When opposition Botswana Congress Party (BCP) welcomed free-spirited and independent-minded former permanent secretary (PS), Ruth Maphorisa to its ranks recently, political commentators hailed her as a big catch. The BCP family even received accolades that it knows how to fish and catch the biggest one. Mmegi Staffer RYDER GABATHUSE speaks to Maphorisa in a wide-ranging question and answer interview
Mmegi: How did your parents as educationists, inﬂuence amongst others, your choice of career, and possibly, political beliefs?
Maphorisa: My parents as teachers instilled in us the value of education. They also did not believe in in-breeding and as such they made sure while my elder siblings went to Seepapitso Secondary School, my younger brother, sister and myself were moved to Lobatse, something that did not sit very well with me.
I had to stay with a distant relative of my father I never met before while doing Standard 6 and 7. When I moved to Lobatse, my father wanted me to go to an English medium school, Crescent. Coming from a Tswana medium they wanted me to repeat Standard 5 without even sitting for an entry test. I refused and told my father I was not interested and that’s how I ended at St Theresa Primary School. From an early age, I must say I was competitive and very assertive.
Mmegi: From your family, Kentse Rammidi stands out as a politician of note.
What about your parents, relatives and other siblings? Is there anyone in particular who has inﬂuenced you to join politics?
Maphorisa: My parents and grandparents were staunch Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) members. My late uncle, Tlhotlhologolo Diloro was a councillor for Kgagodi-Diloro (MHSRIP), and I also have relatives who held political oﬃce in the BDP other than Kentse, namely former vice president Ponatshego Kedikilwe, and former cabinet members Keletso Rakhudu and Dr. Gloria Somolekae.
As for the other siblings, they are the kind you leave out when you take such a decision. It’s not for the faint-hearted. In fact, contrary to people’s thinking, I never consulted any of my relatives not even Kentse when I decided to join the BCP. I only consulted my children. I believe in making independent decisions because our believes and values are different.
Mmegi: What are the traits that you think could have propelled you into opposition politics?
Maphorisa: From an early age, I developed an enterprising and critical mind, which I believe sometimes, irritates people. I am not a yes person and you have to convince me why I need to agree with you. Self-actualised people are sometimes mistaken to be arrogant when in actual fact they are assertive.
I know in any organisation there is collective responsibility and you can’t always agree. I also don’t believe in the saying that if it ain’t broken why mend it because it may be obsolete. I believe in some areas we need disruptive thinking. Remember, today’s solutions are tomorrow’s problems. So you can’t have sentimental attachments to things that have lost meaning.
Mmegi: You have had an illustrious career in the public service that saw your meteoric rise that culminated with at a high position of PS. Please share your career path and how you felt when your contract was not renewed after all your years in the service?
Maphorisa: My ﬁrst appointment was at Local Government as an Assistant District Oﬃcer Development, a position I held for five years as a result of a year’s break when I pursued my Masters degree. I do believe I deserved a promotion much earlier because after being transferred from Palapye to Maun, I performed at a higher scale though I was paid at a lower scale. This continued when I transferred to Ramotswa and Mochudi because at the time it was common to have those disparities owing to the basis that there were no positions. I actually started the Serowe-Palapye oﬃce when it moved from Serowe to Palapye. I served as the CBPP Reference Group Secretary, doubling up with my other responsibilities as District Oﬃcer Development, an experience that would later be very useful in handling disasters of this magnitude. I then joined the ministry as a Senior Development Oﬃcer, not that I wanted to join headquarters but I needed to progress.
I was later promoted to under secretary development. When Performance Management was introduced in the public service, I developed interest and would volunteer assisting in the Performance Improvement Coordinator’s Oﬃce, a post I was later promoted to.
I went back to the districts as District Commissioner in Gantsi, a humbling experience where I got to work with the most underprivileged communities and serving them was such a fulﬁlling experience. After two years I was promoted to Deputy PS education, and subsequently PS, though for only one year.
I transferred to Youth Sport and Culture where I was PS for four years. I am happy to have facilitated the successful hosting of three major events; namely the second Africa Youth Games, IWG conference and Netball cup. I also played a part in introducing some categories in the President’s Day competition. I left at a time the new structure was implemented and could not see to its implementation.
