Friday, March 24, 2023

Roy Sesana is now a civil servant

While nothing has been made official yet, Sunday Standard learns through sources that First People of the Kalahari (FPK) leader, Roy Sesana, will join the employ of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development as a project officer. He will be based in Molapo, the largest settlement in the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR) where Sesana was born around 1950.

With the government having reached a truce with FPK and restoring essential services that were stopped in 2002, Sesana will be part of this programme in said position. At press time, he was said to be away in the CKGR which doesn’t have cellphone coverage.

On account of age alone, Sesana doesn’t qualify to work for the government whose retirement age is 65 but the CKGR’s is a unique situation in which it would have been necessary to dispense with some standard rules to deal with a unique set of circumstances. The government needs to work with a local person who has credibility with the residents and Sesana seems to be that person. The only other prominent FPK leader who might have been a possible candidate is Jumanda Gakelebone but he was elected New Xade councillor in last year’s general election.

While Sesana has credibility with a lot of CKGR residents, a dissident group seeking to replace him is said to have sprung up in Molapo itself. Our information is that the government plans to help the residents set up and operate cultural tourism project in both Molapo and Mothomelo. Sesana, who reportedly holds the view that some residents hunt for commercial purposes, is said to be “excited” about the project because it would conserve game. He is also said to believe that as natives of CKGR, the residents would do a much better job working as guides than wildlife officers who are outsiders. On the other hand, the dissidents are said to find more appealing a proposal by Ditshwanelo, the local human rights group, that would allow residents to hunt a certain number of animals in a year – eight gemsboks, a source says. According to the IUCN, gemsboks’ conservation status is “least-concern” in a scheme made up of two other categories – “extinct” and “endangered.” There is a feeling among the dissidents that Sesana has betrayed the cause and a Molapo resident, more militant than the former, is touting himself as the real deal.

Sesana becomes the second FPK leader in eight years to swap San-rights activism for a job in the public service. The first was the organisation’s last coordinator, Kgosimontle Anxious Kebuelemang, who in 2008, joined the Department of Tribal Administration in the same ministry as Headman of Records for Mababe village. At 25 years, Kebuelemang was one of the youngest headmen in the country. The latter said at the time that he knew that some people would tag him with the “sell-out” label and that he had actually heard that from former colleagues at FPK.

If Sesana’s work history becomes the future of his relationship with his new employer, there may be some problems down the road. Eight years ago, he tangled with Kebuelemang over unauthorised absenteeism. Following heavy rains in 2007, Sesana thought it would be a good idea to leave his duty station at the FPK office in Gantsi, go to Molapo and “plough two hectares.” What turned out to have been a bad idea was neglecting to notify the coordinator about absence from work over an extended period of time. When Kebuelemang called him for a disciplinary hearing, Sesana baulked and his explanation to Sunday Standard at the time was that he wouldn’t deign to subject himself to the authority of someone junior to him, someone whom he “found” stuck in a dead-end job at Gantsi Craft (“found” as you would a lost coin) and thrown a more financially rewarding job. Then began a long spat between the two men during which Kebuelemang claimed that Sesana was not actually FPK leader but a mere field worker assigned the CKGR case. Asked to explain why it was not capacitating FPK staff to handle administrative duties, Survival International ÔÇô which at the time was FPK’s main sponsor, said that it was not its place to interfere in the running of tribal organisations it supports globally.

From what he has alleged in the past, Sesana would personally bear the scars of his people’s struggle to return to the CKGR and reclaim full residency rights. As a project officer he would be working with game scouts but among his many tales of persecution is a severe beatdown that he reportedly suffered at the hands of these same scouts. Sesana, whose evocation of what is otherwise powerful imagery is often expressed in comically hyperbolic terms, has claimed that he was used like a stage by the scouts doing the Zion Christian Church [mokhukhu] dance” on top of him. Mokhukhu is pattern of leaping into the air and stamping feet on the ground.

“Ke ba binela ZCC mo go nna,” he said.

On a YouTube video that is floating around the Internet, Sesana alleges that he lost a lot of money when he was forcibly evicted from the CKGR.

 “I lost P200 000,” he says.

He was abroad when he made this allegation – it is unclear where but at one point the simultaneous interpretation voice says “I want the UN to help.” Wearing his trademark headband with horns, Sesana is making his plea in Setswana which is simultaneously translated into English by a Motswana woman. The statement was filmed by Rebecca Sommer for Earth Peoples. To an extent, Sesana has garnered international support on the basis of public statements he makes. For a detail that astounding, the alleged theft of a sum of money that substantial was neither shared with the police nor the local media whom Sesana has a very good relationship with. The theft did not form part of his affidavit when he led a court case against the government to challenge the CKGR evictions.

In 2005, Sesana and FPK won the Right Livelihood Award along with its equivalent of P400 000 prize money. The award is dubbed the Alternative Nobel Prize because it is granted a day before the Nobel Prizes. Sesana travelled to Sweden where he was granted the award in the country’s parliament and got to give an acceptance speech with Gakelebone acting as interpreter. The money was frittered away in no time and FPK found itself in dire straits soon thereafter. Explaining how that partly happened, Sesana claimed that one male employee (who reportedly went to bed “with a cellphone jammed between his thighs”) ran up an astronomical telephone bill by making ceaseless trans-Atlantic lovey-dovey calls to a new girlfriend in the United States.

Sesana’s lifestory, as told in a book by Kuela Kiema called Tears For My Land, is that he is a Dxanakhoe who was born in Molapo. As a young man he travelled extensively in the CKGR to visit and trade with other tribes. In addition to his mother tongue ÔÇô Dxana ÔÇô he also speaks Dcui, Tsila, Dxolo, Naro, Setswana, Shekgalagari and Kalanga.

Sesana has no western education but according to Kiema, is imbued with a deep knowledge of the philosophy and mythology surrounding Kua hunting and gathering practices.

“He uses all the traditional hunting methods and knows all about medicinal and edible plants,” Kiema writes.

The FPK leader’s working life began in Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) in tobacco plantations where, according to Kiema, “he was treated like a dog.” When he visited Molapo, he would bring tobacco which he sold to neighbouring villages. After Southern Rhodesia, Sesana worked in the South African mines for eight years. It was during this time that he acquired Fanagaloo, a lingua franca used exclusively in South African mines. When off-duty, he would often participate in the “vicious street fights”, a gruesome spectacle organised by the miners themselves as entertainment.

The book says of these fights: “Sesana has never forgotten how he was beaten by Swazis, Xhosas, Manyasas and Zulus. He received stab wounds many times to both his body and his head. It didn’t always go against him though, and he beat many of those who challenged him.”

Tears For My Land suggests that Sesana’s stewardship of the FPK has been something of a disaster.  It turns out that there has long been regional rivalry in CKGR between the Western Group and Eastern Group.  Under Sesana, FPK has become “an informal club without professional or managerial procedures”, has “avoided auditors and accountants, and all office-holders are males from New Xade,” it no longer represents the interests of all CKGR Basarwa but “only the interests of the Western Group (people from Molapo, Metsiamanong, Gugamma and Mothomelo).” There are some, the book says, who view FPK as “a duopoly of Roy Sesana and Jumanda Gakelebotse.” Kiema says that Sesana has stated that he sees himself as the “saviour” instead of “voice” of the people.

That notwithstanding, Kiema’s book declares Sesana a hero in the league of Nelson Mandela, the late African National Congress stalwart and first leader of a democratic South Africa.


Read this week's paper