Last Updated
Monday 20 October 2014, 07:00 am.
"Democracy is not a spectator sport"

Meet Pastor Richard Moleofe, the retired infantryman and army chaplain who intends to run as a lone wolf in the next general elections on a platform of tackling land nightmares and voter apathy, writes DOUGLAS TSIAKO
By Douglas Tsiako Fri 18 Oct 2013, 17:58 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: "Democracy is not a spectator sport"

Although it hardly ever concentrates their minds, most contemporary adherents of three of the world's nine major religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - must find the maxim of separation of Church and State hypocritical, especially in this part of the world and in the so-called Holy Land where all the Manifestations of God revealed themselves over the ages.

 It is uncertain where the aphorism originated, but Christendom would find itself in trouble if it pointed to the tumultuous revolution that was the Reformation as its genesis. That is because while Martin Luther succeeded in freeing the rulers of 16th Century Europe from the clutches of the Papacy, made the Bible more of a public document accessible to ordinary parishioners and commoners, and gave the world its first template of a bill of rights, he did not achieve anything even slightly akin to a separation of Church and State.

  Afterall, though he detested the hold that Rome had on European rulers and viewed with cynicism the doctrines, rituals, leadership and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, the schism that his activities resulted in only became a separation after he was excommunicated. Even so, it was a division within the church itself when many believers in Germany, the Baltics and Scandinavia formed new denominations after Luther's teachings. The point is that in essence, the Reformation was both a theological and political movement that was influenced by the decline of feudalism, the spread of the printing press, and the Renaissance.

 At any rate, like sin stalking virtue, King Henry VIII of England was always skulking nearby to ensure a decidedly political flavour to the protest. Bereft of an heir to the throne, the King sought the Pope's blessing for an annulment of his marriage so that he might re-marry and hopefully bear a son. When the Pope would not grant the King's wish, it was in the midst of growing political differences between Rome and England over church taxes going straight to Rome and the Pope's powers to appoint bishops, among other thorny issues.

  The split from Rome was inevitable, and when it finally came, the King became the head of the English church by Royal Supremacy, thus making the Church of England the established church of the nation that would in time spread to other parts of the world, including Botswana where President Ian Khama rose to the pulpit on 14 July at a ceremony to enthrone Father Metlhayotlhe Beleme as the first Motswana Bishop of its Botswana diocese.

  For southern Africa, the World Council of Churches and the Catholic Bishops Conference added considerable impetus to the growth and work of the anti-apartheid movement when they declared apartheid a heresy in the 1980s. Similarly, the voice of the Justice and Peace Commission of Zimbabwe's Catholics has been a constant moral bulwark against the white minority regime of Ian Smith and the excesses of Robert MugabeÕs ZANU PF government.

In this country, while there is growing concern that the Botswana Council of Churches has been infiltrated by conservative forces of the religious right, it is significant that the federation of mainly Protestant denominations joined the platform of unions during the public service strike of Winter 2010.

 More notably, Botswana's first and second Speakers of the National Assembly were Reverend Dr Alfred Merriweather and Reverend Albert Lock respectively, both of UCCSA, while Reverend Dr John Seakgosing, also of UCCSA, is the incumbent MP for Kweneng South. More disturbingly, however, an increasing number of Christian denominations, both mainstream and African independent churches, are prostrating themselves alongside calculating businessmen before President Ian Khama to offer him alms for passing on to the poor in a brazen attempt to identify with the ruling Botswana Democratic Party. More and more, especially at election time, benedictions are becoming less sanctified in orientation and more political in content. The effect is to make a mockery of the maxim of separation of Church and State to the point where, not unlike the appendix in the human body, it is of little value and often troublous even as a figure of speech. 

 Perhaps this is what has partly informed 47-year old Pastor Richard Moleofe of Assemblies of God's Churches to run as an independent parliamentary candidate in Mogoditshane in the next general elections. "It takes a certain amount of conviction to stand as an independent candidate at parliamentary level, but I take courage from (MP for Lobatse) Nehemiah Modubule's achievements as one," Moleofe says as soon he settled in a chair at Mmegi.

 He explains that while he has been inclined to the opposition for much of his adult life, he is wary of joining the fragmented and factious lot that BotswanaÕs opposition parties have become. Noting that next year's general elections will mark the third time for the opposition in disarray since the momentous split of the Botswana National Front at its congress in Palapye in 1998, Reverend Moleofe, who is the parish priest of Assemblies in Matebele in Kgatleng, says it is for that reason that he has decided to take the route of the lone wolf.  "I aim for the jugular vein of the ruling party and low-lying fruits of the opposition," he declares.

  Born in Gabane on 2 October 1966 but raised in Mogoditshane, Moleofe speaks with deliberation and is unfazed that he is a solitary outsider. In his estimation, he has more than a fair chance in at least four of the eight wards that make up Mogodiatshane under the new delimitation and demarcation of constituencies, namely, Mogoditshane North, Ledumadumane, Nkoyaphiri North and Nkoyaphiri Central. He is particularly confident of support in Mogoditshane North whose population is made up largely of soldiers and their families at Sir Seretse Khama Barracks where he spent 20 years as a chaplain.

