Thursday, July 9, 2020

Ray Molomo did what few dared do – speak truth to royal power

Around the time that Bakgatla age-regiments (mephato) went on the rampage soon after Kgosi Kgafela II’s installation, some members of Ntlo ya Dikgosi were shocked but none ever publicly expressed their opposition. The regiments were flogging people outside of what the law prescribes in precise terms. In private conversation however, one very senior member of that house said that Kgafela was subverting Tswana custom on punishment. Such custom establishes tribunal hierarchy made up of the family, ward kgotla and main kgotla.

The kgosi in question said that Kgafela was subverting this hierarchy because he was meting out punishment from the main kgotla without having involved the lower tribunals.“What Kgafela is doing is the equivalent of an accused person being punished by the Court of Appeal without any sort of trial having occurred at the lower courts,” the Ntlo ya Dikgosi member said.At least according to press reportage, one of the people flogged by the regiments, acting on Kgafela’s mandate, was a pregnant woman.When no senior tribesman in Mochudi would raise a voice of dissent against the tyranny of the regiments, one did – Ray Matlapeng Molomo.  To be clear, there were a few other Bakgatla who did but Molomo stood out amongst them on account of he was.

A former Parliament Speaker, cabinet minister, Member of Parliament, University of Botswana lecturer and published writer, Molomo had very standing not just nationally but in Kgatleng. Perhaps more importantly, he was himself a member of the royal family, was very well-steeped in tribal affairs and culture and had featured as one of the principal interviewees in a Botswana Television documentary on Bakgatla initiation schools – where age-regiments are trained.This was a very brave act because Kgafela’s revival of initiation training and mobilisation of age-regiments were very popular with a significant section of the tribe. Interestingly and in an odd sort of way, the terror that the regiments had unleashed were containing in lawlessness in the district. One testimony is that of a Molefhi Senior Secondary School teacher who says that at the time that the regiments were meting out instant punishment (flogging), misbehaviour by even the most wayward students at the school dropped to zero.

However, for all the good work that they were doing, regiments were also violating people’s rights as constitutionally guaranteed. Few were willing to speak out against this and one of the most prominent voices was Molomo’s.The fallout from actions of the regiments was earth-shattering. Kgafela would be arrested, briefly imprisoned, charged for the floggings and mid-way through the judicial process in 2011, fled into South Africa where he still resides. Interestingly, Moruleng, where the Bakgatla kgosi lives now, has a serious lawlessness problem no different from that of Kgatleng. However, to date Kgafela has yet to deploy cane-wielding regiments on the streets to deal with this lawlessness.Precedence matters in societal and royal affairs and historically, no Bakgatla kgosi has be absent from his seat of power for a protracted period of time.

In 2013 when the tribe discussed Kgafela’s absence, Molomo was among a group that made a very radical proposal – that Kgafela should be replaced. Most of the Bakgatla would have none of that but Molomo ensured that he used the freedom of speech that the kgotla guarantees all tribespeople to speak his mind.At this time, the Deputy Kgosi Bana Sekai Linchwe, was the most senior tribal leader and at one point alleged that the government had recruited prominent tribesmen to help oust him and his junior, Kgosi Segale Linchwe, from their positions in the main kgotla. Molomo was alleged to be one of the insurgents and when queried about this by Botswana Gazette, didn’t bite his tongue.“Sekai o bua matlakala, wa utlwa? (Sekai is talking rubbish, you hear?),” the paper quotes Molomo as saying when he spoke to the paper’s reporter.Whatever one feels about how Molomo approached the Kgafela and flogging issue, it is important to at least appreciate his continuance of a centuries-old practice of speaking truth to royal power. At least on the basis of English belief, dikgosi may have blue blood but at the end of the day are still flash-and-blood people with strengths and weaknesses. Historically, they have been praised for their strengths and when they err, are counselled to make them better people and abler leaders.

That is what malope (kgosi’s counsellors, not sycophants – malatswathipa) did. That is how the institution of bogosi has historically been strengthened and is what Molomo was trying to do.He did what few are willing to do nowadays and what in some cases has provokes misguided rancour from those who overindulge the whims of dikgosi. Being assertive with a kgosi makes one unpopular and going by press reportage, Kgafela doesn’t seem to have publicly paid tribute to Molomo who, despite what personal differences they may have had, contributed a lot to the tribe. When a 2011 kgotla meeting resolved that the power to allocate tribal land should be restored to dikgosi, Molomo was tasked to negotiate this matter with the Minister of Lands and Housing – as he then was.Today, Botswana has to grapple with a situation in which dikgosi are themselves weakening the institution of bogosi and undoing social cohesion by going into politics while they retain their royal positions. Not enough citizens are raising their voices about this and late last year, outsiders (2019 general election observers) had to remind Botswana about the folly of mixing bogosi with politics. So far, three dikgosi (Ian Khama of Bangwato, Tawana Moremi of Batawana and Lotlaamoreng Montshioa of Barolong) have been active politicians while retaining their royal positions.

Moremi and Lotlaamoreng are headed back to the kgotla while Khama is still knee-deep in politics, having formed a political party ahead of the 2019 general election. Bogosi unites a tribe while politics divides it and the dual roles that these dikgosi have played will certainly have detrimental effects on social cohesion. However, not enough people – especially tribespeople as prominent as Molomo was – are speaking out against this aberration.Having retired from active politics in 2004, Molomo passed away on Christmas Day at the age of 89 and was buried on January 3 in Mochudi. The last position he held was Speaker of the National Assembly and in retirement, would write a book about parliamentary democracy. Nobody would have had any way of knowing this then but Molomo was the last of the truly independent and fair-minded Speakers. In that same category would be his successors – Patrick Balopi and Margaret Nasha. What will be mostly remembered about the last Speaker, Gladys Kokorwe, is that she worked too closely with the Office of the President and in an unconstitutionally subordinate role.

Kokorwe’s inability to deal fairly with the Opposition Benches made relations between the ruling party and opposition MPs unusually toxic. It is interesting to speculate how, with his level of assertiveness, Molomo would have related with a president who insisted on micro-managing parliamentary affairs.

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.