking during the Francistown Mayor’s Independence dinner in Francistown last week, a clearly disappointed Phumaphi said that although the country’s 50th independence is worth celebrating, Botswana has on the other hand failed dismally in fully promoting cultural diversity. He said that language plays a critical role in the promotion of any culture.
“One would have expected that by now after 50 years of independence, introduction of mother tongue or minority languages in schools would have been done but the country has failed in that regard. The teaching of language or mother tongue is very important in any culture and should be taken seriously,” he said.
Phumaphi who himself is Kalanga, said during his time in primary school before the country gained independence, his language (Ikalanga) was taught in schools.
He said to his disappointment the teaching of the language was abolished in schools.
He emphasized that it is high time that Botswana fully embraced its cultural diversity. The former High Court Judge also said that Botswana should borrow a leaf from countries such as South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe who are embracing their various ethnic languages in schools and have succeeded.
“Even UNESCO has often advocated for the teaching of mother tongue languages in schools as this is seen as some form of promoting culture. The issue of languages in Botswana is taken lightly but it is very serious,” he warned.
On a positive note, Phumaphi said that the 50th Independence celebrations are very important as they mark Botswana’s achievement from being a poor country when it attained independence to a middle income country. He said this was due to the prudent and good management of its mineral resources especially diamonds which contributed immensely to its development.
“The country rose from being a poor country when it attained independence in 1966 to a middle income country today. The discovery of diamonds a few years after its attainment of independence contributed immensely to what the country is today,” he said.
He however expressed concern over failure by the country to diversify its economy away from mineral revenue. He warned that minerals are non-renewable and therefore failure to diversify the economy could spell doom for the country’s future.
“Botswana has done well in terms of managing its mineral resources and utilizing them for the development of the country and its citizens, but we have failed dismally in diversifying the economy. I still wonder why we are failing to diversify the economy when we have so much educated people,” he said.
The former Judge also criticised the form of education that the country has adopted adding that it is more academic and less technical. He said it is saddening to note that most of technicians in Botswana are foreigners. He advised that Botswana needs lots of industries and technical expertise to manufacture its own goods rather than relying on imports.
“What I have since realized is that we have plenty of malls and we do not have industries. I have also realized that our education is inclined towards academic training rather than technical training. We have lots of raw of materials for production of goods in this country. Perhaps we need to think differently and train technicians who will do practical work so that the country could manufacture its own goods,” said the former judge.
He gave example of the leather industry saying that Botswana has potential in that regard. He added that Botswana could manufacture its own leather products such as shoes and belts. He also said for too long, Botswana has been exporting diamonds rather than processing them into finished products. He said if the country processed raw materials into finished products it would create employment and enhance the economy.
“The other problem that we have as Botswana is that the business environment is not very conducive. The ease of doing business in Botswana is still a serious challenge and potential investors continue to experience obstacles especially with regard to the issuance of work permits,” said Phumaphi
In conclusion he also expressed concern over the sluggish development of Francistown as a second city. He said the city is faced with many challenges mainly shortage of land. He said Francistown is landlocked within Tati Company which owns almost all the land and this impedes its development. He emphasized that there is need for negotiations between government and Tati Company regarding the issue of land in Francistown.
“Francistown cannot expand because there is no land, unlike towns like Selibe Phikwe. There also have not been much developments in Francistown except for the new Airport, Stadium and the construction of the Spaghetti Junction perhaps. There has not been much revenue being injected into Francistown to develop it,” said the former Judge.
He implored the residents of Francistown to come up with strategies on how to develop the city and lure in investment.