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The road headache in Mahalapye East

Staff Writer
There is a tendency to downplay the so-called isms because they are considered instruments of divisive politics of a past era.

Once upon a time, there was so much fascination with socialism, capitalism and even internationalism. But with the Cold War era gone, many believe that the ashes from the smouldering fire have now gone cold. Nobody cares about isms anymore!

In Mahalapye East, if all isms are dead, regionalism is the one oddity. Regionalism is alive. English writer John Priestly must have had Mahalapye East in mind when he observed that the real flowers belong to regionalism.

"The mass of people everywhere may never have used the term. They are probably regionalists without knowing it. Because they have been brought up in a certain part of the world, they have formed perhaps quite unconsciously a deep attachment to its landscape, its food and drink, its songs and jokes."

Mahalapye East is both a geographical and a political construct. Scores of villages in the South East of the Central District, most of which are dotted along the Botswana and South African border, have been brought together in a political quilt called Mahalapye East. The culture here is homogenous as it is diverse. Except for isi-Xhosa and Sesarwa, the rest of the languages spoken here are only different from each other as a dialectical variety.

Residents converse across the barrier of dialects and still attain mutually intelligible communication. You have Bangwato, Batswapong, Basarwa, Amaxhosa and pockets of other ethnic groups in this constituency. Setopoti, a traditional brew made from fermented water melons, is a drink of choice around this time of the season from Shakwe in the extreme north to Mookane in the deeper south of the constituency. 

The A1 highway that passes through Dibete to Mahalapye and beyond is the knife that carves out the constituency from the neighbouring Kgatleng, Shoshong and Tswapong constituencies. It is the A1 highway that created political Siamese twins out of Mahalapye resulting in Mahalapye East and West. Mahalapye West took the greater part of Mahalapye. But the Eastern suburbs of Xhosa, Boseja and Flowertown were parcelled  out to join with hinterland villages that perhaps have very little in common with the cosmopolitan Mahalapye.
  
Dibete
Dibete or Liverpool as some youthful residents refer to their village is famous mainly as a reference point that denotes the mythical boundary between the South and North of Botswana. Other than the disease control gate at Dibete, the village does not get much attention from most people who pass through it to other destinations. If only one could stop and wander around the village, they would learn about the rich history of Dibete. They will see the lively unpretentious faces of people who live on hope. They will see the poverty that grips many. They will mingle with the vast majority whose only source of survival is food rations provided by government.

One can almost touch the broken hope. These are people who first gave up hope of getting employment and raising a family and then lost their dignity before resigning themselves to a life of destitution. Even then, they still complain that the rations they get are administered in a callous way. The rations have been dwindling anyway. Many want to be given the rations but cannot get them because they are not classified as destitute. 

Without jobs, some spend their days drinking and hoping that they will one day make it into the growing army of those who are being fed by the state. There are no industries to talk of in Dibete. Some two years ago, the Ministry of Agriculture set up an Ostrich Hatchery in the village and residents hoped they would get jobs. Many went to try their luck but few were chosen resulting in angst and despondency. Some residents, who cannot migrate to towns, try their luck in the nearby cattleposts where they herd livestock. Little general dealers and bars are the major businesses to talk about. All sorts of power grids arrogantly pass through the village but there is no electricity in Dibete. 

Currently there is a contractor putting up poles across the length and breadth of the village for the distribution of electricity. This should be a source of excitement. While some like Kereng Ramagola are excited that electricity is at long last coming to their village, they are also bitter. They know that many of them will not afford to connect to the utility that they have always wanted. "It is a shame that as the youth, we will have to depend on our parents who subsist on farming to fend for us and even pay for electricity connection. When are we going to start taking care of our ageing parents? All we want are jobs not food rations," said Ramagola.

Most villagers say they are not too excited about the coming general elections. They have lost faith in the electoral process as a means of changing their lives. Six months to the election, there is no sign of excitement or election fever in the village.

There are no posters in the village. Most residents say they do not even know who will be contesting the elections. All they know is that their councilor was defeated during the ruling Botswana Democratic Party primaries.

There is no doubt that villagers are disillusioned but even in their discontent, they still maintain that they will go through what they call the hollow routine of voting.

Who are you going to vote for in the coming elections? There is no hesitation.
"A gone le party e nngwe gape. A kere re tla nna re tlhopha yone ya rona Domkrag," said a man who did not want to identified. This is the common refrain across the village. The BDP is the party of choice here and it looks like it will benefit handsomely.

