The session also afforded her the opportunity to talk about the challenges she has met along the way and how she overcame some of them; her achievements, and both the low points and the high points in her 'rich' life. In one word, Kokorwe tells us who she is. It has been a fairy-tale journey for this woman who joined the civil service as a typist whose major function was to receive orders from bosses and transcribe handwritten scripts from them on a noisy Olivetti typewriter. But today the roles have been reversed Kokorwe is not receiving orders but gives out orders to members of parliament,
ministers and presidents.Hers has been a journey on a roller coaster, as she tells,
GIDEON NKALA. But how did it start?
Mmegi: Who is Gladys Kokorwe?
Kokorwe: I was born on November 28 1947 in South Africa. At that time, my father was working in Cape Town. I spent my early childhood there, but when I reached school-going age, I moved to Botswana and began my primary schooling. I was 10 when I enrolled at Gobuamang Primary School. I later moved to Mahalatladi were I completed my Primary School Leaving Examinations. After that, I went to Moeng College for my Junior Certificate.
From Moeng college I did secretarial courses. In 1968, I joined the civil service as a typist. I remember working as a typist for the late District Commissioner Sekgwa in Molepolole.
Mmegi: You started your civil service career at the bottom rung. How did you end up as an administrator?
Kokorwe: I would say it was purely hard work and persistence. I wish Rre Sekgwa were here to vouch for me. Without sounding as though I am blowing my own trumpet, I wish to say that I wanted to be the best in what I did. That means the fastest and the best typist. At that time, when other people were punching the keys with only two fingers, I had all my fingers dancing on the keyboard.
Those Olivetti typewriters could make noise; I remember Rre Sekgwa once remarking light-heartedly that I could easily smash the typewriter into pieces. He would often stand by the window of my office to listen to the rhythmic rattle of my typing.
Unbeknown to me, 'the powers that be' were paying attention to my work. I did not do typing for long. Before I knew it, I was doing all sorts of clerical work. In a short space of time I did a stint in the registry, personnel, the library and in other postings. I was doing short courses in these different areas. After being deployed widely as though I was your proverbial jack-of-all-trades, due recognition and the promotions followed.
Mmegi: Were your promotions progressive or they came tumbling upon one another?
Kokorwe; The first major promotion came around 1972 when I was made a supervisor in the registry, doubling as a commercial officer for the Lobatse Town Council. From then I rose through the ranks.
The big break came when I was made Assistant Council Secretary for the Kgatleng District Council in Mochudi, a job that took me all over the country.
I served as the first Assistant Council Secretary at the Bobirwa sub-district. Let me just say that local councils made me. At one point, I was Principal Training Officer at Local Government headquarters, a position that had me train council staff all over Botswana. Though the job was fulfilling, I missed working for the councils at local level. I eventually realised my goal when I was transferred to the Francistown Town Council, from where I went to the Kgatleng District Council as its Chief Executive Officer.
Mmegi: You were at some stage the Town Clerk at Sowa Town?
Kokorwe: Definitely the highlight of my career. It was at Sua that I honed my skills as an administrator. I went there when it was just a bush. It had been a cattle post, if you remember. No amount of modesty is going to prevent me from stating that I transformed Sua from a jungle into what it is today. If any one is in doubt of the abilities of 'MmaStompie, they need only look at Sowa Town now and before I went there. I call it the Sua phenomenon!
There were no councillors. A board had been nominated to function like a council, with me acting like Mayor. Together we ran the council that laid the foundation of what is there now to start Sua developments. Honourable Oliphant Mfa was a member of that board.
Mmegi: What has been your major challenge as a council administrator?
Kokorwe: Without a doubt it must be when I was Town Clerk for the Gaborone City Council, achieving another 'first' as the first woman to the post. You may remember Gaborone was firmly in the opposition, making most council secretaries reluctant to serve here. Gaborone residents are better-informed and demand service delivery. Not many wanted to work in an environment like that. Not me; when I was called upon to the 'hot seat', I obliged. I worked there for a relatively short time, but I had quite an encounter with the councillors, including His Worship Paul Rantao, the then Mayor.
Mmegi: Was it during your tenure that Paul Rantao was unseated by Ernest Ginger in what was regarded as a palace coup?
Kokorew: Yes, yes! It unfolded right in front of me. But my job was just to read the standing orders and preside over the situation. I did just that.
Mmegi: It seems only the sky could have been the limit in your civil service career. Why did you leave it for the rough-and-tumble of politics?
Kokorwe: Just before the 1994 general elections, former Vice President, Peter Mmusi, who was also the Member of Parliament for Thamaga, Peter Mmusi, passed away. I was approached by Domkrag party elders from the constituency who felt I could fill the man's big shoes. I was reluctant at first: 'What if I lose?' Politics does not have any guarantees like a job in the civil service, but eventually I was persuaded. I quit my job at the Town Hall and made a beeline for the freedom square, microphone and all!
