Mmegi Online :: President Masire’s final message to Botswana
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Friday 24 November 2017, 17:23 pm.
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President Masire’s final message to Botswana

Before his sudden death last week, former President Quett Masire had a lot he wanted to say to the people of Botswana. Although he knew that he was in decline, he was determined to make one final statement to the nation.
By Correspondent Fri 07 Jul 2017, 17:25 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: President Masire’s final message to Botswana








I know this because he hired me in March to help write his final memoirs. During April and May I spent many hours with Rra Gaone on the couch in his residence, at which time I honestly (and mistakenly) felt that the fears about his ill-health were overblown.

Rre Masire’s deeply-held beliefs in his final years are unlikely to be universally popular, and publishing them now during the week of his state burial may appear to violate the protocol of the occasion. But Rra Gaone, a master of protocol himself, did not care whether his message would anger weak-kneed souls. He told me he was going to be “very open”, as he hoped to spark a new conversation about matters that he felt could no longer be ignored.

Founder of the Nation

Very few Batswana realise the extent to which Quett Masire exercised control over Botswana. Although he was Seretse Khama’s Vice-President for 15 years, Masire and others in top positions maintain that Seretse, although extraordinarily wise and principled, was “lazy” and “often sick”. The result was that Masire essentially ran the government from 1965 until his retirement in 1998.

Not only was Masire one of the founders of the BDP, but quickly he became the “Hercules” of the party. Traversing the vast Bechuanaland Protectorate’s bad roads in a 4x2, he organised and built Domkrag across the country, from Mochudi to the Kgalagadi to Ngamiland. Most of this work was done with no funding of any kind, and was financed by his wife’s teaching salary and his farming proceeds. During the run-up to Independence, he not only organised a BDP landslide, but also negotiated the new Botswana constitution for the soon to be ruling party.

Once the BDP was in power, Masire remained as the Party Secretary-General, and further served as Vice President—a job that required him to run Parliament and to engage in constant foreign trips. He also was the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, which served as the centre of the government’s successful economic development initiatives. In addition to thus controlling Parliament and the key levers of the party and government, Masire probably received 30-40 visitors a day at his office seeking assistance of all kinds. He never refused to see them. On Friday evenings, he would then drive to Gangwaketse, arriving around midnight, and would wake up at dawn on Saturday and farm all weekend before returning to Gaborone on Sunday night. Because government salaries were so low, this was the only way he could support and educate his six children properly.

Where did the talent come from?

The enigma of Quett Masire is that, despite having only a secondary school education, he showed incredible skills as a politician and technocrat despite having absolutely no formal training. Not only was he the organiser and driving force behind “independent Africa’s most successful political party”, but he negotiated Botswana’s Constitution, and then developed and executed the most dynamic economic development plan that Africa has seen. Additionally, he oversaw aid agreements with more than 20 foreign governments and agencies, and was a highly effective diplomat. During the 1980s and 1990s, Masire was a prominent figure in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and in retirement distinguished himself as a neutral negotiator in war-torn regions of Central Africa. Before ever beginning in politics, Masire had already founded and been headmaster of a secondary school, ran a cattle export scheme for the Bangwaketse, and had run Therisanyo newspaper. He was also considered among the best farmers in the Protectorate!

How could any individual be so multi-talented and so brilliant despite no obvious training for so many of these jobs? How could he perform three or four jobs simultaneously and yet do them so well? Masire himself had no explanation for this, other than to note that “I simply did one thing at a time. I concentrate on one problem at a time.”

Although Rre Masire could not account for either his incredible energy or his ability to multi-task, he was insistent that it was his involvement in the Tswana political tradition that prepared him thoroughly for his roles in writing constitutions, in building political coalitions, and in administration. Moreover, he adamantly believed that “Democracy was always there in this country. We had the Kgotla. At the Kgotla everyone was free to say what they wanted. No matter what your status, you were free to express yourself. All men could just express their views. Democracy in Botswana is just an enhanced version of this.”

As a result, he and other senior BDP members who came out of the Kgotla tradition, such as Seretse, Moutlakgola Nwako, Ben Thema, Goareng Mosinyi, and Tsheko Tsheko, were all brilliant administrators, diplomats, and leaders. “Everyone had a lot of practice in Kgotla engaging in public affairs—they were masters at it.”

As for his own training in this regard, Masire noted, “My grandfather was a headman, and from the age of six, I sat between his legs at the Kgotla. Everyday, the chief had a Kgotla. It was four o’ clock in the morning, and I lived a kilometre away. Everyday I would go to that meeting. It started at four, and I would leave at six to go and get ready to go to school. When issues were discussed, I would listen closely, and sometimes when someone said something smart, I would say, ‘what a wonderful fellow. Will I ever think like him?’ And so I got to the Kgotla, and I found very wonderful people, very wise people. I have met many prosecutors who were not as wise as those old men in Kanye. You couldn’t tell them a lie, because they would start off asking the most innocent questions which would ultimately lead you into the trap! I had some education, but I felt those fellows were cleverer than my teachers. I still remember all of them and their names, from the 1930s! Giants of the mind! This was the place I felt very much at home at, and where I wanted to be.”