Dibete ward is traditionally a stronghold of the BDP. In 1999, the party pulverised its competitor - the BCP by 477 to 75. In the 2004 general elections, the BDP's Letlhogonolo Mabua beat the BNF's Tebogo Sekololo by 501 to 213 in the now rezoned Dibete-Palla Road council ward. It seems only a miracle will halt the runaway BDP during the upcoming elections in the ward.

Mookane
The distance between Mookane and Dibete is supposed to be less than 25km and should ideally be a short trip. The land between these two villages is taken up by mostly masimo and some cattle posts on either side of the road. 

The road is gravel and littered with deep potholes. It is a matter of choosing which pothole to driving into because you simply cannot over going into a pothole. The road is all potholes. There is no public transport to talk about on roads like these. The mantra here is that anybody driving on this road, should give hitchhikers lifts for hitch-hikers  do not have a choice.

On this Friday afternoon I give a lift to old woman Neo Phiri. To her the road will drive away motorists and that will mean the old like her will find it difficult to get to masimo.
Over the years, she has seen the road turn new cars into wrecks like advanced cancer eats away a living organism.

In between the road turbulence and emergency brakes whenever a goat veers into the road in a whirlpool of gravel dust, we finally reach our destination minus the front corner light.

There is a difference about Mookane that strikes you immediately. It is not as sandy as Dibete. The village sprawls over a large area. It is definitely bigger. On the telephone and electricity poles, there is political activity going on. On one pole stands a huge banner with the face of a BNF candidate, Timothy Mmopi. On the next is another equally big and glossy banner of Baatweng Baatweng a council candidate for the BDP. This contest goes on until one gets to the centre of the village.

In pathways and in Speakeasies in the village, the posters conquest is transformed into a lively village debate. There are too many youth loitering in the village and they say it is because they are unemployed. Many are drinking Setopoti.

An overwhelming majority say political life in the village has never been exciting. They say with all the confidence that this time round, they will not get it wrong. "This time, the BNF will win this ward," declares Oaitse Ditsabatho.

The elderly are a bit cautious in their talk but they too say it seems their children are more determined this time.

The biggest campaign issue here is the road.
It would appear the BNF candidate has done his homework, many youth are seen wearing the yellow t-shirts with Mmopi's portrait as a badge of honour. In hushed tones, some BDP members say the BNF will benefit from a political family feud. Apparently the councillor, Mosetsanagape Baatweng lost the BDP primaries to her step-son Baatweng Baatweng with whom there is a visible strain. This fallout is said to be creating fissures in the BDP. Party activists say it will result in a significant protest vote. Even without a protest vote, the BNF think they should be coasting to victory.

Mookane was a marginal area even in the last general elections when Mmopi polled 404 against Baatweng's 436. It was a narrow victory with a negligible margin of 32. This was a huge improvement from Batweng's 865 to Mmopi's 266 in the 1999 general elections. Our random survey indicates that the BNF should win this ward.

Mmaphashala
About 20km east of Mookane stands the village of Mmaphashalala. It is administratively and otherwise considered a satellite village to Mmookane although it is independent.

Residents get health services from a clinic in Mookane. Mookane has been connected to the national electricity grid for sometime. But it is only now that Mmaphashalala is readying itself to have a taste of some of the fruits of independence. Like in Mookane, the big campaign issue here is the tarred road that leads to Dibete.

There is a political buzz in the village. Perhaps not on the same scale as the political temperature in Mookane but a political fever of sorts nonetheless.

A few weeks ago, Mmaphashalala witnessed what some see as a political game changer. A BDP activist, Mogopodi Maje defected to the BNF with a band of supporters. Mogopodi has already been launched as a BNF council candidate in the village. Some youth believe he will carry the day for the BNF. In our random survey, it shows that while the BNF has significant support (40 percent) the BDP might just grab it.

"Lo seka lwa tshoswa ke dikipara sa Mma-BNF. Tlhopho ke yone Moatlhodi eseng dikipara," said a BDP youth pouring cold water on the BNF's campaign as nothing to worry about.

Mmaphashalala together with the adjacent village of Dovedale, which is about 25km further east will together make one ward. The major issue in Dovedale like the rest of these villages is a tarred road. But in Dovedale things are a bit different.

"We do not have

Banners
phones, no road, no electricity. At least other people in other villages are slightly better but of course the biggest concern is the road that joins our village to other centres such as Mahalapye," said Oboeletse Motlhomedi. "I will definitely vote BNF and I know many young people will do the same," she said.

