Misanet.com / Mmegi, 20 April - Batswana President Festus Mogae has washed his hands off the continuing tribalism tug of war in the country. A provoked but calm Mogae in a public meeting in the town of Kanye said that contrary to wide accusations against him, he was not fuelling tribalism in Botswana.
President Festus Mogae said though he believed that Sections 77-79 of the Botswana Constitution were not discriminatory, he could not ignore others who were crying loud and clear that they were being discriminated against. Sections 77-79 of the Constitution list recognised Batswana "tribes" and set out their membership in the House of Chiefs. Minority groups not represented in the list claim the sections violate other stated rights of the Constitution and are legally trying them.
Mogae, who has undoubtedly improved on his previously abrasive public speaking and brought his temper under control said that unlike his predecessors - Sirs Seretse Khama and Ketumile Masire - he finds himself ruling in an era when the socio-political landscape has changed and he must respond to it.
He pointed out that his two predecessors also experienced the problem but never quite addressed it. "I have not caused the fire but I am feeling the heat. These are new challenges. We must attend to these challenges of our times. We must respond to them as best as we can. There are new challenges to be attended to now and in the future," remarked the President.
In year 2000, President Mogae had appointed a task force to review the House of Chiefs and its constitutional basis, the so-called Balopi Commission. Its conclusions however caused protests by several chiefs that would end up having their privileges limited by the proposed changes.
Mogae reasoned that he could not remove perceptions that certain tribal groupings felt marginalised. Turning to the White Paper on the Balopi Commission, the President insisted that there was no attempt by government to eliminate chieftainship. He disclosed that he personally respected chiefs.
The President revealed that the caucus of the ruling BDP party has since resolved that paramount chiefs should retain their ex-officio status in the House of Chiefs and should not be elected. He said however, that the White Paper does not address the appointment of chiefs and that is dealt with in the Chieftainship Act.
He explained that the White Paper was instead dealing with the designation of chiefs to the House of Chiefs and not their enthronement as chiefs. The President promised the Bangwaketse, one of Botswana's three dominant peoples, that he would not implement decisions that the people were opposed to.
Commenting on the President's remarks, a BDP elder and Councillor Ketumile Kaboyamodimo said there was no tribal discrimination in Botswana. "The matter is only that some people have an inferiority complex," he said. The councillor said that nobody should tamper with chieftainship, as it was a special institution.
He blasted the complaint against tribal imbalances in the Constitution as sectarian, "only coming from the other side of Dibete Cordon fence". He recalled that people from the north had tabled similar motions in parliament as far back as 1969. He claimed to have seen an office notice in Botswana's second urban center, Francistown, claiming that there was no job in the country's principal languages, Setswana and English, but in Ikalanga there was a note disclosing that a vacancy existed. It was this that fascinated the audience most.
For his part, Kgosi Oarabile Kalaben said that the Southern tribal groupings were at peace with themselves and the rest of the nation. They were happily living under the authority of their paramount chiefs, he said.
Kalaben claimed that those regions of North East, Chobe, Ghanzi and Kgalagadi represented in the House of Chiefs by elected members, had great difficulty designating their own paramount chiefs. North East alone, for instance had ten sub chiefs of equal status, he told the audience. Kalaben said that people from those regions must sort out their problems without troubling the rest of the nation.
Another speaker, James Motsatsing also said the issue of ethnic imbalance in the constitution was only a problem for the northern people. Meanwhle, Batlokwa will gather at their kgotla - a traditional Batswana discussion forum - this morning (Saturday), to discuss the White Paper. According to Deputy Chief Michael Gaborone, they will also discuss the leopard skin ceremony that will formally confer paramount chief status on Kgosi Moshibidu Gaborone.