Mmegi Online :: Discerning linguistic properties in SONA 2018
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Wednesday 19 June 2019, 09:48 am.
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Discerning linguistic properties in SONA 2018

The concluding remarks in the State of the Nation Address (SONA) by President Mokgweetsi Masisi have elicited mixed reactions on an already polarised nation since April 2018.
By Enole Ditsheko Fri 09 Nov 2018, 12:36 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Discerning linguistic properties in SONA 2018








It is against the backdrop of strong sentiments that have set the social media platforms ablaze that I pull into play these few paragraphs and deduct meanings and their relevance in the context of an update to the nation. In doing so, my analysis of speech is not limited to words as the body language carrying the meanings of the statements equally matter.

At the outset, it is important to break down what SONA is. This practice has been copied from the mature democracies of the West, mainly the State of the Union Address that the President of the United States of America makes once a year to give an update to the whole nation by addressing the Congress made up of the ruling and opposition legislators. Adapted to our context and several other African nations including the Philippines and South Africa, ours is known as SONA. It achieves similar goals being to enumerate the challenges the government experienced in the preceding 12 months, the solutions that were provided to tackle those challenges, identifying opportunities and mapping the roadmap on how to achieve those outcomes as well as reporting general progress on key milestones within the same period.

Participatory democracy demands that citizens should actively engage with such an address that comes once every 12 months to track implementation of strategies that were pronounced in the previous year with the view of advising the ruling party to step up to the plate and fulfil its mandate to the citizenry or forget popular vote in its favour.

These citizens do not necessarily have to be members of the opposition ranks. It thus serves a great purpose to remind fellow citizens that SONA should be the most watched programme, if the citizens mean well that they deserve an accountable leadership.

Elsewhere, this kind of address is the single-most honour, privilege and opportunity exclusively reserved for the sitting President to offer insight into the performance of his/her government from his/her vantage point – so he/she cannot speak for another dissenting voice on the same subject matter. This kind of address is not equivalent to a political debate in which politicians listen to each other and take turns to answer to one another instantaneously.

However, such an opportunity is granted the opposing camp in the house that makes the laws to sleep over the address, closely critique it and return to the National Assembly to respond adequately to the pertinent points that spoke truth or lack of it in the President’s address.

Any attempt to handle the SONA differently will be a total departure from the norm, and there is nothing unusual with regard to the 2018 address, where there seemed to have been expectations that the President should not have addressed the nation about the tense relations between he and his predecessor on the basis that the former president was not in attendance, or could not immediately proffer his explanation to counter what is contained in the speech.

In analysing this year’s SONA; I remind the reader of the body language that gave us the viewers at home a peep into the weight of the subject under discussion. The jovial face of the President suddenly wore pain as he intimated the conclusion. The speed decreased and he made sure every word was separable and pronounced so as to communicate effectively with his audience.

Furthermore, it is relevant to ask a few questions alongside expounding the meanings of the paragraphs. There is a school of thought that the President engaged in denials all along, and our mainstream news headlines portray such a narrative consistently and prominently – could this be a fair assessment of him?

If there was any denialism on the part of the President, I am adamant that like a hanging fruit on a tree that gives the beholder an impression that it is ripe, while it needed more time, water, sunshine and nutrients – the issue regarding the frosty relations between them could not have a better platform than during the SONA.

What a perfect finish it was on a widely-held belief that the leader in whose hands the nation entrusted its care, was avoiding to speak about the matter! For a matter that has already set the nation asunder with tribalistic bigotry littering the social media on a daily basis, this issue had to wait for an avenue that the leader enjoys to speak to the nation, not a segment of the populations like during the Kgotla address in Serowe.

I argue that President Masisi seized the best opportunity to include it in his national address and make telling pronouncements as the man in charge of the public affairs of this country.

“Mister Speaker, Batswana are all aware that the transition from the previous administration has not been as smooth as expected. However, it ought to be noted, I have in my attempt to smoothen the process, engaged senior citizens namely; His Excellency Dr Festus Mogae, His Honour Dr Ponatshego Kedikilwe, Honourable Ray Molomo, Honourable Patrick Balopi and Honourable David Magang to assist and lead in smoothening the transition. I regret to announce that their efforts have not borne fruit up to this point.”

This is a lamentation. More so, the President makes the obvious point that this is an open secret that everyone knows about. If for once the accusation that he is a denialist should hold water; from where have we heard about the tense relations? Every private newspaper in this country has carried articles and quoting verbatim the former president Ian Khama on how he feels embarrassed and humiliated by the current administration.

