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Last Updated
Tuesday 03 August 2021, 12:07 pm.
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Ministers flee from audience

MMEGI staffer EPHRAIM KEORENG is on the trail of the strike story and stumbles into strange happenings at Kgotla meetings as ministers literally bolt from their audience
By (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Ministers flee from audience








Picture this: Three ministers bedecked in business suits sprinting away from a fully packed Kgotla meeting on foot! It is a scene normally found in the make-believe world of movies. So perhaps that is why when this anomaly played itself out at a Mogoditshane Kgotla, everyone was rooted into shocked silence.

Reminiscent of Botswana's sprinting sensation Amantle Montsho, ministers Maxwell Motowane (Assistant Minister of Local Government), followed by Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri, Assistant Health Minister and his boss, Health Minister Dr John Seakgosing trailing behind cut a comical picture of serious men running away from something terrible. Fear. That terrible monster which possesses you like a devil, scaring you, was running rampage amongst the country's top leaders as they ran for dear life. There was no protocol about it. Actually there is no protocol on this. No one, even the police officers as they stood perplexed watching government ministers on the run, ever imagined that there would ever be such an eventuality. The mood at the Mogoditshane Kgotla is rightly captured by renowned American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson who poignantly says   "What we flee from flees from us." So the ministers must surely have been running away from their fear, with the hope that it will flee from them.

Whether it did or not will remain a matter for speculation.

The race, which took a little less than two minutes nearly turned ugly as the ministers threw themselves into a government vehicle, as the driver floored the accelerator nearly colliding into another vehicle carrying Mogoditshane sub-council chairman Patrick Manthe, as the two vehicles raced to the gate. Their fear this time, must have been motivated by suspicions that the Kgotla gates would be closed, trapping them inside to face their dread.

"The chief says he does not know where the ministers have gone," a headman announced over the public address system to the still shocked audience. The audience had been waiting patiently for the ministers to come and address the Kgotla meeting, not knowing that the dignitaries were actually watching them from the Mogoditshane Kgotla office windows. So as everyone was trying to get a better seat for the meeting, the trio bolted like a bullet out of a gun, stunning everyone.  Already there were fears that this audience, made up largely of hundreds of workers filling up the Kgotla, could have inspired the ministers' historic sprint.

A visibly shaken Manthe, whose car had parked just outside the Kgotla entrance out of sight, told this reporter that "who would not have run for their lives? We felt threatened. It was my personal life, my physical body that was in danger and I had to run," he said.

Standing by the car door as if ready to make a bolt for it altogether, Manthe tried to explain to two men and the Mmegi reporter how he had to rid himself of the clear danger that he had seen and sensed at the Kgotla. It was then that the large body mass of workers broke into song, singing revolutionary songs like "Re kampa ra buswa ke Mugabe-We would rather be led by President Mugabe" and others loaded with derogatory lyrics.

In a space of 10 minutes a scheduled meeting by the three ministers and other government officials to appraise Mogoditshane residents on the status of the strike, had ended before it could even start.  People drifted away and gathered in small knots where a decision was made for workers to trek to Gaborone with some walking and others driving in a convoy. As tree branches were lifted high painting a picturesque picture of lime green, the protesting workers took to the road grinding traffic to a halt.  As everyone turned their backs on Mogoditshane, it was clear that in the failure of the meeting, nothing has been lost. Everyone knew what the three dignitaries wanted to say.

Actually they are all reading from the same script that has been used by other ministers who are on a counter-offensive to give government's version

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of the strike and why it continues unabated.  In Mahalapye vice-president Mompati Merafhe and assistant minister Botlogile Tshireletso followed this script. Mokgweetsi Masisi tried to do likewise on Tuesday in Gaborone West, though he ended up being whisked away when he got the jitters. This week Wednesday at Tlokweng Kgotla meeting addressed by Kitso Mokaila it seemed everything would go well until the minister declined to answer a question regarding why government has refused the unions' proposal that they go back to work if fired workers are reinstated and that the No Work No Pay policy by government is scrapped.

The unions had also accepted the government offer of three percent increment, which they intended to distribute among workers in a pyramid form, where the lowly paid would get a larger share of the money. But Mokaila simply said the answer could be sought from the Directorate of Public Service Management director Festinah Bakwena.

The crowd went into a rage, and erupted into song, destabilising the meeting such that it had to be called off, while Mokaila was being sneaked out through the back entrance.By press time on Wednesday a meeting called by Masisi to address Gaborone Central residents on the same subject also flopped when it was announced by some officials that he would not be coming.

This fear, strange as it is, seems to be gripping the country's leadership at a time when the government workforce is on strike, and the citizenry is not able to access services like health. But perhaps Masisi chickened out because he realised from his previous meeting in Gaborone West that they were not addressing the normal Batswana audience, but angry workers who feel the government is failing them deliberately as if taunting them to do something drastic.

"You can see they brought a lot of officers, numbering close to a hundred. Why would they do so? No one has threatened to beat up anyone. This shows the government has ulterior motives," said one resident of Gaborone West at Masisi's Tuesday meeting in the location.

After they trekked from Mogoditshane to Gaborone, the large body of mass that frightened the wits out of ministers, camped by the main mall, just on the road by the Shell Filling Station, throwing the poor police officers into a frenzy. A security and traffic situation of sorts expressed itself. Those working, shopping and strolling suddenly became agitated fearful that they would be thrown into a logjam of angry workers facing off with the police.

The whole scenario and other events of the week are a microcosm of the narrative of Botswana's democratic growth and the slow pace at which government has responded to it (growth). Through the new Public Service Act, signed by President Ian Khama, the government permitted workers to strike and some weeks ago, when they said they were going on strike, government through Bakwena's signature, accented.  Though it was a good move, especially that it is in line with International Labour Organisation standards, it is however interesting that the government while looking good on the outside as an employer who observes international standards, cannot give workers any increment.  As the country is held spellbound by the strike and teetering on the brink of collapse in an abyss where health facilities have closed, and government representatives lack even the courage to face their people, one is reminded of America's third president Thomas Jefferson who observed: "When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty".  Then there is the Setswana saying that says "Go kgoberega ga metsi ke go itsheka ga one-." So as the country bleeds with ministers running way from a Kgotla, president Khama telling his BDP MPs that he does not buy votes and then his MP in Maun, Kgosi Tawana resigning from the party in a dramatic fashion, one hopes that the calm that has followed Botswana from her birth will return when the dust settles.

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