Under three weeks back, when we celebrated our country’s 49th political independence, I hinted in this column what I thought would be the wisdom of renaming the awards currently bestowed on recipients under the rubric of Presidential awards.
My intuition is that naming all awards as simply ‘presidential’ doesn’t project the various talents of the recipients so honoured. Moreover it blurs the distinctive personalities of the presidential office under which they serve or have served. Some incumbents in our line of presidential succession may be less presidential than others. This isn’t to suggest that among the four presidents we have had, there may be none who deserves to have been president. But looking into the future we may find we have one who fits the description of Idi Amin of Uganda or Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire. Personally I would feel dishonoured to receive a presidential award during the regime of Idi Amin-like or Mobutu-sese-Seko-like president.
That is why among the pre-independence dikgosi I would definitely recommend awards in the names of dikgosi who prepared us for the stage of political independence and all it stands for or what our objectives may be, now that we have it. Independence should be something to spur us on, to become greater, better, more innovative, more united, more educated, more peaceful, more equal than others and more democratic to set the pace for future generations for a better world. Independence must aim at throwing up new leadership to guide us into the future of dynamic change ushered in by the event.
It isn’t sufficient to celebrate a milestone event; it is more important to signal the future and destination we want to travel to. To that end we need road-signs and victuals for the onward journey. Having started the highway construction to a blissful future, it remains to exhort the nation of fellow-travellers to keep refueling for the journey. 30 September 1966 is a water-shed to a glittering future. Independence is a starting-point of work-in-progress in a race deliberately chosen to run and win. We certainly cannot do that just by reliving it in song, dance and poetry, but must celebrate it as an opportunity to keep the values that inspired our forefathers, intact. By opting for independence we claimed maturity to survive on our own steam as well as to partner and compete peacefully with the contemporary world.
We can do all the above if we remind ourselves the circumstances under which our forerunners battled to shake off the yoke of colonial dependence, to accomplish what we needed accomplished for ourselves without having to depend upon those who pretended we could do nothing without them.
By shaking off the colonial yoke we successfully shook off the colonial-dependency syndrome - the helplessness we previously and instinctively internalised, that without some benevolent protector we could achieve nothing by ourselves, as we perceived ourselves as dead meat to the predators that encircled us.
Though our land was seen as barren and only good for constructing a road to the fertile North and nothing more, we took off with confidence to independence, utilising the potential in ourselves and the land we occupied.
We must pride ourselves with the resilience which saw us survive the threats of the Boer vagabonds in the Eastern frontier and those of the genocidal Germans in the Western frontier. We pride ourselves on how we regarded ourselves as one people, even before the new concept of nation-hood.
The amazing solidarity of Kgosi Sechele of Bakwena with Kgosi Mosielele of Bakgatla, who when confronted by Paul Kruger’s cattle-rustlers looking for Mosielele, dismissed the Boers with a defiant gesture: ‘Eh, looking for Mosielele? He is in my tummy; get him if you can, or voetsek!’ What a man! He was prepared to lay down his life in defence of a fellow-Motswana! His was solidarity to be emulated as a quality of our people. Think of Tshekedi Khama the reluctant subject of the English colonial over-lordship. Remember how he flogged one wayward Phineas Mackintosh, to assert his authority undiluted? More, he gave Baherero, asylum when they fled decimation by the Germans, and went all the way to plead for their independence from the South African oppressors at the United Naqtions. Here was a man prepared to stick his neck out for fellow-Africans, in those dark days of unmitigated white colonialist oppression. TK would have swooned witnessing xenophobic attacks anywhere and would have deplored any hesitation to grant Eritreans asylum seekers on the weird excuse that they had come to play football…! It was unprecedented for a subject ‘chief’ to raise such ‘impertinent’ matters outside the jurisdiction of his circumscribed office!
It is this talent of assertiveness by our pre-independence leaders we should reclaim and infuse into our ‘presidential’ ceremonial honours during the independence event, to inspire Batswana to emulate the past leaders.
Pre-independence leaders and others in the example of Bakgatla dikgosi who refused to be a divided morafe through artificial colonial boundaries, should be recognised through the awards! Besides, the dikgosi, many Batswana commoners before and after independence should be set as models to inject momentum into the unfinished journey: Kgaleman Motsete and Patrick van Rensburg – education, Motsamai Mpho and Kenneth Koma – ground-breaking political-national leadership, Ratsie Sethako - music, Leetile Raditladi - Setswana literature, Botogile Tshireletso - pioneering women and innovative political leadership; Unity Dow – the challenger of gender inequality status quo!
A redirected awards/honours committee could formulate symbolic categories of national aspirations perhaps as envisaged by Vision 2016 values! Such arrangement could change the historic impetus of our independence and adorn it with an inspirational way forward.