Uncles of the Bangwato Kgosi and former president Ian Khama have taken a centre stage in trying to broker an elusive peace deal between President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his predecessor. It is a delicate process of attempting to deal with a feud that is testing the sustainability of Bogosi as an institution and its processes in the modern democratic society, writes Mmegi Staffer and Serowe-born THALEFANG CHARLES
Throughout the Masisi-Khama rivalry, the uncles had remained quiet. Customarily, Khama must first approach his uncles whenever he has problems. They are regarded as his main advisors and their role is to guide the kgosi throughout his reign. They are like his father figures that he must tap wisdom from to be a better ruler. Khama, however, did not rely on this traditional route when he fell out with his successor. He chose the vile political route and went to ‘dipepereng’ (political freedom square, as it is known in Serowe) instead of the revered Kgotla where he has an arsenal of gray-haired wisemen to fix stuff on his behalf.
The political route neglected Khama’s uncles because Dikgosi are defacto government employees and their dikgotla are gazetted government premises, so active politics is a no-go area for them. It appears Khama believed the political route would be the most effective because elections were around the corner and he saw a big opportunity to get rid of Masisi through the ballot box. The uncles silently watched on from a distance hoping the feud would end before much damage. They were also waiting for Khama to come and appeal to them for help.
The feud came at a very sensitive time when Bangwato are preparing to appoint the grandson of Tshekedi Khama, Leapeetswe Khama’s son Seretse Peter Khama to the tribal authority. Peter is widely tipped as the next regent to take over from Sediegeng Kgamane.
But nothing is confirmed as yet so there are a lot of uncertainties among the uncles. So everyone of the eligible uncles is treading carefully to avoid to upset (Ian) khama, government or morafe. Peter is already begging for apologies because in the last general elections he briefly attempted to contest for Serowe South parliamentary seat on AP’s ticket.
During Masisi’s visit to Serowe when tensions were still highly charged, the President refused to comment on Khama’s issue leaving Bangwato with yet another promise that they will be shocked the day he will tell them the truth. Masisi, swearing by his late father, said, “Kgang tsa mogolo ga di buelwe mo bathung. Dibeng go iwa ka tsela. Le tsile go hakgalamala maammaruri a tswa, ka rre ruri,” (An elder’s issues are not discussed in public. There is protocol. You are going to be shocked when the truth comes out) he told the doubting morafe.
Meanwhile, at Dipepereng, the conflict was raging like wild fire, tearing Bagammangwato further apart. Still, the uncles remained silent.
During a series of protest meetings by Bangwato tribesmen, which were defiantly held in the kgotla without permission, the royal uncles were usually famously absent. The meetings were organised by some Serowe’s well-known, well-off and influential tribesmen. Speaker after speaker of these influential tribesmen, were stirring up morafe reporting to them about the ill-treatment meted out to Khama that involved plots to kill by poisoning. As the reports came in, it then reinforced the belief that Khama’s uncles, who hold fort for him at the kgotla, were neglecting their kgosikgolo and left him at the mercy of the State’s harassment.
One speaker even quoted the late Sir Seretse Khama’s advice to his son Ian that he must trust the people more than the uncles. Seretse Khama, who shrewdly abdicated Bangwato chieftainship to join politics and became president, had advised his heir saying, “Rra, ikanye batho, ga ke reye gore thowa borrangwanago mme ikanye batho” (Mister trust the people, I am not saying you should hate your uncles, but trust the people).
Things then quickly escalated and Khama literally walked out of the country through the Martin’s Drift border and went into a self-imposed exile in South Africa without his State security. And that is when the uncles were forced to publicly act before morafe could pass a vote of no-confidence on them.
Bangwato Regent, Kgosi Sediegeng Kgamane called the very first meeting to talk about Khama’s problems two weeks after Khama went to RSA. Before the meeting, a written petition had appeared on his desk and was questioned by the State why his people are holding meetings in the kgotla. Although Kgamane avoided to address the petition, saying it had no sender or petitioner to respond to, he reported to morafe that “Khama is well and is expecting to return home soon”.
It was at that meeting that morafe agreed to send a delegation to the Office of the President (OP). Although some tribesmen said they should first engage the District Commissioner (DC), the people of Serowe believed that their issue was far beyond the local DC office. They wrote to OP and were quickly advised to first approach the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development. Even though the uncles felt they were being rejected by Masisi, they followed the protocol and went via the ministry.
Things took an interesting turn when Masisi shuffled the Cabinet and appointed Kgotla Autlwetse the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development. Autlwetse is a Mongwato elder from Serowe who was brought back into Parliament after losing elections to Khama’s party, the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF). Some tribesmen do not trust him because of his political allegiance to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). But Autlwetse is a shrewd local government expert. He masters the process of local government, and he completely understands the people of Serowe more than anyone else in Cabinet because he is one of them.
It is therefore, unsurprising that when a Bangwato delegation, which comprised Kgosi Mokhutshwane Sekgoma, Ewetse Khama, Iphemeleng Kgokgothwane and Edna Monyena came out of meeting with Autlwetse, they had a change of tone towards government and hopeful for peace. Autlwetse’s charm could be felt from Kgosi Sekgoma’s report and Monyena’s comments at the last Kgotla meeting.
The ever eloquent Sekgoma reported that Autlwetse said Masisi wants to meet up uncles, only if they come with Khama. Monyena, a very influential figure in Gammangwato, urged morafe to respect the talks’ process. She said negotiations are by their nature fragile and they must be protected so that they could succeed.
It is worth noting that the previous mediators like BDP elders hit a brickwall in their attempts to bring Khama and Masisi together when Khama demanded to see Masisi alone and the President flatly rejected the offer. So, it now remains to be seen whether Khama will accept to come with his uncles to OP or not.
The last meeting also showed that Serowe is still very divided. Immediately after Kgosi Sekgoma presented their negotiation status, many people left the kgotla. Those that remained behind extended the delegation’s mandate to continue with their peace talks but asked that Khama should delay his return as they feared that he might just be arrested at the border upon his return.