In this region, Dovedale has a reputation as an early bastion of BNF support. But the youth say that while Dovedale is essentially a seedbed for the BNF, they will always be undone by voters in Maphashala who are numerically stronger."With Maje coming into our fold, maybe our fortunes could improve," she said.

This could be a hotly contested ward. In the latest IEC statistics, 980 voters have registered in the two villages. In the 2004 elections, BDP won the ward by 413 to BNF's 190.

Kudumatse
Further down the gravel road that connects the so called 'backline' villages of Mahalapye East between Dovedale and Makwate is Kudumatse. The village lies a few kilometers off the banks of the Mahalapye river. It is opposite the ranches in the East that seem to suffocate this village of its grazing space.

There are no other major infrastructural landmarks. Kudumatse is the home of Dikgatlhong CJSS, a boarding school that admits students from Kudumatse, Makwate, Taupye and Dovedale. Here too the major issue is the tarred road.

The only work here is in the nearby farms in Botswana and some across the border in South Africa but the pay, according to the workers is bad. As a result, the village, like many others, is faced with the problem of young able bodied and educated youth leaving for towns and major villages where there are better prospects of employment. 

There is no political campaign to talk about in Kudumatse. Most villagers do not even know who the representatives are but they say they will vote. What else can they do?People blame the councillor and the MP for what they call unfair practice when dispensing food rations and hiring during Namola Leuba projects. There should be fairness and they insist the councilor and the MP can help bring transparency. Who will they vote for? The BDP is by far the favourite. In the last elections, the BDP got 530 votes to the BNF's 80.

Makwate
Right at the short corner to the Parrs Halt border post lies the village of Makwate. Here too the big issue is the road. Unlike most villages, Makwate has a sizeable amount of traffic from the Parrs Halt border. Many of these vehicles are trucks and they raise heavy dust as they blaze through the village. Makwate is the home village of the recently appointed Assistant Minister of Local Government, Sola Molebatsi who is also the MP for Tswapong South.

In the last elections, the BNF put up a spirited fight against the BDP. The BNF garnered a credible 228 votes to the BDP's 332. But our random survey indicate that the BDP is in a much stronger position to extend the lead. Residents say they do not know who the representatives of the opposition parties are.

"People want change here but where are the people that can lead us to this change," asks old man Gaseitsiwe Tidimalo. Currently there are 794 prospective voters who have already registered with the IEC to vote in the 2009 general elections.

Taupye-Shakwe
At the northern tip of the constituency are the two villages of Taupye and Shakwe. Taupye is about 15km east of Mahalapye. It lies along the Mahalapye Machaneng highway. Slightly over 15 kilometres further east of Taupye, to the right of this highway, lies Shakwe. In terms of proximity, the small village is latched into an area that is geographically Tswapong South constituency. Unlike the rest of the so-called backline villages, these two are comparatively smaller in size.

The all weather road is not a problem. Electricity connection is a major concern in both villages. In Taupye, shortage of water is the main issue. Periodically, the council brings in water through bowsers but at times they break down and the village is thrown into a crisis.

In the two villages, residents say there is no presence of the opposition parties and this virtually gives the BDP a through pass.

"BNF e ne e le teng mono ka nako ya ga Koma. Le Makuku one a etle atle mono bogololo. Jaanong mono ke BDP hela," said Kgalalelo Jarona of Taupye. Statistics indicate the BDP has always been the dominant party in the area. In the last general elections, the BDP's Edward Moganana polled 355 to the BNF's Kalanke Ganne's 166.

While the BDP's popularity in these two villages is beyond question, there is however a low level intensity battle that could potentially create problems for the party.

The reigning BDP councillor, Edward Moganana is from Taupye and in the last BDP primary elections, he was defeated by a candidate from Shakwe. Shakwe residents are still ecstatic about this. "Le rona gompieno re tla emelwa ke ngwana wa rona yo itseng mathata a rona mo Shakwe," said Emelang Tshabang of Shakwe.

The victory of a man from Shakwe has rubbed some residents of Taupye the wrong way. "Re ne re batlile ngwana wa rona mono mo Taupye. Kana motho o subiwa ke wa gabone," said Mirriam Motswagole of Taupye.