This early engagement in public affairs would probably also explain why Masire was a master of Setswana discourse.

It is from this deep experience with the Tswana political tradition, and from his role as a founding father of independent Botswana, that he felt he had to speak one more time to his people

The First BDP and the New BDP

Rra Gaone was adamant that the party he founded, organized, and led, had vanished. “There is what I call the first BDP and the new BDP.”

“Core values—these are being forgotten. When the BDP was formed we had four basic principles that we followed closely. The principles we came up with, we thought, were worth dying for. Whether we got paid or not did not matter, but we believed that for the survival of the nation we had to prevail. Now, what principles are being followed? Indeed, “pelo yame e tletse bogalaka” to find that my name and those of my stalwarts is so easily, cheaply and wantonly dragged in the mud by fellows who were either boys, toddlers or yet unborn, when fundamentals or principles that were to be cornerstones of our policy or philosophy were crafted. These were principles which in essence provided for multi-partisanship and allowed Batswana to freely form parties whose sole interest is to serve Botswana to the best of their ability. Not to “eat” or to “boot-lick”.

“Money—in the first BDP we did not have much money—it was a shoestring operation. For the first few years I paid all of my expenses by myself. All the leadership understood it was self-sacrifice. Everybody should do what is necessary to do what they are assigned to do. We had no brass penny. When we took power cabinet ministers and MPs were not paid high salaries. I had to farm to educate my children and look after my family.”

“Nowadays there are five people fighting for a constituency, and everyone wants to stand because of the advantages that they will have, not because of the responsibilities that they will have to shoulder. Each one must pay P25,000 to the party, and then they need much more than that to win. What about paying organisers and supporters, since these days voters are obtained by money. Pay to play. This is wrong, as the BDP should win with ideas. Naked ambition versus idealism, which one is most important and which is most prominent now?”

Primary elections—“Primaries destroyed the BDP. When I started in politics you were elected at ward level to the Tribal Council; then at tribal level to the African Council; then at African Council to Legislative Council, and so forth. So at each level they know if you are a good person or not. We tried to do that in the BDP’s organisation. In the old days, we took along a standard of qualification for Parliamentary candidates. If the president is selecting a Cabinet, he must not be scratching his head. In those times, when you were an MP you had skills. Now, the candidates can just be anybody. Unfortunately, when this Buleladitswe, the other party’s way to say ‘we are all members’, came in, all kinds of people were nominated at meetings. Sometimes the nominators did not even know the name of the person they were nominating. It was a mob reaction. They thought it would be popular, and everyone would get involved, anyone with a Domkrag ticket. They didn’t want other parties to look more democratic than them. The first Domkrag had a manifesto, and we rallied behind the winner. Now, the loser in the primary tries to sabotage the winner.”

Consultation—According to Masire, “the Botswana Democratic Party was founded on the values of consultative democracy.” No one has ever accused him of failing to live up to this ideal. According to Daniel Kwelagobe, “Masire’s style and the late President’s style, and Mogae, was to allow discussion. With

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Mogae, if you spoke against him or his policies, he will talk back…[laughs]. But Masire would never care, he would never intimidate you. You spoke your minds. Very, very tolerant and understanding, he had those democratic credentials. And of course he understood the organisation, since he was there at its birth. He knew what people wanted.”

Masire: “An example of why the new BDP is failing at consultation: look at the new electronic voting machines. There are people who are against them, because they can be hacked. There are those who are opposed because they do not meet legal requirements. I am against them because of the way they were introduced. One, they were brought in without consulting the people. Two, they have assigned an officer to go around and tell people they should use the machines because it is the law to use them. This is rape—because people are forced to use them. The President is forcing MPs to vote using a show of hands, yet he is asking rural people to vote by machine! Rural people are not even yet used to cell phones, and these machines can be hacked as is known in Australia, England and America. How can we be sure that our votes are not going to be influenced by outside forces? So people have legitimate concerns, but the policy is just being bulldozed over them.”

As a result of these factors, Masire was very worried about the future of the BDP:  “Vice President Masisi is one who comes from a very strong Domkrag family, but I am not sure if he is following the strong traditions of the party. Sometimes he makes almost suicidal speeches saying “my father was a boot-licker, I am a boot-licker.” This is nonsense, since I was the one who convinced his father to join us early on when he was going to start a restaurant. His father understood the restaurant could never really be successful unless the country was successful. So he followed a higher calling and was a good performer in Cabinet.”

“My fear is that at the next elections, if Domkrag loses, they will go out disgracefully, and nobody will want to be associated with the disgrace, and everybody will just sneak away. Who will stay in the house?”

 

Message to the Batswana People

“I have a very nasty idea, but as I am old I can’t go to the rooftops to say this: mining has done great things for us, but it has destroyed our will to achieve, because it has made life so easy. I would rather let business thrive than emphasise mining exploration.”

