In response to President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s take on poverty in his State of the Nation Address (SONA), my little brother and colleague in the media, Vincent Matumo in his Facebook post stated: "…the poor is a huge chunk of indigenous Batswana… if South Africa is the most unequal society because of apartheid, how did Botswana become second worst?"
How did we get here? We are told at independence in 1966, we were a poor lot. We have been reminded many times that when the British handed over Bechuanaland to the natives, there was only a 10 kilometre tarred road, amongst the few dotted developments which were mainly around the residences of the colonial rulers/administrators.
I have my suspicions Mr. Matumo, how we got here. It starts with who and where our parents were at independence. The ruling elite, the chiefs and those around them, had their children enrolled in elite schools in South Africa (think Tiger Kloof and Rhodes University), modern day Zimbabwe and Zambia. Some, amongst them our founding president, Sir Seretse Khama, were graduates of the British universities. So, while the majority of indigenous Batswana were toiling and soiling the land, to build and feed the nation, the ruling elite were being groomed. The great wealth/poverty divide started then.
Sadly, despite the glaring signs that Botswana is a land of the extreme rich and the desperate poor, the world has for years, continued to want to see or hear no evil about this nation. The story of a shining example of democracy, a diamond-rich economy caring for its people, has been peddled for decades. The story has also been sold by us natives, who when home question the status quo, once beyond the borders, sell the same line. In most cases we have no choice as to travel the world, most of us are at the mercy of our donors, which could be our government or supporters of the powers that be. I bet even some opposition leaders have found themselves singing the same tune in private conversations. When President Masisi stated in his SONA that “no one will be left behind…” I, and I bet many of my colleagues and compatriots who have sat through different addresses of different presidents, just went, we have heard that before, what’s new. Friends, you can accuse me of being a cynic.
But we have, indeed heard that many times before, so much that the statement is not only of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party, but even the opposition Umbrella for Democratic Change, had it in its 2014 election manifesto. What remains is that the majority are left behind. The wealth, in indigenous hands, is in those of the very few families. When a young man whose credentials are not the educational qualification nor experience but being the nephew of the former president, earns a basic salary of over P400,000 a month,
In land Botswana, you have families whose sense of entitlement is seen in the behaviour of looting of public coffers and distributing wealth amongst themselves, and friends, majority of whom are foreign nationals or new residents. This is where the problem lies.
The wealth is in the hands of the powerful few. I try to be positive about the now and the future, but when one reads stories about Botswana being the second top country in Africa’s billionaires, and all the names are Asian and Jewish, and there is no single indigenous Motswana in that list, you begin to wonder whose land this is. I am not one to whip up nationalists emotions, for I abhor xenophobia as I do tribalism. But I cannot in my consciousness keep quiet and watch the ruling elite empower, corruptly, the minority at the expense of the majority. As a nation, we should not let our land be raped and destroyed by corrupt officials; both elected and in government employ.
With the wealth of the nation in the hands of the few, the country is sliding down, and the majority of us, indigenous Batswana, are left poorer by the day.
As I have stated before, and will continue to hammer the point, poverty, unemployment and crime are intertwined. Crime includes blue collar one, corruption and nepotism. Sadly as I sat glued to the television screen listening to HE last Monday, I heard little on corruption. I did not get how in his “correction” of wrongs of the past, he planned rooting out the rot. Same as what he tends doing to address the high growing unemployment.
As we head to next year’s general elections, we may have to move away from petty politics of power battles, in all political parties, and demand leaders to address bread and butter issues. These are the issues of unemployment, poverty, corruption, citizen empowerment, failing education and health systems, land distribution, labour, gender-based violence, crime, service delivery, general development amongst others. We need to rise as citizens, enter Parliament, council chambers, Dikgotla and political rallies to demand answers. We can no longer afford to be indifferent when our country is being run down the drain.
For democracy to work, for us, as voters, citizens, is for us to ensure that the people we vote to office work for us, not for themselves, their families and friends.