Xhosa 1 - Mahalapye
Mahalapye is the Mecca of this constituency. To the villages in the focal influence of the area, this is the place to be. To most people Mahalapye is known as 'kwa diponeng' because of the dazzling lights at the Railway Station. The lights used to blind some Johnny come Lately from the villages. To residents of Xhosa 1, 'Diponeng' is a misnomer and they wonder why Mahalapye still bears the name when there is a paucity of lights in the alleys. The streets are dark here and one cannot even walk at night.

Residents complain of thugs who have taken over the streets at night thereby imposing their own curfew on the ward. Old people say they find it hard to attend night vigils knowing that they will be mugged, robbed and left for dead if they return home after dusk.

To young people, the issues are the same, whether they live in cosmopolitan Mahalapye or the backwaters of the so-called backline villages. They all say they need jobs. Most of these idle youth are found in shebeens. In Mahalapye, Setopoti joints are not as popular as they are in the other villages. They like Chibuku and beer. Going to the bars seem to be the favourite pastime for the youth.

In the midst of all this despair, Elizabeth Amon sees some improvement in the lives of people. She talks about how President Ian Khama has improved Namola Leuba with people earning better wages. "Ngwana yo waga  seretse o tsile go baakanya dilo tse dintsi," she says with pride and full trust in the man.

"Molweni!"
"Ndiyangena"
"Di a bulisa"
This is Xhosa 1 where you find many Xhosa speaking people. To a large extent, Xhosa is the lingua franca here. This time an affable old woman, known even to the young as Esther, greets us as she enters the yard of Mmamasa Nkohla.

The issue in cosmopolitan Mahalapye is not just about the basics but the quality of life and general safety. Such issues are considered a luxury in the other villages. Nkohla complains about the storm water drainage system that have been installed in the ward. When the culverts were constructed, they were done in such a way that they cannot collect rain water coming from other parts. As a result, Nkohla's yard and others around her become a valley during the rainy season. She wonders why the political leadership cannot address the problem.

Like many people here, she believes the BDP is very strong. However she says that George Andreck of the opposition New Democratic Front will seriously compete for the Xhosa 1 council ward.

They talk of Andreck's feats as if they are talking about the mythical Androcles, who is said to have killed a lion single handedly. "Maloba ngwana a wetse mo metsing batho ba tshaba go tsena mo nokeng. Mo lefifing one a tsena a mo metsing bosigo. Batho ba duma ka ene moshimane yoo," said old woman Nkohla adding that this Andreck is seen by many as a capable man.

The youth too say their man is Andreck but they are worried that the old people might spoil the party for him.

While the verdict in the village is that Andreck has upped his game, statistics show he has an uphill battle. In the 2004 general elections, the BDP under Gotlaya Matseke polled 797 while the BNF represented by Simon Giddie got 280 votes. Andreck trailed by a disappointing 41 votes. Xhosa 1 is the most populous ward in the constituency. About 1,633 voters have already registered for the general elections.

Boseja-Flowertown (Mahalapye)
Flowertown used to be the high heeled leafy part of Mahalapye. When it was set up in the late 1980s it was predominately a BHC estate for Botswana Railways workers. Other people have moved in the area and are building designer houses too. Vice President Mompati Merafhe is a resident. Due to workers presence, the ward was believed to be ripe for opposition take-over. In the 1999 general elections, Botswana's Sherlock Holmes of the courtrooms, Wesson Manchwe took it upon himself to represent the BNF in this ward but he too lost to the BDP's Vincent Kenosi by 237 to 405.

In the last elections, the BNF fared no better as they lost by 351 to 498 to BDP.This time round, it looks like the opposition has not quite learnt their lessons very well. Less than six months before the elections, residents say they do not know who the opposition candidates are. This ward is a pretty sophisticated one and voters say they do not just vote out of loyalty.

"We know that MmaTshireletso is the BDP candidate at parliamentary level but who is gong to represent the BNF?," asks Mpolokeng Tefo.

In the constituency, even BNF activists say they do not know who will be their parliamentary candidate. In the last elections, the BNF was represented by Dr Wame Boitumelo who appears to have excused himself. Names of Gaborone mayor Harry Mothei and Basimane Mannaesi are bandied about as possible opposition candidates.

This lack of surefootedness seems to be telecasting the wrong message to voters. 
Tefo says he has always voted for the BNF but with the leadership instability and lack of focus in the party, he is convinced that he should not continue to do so. He says there are many issues that the opposition could be taking advantage of. But the opposition, in particular the BNF, is in disarray. In the adjacent Boseja location, there is wider acceptance of the BDP and residents say they will vote for the party because it is visible. This is one ward that the BDP should win easily.



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