“When we became affluent, Mr Jankie of Ghanzi said, ’if we have more millions than the population, why don’t we just give everybody P1 million?”

Englishman Kgabo said, ‘Tell us, is the problem poverty or liquidity?”

Even senior members of Domkrag were basically begging me to give people money for nothing. But if we just gave everybody a million, would anything be solved? We don’t run human affairs like that. It is wrong. You can’t just give up and take the money. If you give people money for nothing, will they risk putting it into a venture rather than just sitting around?”

“The most important thing in life is to have the wish to achieve, to conquer, and overcome. If we make people like pets, they will just live and sleep and with nothing to do, then they will just be dead. I remember Festus Mogae, when he was Executive Director of the World Bank, he used to come here and chat with me when he was back. He said, “Now I understand, why do we remain so poor? Because if you work hard and therefore become successful, people here bear a grudge against you. In America, a man who works hard earns the respect of people. Even if he is not that successful or rich, they still say, ‘but he has worked hard to get where he is.’” Here, if you work hard or are a senatla, you are viewed with suspicion. They think you are using a charm from Malawi or Zimbabwe or something like that. You have cheated, but it is only that they have not found out how yet. If you start with a few cattle and end up with several thousand, you keep them far away and don’t say anything because you won’t gain any respect—except for beggars who come to ask you for something.”

“Currency is backed by the capacity to produce. I didn’t think the EU was right to compare the work ethic of a German and a Portuguese and back them with them same money—the Euro. This undermined the Mark because the German worked hard and could support the high value of the currency. But can a Portuguese person work like a German? My problem with the Pula and the situation here is that our wealth is not mixed with sweat. It is not everybody who makes a contribution and therefore our economy is not healthy. We just happen to have the good fortune to have Orapa and Jwaneng, and therefore our wealth is not human-generated. It’s just that the Good Lord and the fellows who negotiated the deal with De Beers have brought this enormous harvest to be shared.

But the general Motswana has made no contribution and therefore when the inevitability occurs and the mines can no longer produce we will have problems. Additionally, it is inevitable that as the population grows the mine produces less minerals per person, so what we will we do? True, economic forces are making us have fewer children. I am not going to be politically correct when I say that most people who make the economy work have very small families while those who God blesses so much and who do less are multiplying like crazy! People think we are a small population and think we need to grow, but they don’t relate it to economic survival. The vulnerability of the economy means we really need to find more avenues for economic growth.”

“There has to be this urge to accomplish. The hope of the nation is in the people who want to do something—the washerwoman, the lady who sells madombi in the street. These are the people who can lift us. People see a need and do something to meet that need. I remember Dr Nasha, who was my Minister of Local Government—we differed. She wanted to clean out the towns so that there would be no hawkers and others selling in public places. She wanted everything nice and clean and orderly. And I said, this is the future—but if Choppies makes things available to be bought, they cannot sell it unless people can generate the cash to buy them. People wanting to regulate and clean up business in Gaborone are barking up the wrong tree. Ok, make sure the food that is being sold is fresh, hire an inspector, but leave it alone.”

“I am opposed to rentals. A house should be an investment, a part of a portfolio, so if your farm or job fails, it will be there either for you to live in or to rent out—to help you in a difficult time. A house is not active, though, it is just a place to sleep. The development aspect is what Batswana lack—they just want to put a bunch of bricks together and retire by renting their property out. Retiring on rent, you might as well die, you have done everything which you will ever do.”

“What can Batswana do? There is no land shortage in Botswana. We are the same size as France, or we are 60% the size of South Africa, but they have 60 million and we are two million. Just because there is a shortage of plots in Gaborone, this does not mean we lack land.”

“One of the stories of my life is that I am always working hard and wishing to expand my agricultural operations and do all I want to do, but there is never enough water at each place that I go. Right now, I have an area which very few people could use. So the story is that I had two areas in Gangwaketse with two high-yielding boreholes. These were lands that came from my father and grandfather, and they had developed these water sources and which I also improved. However, I did not believe in open, communal grazing and watering, and these places that I inherited were in areas traditionally used like this. So I went to the Land Board. I said that if they would take these two pieces of land along with the machinery, kraals, and I only took the cattle, I would say thank you in exchange for an empty land where nobody was farming. They found the offer irresistible.

They gave me an area 50km north of Sekoma. These boreholes were supposed to be 8km apart, so I received 13,000 hectares. I took a risk, because there was no water. I drilled 13 boreholes in that area, only two of which were viable because the water there is more saline than sea water in most cases. I drilled these far apart, many, many kilometres apart. I fenced it myself. You have to be a senatla to make this land productive. But, when you succeed you are not applauded for your efforts. People just say, “Why is this fellow always moving around?” They think I am “segagapela”—trying to grab people’s things and generally being overactive. Then they claim I am receiving special privileges.”

“David Magang wrote a book called ‘The Magic of Perseverance.’ He even claims that I tried to stop him building Phakalane, which is not true. Even though we clashed, I applaud his success. His message is good. Batswana need to listen to Magang, to work hard, and to persevere.”

PROF BARRY MORTON

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