As the nation celebrates 50 years of independence, Mmegi Staff Writer, TSAONE BASIMANEBOTLE looks at the history of one of the most crucial institutions that played a central role in ensuring that the Bechuanaland Protectorate became the Republic of Botswana
The institution of Bogosi is still relevant as it was when the House of Chiefs, now called Ntlo ya Dikgosi (NyD) was first established in 1961. It is understood that only three chiefs attended the first meeting of House of Chiefs.
House of Chiefs is a place where traditional leaders could meet and discuss issues affecting their tribes, customs and traditional privileges. NyD is an advisory body to the National Assembly on issues of national interest as set out in the Constitution of Botswana.
In 1966, the Constitution retained the House of Chiefs as it was in the Bechuanaland Protectorate. Its role was to render its advice on traditional, customary and other matters referred to it by the government or the National Assembly.
During the second sitting of NyD, Kgosi Kebalepile Montshiwa of Barolong and Kgosi Neale Sechele of Bakwena could not attend, while Kgosi Leapetswe Khama was sworn into the house.
Early in its history, government took quite a lot of power from dikgosi, as well as their responsibilities. The history of NyD has been one of traditional powers being ceded to democratic governance. However, in the spirit of broad-based, consultative growth and in line with the founding fathers’ stated goal of respecting the country’s cultural origins, NyD has grown alongside democratic structures such as the National Assembly.
The first NyD had eight ex-officio members, being persons performing the functions of the office of the chief in respect of Bakgatla, Bakwena, Balete, Bangwato, Bangwaketse, Barolong, Batawana and Batlokwa tribes. There were also elected members performing the functions of office of sub-chief for Chobe, North East, Gantsi and Kgalagadi. There were also three specially elected members chosen by the ex-officio members.
In November 2006, the House of Chiefs was dissolved before being re-established again on February 1 2007, following the Constitutional Amendment Act of 2005.
The move was brought about by the adoption of a motion tabled by then Member of Parliament, Olifant Mfa who sought to amend sections 77, 78 and 79 of the constitution in order in order to render them tribally neutral. Today, NyD is made up of 35 members.
To consider a copy of any bill which is referred to it under the provisions of section 88 (2). The National Assembly shall not proceed upon any bill
l the designation, recognition, removal of powers of chiefs, sub-chiefs or headmen.
l the organisation, powers or administration of customary courts
l customary law or the ascertainment or recording of customary law or tribal organisation or tribal property unless a copy of the bill has been referred to NyD after it has been introduced in the National Assembly a period of 30 days has elapsed from the date when the copy of the bill was referred to the NyD.
Functions and duties
The chairman is supposed to preside or chair the meetings of the house and ensure that the decorum and order of the house is maintained.
He or she ensures that the proceedings of the house are conducted according to the provisions of the rules of procedure. The chairperson shall be the spokesperson of NyD in its relations with other organs of government and with outside institutions and persons. He is responsible through the office of the secretary, for the administration of the NyD and for ensuring that the stuff provided members of NyD is signed or addressed to the NyD chairman.
He ensures the smooth running of the committees of the house and assist the chairperson to guide the house sittings. The deputy also ensures that reports to the house are accurate and in terms of set standards of NyD.
Roles of chiefs
Traditional Chiefs take care of their communities, promote their people’s welfare, and encourage community self-reliance. They are the guardians of a community’s soul. NyD is a platform where our traditional leaders can meet and talk about what is happening in our tribes.
They are also the link between our people and the Government. When Botswana achieved independence, it preserved its traditions. It retained traditional system of governance, which has now been infused within modern governance through the establishment of NyD Chamber; as such it works hand-in-hand with the government so that it could all move forward. It works together to develop the country. Ntlo ya Dikgosi plays a purely advisory role in Government, but Botswana’s lawmakers approach it for advice. They are the voice of the people of Botswana.