I’m happy to be in the midst of young people today. I’m privileged to be among a generation that holds the key to a new Botswana, a generation of hope, a generation that understands its responsibility to shape our nation.
I’m happy that I can say I lived among you, I lived with you and I walked with you in this great journey to a new Botswana. I know some of you used their very last bank reserves to be here today. There are friends in the audience who are nursing ill relatives, but they still found a way to be here tonight. How fortunate we all should feel that men and women of the cloth left their congregations to be in our midst on this fine night. We thought this was going to be night for young people, but I see so much grey hair, it’s a blessing we can’t say no to. And to the owners of the night, the owners of this occasion, the young people of Botswana, I say thank you for honouring our date with you. You made this effort to attend this occasion, I am certain, not because I am likeable, but because you share the concern of so many citizens about our nation’s unfolding political narrative.
You worry if our system of governance, regardless of your political affiliation, has the capacity to offer you a set of choices on election day, not just choices but, pristine choices on whom you can elect or which party you can elect to lead this country in accordance with your vision, our vision or in accordance with our hopes.
A democratic system that works is one that is not only able to sustain regular free and fair elections, but also a system that guarantees that the pool from which voters will elect parties or leaders into Government is worthwhile or quality pool. It is not enough as a nation to say we have in our midst, capable men and women of integrity if our system suffocates them, and does not allow them to come forward and be available for a vote into Government. Such a system or country that starves ordinary people or voters of credible leaders/parties from which they can choose is no different from a tyrannical system of Government. It means only the rogues will always be the ones running Government, and the people’s vision will burn into ashes. We need a system that brings out the best and brightest from hiding, a system that allows them to step forward and be available for elections so ordinary people can enjoy their right to choose capable leaders into office. Such a system needs much more than nurturing by one institution. It needs the active participation in the political process of young people.
It needs you to step forward. It needs you share your ideas. It needs you to attend meetings with others. It needs you to learn from others and teach others. It needs you to contribute money and talent to gatherings like this one. It needs you to suggest, groom and nominate potential leaders. It needs you to offer yourself for roles. In so doing, you become the eyes and ears of our nation. You begin to see what many may not see at that moment; and regardless which party you belong to if any, this nation benefits because it will be people like you that guarantee that the ordinary voters can choose from the best people on election day. Many of our citizens are alarmed that a political party, the BMD of the UDC, that holds such immense promise, is tearing itself apart, and returned from an elective Congress in Bobonong, last month, with two parallel sets of leadership committees. Many of you know that this is not workable and are embarrassed by it. Some of you have listened to radios and read from the press how our great movement has become the skunk of our nation. Our actions and conduct have represented everything that can go wrong in the democratic experiment.
Analysts and pundits have dug in the annuls of history and have tried to interpret what the unfolding narrative means or signifies, not only about the BMD or the UDC, but what it means about the future of Botswana. The perceptions and circumstances at the BMD have generated confusion, disillusionment, mistrust and doubt about whether our nation can achieve the change that we all so desire.
More important than the perceptions, the actual unfolding of events, tactics and behaviour within the BMD has revealed that we have and have had in our midst men and women who at best do not believe in the change that we all say this country needs, men and women whose lack of belief causes them to work against every effort to present this country with the type of pristine choice of leaders from which citizens can choose/elect on national election day. This alone is a travesty. It’s a tragedy because this is part of the vision that we share we so many citizens, that our movement will be one of the minting pots that will offer this nation a spoil of choice from which to elect leaders that will assist precipitate change. The painful reality is that the current configuration of and climate within our movement is not requisite to precipitating, currently, the type of change that this country needs. We cannot have the moral authority and force to change and tidy up the Government should we be in Government if we ourselves still have to deal with an endemic and systematic cancer that is fast eroding our commitment to clean governance. The current impasse at BMD is not a traditional difference of opinion or a contest of ideas or ideology; it is not a traditional competition among leaders for leadership roles. The current situation at the BMD is much deeper than meets the naked eye of a bystander. There is no need to go into these depths, for we have a conviction that the truth has a way of surfacing, the truth has a way of permeating through tiny walls, at the right time. The BMD situation is about justice, and I have chosen the side of justice, we have chosen justice. Call me what you wish as some do – a faction leader, a warlord or by whatever name – I am not moving from the side of justice. We choose justice because this is our conviction. We choose justice because there will be no change in this country without a commitment to justice. We choose justice because without it, this country will never be able to offer its best and brightest for political office. We need to advance our best people forward so citizens can be spoilt for choice, so they can choose from among men and women of substance who can bring about change.
