Close to 600 members of the Ba-ka-Nswazwi tribe who fled to Zimbabwe fearing persecution by Bangwato are expected to be repatriated back into Botswana by mid November.
Botswana is hoping for a peaceful completion of the exercise and does not expect problems of tribal spats such as ones that characterized the exhumation and reburial of She John Nswazwi of the Ba-Ka-Nswazwi in 2002.
The referendum on the amendment of the constitution polarized Batswana, notably the Ba-Kalanga and Bangwato. The two societies rose to prominence at that time with Pitso ya Batswana (PYB) holding fast to the dominance of the eight major tribes and, on the other side, the Society for the Prevention on Ikalanga Language clamouring for Kalanga supremacy.
The media fraternity had a field day as there was hardly a day that passed without the two factions battling it out in the papers. The two groups were said to be enjoying the support and patronage of big wigs in both government and the private sector.
Former Member of Parliament, Obed Chilume, declared his support of SPIL while Moutlakgola Ngwako openly supported PYB.
Ethnic tensions were so high and the nation so polarized that, in his state of the nation address, President Festus Mogae openly denounced tribalism in all its forms and warned Batswana to be wary of a few unscrupulous individuals who were bent on fuelling tribalism and, at the same time, using the issue to put themselves in the public spotlight.
The repatriation is expected to be complete by mid November and the people will be transported into Botswana with their property. However, cloven hoofed animals will not be allowed into the country as they are susceptible to foot and mouth disease but other animals like poultry and pets will be allowed.
An official in the Office of the President told The Sunday Standard that the people would be given identity cards on arrival in Botswana so that they could enjoy full government privileges. The destitute will be identified and accordingly assisted.
Some of the returnees will settle in Nswazwi Village while others will be assimilated into other villages in the North East District. This has raised grumbles of discontent from some quarters, with others complaining that all the people should be allowed to stay in their rightful village of Nswazwi to preserve their culture.
Kgosi Nswazwi was banished to present day Zimbabwe by the colonial masters for his conflict with Tshekedi Khama.
After negotiations between Botswana and Zimbabwe the Ba-kaNswazwi were allowed to come back home.
Kgosi Nswazwi, by then a sickly old man, instructed his people to come back and remained with only a few so he could make his return journey after recovery. But that was not to be as he passed away on May 14, 1960. Many of the subjects who had stayed with him decided to settle in Zimbabwe.
Four years after their chief was exhumed and reburied in Botswana, and more than 60 years after they sought refuge in Zimbabwe, the Ba-ka-Nswazwi are finally coming back home.
Many had thought that this announcement would resuscitate the spat between SPIL and PYB, but it seems as if the two groups have heeded the president’s warning.
Methlaetsile Leepile, an outspoken activist for Tswana supremacy who once wrote a thesis accusing the Kalanga of appointing themselves to dominant positions in key government structures notably the Judiciary and the Attorney General’s Chambers, was uncharacteristically calm as he told The Sunday Standard that the Ba-ka-Nswazwi had every right to come back as they had never assumed Zimbabwean citizenship.
Asked to comment on behalf of PYB, Leepile said that he had never been a member of the society.
Former SPIL Chairman, Batshani Ndaba, said he was not part of the repatriation exercise and referred The Sunday Standard to Mathius Chakalisa. The latter could not be reached for comment at the time of going to press.
A member of the repatriation organising committee called the exercise a milestone in the history of Botswana adding that all Bakalanga are united and will go a long way to ensure that their long lost tribesmen are comfortable.