Whilst President Mokgweetsi Masisi was the cynosure of all eyes, it was the heavy downpours that day, which seemingly stole his thunder by dictating terms to the gathering of Botswana’s who’s who, Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE watched the rain-soaked proceedings
First, the event was supposed to be held in the Parliament’s foreground, which was exquisitely decorated possibly at a hefty cost, but the heavy downpours put a damper on what promised to be memorably enjoyable proceedings. This was last Sunday at the swearing-in ceremony marking the smooth transfer of power from former president, Ian Khama to the man of the moment and fifth President, Mokgweetsi Masisi.
Typical of African beliefs, when a heavy downpour precedes or occurs immediately after an event of last Sunday’s magnitude, the general belief is that it’s a good omen that the gods had smiled upon the man of the moment.
It was interesting how some young scribes argued that the downpours bid Khama farewell whilst others countered that the rains welcomed Masisi’s ascendance to the highest office in the land. The arguments were tossed by the protagonists from one end to the other like tennis players in a mixed doubles match.
Just when there was confusion and delay, a deliberate decision was taken by the powers-that-be that the event would be held inside Parliament, which later turned out to be plan-B.
But the heavy downpours persisted, leaving people who were smartly dressed for the occasion soaked and frustrated. Women in their high-heeled shoes were incessantly caught in the cotton soil around the government enclave fighting to maintain their balance and simultaneously escaping the torrents.
With water now flowing in all directions, one of the scribes remarked jokingly that members of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) should be ready to provide their speedboats to transport the assembled masses in front of Parliament.
It’s usually at occasions of this magnitude that fashionistas put on their very best just to lighten up and colour the event. The day was spoiled by the rainfall that was by any standards beyond normal, raising fears that the country’s weather bureau failed the nation at the 11th hour to warn the planners of the event to expect above normal rainfall. This was just the thinking, as the truth is that the planners were privy to a possibility of heavy downpours. From as early as 5:30am, signs that it was going to rain were there, especially the dark nimbus clouds that hung down like udders of a lactating cow.
It all started with light drizzles, which gained speed and metamorphosed into torrential downpours. Initially, I just thought it was over with the event as the rain gained momentum. As for on-duty police officers and their army counterparts, who were seemingly armed to the teeth, they had both taken their positions in the rain with rifles in a come-rain-or-shine mood, awaiting the arrival of the President and dignitaries. Despite the inclement weather, Batswana came in large numbers from all corners of the country to witness the smooth transfer of power. In particular, villagers from Moshupa and the surrounding villages where the country’s fifth President, comes from had come in droves.
But, it is the media practitioners who deserve commendation for their bravery against all odds, ignoring the rain and choosing to take the event to the people. First, the media stand was diametrically uncovered, forcing members of the Fourth Estate to run for cover elsewhere.
The whole space that was reserved for the event in front of Parliament turned into hostile pools of water. In the few erected stretch tents meant to provide shade possibly from the expected ‘heat’, some of them collapsed leaving people scurrying for cover. It was completely disastrous.
Scores of newshounds who had graced the event from the local media houses and outside, literally behaved like aquatic creatures as they waded through puddles to chase their stories and the best pictures as if nothing was happening.
Just a few were wearing raincoats, wielding umbrellas and other means of protection. A majority cried foul that cellphones were damaged by rain, notebooks wet, and wallets and other valuables badly affected. A colleague from a local private radio station, who used a mobile phone for incessant contact with the station, had the cellphone ceasing to function because it was damaged by the rain water.
The Mmegi and The Monitor crews of Yours Truly, Innocent Selatlhwa, Tsaone Basimanebotlhe and lensman Moreri Sejakgomo, at some stage debated on the assignment, especially after our only sister in the crew, Basimanebotlhe slipped and fell into a pool of water at her house in Tlokweng. She was forced to change clothes after the muddy
As if that was not enough, we had to endure the punishing rainfall when we were sent from pillar to post in our endeavours to simply find parking space as the soldiers and the police officers who manned the area were so uncompromising.
Sejakgomo fought so hard to convince the soldiers to allow us to park closer to the event area, citing the value of the company photography equipment and its accessories and that never moved them an inch.
“You should have parked out there,” said one of the commanding soldiers wielding an AK 47 rifle pointing otherwise to a far-flung parking space.
When we finally gave up negotiating with the soldiers and the police who were literally drenched, and we understood their bitterness) we went through the rain joining the ranks of those who were soaked in rainwater.
When we could not take it anymore, we simply bolted out from an overcrowded stretch tent and headed for the Parliament building where we also went through trouble after we were told that the Parliamentary press gallery was filled to the brim.
One of security personnel manning the main entrance told us to our faces that the area was full, but government media was sorted out as well as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and South African Broadcasting Corporation crews.
It was apparent that there was no plan for the local private media to cover the event from the way the security man explained it.
It was only after the intervention of Keneilwe Segopolo of the Office of the President public relations unit that some of us found their way into the press gallery of Parliament, albeit rather after a struggle. Despite this hostility toward the private press in particular, Mmegi and The Monitor photo-journalist, Thalefang Charles observed in a post: “A good thing I observed last Sunday is that the new administration is friendly to press photographers. In fact, the President loves pictures and he is not shy like his predecessor. But there are some people from the old administration that have held a belief that press photographers are a nuisance and that pushing away photographers is a norm that they could continue in the new administration”.
Charles added: “Initially, the inauguration committee wanted only one photographer from government to take a picture of this opportunity and they tried to block us with orders from the director general of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services, Isaac Kgosi who was next to us”.
It was President Masisi who told Kgosi and his men: “Let them in! Let them all take pictures!” To Charles, this was a big win for news photographers in Botswana and, “we are hopeful that Masisi’s reign will be recorded by both government and private media. Discrimination of private press photographers is coming to an end”.
As for the heavy downpours that nearly spoiled Masisi’s big day, Chandapiwa Sebeela from the Department of Meteorology said they had a forecaster who was solely dedicated to Masisi’s inauguration. “The forecaster provided information on a daily basis to the organising team for the event. The reason why they went into Parliament was a contingency plan arising from the forecast they were given,” she said.
Meteorology had given a forecast of 30% isolated thunderstorms in the wider South East District, which includes greater Gaborone as well. “What we did not give was the timing of the occurrence of the thunderstorm and it did not also include the intensity of the rain per se.”
Mmegi is also privy to the details that the satellite pictures at the department showed heavy clouds concentrated just over Gaborone. However, Sebeela took the blame on the timing of the occurrence of the heavy downpours. “There we take the blame and nobody ever sought the timing of the occurrence of the storm,” she said, adding that the model of satellites that they have are not time specific. The Speaker of the National Assembly, Gladys Kokorwe acknowledged this week that they knew it would rain, as her prayer had been that the inauguration be held outside where preparations were top notch.
“But, we had plan B and patched up with the chairs that we had to accommodate the Judges and other dignitaries in Parliament. Otherwise, the outside arrangement could have accommodated a lot of people some of whom were openly battered by the heavy downpours on the day,” she said.