SELEBI-PHIKWE: A vested interest in boosting gender equality and representation in local politics has urged Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) operative Tebelelo Seretse, to race for the party’s chairperson position.
As the first woman to be appointed Botswana’s ambassador to the United States of America a position she held for almost six years, Seretse also holds the record of being the first woman within the ruling party to contest the chairmanship position.
In fact, she ran the same race in 2009 but lost by a slim margin. At the time, Seretse was backed by the president Ian Khama and the A team. Seretse acknowledged that the opposition holds a record of fielding women candidates. “We stood strong as women in the country to oppose the ill-treatment against Letshabo because time has come for women to prove that they also can,” she said.
Seretse, born in 1955, is also experiencing the same criticism and mostly from women who she feels should be the ones supporting the cause to have women in leadership positions.
“In fact political parties can have better administration if led by women. I have observed that countries that fought for their freedom consider women as comrades in arms but for those who received their independence on a silver platter have reduced women to the kitchens,” she said.
Seretse said she was shocked when a young lady called one radio station and said ‘Bo Mma Seretse ba godile, ba dirile, aba sute’. “I am trying to do the best for women but they see me as not entitled. In fact I am younger than Ponatshego Kedikilwe and Mompati Merafhe by the time they assumed the party chairmanship positions. Somebody saw the right to elect those men but I’m seen as ‘mosadimogolo’. It is pathetic and it shows that we are misinformed. May be we need a mentorship programme of a girl child because it shows that we are one foot in the grave and the other one outside. Leadership is all about collectiveness,” she charged.
She is unfazed by the fact that she is the only woman in the BDP chairmanship race contesting six men. She regretted that in local politics, gender equality is just as good as non-existent.
She said this stark reality had resulted in the country being scorned by other countries that have advanced in gender development, moreso that Botswana remains the country with the lowest number of women in leadership positions. “Unless our political parties and even parliament amend laws achieving 30 percent of women in leadership positions will remain a pipe dream,” she said.
Seretse, who is a trained attorney, said she believed being a woman in the race, would motivate the girl child somewhere that she is also able, whether she wins or loses.
“It is special to me as it represents the cause of women that politics is not about physical strength but mind. My move will undoubtedly create opportunities for other women in the future,” she said.
Seretse is optimistic that if she can win the position she will have a traceable record and ensure that she does not set a bad record for women to be discredited on the basis of gender. She emphasised that although the women are dreaming of having a woman head of state, it will take a long time. Women should be seen to be attempting and proving that they are also capable.
“Just attempting sends a strong message that women have a duty to prove themselves in positions accorded to them and perform beyond expectation, just to be exemplary. We need to guard our positions and make a difference so that we set no negative record that would be used against us in future,” she added.
Seretse stressed that anything is possible and said the more women try the more the message goes through. He added that it is high time the country not only talks about democracy but participatory democracy and regretted lack of support by women for fellow women candidates. She explained that women remain majority of voters but they fail to see that they can make a difference through a vote.
“If there is no constitutional amendments to reserve positions for women then our dream as women will never be realised. If we do not agitate for that as women then parliament cannot take action and men will capitalise on the fact that we do not support each other as women. Again there is no direct election of the president where women would try their luck,” she added.
Another challenge for women like Seretse is that Botswana is one of the only two countries within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) that have not signed the protocol on gender and development.
“Botswana only signed for 30 percent women representation and not that of 50 percent. This is embarrassing because we host SADC; we should be an exemplary country. Again just signing the protocols while there are no deliberate actions to seriously empower women would mean nothing,” she said.
Seretse, who was once at the helm of the BDP women’s wing, was an MP for Serowe South from 1999 to 2004 the period during which she served in Cabinet holding three cabinet positions namely the Acting Minister of Presidential Affairs, Minister of Trade and Industry, Minister of Wildlife and Tourism and Minister of Works, Transport and Communications.
As an acting minister of Presidential Affairs, she negotiated Partnership Agreement with the United States government to start ILEA in Botswana. In addition she was also instrumental in advocating and ensuring that government appointed women to positions of authority in government boards.
She also worked tirelessly to ensure that Botswana qualified for Africa Growth Opportunity Act whose objective is to increase trade between Botswana and the US. She further signed a Trade Agreement between Botswana and India and headed African Ministers to the World Trade Organisation to the last successful Trade Talks in Doha in 2001. She was also instrumental in establishing both the Botswana Export Development and Investment Authority (BEDIA) and Local Enterprise Authority (LEA),
Seretse started her political career in the BDP youth wing and has served in several portfolios within the party. She was elected unopposed to the chairmanship of the women’s wing in 2007, and served as a member of the ruling party’s Central Committee for eight years.
She once served as the head of committee to amend the party constitution, and has participated in political debates against opposition parties and was notably involved in drafting the party manifesto when the party prepared for both the 2004 and 2009 elections.