lundi, 21 août 2017
 

Botswana : The legacy of Kgosi Bathoen Gaseitsi

As part of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary, the Botswana National Front will be releasing a series of articles in celebration of its achievements and challenges over the years. This will also include profiles of its former leaders. We start with this article which profile the legacy of former President, Cde Bathoen Gaseitsiwe.

A noble man who loathed nobility (he didn’t mind just being addressed as ‘’ comrade B2’’) ; a seasoned and time tested politician who loathed politics and yet embodying high political ideals and down to earth views expressed in straight talk (Puo Phaa) fashioned – all the virtues of a simpler and serene leader, Bathoen Gaseitsiwe occupies a unique place in Botswana’s political history.

B2 s life was cut short at the age of 88 on October 3, 1990 and when this happened, a feeling of emptiness set in through the country. And today nearly 25 years without B2, this feelings has grown even more acute, demonstrating that Botswana has lost one of its foremost personages of our time, one who will survive in the scholarly minds and debates of historians, social philosophers and practical politicians. Whatever the cause of his death, it was the death of a political giant of our time.

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The word ‘charisma’ applied to him as it does to other few Batswana for there was always some warmth, thunderous applauses and joy when he addressed people assembled in crowds of thousands at freedom squares. But a unique thing about B2 is that he was never molded in the crucible flask of colonial God fathers, but was self made, that is to say, he was author of his own success. He was concerned about doing and saying what he thought was right for Batswana and not what he thought would be praised by some external determinants.

And in plain language, B2, always wearing a wide smile, got along with everybody and treated people, young and old, with equal respect. Completely undeterred by frivolous criticism, B2 could brush aside insults from political foes as easy as raindrops are whisked from a car wind screen. And that is precisely why (as if in repentance), his most fervent detractors took the lead right through preparations up to the conduct of his funeral. Hatred quickly dissolved into love.

In his days as a BNF President from the early 70s, Comrade B2 was admired by followers as an eloquent, diligent, formidable, forceful and unquenchable brave defender of Botswana’s political and socio-economic interests, as his party, the BNF saw them. The man had a remarkably intuitive sense of the dangers and opportunities facing the nation. He skillfully steered the ship of his party (the BNF) in the stormiest of days when the ‘Seretse cult’ was at its highest peak and when chieftainship was plunging into serious crisis. Far from living in the ghetto of sentimentally about the feudalist past, Comrade B2 resolutely revised his political positions whenever he realized that the theoretical concepts he had earlier formed clashes with the present reality : hence he came sooner than any other Botswana chiefs to realize that the BDP government was relegating the institution of chieftainship to the relics of the past. He quickly reconciled himself to the unexpected fact that chieftainship future was doomed and so joined the ranks of the BNF in 1969. He then took the lead in terms of resisting neo colonial cultural aggression as well as political and economic domination. It is deplorable that some other chiefs were robbed of the logic of the reality of chiefs being stripped off all their powers.

It is pertinent at this stage to cast our minds back a little to the issue of chieftainship. It is a historical fact that pre colonial Botswana was state with pluralistic decentralization of power, with built in constraints on the rulers’ authority. This demographic arrangement was destroyed during colonial period whereby the colonial administration deliberately conferred some repressive powers to the chief whilst they themselves (colonial rulers) retained only the more humane powers. Then in reality the chief ceased to rule his people with the aid of Dikgosana (sub chiefs) and other advisors in the traditional democratic manner, but through the indulgence and direction of “His Majesty’s” commissioner. The chief was therefore not accountable to his people but to her majesty.

At independence, the nascent BDP government made matters worse for the chiefs. They were effectively stripped of all their powers and were accountable to the Minister of Local Government and Lands and not to the people. The chiefs were in fact relegated to the lower levels of bureaucracy with the government’s errands boy – District Commissioner- overloading it all in the district. As B2 had himself predicted, today’s chief virtually forms the bottom base of the bureaucratic pyramid in his own tribal area representing mirage of “Big village boss” and the reality of subservience to government. In the heat of this crisis, the BNF (which B2 later joined) denounced the extremes of the BDP government in shaping Botswana’s chieftainship to fit its own mood, political interests and preconceptions of the moment.

The BNF’s message to the BDP on this issue was clear : Traditional leadership should not be ridiculed or petrified into monumental pattern like LOT’s WIFE – head turned back. The Front argued that even the very British, whom BDP itself likes to emulate, have themselves respected their traditional leaders. They have not gone to the extremes of pummel ting traditional leadership into crude shapes like the BDP government has done. The BNF accused the ruling party of merely giving the chiefs a false sense of involvement in the process of ruling the country by creating politically toothless and impotent institution called the House of Chiefs. The Front pledged on its manifesto that once in power chiefs of all tribes (not just the so called principal tribes) will by virtue of birth be full members of the House of Representatives (National Assembly). This message settled well with Bathoen and other more “patriotic chiefs”.

Anybody with patience enough to peel off the layers of Botswana’s political history will immediately discover that B2 did not make the struggle for the dignity and respect for traditional leadership the main focus of his political activity. On the contrary he made anti neo-colonialism the load-star of his political agenda.

His BNF followers drew from his practical anti-colonial experience and took inspiration in his ideas in political discourse. History does not hide the fact that since independence the entire life of B2 was an impassioned search for answers to a vital question :

How can Botswana achieve its genuine economic and cultural independence ? Although he never had any Marxist and Leninist conviction, Bathoen strongly believed that socialist philosophy had tremendous potential to offer solutions to many socio-economic problems. As a staunch BNF member, he strongly believed that the socialist idea could acquire new content and essence by infusion. Among the socialist countries he visited was the People’s Republic of China and on arrival argued that “socialism was conceived under the influence of man’s age old strive for justice and dignity’”

His speeches in parliament depicted profound concern about the condition of the poor, concern about the aggrieved, the deprived and the exploited workers and peasants. Among the tendencies he hated most were official corruption, incompetence and political patronage in the public appointments. Bathoen was unlike many royalists, far from regarding himself as an enunciator of everlasting ability. He voluntarily surrendered his chieftainship to his eldest son, Seepapitso IV. He also voluntarily surrendered the BNF presidency to Dr Kenneth Koma.

At a small ceremony in Kanye to bid him farewell from the BNF vice presidency to become the country’s first Customary Court President, speaker after speaker including the party’s Dr. Kenneth Koma commended and praised him as a politician whose statesmanship transcended mere party politics, a man whose grasp of Botswana’s history and its details was unrivalled. The BNF was duly proud of producing the first Customary Court President. The extra national responsibility entrusted in him gave him added zest and energy until the final day.

Among the paroxysm of the present political power game on the dart board of Botswana spoke as baptismal commandment to his Bangweketse tribesmen as a farewell have particular relevance : ‘’NEVER BETRAY THE BNF’’, he says to them before his departure from this earth “Remember a crocodile can never be trapped with a mere fish net”, (Kwena ga eke e tshwarwa ke letloa la ditlhapi).

This last message to the Bangwaketse demonstrated B2’s unshakable political convictions. The words have evidently stirred the Bangwaketse tribe to the very depth of their soul because all over Botswana, Bathoen Gaseitsiwe meant something both as a personality and as a set of ideas and convictions.

One thing is abundantly clear : if there are some African statesmen who have had to be idolized because they groveled to the foreign patrons, seeking advice, blessing and praise abroad, B2 was not one of them. He is the authentic author of his own statesmanship.

50th Anniversary Celebrations Committee

 
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