I wish to make reference to Dr Thapelo Otlogetswe’s article of 0ctober 26, 2011 in The Telegraph.
His rebuttal of Professor Saleshando’s claims is something that I would expect from him and his camp much the same that I share sympathy with Saleshando’s sentiments and her camp.
Indeed Saleshando provoked the debate to which Otlogetswe replied forcefully. Hence am compelled to come to her defence and that of our camp. It is open that Saleshando agitates for tribal and linguistic reforms whilst Dr. Otlogetswe and his camp think that the status core is perfect. Whilst Dr Otlogetswe chooses to dismiss Saleshando’s claims as dangerous I do not view his nor would I encourage our camp to view his views as offensive. What I find surprising is his defence of a system that does not advance human rights and social justice. At RETENG we believe that language rights are human rights. Botswana has her tribal and linguistic realities which we should be adressing but Dr. Otlogetswe chooses to defer the matter and shifts the blame to those who are aggrieved.
Saleshando was deemed dangerous because she claimed that 65% of the Botswana population was undergoing forced assimmilation and cultural genocide to the benefit of 17% of the population. The essence of Professor Saleshando’s statement is in my opinion credible and cannot be simply dismissed as offensive and dangerous. Whislt the validity of the statistics presented by Saleshando is open to question, the same applies to claims by Dr. Otlogetswe that between 80 and 90% of our population speaks Setswana.
We have lived with statements and some literature that claim that ‘Batswana are the most numerous people in Botswana, forming about 78.2 % of the population and speaking Setswana language. Interestingly, Dr. Otlogetswe finds this claim very acceptable and its statistic valid. There are no valid ethnic or linguistic statistics available in Botswana. Even those, that were released by Dr. Ramsay in response to RETENG in 2005 were speculative, much the same as Saleshando and Otlogetswe’s.
Dr. Otlogetswe attempts to hide behind the smokescreen of tribal complexity by implying that the nation does not know what a tribe is. Well, why shouldn’t we adopt the definition implied in Section 78 (1) of the Constitution and theTribal Land Act which defined the eight tribes? If we know that, the eight are tribes using a particular criteria, the same criteria will inform us whether others are Kalanga or Yei. Why should we pose a rhetorical question when others agitate for rights that fellow citizens have enjoyed since independence under the same government? We know that, typically tribes speak their languages and express their cultures. Of course, due to other circumstances some individuals cannot speak their tribal languages. We should note that these are some individuals, not individual tribes. Yes, tribes are made of individuals; only to the extent that those individuals share a common ancestry and culture ÔÇô language being a component of culture.
It is not surprising for Dr. Otlogetswe to characterize Professor Saleshando as dangerous and offensive. His reaction shows that he stands at the other extreme of the continuum: the conservative and hegemonic corner of our social spectrum. Both Saleshando and Otlogetswe represent socioethnic realities of modern Botswana and for the latter to characterize the views of the former as dangerous is typical of the expression ‘pot calling the kettle black’.
My interpretation of Professor Saleshando’s statements is that she made an urgent call for the nation to introspect and progress on the tribal and language question of Botswana. Nothing offensive, nothing dangerous. The challenges that Dr. Otlogetse poses are an academic guise meant to defend the status core.
*Mabuta is a member of RETENG Board. He writes in his personal capacity.
Editor’s note: This article should have been published two weeks ago. We sincerely apologise for the delay which was a mistake on the part of the Editor