Gomolemo Motswaledi was killed in a car accident – we are told. Many people don’t believe it. And this says all about the state Botswana is in. It has become an environment where no one would be surprised if foul play has occurred in the run-up to this year’s general elections and in which the ruling Botswana Democratic (BDP) party is as weak as never before.
Botswana has developed into a country of fear. People are scared to be spied on by the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS), which is accountable to no one; where an intellectual can be banished for thinking aloud. This has become a country where you and your family might be cold-bloodedly shot by state agents when you know too much about the circles of power; where you might disappear and found being half-eaten by hyenas when you are about to publish a book which might incriminate the ruling class; where you might be hacked into pieces when you might have knowledge about corrupt practices of DIS.
Ordinary Batswana who genuinely believe in the democratic values for which Botswana is known all over the world, are shocked that the head of DIS drowns under evidence of large-scale corruption, but remains in office covered by the president of this country.
This is the context in which Gomolemo Motswaledi has died. Gomolemo was not a socialist. But he was one of the very few political opposition activists who could not be bought. After he was kicked out from the BDP for speaking against dictatorship and state repression, he made huge personal sacrifices founding a new break-away party, the Botswana Movement for Democratic Change (BMD). Gomolemo stood to his democratic principles and added immense personal integrity and humility in his relation to other political players. This won him huge respect throughout the political spectrum.
We met him repeatedly, while we were in the BNF committee that mapped out the way for the formation of UDC. Though we might have differed on political issues, he was always willing to listen carefully and he always took political discussions seriously. He recognised warmly and without any jealousy, initiatives of others and tried to build on strengths, not dwell on the weaknesses. For example, he commended us in public for speaking out for Basarwa rights and worked hard towards a clear position of BMD on Basarwa issue. He succeeded. That is why First People of the Kalahari leader, Roy Sesana embraced him and appreciated the change agent in him. He offered us solidarity when I was abducted by DIS agents. Unlike other political comrades who made fun out of it, Gomolemo was different. He knew the context of my persecution and recognized our contribution to Botswana politics: Our protest against the Spy Bill (which gave birth to DIS), the fight for worker’s rights, such as our protests against the sacking of 461 Debswana our support of the BOFEPUSU strike, the protest against AFRICOM, and our solidarity with Basarwa of the CKGR.
The last time we met him was quite telling. He was sitting alone with his laptop in the hall of the student center at UB, preparing for a meeting. Immediately he saw us he stood up: “Nkgonne”, with his disarming smile. We greeted and he explained that sometimes he prefers the atmosphere of just ordinary people around him to an office, as it gives him inspiration to find better political solutions. He again demonstrated this rare simplicity when he humbly served as a marshal at the 50th Anniversary celebration of Swaneng Hill School. Here was a leader who descended to the ordinariness and grounded on the masses and completely without this nauseating egomania of some of the comrades.
Will the BDP benefit directly profit from Gomolemo’s tragic death? Not all BDP members and more importantly not all previous BDP voters are willing to uncritically follow the Khama line anymore, that seems to tolerate corruption and the massive decline in basic services, such as black-outs of electricity and water supply. For them, Gomolemo constituted a credible alternative. This alternative has been taken out.
But it might backfire. It is up to the voters to decide how they will honour Gomolemo’s legacy. With all limitations UDC might have, Gomolemo chose to align himself and BMD to UDC in order to promote unity and strength of the opposition so that they can challenge the shameless enrichment of the BDP on the back of ordinary Batswana and the swamp of corruption, nepotism and cronyism.
For us, Gaborone Central remains Gomolemo’s constituency. Even though he is not with us anymore, he should be voted through whoever replaces him or through voting for UDC itself. He should be voted for his sincerity and integrity.
Even though he was not on the far left, we were proud to call him comrade. He earned it and he will be greatly missed. Not least for his big smile that more often than not brightened up the day for all political activists who sometimes doubt that change is really possible.
Gomolemo’s death is a sad loss to the family we wish them peace and comfort. May his soul be a game-changer to Botswana pregnant political landscape. Yes there is an alternative to Domkrag. Let the freedom bells ring-Ke nako, are chencheng. The struggle continues comrade Zembe
Motsomi Ndala Marobela, Chairperson of International Socialists Botswana