Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Ray Molomo: Champion of freedom of speech

The Matlapeng Ray Molomo story appears to be unending. It appears it is a story which will be told for weeks or months without it being stale. It is a story which may be written in a comical manner. Likewise, it is a story that if told, can cause stress in the minds of others. Some readers may read it once and throw it away while others may go over it several times and keep it in their shelves as souvenirs. Research on mass media messages has proved that people never want to expose themselves to such messages which go against their inclinations. This is called selective exposure. Those who may read this article accidentally and find it not satisfying their needs may become victims of what is called selective retention. Similarly, it is a story that can be approached from different angles. For instance, in the Daily News of 9th January, Kwapeng Modikwe approached it in a more sympathetic manner. Botsalo Ntuwane’s approach in the Sunday Standard was different. In the same newspaper, an unnamed reporter took a different angle telling it bluntly and in another local newspaper, Dr Jeff Ramsay adopted a completely different style. But all were about the same man and beautifully constructed.       

Prior to the funeral of Ray Molomo in Mochudi , I was put under immense pressure by several people including Simon Madimabe who is a strong fan of the deceased and Aupa Mokotedi who is a Radio Botswana journalist asking that I should write Molomo’s in-depth story. These are a few of the many who enjoy my writing style. They wanted me to do the Molomo story in the same vein I did when Kgosi Linchwe II, Sir Ketumile Masire, Idi Amin and P.W. Botha died. In the case of Kgosi Linchwe, I told the story of a remarkable and maverick man dying prematurely.  I did the same with Sir Ketumile whom I accompanied on countless internal and external trips as a reporter. On Amin, I told the story of how Botswana led other frontline states of Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique to boycott the OAU summit in Kampala, Uganda after the dictator had called on armed forces in those countries to overthrow their elected governments. Concerning Botha, I started with what I called the infamous handshake between the apartheid leader and Sir Ketumile during an occasion at Somhlolo Stadium in Swaziland concluding with what he Botha called the “first instalment” on Botswana following the June 14 raid on Gaborone.        

I told Mokotedi that I was not sure if I would be able to write the obituary due to time constraints but he insisted that I do something. He invited a colleague of his not to miss such a story should I agree to piece it together. Pressure was mounting on me but I did not want to give a promise.  To Madimabe, I said these days I am lazy because I have too much to do at the cattle post which makes me lose steam.  He sent a second message saying “push yourself for Batswana”. I did not respond and he sent the third message after the funeral which read, “did you write something ka Salusha Max”?         

By that time, the Botswana Press Agency Chief Press Officer, Epena Ngatangwe had called commissioning me to write them a full Molomo story. His approach amounted to a command as it contained the date he intended publishing it. It was also accompanied by renumeration, something therefore I could not decline.  At the end, I produced an article which some told me it was a masterpiece although some may have different view of it. I have always cherished the idea of writing for the Daily News and Kutlwano and when the opportunity presented its self, I jumped to the occasion. So both Mokotedi and Madimabe’s wishes coincided interestingly with those of the Daily News editors.        

Minutes after the funeral, I was inundated with questions from several people regarding the relationship between Deputy Kgosi Sekai and Ray Molomo. Callers wanted to know whether by attending and speaking at the funeral, it meant that Sekai had ironed out his differences and reconciled with Molomo. They had not been in talking terms for the last seven years. So the unexpected appearance of Sekai at the home of Ray Molomo surprised many who were aware that relationship between the two was at its lowest ebb. Other approaches were face-to-face discussions with people knowledgeable on factional conflicts in Mochudi. Factional disputes in Mochudi date back to the early 1930s.       

To deal adequately with the issue regarding Sekai and Ray Molomo poor relationship, I could not rely on memory alone. I had to revisit audio tape recordings of a kgotla meeting Sekai addressed in Mochudi on 6th July 2013 and the transcript of that tape recording as well as my diary of 2012 which shows entry in October of a meeting where Sekai withdrew his participation from meetings convened by a Group of Elders of Mochudi. Announcing his withdrawal, Sekai explained that he felt uncomfortable associating with Ray Molomo while the latter had refused to support Kgosi Kgafela II’s constitutional challenge at the High Court. Sekai said he would have no explanation to give if the tribe found out that he had been holding meetings with Ray Molomo and others he described as undesirable elements in the society. He vowed never to repeat that mistake of meeting with Ray Molomo. At least this is according to my diary.       

