President Masisi's recent visit to 91-year-old Kenneth Nkwa, accompanied by ex-president Festus Mogae and BDP stalwart, Dan Kwelagobe, should not be allowed to pass without comment.
Nkwa must surely be the last surviving member of the 1966 Independence National Assembly having won the North-East constituency for the Peoples Party and with Matante (Francistown) and Motlhagodi (Mochudi) being the only three opposition members. This was a gesture without precedence in this country’s post-colonial history. But to gain the true significance of the visit it is necessary to set it in its proper context. Rather obviously, this country has lost its way. To spell out the detail is depressing in itself.
Daily we hear of those with opportunity putting their grubby fingers in the till. Once, the amounts stolen amounted to hundreds. This quickly became thousands, then millions and any day now, it is bound to be billions. Two authorities have suggested that the government enclave in Gaborone should be, as a crime scene, sealed off with yellow police tape. It sounds like a sick joke. There is skepticism about the probity of the leaders of government, elected and appointed. Who is clean, who is not? This ominous scenario is perceived as one characterised by sleaze, greed, the loss of integrity, and divisiveness, all unmeasurable perceptions. In the past, there was a degree of respect between the leaders of the different parties although the BDP made little attempt to hide its contempt for the BNF. But never before has an MP been physically thrown out of the National Assembly and dumped like a bag of rotten potatoes outside. That is the stage we have now reached. Yesterday, before diamond money corrupted the political arena, election candidates were expected to be generous in their offers of alcoholic refreshment. This was at best an haphazard, almost innocent means of gaining support. Today, political support is achieved with cash payments and offers of a whole range of goodies. It is a dismal, disappointing, scenario, which can only occur because those with cash know that most of us are potentially up for sale. But this today is not how we see such matters.
The end justifies the means, so it is believed. But the BDP would be a much better party and the country a much better country were something other than money the means by which support is gained.
But when that step on the slippery downward slope has been taken, money and greed replaces integrity, values and standards and large-scale theft becomes a routine. It may be possible to exaggerate the extent of this change but it is also worth bearing in mind that the younger generations have never known anything else, anything better or a country which was not so divided politically, financially and socially. I wonder if it occurred to any of Nkwa’s visitors to ask him if he foresaw that the country of 1966 could ever become the kind of country that it is today? Looking back, is he proud or simply dismayed? Perhaps he might speculate that, given the way things are, the opposition will do well to pick up as many as the three constituencies they won in 1966. If this indeed turns out to be the case, the plethora of opposition parties established since 1966, the BNF, BMD, BAM, AP, BCP, BPU, BNU, and all the rest will have, in those fifty years, merely taken us back to where we started. Given the almost inevitable decline in the BDP’s electoral return, it is astonishing that the opposition, by whatever name, has been so inept and so incapable of achieving sufficient support to unseat the BDP.
But now without warning comes this extraordinary cross party, cross time gesture by the new President which, unanticipated, pulls us, for the moment, out of the grime and gives us back a sense of oneness, decency, of cleanness and hope. The President could have used the visit to Nkhwa to promote his personal image and as a way of gaining political mileage. By inviting ex-President Mogae and Dan Kwelagobe to accompany him he ensured that the visit was not seen as an act of self-promotion.
Instead it could only be understood as a gesture of thanks by the country as a whole to one of the country’s founding fathers. That is exceptionally generous and welcome. Will it prove to be a one off? Or might it be an indication of a new way of approach?
But let me skip to another very different subject – SADC. I wonder how many of us have a clue as to what this does? The dead eyed windows of its office block in Gaborone, tells us nothing. Its anonymity suggests that it could be housing the DIS.
When, for the man in the street, will it venture into the open? Why is there still no SADC defence mechanism which is sufficiently coherent as to dispose of current notions that each one of the SADC states is about to attack the next?
When will there be a SADC agency enabling young volunteers to work in another country and know something of it? When will SADC start thinking about the need to sell itself, to promote a sense of inter-country identity, perhaps an SADC annual festival of arts and culture to be held in a different country each year?