Mmegi Online :: Tribal inequality remains a sore point
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Last Updated
Friday 17 November 2017, 19:00 pm.
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Tribal inequality remains a sore point

In the backdrop of the recent Bogosi tussle over the draping of the Bahurutshe Kgosi, Mmegi Staff Writer PINI BOTHOKO discovered that tribal inequality remains a sore point in present day Botswana
By Pini Bothoko Fri 08 Sep 2017, 16:51 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Tribal inequality remains a sore point








As with many African countries, tribal inequality can be traced to the colonial era. Historians note that it was during the colonial government that there was an introduction of eight major tribes in Botswana; the Bangwato, Bakgatla, Bakwena, Barolong, Batlokwa, Bangwaketse, Balete and Batawana. Only these groupings had the right to own the territory.

The minority tribes are amongst others the Bakalanga, Bahurutshe, Bakgalagadi, Bayei, Bakhurutshe, Baherero, Batswapong, Basarwa, Bambukushu, and Basubiya who for years have been fighting for their rights to be heard. Of late, these tribes have been voicing out feelings of oppression by the major tribes.

The minority tribes have always cried foul over claims of suffering at the hands of the major tribes accusing them of denying them the right to practice their cultures freely. They are of the view that they are being overlooked, something that they feel it is a disadvantage to the promotion of their cultures and customs.

The most vocal, Bakalanga are of the view that they are being despised more so that their languages are not taught in schools. They feel that doing so disadvantaged them as language forms an integral part of any culture. Currently, only Setswana (alongside English) is  taught in schools.

However, government’s position has often been that introduction of other languages in schools would not be viable as it would be expensive, divisive and might fuel tribalism.

But the minority tribes insist that failure to introduce their mother tongues in schools amounts to oppression and violation of human rights.

Tribal inequality outcry is old. At the turn of the millennium, following complainants from the minority tribes, the then President Festus Mogae instituted a Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Sections 77, 78 and 79 of the Constitution of Botswana. It was set up in 2000 in response to perceived tribal inequality between the dominant Batswana and the smaller minority languages. Following the Commission’s recommendations, there was change in the make-up of the House of Chiefs. First, it was renamed Ntlo ya Dikgosi, and more chiefs of different tribes (many elected) were brought in.

But one of the thorny issues, land territory under the major tribes remained, and continues to sore divisions. For an example, the majority of tribes in the Central District are under Bangwato, who continue to rule over the vast territory. Chiefs in most of the villages in the central region are not of royalty but rather voted in. This has resulted in such tribes feeling that they are being despised and overlooked and have brought disputes amongst tribes. The recent dispute between the Bahurutshe of Manyana and the Bangwaketse is a clear example of skewed power politics of Bogosi. Last Saturday, the Bahurutshe defied both the government and the Bangwaketse by draping Kgosi Kebinatshwene Mosielele with a leopard skin.

Bangwaketse felt that Mosielele’s wearing of a leopard and lion hides is a direct challenge to the authority of Bangwaketse chief, Kgosi Malope II, who presides over the entire territory, including Manyana. While other chiefs sympathised, and may even have encouraged that “defiance” and “challenge”, historians point to the fact that Bangwaketse had a case since that the law – written or not –

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states that tribes settled under territorial land of the majority tribes abide by the rules. And the key rule is that only the chief of the major tribe is draped in the leopard and lion skins as a show of power and authority over all others. This is the authority that was bestowed on the major tribes by the colonial government and was adopted by the current democratic one.

However, some Dikgosi who are also members of Ntlo ya Dikgosi are against such practices and believe that all tribes should be allowed to practice their culture, and not be dictated to by the territorial overseer.

The Bamalete chief, Kgosi Mosadi Seboko who was giving a keynote address at Kgosi Kebinatshwene Mosielele’s crowning said that his draping with a leopard skin was a symbol of tradition for the Bahurutshe boo-Manyana and should therefore be respected. Kgosi Thabo Maruje Masunga III agreed, saying Kgosi Mosielele’s draping with a leopard skin was his birthright. Kgosi Masunga III called for change in the country’s Constitution for all tribes to be allowed to practice their cultures stating that it is what democracy dictates.Historian at the University of Botswana (UB), Geoffrey Barei explained in an interview that it was the colonial government that created the ‘major’ and ‘minority’ tribes and gave the major tribes the powers over territories. So, all the other tribes settling under the major tribe’s territory were under their rule and dictates.

“In that way it is believed that being the leader of the tribal territory, the chief of the major tribe in a tribal territory oversees the land and is the only one that should be draped with a leopard or lion skin. But some tribes might say their tradition permits them to drape their chief with a leopard or lion skin,” Barei said.

He explained that most of the tribes in Botswana have been doing so even though it is not something that is written in the country’s Constitution. “It is a tradition of Batswana that has been practised though not written in the Constitution, but that does not mean the tribe that believe it is their culture to drape their chief with a certain skin does not have the right to do so because there is no law that prohibits them to do so,” Barei said. He added that in terms of the resolution some tribes at the Ntlo ya Dikgosi are still being recognised than others.

“Today the Dikgosi from the eight major tribes are permanent at Ntlo ya Dikgosi and they have that privilege as the major tribes whilst other tribes, their Dikgosi are voted in every five years,” Barei explained.

Another UB academic, and lawyer by profession, Professor Bojosi Otlhogile also noted that the draping of a chief with either leopard or lion skin is not written under Bogosi Act but just a practice of different tribes in Botswana.

“That depends on the history of a certain tribe on how they do things, if according to their history and culture their chiefs are draped on a certain skin they do so though it is not written under Bogosi Act,” said Otlhogile.

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