In the audio tape recording, Sekai can be heard making remarks full of innuendo about Ray Molomo’s conduct. He can be heard saying “wena Ray ga Kgabo a tla direkhokonaisiwa , Merafhe a go bitsa  le lekoko la nako eo la ya Gaborone la feta la buwa ka Kgosikgolo ya rona go sena ope wa bogosi la laelwa go re le fete le kgalemele Kgosi”. So the answer to the question of the two men having reconciled is a big no. Had they reconciled, I would have known because I was constantly in touch with the deceased. But Ray Molomo was not bothered by the strained relationship. In fact Sekai was not in his plans. His only concern was the need for a strong person as head of the tribe in the absence of Kgafela II.         

Another question to be answered is the presence of Sekai and his inclusion in the funeral programme. On Boxing Day when President Mokgweetsi Masisi called at the Molomos’ home  following the previous day announcement of Ray Molomo’s death, Sekai was present having been invited by a senior police officer who appeared to be playing the role of a public relations officer. This was purely a matter between the officer and Sekai. The Molomo’s family was uninvolved. I was next to the officer when he asked for Sekai’s cell number and when he subsequently spoke to him saying the President was due to arrive and that it was important for Sekai to be present. As to how Sekai featured in the funeral programme as one of the speakers, is a family decision which should be respected despite differences which may exist between them and the deputy kgosi. They were probably driven by protocol than anything else. You see, the Molomos are not a noisy family. Ninety-eight percent of them are intellectuals and most intellectuals are civilised people who do not need the help of a mob or thugs to achieve an objective.        

It is vital to understand the Group of Elders and what it stood for. Otherwise one can end up throwing the baby with bath water like Sekai did. The group was none political although its detractors accused it being a front for the ruling party. It was also wrongly accused of preparing for Kgosi Mothibe to take over at the kgotla following the departure of Kgosi Kgafela. It consisted of people of varying political interests and those who are non-partisan. It was founded by Ray Molomo and Letlotlo Kopong. They were concerned about lawlessness in the village and wanted to assist tribal leaders with solutions. After securing support from several individuals they canvassed, the Group met for the first time at a house at Moshawaneng ward in Mochudi on July 2012. They came with an idea of seeking a meeting with Kgosi Kgafela to discuss what they said undermined his dignity and that of the village. They also identified the absence of Bakgatla from the Ntlo-ya-dikgosi as a weakness on the part of the tribe. These were the issues they wanted to present to the Kgosi with a view to urging him to reconsider his non-participation in the House. The idea was to appeal to Kgosi Kgafela to either join the House or appoint someone effective to be his voice in the Ntlo-ya-dikgosi. That individual would lobby other members of the House to impress upon the law makers to introduce amendments to the constitution.        

After three meetings, the Group introduced themselves to Kgosi Mothibe who welcomed them and in turn introduced them to Kgosi Sekai. By that time, Sekai was already on suspension in connection with the Mascom tower and flogging cases. Kgosi Kgafela had left for South Africa to sort a few things out there. The group never got the chance of meeting the Kgosi because it later emerged that he had decided to stay permanently in South Africa. They decided not to raise those issues with Sekai because they felt he could not comprehend their impact and even if he did, he could not provide answers to them.        When it became clear later that Kgosi Kgafela had gone for good, the Group continued functioning by tackling issues which undermined service delivery at the kgotla with Sekai’s participation before he quit. They met resistance from certain quarters. It later emerged that headmen throughout the district had been told to “go slow at work” or “provide no service at all to the people as a way of putting pressure on government”. Some headmen complied while many others refused arguing that they were being paid by government to serve the people.       

By that time a group which became known as the Mangana or Matlhoakgosi was running the show in the village. At the kgotla it became impossible for people to express their views unless those were the views of the Matlhoakgosi.       

To date, Ray Molomo remains the champion of freedom of speech in Mochudi. Batswana have a saying that “mafoko a kgotla a mantle otlhe.” This expression means that people must feel free to express themselves and that they must be allowed to do so even if one does not agree with. This is what Ray Molomo believed in. Unfortunately in Mochudi of today, he was not allowed to do so. He was publicly chastised for expressing an opinion at the kgotla. Sadly, he was not protected by the powers that be.

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