While on social media he has been described as a ‘hero’ and ‘bosso’ who has pulled off the stunt of the year, on closer inspection the man dubbed the Parliament Swimmer is a man with a mental illness and is crying out for help.
His name is David Petagano Samolao (30). We met on the corner of Independence Avenue and Kaunda Road in Gaborone central. I recognised him from the Facebook pictures so I slowed down the car, rolled down the window and said,“Eita”. He excitedly greeted me back and opened the passenger’s door and got in the car before I even invited him in. I did not protest but asked him where he was going, offering to drop him off. He told me he was just “going” so I joined him and just drove off aimlessly.
“Kana monna ga gona ope yo o kileng a dira jalo” (no one ever did that) He blurted out, without being questioned, before switching to English, “I am the first Motswana to ever do that.” Samolao was aware of his recent fame.
I tried to take him back and ask the basics. Who are you? He said he is “Samolao David Samolao”. I later discovered that his passport says, “David Petagabo Samolao”. His father is from Maun and mother from Kasane. “Monna, I have swam in both the big Thamalakane and Chobe Rivers,” he stated, almost boasting.
Why did you decide to swim at Parliament? Samolao said that it was in protest; he gave a disjointed reasons and at some point preached about God. He said he wants to go back to medical school. He explains: “They don’t want to listen to me. The Education people. I tried to tell them. And I am going to continue protesting. That was just the beginning. God will hear me my brother. If they don’t God will.”
He dismissed the Central Police Station claim that they flogged him for his Parliament misdemeanor before his release. “For what? They just let me go. Kana palamente ele gase ya ga Masisi le Khama bale nosi, It’s ours too,” he said.
Samolao said he is still going to do more radical protests. “I want to climb Seretse’s statue,” he announced. Probably noticing disbelief in my eyes he dares me to drive to State House.
“Let’s go to State House. I want to show you that I can walk in there without fear,” he dared me. We decided not to drive to State House but to his house at Bontleng. Before we arrived he instructed me to say that I am his brother, if the people at the house ask who I am. I obliged. Luckily when we arrived no one asked.
There were children playing in the yard, the house is a one long house with single rooms. He pushed his room’s door and opened, without unlocking, and invited me inside. Inside there was sleeping area with just a zebra print blanket placed on sheet of plastic on the concrete floor. No mattress.
There is blue pillow and towel. At the foot of the sleeping area, there are clothes piled on a small bag and some school papers.
On the other side there was small electric two-burner stove and two dirty pots. No plates. There was bag of macaroni, full bottle of All Gold Tomato sauce and some spices. Samolao said he has been staying here since October 2014.
He said he is a University of Botswana (UB) student. He dug in the pile of clothes and produced two letters.
One is UB’s admission letter dated July 8, 2014 for Bachelor of Arts Criminal Justice Studies that offered him a place in the 2014 Academic year beginning in August. The other is a sponsorship letter dated July 24, 2014 from the Department of Education Financing offering him sponsorship for his UB studies.
It appears Samolao does not want to do this course. He said he still wants to go back to medicine studies, which he did in Jamaica and USA. He dug, again, through his pile of clothes and emerged with a passport. It looks like it was recently soaked in water. Inside there is a coveted multiple entry USA visa that was issued in 2011 and expires in 2016. He says he was returned just before he completed his medicine studies but did not say why he was returned.
Looking at him in his dirty one-room without any bed, Samolao looks worlds apart from the suave young man who plays lawn tennis or posing for pictures in front of the White House that he posted on Facebook.
At the end I asked him whether he has a medical condition. He reveals that he was given “leave of absence” at Sabrana Psychiatrist Hospital where he was admitted for a mental condition.
He said he needs help. “I want you to help me brother. These people don’t listen to me.” He then reveals that he is expecting his sister who is in Windhoek, Namibia to come any day because they have heard about his Parliament swimming incident.
Samolao’s landlord, Mpho Paakane, said he started renting at the house in October 2014. “He was just a decent and intelligent guy when he moved in here,” said Paakane. She said Samolao had a bed but it was repossessed last year.
“He is just alright when he is sober. The problem starts when he drinks alcohol. Even in January he was just okay the whole month and the problem began after he received his allowance,” told Paakane.
A man who identified himself as a “friend” also attested to Samolao’s weakness with alcohol. “He told me he has a mental condition but most of the time he is just alright, the problem comes when he drinks alcohol,” he said.