Bogosi shouldn’t undermine modern democracy!

Shortly after I became politically active in the 1950s, I read in the Johannesburg Star that Tshekedi Khama, Bangwato regent had made a statement, if my memory serves me right in Lagos, Nigeria where he had broken his journey from London, to the effect that, “The days of chieftaincy are numbered!” It’s almost 60 years since the statement was made.

Being a young revolutionary, I was thrilled to hear from a traditional leader, my kgosi, that the institution of bogosi would soon become obsolete. I had always admired Ragonkgang, as Tshekedi was popularly known.

He was passionate about the progress of his people, particularly on universal education for his people, to the extent that he had begun a pilot project to take formal education to Basarwa into remote cattle-posts. I witnessed this project in operation during the holidays when I visited our cattle-post which was in a cattle-post cluster at Mokoswane near the Tobane village.  I even learnt a Sesarwa song, Basarwa children sang at school.

Not only was TK passionate on education, he also attempted to initiate a dairy industry by pilot project at the cattle-post  cluster. That TK’s pilot projects failed, shouldn’t be the issue in the backdrop of lackadaisical attitude of  our current leaders in regard to quality education and industrialisation; but it makes one think and  admire the progressive enterprising spirit that whirled in TK’s mind; he was very much a man ahead of his times, deserving of admiration. I admired TK for his initiatives including his legendary dingdong battles with colonial administration. His deliberate flogging of a wayward Phineas McIntosh of the superior race, put the icing on the cake as far as the youth of the time were concerned. Were evidence required to investigate whether TK yearned for political independence, his consistent challenge to colonial authority, was sufficient.


TK was a model, in a dynamic world pregnant with a new government system struggling to be born. In his interaction with people in Botswana and outside, the focus on the imminent changing new world always possessed TK. He was unloved by some and revered by others, particularly the youth. So I was excited to read TK statement indicating that bogosi was soon to be a museum piece in history. However when I started reading ANC history  I was immediately struck by the role dikgosi had played in the resurging spirit, that sought to reclaim human dignity, Africans had had before the advent of the colonial yoke.

The formation of the Southern African Native National Congress (SANNC) later to be known as the ANC, demonstrated the role dikgosi had played regionally. It wasn’t an insignificant role to unite Africans across the borders of SA. Dikgosi in the Union of South Africa, together with dikgosi in the so-called High Commission Territories (HCT), Bechuanaland, Basutoland and Swaziland met in Bloemfontein to reject foreign domination. The SANNC had a House of Chiefs, whose first president was King Letsie of Basotho. Originally the ANC didn’t have individual membership except for the elite who constituted its leadership. Tribes-men were members of the organisation by virtue of their dikgosi’s membership. There was unity across the SA borders. The objectives of the SANNC was to fight the ‘colour bar,’ which graduated to a full-blown obnoxious apartheid system. 

Ironically, while the ANC in the Union agitated for inclusion in the 1909 constitution, through universal franchise, the HCT resisted the incorporation of the territories into the Union that denied the natives the right to vote. Tshekedi Khama was among the foremost dikgosi who waged war to the finish against incorporation. In this he was ably supported by the ANC leadership, two of them Dr AB Xuma who was a personal friend and ZK Mathews, Motswana by origin.

In the course of time I have come to appreciate the importance of dikgosi in nation-building. It would be wrong to dump bogosi which without doubt ushered us into our jolly political independence. Bogosi should be modified to rhyme with the times because, some of its aspects appear moribund. When TK made the statement that made me admire him infinitely, he couldn’t have been thinking of expunging the institution, intelligent man he was, but adapting it.

Strictly speaking, bogosi was never a democratic government system, contrary to what some pundits may say; it had elements it shared with democracy, for example  freedom of speech: Mmualebe o bua la gagwe….. Otherwise bogosi was an autocratic institution which nonetheless oozed public interest and solidarity of the people, it catered for. There was joint community responsibility, one’s child was another’s child. The tradition of everybody for himself/herself and the devil takes the hindmost was taboo. Human rights as advocated by UN was unknown. Children were to be seen and not to be heard; equality between all men let alone between men and women was unknown; inequality between ethnic groups was the modus operandi of the age; everyone knew his/her status and place in the pecking order in the village.

Dikgosi expected subjects to genuflect before them; it was the custom and the law. Anywhere where bogosi was practised, there was an atmosphere of animal farm sort of situation. Some members and ethnic groups in the community were more equal than others. Under democracy equality and human rights is the norm, human rights are guaranteed by the constitution. That is why one must support the minority ethnic groups who call for amendment of Bogosi Act so as to restore equality, dignity and recognition of a cocktail of human rights for. Ntlo ya Dikgosi must act to bring the ‘principal’ and ‘minority’ tribes on par to avoid serious conflict which can jeopardise Botswana’s proverbial peace!

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