If the traffic officer who stops you for misbehaving on a public road does what his superiors told him, he would not ask you what tribe you are. That notwithstanding, the traffic rap sheet still has a portion that says that offenders should reveal their tribal identity.
Specially Elected MP, Botsalo Ntuane, thinks that it is odd that in this day and age, tribal identity is still an issue and last Wednesday he took up the issue with the Minister of Justice, Defence and Security, Phandu Skelemani.
“It is true that traffic forms requiring people to state their tribal origins are still in use at police stations.
However, people are not made to state their tribal origins in the forms. Our plan is that since the forms were produced en masse, we should allow them to run out of circulation before introducing new ones which do not make reference to peoples’ tribal origins,” the minister said in response to Ntuane’s question.
While touted for being an oasis of peace and stability, Botswana has its own tribal problems. At the beginning of this decade, there was tension that required President Festus Mogae’s intervention when two tribally-based organisations faced off in an ugly public spat.
The president’s own legislative initiative to detribalise the constitution has met resistance from some sections of society and in one of his speeches, he has had to remind Batswana that “we are like an omelette.” The president is so convinced about his omelette theory that at one of the meetings that he addressed recently during his farewell tour, he dismissed suggestions by some that Botswana could at some point in the future find itself in a situation similar to the one that Kenya was in over the past three months.
Following the amendment of the constitution to make it tribally neutral and the expansion of the Ntlo ya Dikgosi (formerly called the House of Chiefs) there have been calls for more reforms.
Last year, the Central District Council rejected a motion by Joseph Kaitshe, a Botswana Congress Party councillor to have the duiker – the totemic symbol of the tribe that incoming president Ian Khama is traditional leader of ÔÇô removed from emblems of the district’s institutions.
The rejection has not discouraged BCP councillors who are rolling their sleeves and have vowed to retable the motion and get started on what they view as a legislative housecleaning exercise to wash off all traces of tribalism that stain the fabric of society.
“In the next round, the motion will target not just the duiker but all totemic symbols and nomenclature that make reference to tribes countrywide,” Kaitshe says.
Kaitshe’s basic argument is that the use of the duiker symbol is improper because it represents the totem of only one tribe while its use is financed by other tribes that are not represented.
He argues further: “I am a Mmirwa but if my marriage is solemnised through the tribal administration system, my marriage certificate would bear a duiker symbol. Why should that be when that symbol has no meaning to me?”
Another BCP councillor in Kweneng district has gone as far as to suggest that nomenclature with tribal reference (like “Kweneng Land Board”, “Kgatleng District Council” and “Ngwaketse Land Board”) should be done away with.