Could it be that the President chose to stay away from giving credence to the frosty relations narrative because he knew he had approached senior party stalwarts to broker peace between them? Yes, and it makes a lot of sense.

The President also makes known that while these senior citizens have made attempts to bring the two parties together for an amicable resolution of their

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differences; such steps have been in vain. Anyone who says that the President went further insofar as apportioning blame on why the parties could not smoke the peace pipe is creative and imaginative in his own right.

It may have been Mr. President who was the stumbling block, or Khama who obstructed the process from taking course. But again, as he is emphatic that we all know about this – the same press that Khama has been friendly with in the recent months, gave extensive coverage of him and quoted him verbatim that he had little respect for some of the elders whom he regarded as harbouring ill about him, and he did not mince words to single out David Magang and falling short of pointing out his former principal – Festus Mogae who was critical of his leadership style.

Khama, like any citizen, is right in expressing reservations about the qualifications of the mediators. But it remains untrue that the President in his address said Khama obstructed the process of mediation, and therefore, the idea that he spoke ill of someone who could not answer for himself does not suffice.

Furthermore, this paragraph does not give a fraction of the belief that the President lost faith in the mediation by these elders or if need be, a reconfigured composition of the elders who can allow for peace to prevail. He is clear that he is reporting about their efforts from when he begged them to intervene to when he presided over the SONA.

“In the true tradition of Botswana, such mediation should be managed for the benefit of everyone. Worth noting however, is that there is in place legislation that governs the benefits and entitlements of former presidents. I have no intention whatsoever of breaking the law. I intend to apply the law to the letter. The search for a lasting settlement shall continue”.

The President shook his head vigorously when he mentioned breaking the law. This is a natural demeanour and allows the viewer to step into his skin and walk around in it. The man steadfastly believes in upholding the law and the refrain ‘respect for the rule of law’ is not just a cheap rhetoric for him.

The President runs a government anchored on Westminster democracy, but he is a citizen grounded and deeply rooted in his culture and environment. He is in touch with the customs and traditions and linguistic nuances of Setswana – Ke Motswana wa sekei! President Masisi recognises the true fact that prior to independence, our forebears always had in place – dispute resolution mechanisms that were as effective as today’s processes.

He places premium in this social cohesion that it ought to be preserved and jealously guarded by everyone, and that our blind love should not diminish the sight of what is valuable to cherish by every person.

The President is, however, vehement that while he elected the traditional route to bring peace – it is not that he does not know what must obtain as a democracy predicated on Westminster system that treats the Constitution as sacrosanct.

Should everything else fall apart along the route of mediation, with all the powers, prerogatives and blanket immunity in his public life or private capacity to enforce the law, the President shall not hesitate to follow the rules to guide him as to what he must do. His decision will be final.

The statement is the most profound for me because as a lamentation; the President is saying – games aside, I know my rights, powers and prerogatives enshrined in the Constitution of the land, and if pushed to the edge, I will not think twice to invoke them. We know who will cry the loudest once those powers are invoked, don’t we?

Again, I wish to remind the reader of this paper that the much we know about this conflict between the two has been availed from the side of the former president, whose bone of contention is that he is having his entitlements taken away from him because of double standards, deceit, lies and hypocrisy by the current administration.

Khama bore his soul to the media buddies that he never imagined things would come to this level, given the trust in the relationship the duo had enjoyed and the agreements they reached on how he was to benefit in retirement.

The reader of this paper must be assisted to appreciate the loaded meaning of the President when he cites the Constitution or ‘green book’ as would have stated elsewhere before as the guiding light to a conclusive decision that no other person would challenge.

In short and simple form: the President has placed the ball in Khama’s court to play it.

He seems to be saying to Khama that, “You and I know too well what you are entitled to as per the law, just like the rest of the former presidents, but you want me to break the law on the assumption that we struck the deal outside these legal frameworks?

No, I am not going to do that, and my conscience does not allow me because it is wrong. I will stick to the law and grant you the opportunity to pursue the deal that you insist we had before you stepped down to anoint me to be your successor.

Either way, the rotten egg is in your face for asking for favours, and special treatment. I go by the law and the Constitution on such benefits and entitlements for they are adequately covered.”

The President has thrown the noose around Khama’s neck. It is akin to someone threatening, “I want to kill myself” in the hope that people would hide ropes and anything that might aid him in the heinous crime, only for the noose to be sized right around his neck. It has always been visible that when the chickens finally come home to roost, there will be bloodshed everywhere.

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