You will remember that I had to do face the hurdle of party primaries against Kgang Ntsatsi and Kabo Morwaeng.
I know that you guys in the press have always said I was beaten by Morwaeng. That's a fantasy. The truth is that the
Mmegi: But were you not disturbed that you were declared the BDP candidate even though you had not won the party primaries?
Kokorwe: Yes, I had questions about it. But then the primaries were controlled by the party at that time, and I thought they had applied their minds to the decision in my favour. In any event, I went on to win successive elections. I was not too bothered. Afterall, it was not my decision, but that of the BDP leadership.
Mmegi: You were approached when you were still Town Clerk. Had you been a close party functionary all along?
Kokorwe: No, I was never active in politics before then. Of course, I had voted during elections, but I was never active. By the way, when my father retired as an employee of the councils, he became a BDP councillor. In fact, BDP people used to come to our house and as a young girl, I used to make tea for them. I came from this BDP family. That's as far as my affiliation with the party went.
Mmegi: During the 1999-2004 parliament, you were made an Assistant Minister at Local Government, your favourite place of duty at local level. But in the current parliament, the President did not appoint you to his cabinet. Did you feel snubbed?
Kokorwe: I did ask myself questions as to why I was left out. But before I could be consumed by those worries, I successfully campaigned to be elected Deputy Speaker. Happily, I once again made history as the first woman to occupy the 'speakership' in this country.
Mmegi: Outside your substantive salary and the frills that go with your position of Deputy Speaker, is there anything else to this job?
Kokorwe: It is so exciting and rewarding to be in this position. The debates are exciting.
Mmegi: How do you compare today's parliament with past ones?
Kokorwe: Today's parliamentary debates are more robust. Members do not just rubber-stamp anything. They probe and interrogate the bills. In the past, people talked of 'toeing the line', whereas members exercise a lot more independence nowadays. You will remember that they recently rejected certain bills and asked for clarifications on others.
I just make sure that I stay on top by familiarising myself with the standing orders so as to make rulings without fear or favour. I have made orders against ministers and fellow party members in favour of the opposition when the orders allowed it.
Mmegi: You say members are more independent and that they have rejected certain bills. Is this a good thing?
Kokorwe: Parliament is supreme. Members cannot just pass anything they do not understand. I like this honest and robust interrogation of issues. Yes, it is definitely a good thing.
Mmegi: There are serious allegations that the Executive is in the habit of riding roughshod on Parliament. Are you under any pressure from the Executive?
Kokorwe: No, we are not. People think we connive with the Executive. If this were the case, some of the bills members objected to would have passed. For example, when Honourable Khumo Maoto tabled the Air Botswana motion without notice, I read out a provision in the standing orders which supported such action. I could not have done so if all we did was collaborate with the Executive.
After the budget speech is presented, members do not have sufficient time in which to respond. They are given only ten minutes. And they all want to speak, which results in a stampede as they all stand up at the same time. The orders say "the one who catches the Speaker's eye" is one designate to speak. But then they all catch your eye, and it becomes a problem. It is my view that this particular provision will be reviewed.
Mmegi: What else do you want reviewed to make Parliament more efficient and effective?
Kokorwe: Parliament should be more independent. I have been to Uganda where the parliament hires its own staff. Except for the public accounts committee, Botswana does not have an effective and powerful parliamentary committee. We should have committees that can summon ministers and permanent secretaries. Parliament should be the supreme body, but as things stand, we can hardly say it is.
Mmegi: You sit on BDP caucus committees, the next minute you ascend to the podium as Speaker. How do you maintain impartiality when you have such distinctly clear sectarian interests?
Kokorwe: Maybe you have a point that the position of Deputy Speaker should not be occupied by a sitting MP as is the case with that of the Speaker. Personally, I have been able to walk the tight-rope because I just adhere to the standing orders.
Mmegi: You said you will not seek re-election to parliament in 2009. Why are you quitting and why are you making the announcement now?
Kokorwe: I believe I have done my part for the constituency. I want to give others a chance. I am making an early announcement so that other people may make preparations early.
Mmegi: You do not look very old. What will you do after leaving Parliament? Are going to be a grandmother and stay home?
Kokorwe: Nnyaa! Go ka ntsofatsa. I still want to contribute in other capacities. My father taught me farming, which I have been doing part-time. That's one thing I could do with more time. But to be more truthful, if I had the luxury of choice, I would become the next Speaker. It is something that I would really want to do, but the choice is not mine.
Mmegi: Looking back on your career from where you stand today, are you contented with your achievements?
Kokorwe: What more could one ask for? I'm as happy as I could be. My hard work has paid off. I wish my father were here to see all this.
Mmegi: Do you have any regrets?
Kokorwe: The lowest point in my life must have been in 1998 when I my husband and I divorced. It was difficult time, but I have learnt to live with the fact. My life now revolves around my two children, my two grand-children and my old mother.
A do believe in the family.