The 50th anniversary was the ideal opportunity to re-examine and challenge the major issues of past years. As far as I know, however, only Professor Part Mgadla seized that opportunity - the fare on offer, in general, being little more than a recitation of well-known occurrences.
Perhaps coincidentally, Professor Jeremy Seekings of Cape Town University, however, did move into that gap with two important, interesting academic papers both of which caused me a degree of unease.
Let me take the first, Drought Relief and the Origins of a Conservative Welfare State in Botswana, 1965-1980 in which he identified the Seretse/Masire rural idyll as forming the basis of domestic policy during those years.
My difficulty with this contention stemmed not from its accuracy which is probably not in doubt but principally from the relationship of policy to the actual situation
on the ground. In 1966, there were only three major rural development projects in the country – Guy Clutton Brock’s Bamangwato Development Association in Pilikwe/Radisele, Swaneng School and the Community Centre in Mochudi. In addition, however, there was van Rensburg’s 1965 cooperative society in Serowe – the first of the modern era – and, in the same year, the appointment of the country’s first Registrar of Coops, Trevor Bottomley. In order to gain a better understanding of the government’s rural development policy and its notions
of a rural idyll, it can be helpful to see how Seretse reacted to those four initiatives. From Sheila Bagnall’s Letters we know that Seretse made just the one, successful visit to Swaneng. We also know that he was at the BDP’s 1966 conference held in Community Centre in Mochudi.
A visit that was never repeated. But it was there that I took my chance to ask him if was happy with the work we were doing? He floored me by saying, ‘glad that you asked that question because what work are you doing? Was this a demonstration of Seretse’s famous laid-back humour or merely a reflection of indifference? But was his attitude to the Tshekedi/Clutton Brock initiative in Radisele any different? Was he well informed about that initiative or, again, might he have been indifferent because he never visited the place after Semane’s 1963 wedding.?
We are on surer ground, however, when we come to the question of van Rensburg’s new cooperative society which probably inevitably was fiercely opposed by many white traders, not least in Serowe itself. I do not know what research, if any, has been carried out on the first few years of cooperative development. Curiously, whilst Trevor Bottomley has written a great deal about those years
Happy Highways, he does not describe the very real antagonisms of those first days. However, in an unfortunately undated letter to Johnny Gumb Naomi Mitchison says that I (that is me) had mentioned that a new bill was on the cards to establish trading monopolies. She adds sarcastically, ‘our old friend the Minister of Commerce again, I suppose!’ My own recall about this particular issue is unfortunately thin but I very much remember attending a meeting in one of the committee rooms in the House of Commons. At this meeting, in either late 1966 or very early in 1967, a strongly representative group of concerned people in the UK asked High Commissioner Moleleki Mokama for reassurance about the government’s then hostile attitude to coops and its support for the existing trading monopolies, especially in regard to cattle.
At this point we can be justified in wondering exactly how Seretse then viewed rural development? Additional information about this attitude is to be derived from Maitseo Bolaane’s book, Chiefs, Hunters and San in the Creation of Moremi Game Reserve, Okavango Delta; Multiracial Interactions and Initiatives, 1956-1970. In this book, she makes it abundantly clear that Seretse not only had a total disregard for wildlife but regarded it dismissively and with contempt. What then might have been the components of Seretse notions of the rural idyll? The answer seems to be clear.
From various sources we know that he was a passionately keen cattle farmer. Is it possible that his understanding of rural development centred around and was limited to his own considerable cattle herds and his demonstrated preference for the existing marketing monopoly. If we are to accept these ‘facts’, we would need to conclude either that Seretse came to broaden his understanding of rural development during that fifteen year period or that the essence of the government’s rural devoipment policy derived less from Seretse and more from Masire. Underpinning this conclusion would be the striking contrast between Seretse’s indifference to those early important rural projects and his enthusiasm for the first of the major urban projects.
Maru a Pula.But then we may gain an additional insight from Wedgewood-Benn’s comment that Seretse was ‘hopelessly aristocratic’. This presumably meant that, unlike himself, Seretse was never likely to have any leanings towards socialism and its idylls.