From the side of justice I am unmoving, I am unbending, I am unshaking, I am unwavering, I am unflinching, I am unchanging. So we need to make decisions. We need to do that fairly.
We need to do that wisely. We need to do that soberly, all on the side of justice, so our system can reach a higher level of offering its best people, so our democratic process can function well. And today I have come to say to you...we are going to become a Government of great vision and delivery. I’m not here to give answers to all these questions.
I’m also here to apologise to the families whose children were injured at our congress, and to the teachers, students of Matshekge for contaminating their reputation. I’m here to apologise to Kgosi Dimakatso of Bobonong village for our conduct, and it’s not about who is to blame and who is not.
The buck always stops with the leader, the reason for which I take full responsibility, not just for the events leading to, at and after our BMD congress. I travelled this past weekend to Bobonong, to see Kgosi, the school and tender my apology. I also visited the police to thank them, but we are not done with that as we still have to see so many other people and the community. To the people of Botswana, I understand just how much aching it brings to your hearts to see before you a dream for a new Botswana melt and how let down you must feel.
And for this, I hope you will forgive me. Yet despite these, the hope in me has risen more than it has ever before, that a new Botswana is possible, that a new Botswana is within reach. So I am here not only to apologise, but also to tell you that I have an immense sense that something special is happening in, and to this nation. There is something stirring.. Just to take you back, over five decades ago, the best among our grandfathers gathered to consider a constitution of what would be the new Botswana. They dreamt of and hoped for a nation independent of political control from abroad. They aspired to plough seeds on the soils of the crop of freedom, justice, and the opportunity to prosper materially and in the spirit.
And although the money vaults were too barren to finance the running of even the smallest of Government machinery, they still believed in their future; even though there was no army to protect our vast ploughing fields, our beautiful wild animals, our deltas and our salt pans - even though we did not share in the fortune of mineral discoveries that so many countries around us swam in - even though many of our people wallowed in poverty, their children with no prospects of a good education or a good livelihood - Our grandparents still believed they were onto a new country, and despite the insurmountable obstacles they were driven, and filled with the belief of a prosperous Botswana And in some ways they achieved some of what was their dream. And in some ways they surpassed what some may have imagined. But that doesn’t mean that what constituted their vision and hopes is what forms our own vision and hopes.
They are inspired by our own unique life experience, and by the basic life principle that every generation must do better than the generation before it. Every generation has the obligation to mend the lapses of the past, and every generation should see further and better than the one before it, because they stand on the shoulders of their fathers. This is why we believe our nation can do better, much better; we can do much better as people and as a nation.
As we gather here today, we believe we are due for a new style of governance, a government that listens attentively to the people, a government led by competent men and women of principle. A government that is quick to act on decisions, a Government that is effective, clean and accountable.
Things could have been worse. If you think about it, yes someone may succeed in stealing the paperwork of our movement, but no one will ever be able to take away our beliefs, your convictions, your vision. Some invisible hand may work to contaminate how we may appear or look like today and in the now, but they will never steal from us what we will become.
It’s a shame of course, because we had hoped to build the BMD of the UDC to become like a great university of the ages, a place that prepares talent for leadership and offers it to the citizens so they may make a choice at the national elections for subsequent Governments.
Some of the great universities and political institutions are a 100 or more years old. So we are not too late. In fact we are still on time towards realising this goal ,one way or the other.
Rumours abound of a plan, apparently my plan, to decamp to the ruling party. I’m a servant of the people. I serve at the pleasure of the people as long as they think they need me to assist in their journey. What I cannot do is to walk away from the people, or step away from the side of justice. I end with a prayer adapted from a prayer by Martin Luther King:
“Lord, we are confronted with the appalling fact that the history of our lives is the history of an eternal revolt against you. But thou, O God, have mercy upon us. Forgive us for what we could have been but failed to be. Give us the intelligence to know your will. Give us the courage to do your will. Give us the devotion to love your will. God, remove all bitterness from our hearts and give us the strength and courage to face any disaster that comes our way. God, grant that we wage the struggle with dignity and discipline.
May all who suffer oppression in this world reject the self-defeating method of retaliatory violence and choose the method that seeks to redeem. O God, Increase the number of persons of good will and moral sensitivity. Give us renewed confidence in nonviolence, patience, wisdom, oneness and the way of love as taught by you.” (Article abridged for space)
* Ndaba Gaolathe is president of BMD’s other faction