 "That is not to suggest that I am hopeless in the rest of the constituency because I am fairly well-known throughout, having been the Chairman of Mogoditshane Sub-landboard for two years, 2011 and 2012," he says.

  Land issues actually form part of his two-pronged campaign springboard, the other being voter education. "People need to find redemption in land issues because land is a basic factor of production and a survival need,"he notes. "While the sub-landboard was established in 1992, it is still bogged down in a backlog that goes back 20 years to 1993. The pace is too slow because land administration is mired in corruption all over Botswana, especially in Mogoditshane, the Chobe and Gantsi. What we need to do is push delivery of land."

  Moleofe believes that his expectation of electoral success in Mogoditshane - especially the section of it that includes the army camp where an estimated 3,500 soldiers, their families and domestic workers live - is not unrealistic because he believes he served this community well as a chaplain. When he joined the army, the biggest challenge was suicides, homicides and spousal infidelity within the Botswana Defence Force (BDF). "Infact, it was like dealing with al Qaeda because people were not afraid to take their own lives," he says without batting an eyelid and remembers a certain Colonel Tswetla who took his life under these circumstances.

 He attributes this cocktail of problems to an austere order at the BDF that was devoid of any welfare system that he set about to modify as part of his chaplaincy work. In addition to provident schemes that he says have fallen into disrepute because of misuse and corruption, Moleofe says he addressed himself to the rigid regime under which soldiers did not have much social time.

 "While soldiers were among the best paid category of Batswana then, they were unable to attend funerals of loved ones, including family. The bachelors did not have the time to be with their girlfriends, and the girls would start to drift away. Because of that, soldiers were disgruntled and frustrated to boiling point. The homicides and suicides reached alarming proportions in the latter part of the 1980s, and (Commander Ian) Khama was helpless."

 Yet this Spartan regime co-existed with, and probably gave rise to, spousal infidelity within the Botswana military.This was at a time when the only women allowed in barracks were wives and maids, mainly of officers.There existed a code of conduct known as Pamphlet Number One (not to be confused with the late BNF leader Kenneth Koma's treatise of the same title) that spelt trouble for anyone who went errant of its various canons but one that could not be enforced. Says Moleofe: "The problem of infidelity was so rife that the BDF would have been shorn of many of its officers, had it been enforced. The decadence actually gave a new meaning to the term "short range."

  This is how he explains the new addition BDF slang: When soldiers are on call and therefore cannot leave camp, they do target practice on what is called a stop bud wall that is traditionally within a short range of where they are billeted. Army wives and maids who came from that period detest being referred to by this term because of its warped connotations. 'Many of the younger soldiers often presume to use it without quite understanding its origins,' Moleofe says.

Another of the pastor's preoccupation is voter education because 'democracy is not a spectator sport'. He stared apathy in the face when he took it upon himself to help Botswana's former Consul General in Cape Town, Sydney Modimakwane, in voter registration in 2003 for the 2004 general elections. "The situation among Batswana students was pathetic," he says. "But it is a natural consequence that if people do not understand the value of voting, it is the incumbent party that stands to benefit."

He was a student of divinity at the University at the time. In his view, the way people make ephemeral demands of candidates is an illustration of how there is little understanding of "the power their vote wields." He gives the example of how people will ask a candidate to buy them cartons of "Shake Shake," saying the ruling party prefers the situation as it is because it is sustained by this voter apathy. "The degree of voter ignorance is also evident in the high degree of spoiled votes," Moleofe contends. "Very often, voters will put an "X" in the wrong place because they think they are cancelling the candidates they do not want! In that way, you find that eight-year olds are better than 18-year olds because the children understand that different pies have different symbols, and they never get them wrong."

He is concerned that like tertiary education students, the so-called white-collar workers generally do not vote, "at least not as much as labourers do". While he admits that the problems of Mogoditshane are multifarious beyond land and voter apathy, he believes these two are fundamental. "I will delve into voter education because it is a win-win situation," he says. "We cannot change the government unless people know how to participate in the democratic process and are therefore able to demand an end to crime, better housing, better education, better roads and so on. I hope to raise the level of political consciousness even if I do not win in the end. That's how I regard this as a win-win situation.

Moleofe welcomes LAPCAS, the Swede-assisted Improvement of Land Administration Procedures, Capacity and Systems mainly because it will reveal the extent of land ownership by everyone Òto the point of GPS co-ordinates", and thus help curb the problem of voter trafficking by the ruling party. In his view, the trouble with the programme is its slow pace, which he suspects is deliberate to ensure that it is concluded before the general elections next year.

He says the advantage of running as an independent is that he can be known early as a candidate because he does not have to go through primary elections. Related to this, Moleofe holds that in addition to gerrymandering for the advantage of the incumbent government, delimitation commissions hurt political parties - especially the opposition - because they must precede primaries. "People must know their candidates early," he says.

Pastor Moeleofe is one candidate who could not be wbothered by the fallacy of a separation of Church and State. This father of three - a boy, a girl and another boy - is married "to one wife".

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