I joined DPSM post 2011 strike and I can say I am happy with the strides I made in building a relationship with the trade unions and initiating the process to re-look into Public Service salary structures through the PEMANDU consultancy which was done in consultation with the Unions. My stay at the Ministry of Health was also very short, but I am happy with the initiatives we embarked
When my contract was not renewed, I accepted the fact that it was the prerogative of the employer to renew and moved on. I also accepted that a new administration is entitled to bring changes they deem ﬁt. I have played my part and had to move on.
Mmegi: Do you have any regrets about how your career ended? Is there anything in particular that you couldn’t complete because of your forced exit? Any bad blood with your former employer?
Maphorisa: I don’t have any regrets because I served to the best of my ability and never at any point did I hold back. My relationship with my employer was on a professional basis, not personal and therefore we had a contractual agreement that came to an end.
Mmegi: It’s common that as senior government oﬃcials rise along the echelons of power, they obtain ruling party membership cards. Did you, at any stage show any sympathy to the ruling BDP?
Maphorisa: I would not talk of sympathy because public oﬃcers are supposed to be apolitical and serve the public with impartiality and be loyal to the government of the day in terms of implementing its policies and programmes.
Mmegi: Do you have any reasons why you did not join the BDP after your exit?
Maphorisa: I believe once I left the public service as a member of the public, I am at liberty to make a choice of the party I would want to associate with and I evaluated the parties including BDP using the same parameters. I was looking for a party that I believed their outlook in terms of where we are and where they think the country should head resonates with my thinking.
Mmegi: As a new entrant into politics and a woman activist for that matter, how do you think you will beneﬁt the BCP and the opposition bloc in particular?
Maphorisa: As you know politics for women is a big issue and I guess any party would want to have experienced women in their fold. Women issues are development issues. Parties across the political divide are still struggling to recruit professionals into politics.
Mmegi: As a leader that you are known to be, what changes do you think you can immediately propose to be eﬀected for the good of your country if you were tasked to foster changes?
Maphorisa: Key amongst issues to be addressed is the constitutional review that addresses current and future issues, particularly when we talk of embracing issues that aﬀect minority and vulnerable groups in society, limiting Presidential powers to ensure that accountability, independence of Parliament, gender parity in representation, and independence of oversight agencies.
Decentralisation for me in the form of devolution ,not deconcentration, is key to development and enhanced service delivery. I ﬁnd it ridiculous for MPs (Members of Parliament) to spend a good part of their time arguing for basic services when they should be debating policies and strategies and enacting enabling legislation.
Related to this, I am one person who believes the District Commissioner’s oﬃce is no longer relevant. We need to empower the Local Authorities.
If I was to prioritise, I would say there is urgent need to address education, health and agriculture because I believe these are the nerve nexus of any economy and if not properly addressed, they can haemorrhage the system.
If I may give an example, unemployed youth to a large extent account to your education outcomes. Our trade imports point to our ailing agriculture sector. Health outcomes can be traced to poor linkages with other sectors. Across all sectors, we need to address governance issues particularly the issue of accountability, which encompasses dealing with rampant corruption.
There are too many institutions in government. Every policy comes with a structure.
We need to be clear of the outcomes we want to create which will therefore, inform the structure to drive the strategy. In a lot of cases, structure precede strategy.
I am of the view that without agreed national priorities linked to the vision, everything becomes priority.
The question is, where we are, what is our number one priority as a country? I am not talking about COVID-19 pandemic because black swans will always be there and we need the systems to become agile and respond to shocks.
Our Diaspora is very important in taking the country forward, more so the new normal has shown that we can operate remotely and we have a lot of expertise out there.
Mmegi: Women politicians often times cry foul that their male counterparts dominate the political scene and relegate them to insigniﬁcant positions where their (women) voices are drowned. Are you prepared to join the ranks of frustrated women activists?
Maphorisa: No. I am not willing to join the chorus. I want to believe there are women from across the political divide that have demonstrated that we can make ourselves relevant if we focus on important issues. Of course, the playing ﬁeld may not be level because of the multiple roles that women play. But what I know is that women can be smart if they want to be smart.