Happiness and pride can’t be bought

SHARE   |   Sunday, 21 September 2014   |   By Dr Boga Manatsha

Last week, I focused on Botswana Vision 2016 pillar on ‘a compassionate, just and caring nation’. I related it to access to land (resources). I argued that social justice can only be achieved when people are informed. I sincerely commented that the Vision 2016 booklet is well-written theoretical-wise. But translating theory into practice is a mammoth task for the government. 

This week, I focus on the pillar on ‘a united and proud nation’. I relate it to the politics of land (or access to natural resources). This pillar states that ‘By the year 2016, Botswana will be a united and proud nation, sharing common goals based on a common heritage, national pride and a desire for stability’. It continues: ‘This will be demonstrated by increased use of the flag and other national symbols that signify racial harmony’. The problem with Botswana leaders is that they simply think that ‘happiness’ and or a ‘proud nation’ can be ‘bought’ by symbols such as flags and national anthems. Do I need to fly the flag of Botswana to show the world that in Botswana we are proud and united? I am not sure about what is meant by ‘the increased’ usage of the flag and national symbols. Currently, there is a ‘campaign’ to hoist the national flag on top of ‘towers’ across the country. This is in preparation of the 50th anniversary of independence. Does this increase suggest ‘a united and proud nation’? If so, this is devoid of any reasoning. 


Equitable ownership of and access to natural resources (land in particular) forms the basis upon which ‘a united and proud nation’ can be achieved. Why should I be proud when some of my fellow countrymen, using power and arrogance, continue to grab land from the poor? Well, in Botswana, there is a ‘United and Proud Front’ of ruthless land and cattle barons on the one hand. On the other hand, there is a Fragmented Poor and Landless hoi-polloi. The first ‘proud’ and arrogant coterie, which has, since 1966, benefited from elitist policies, want the masses to accept that flags and ‘national symbols’ make a ‘united and proud nation’. This is done through the public media- which is uncritical and naïve. Similarly, the education system produces those who praise the current unjust system. I cannot be proud when I do not have a house. Land prices are exorbitant. I am landless. I am a tenant. I pay rent every month. Why should I be proud that landlords are reaping me? I and the land barons are from two different orientations. How am I expected to form a united and proud front with them? Should I be proud that some foreigners own chunks of land in my country? I am proud that I am a Motswana. I am not proud that few elites control our land. Batswana are afraid to speak. They pretend to be a united and proud nation. Perhaps, this is what those in power want to hear. Let them hear me: I am not happy. 

We all know, even those who pretend to be proud and united, that resources are not equitably distributed in this country. I do not pretend and I will never. That is why I have been freely expressing my opinion since 2012. My fellow Batswana, pretence will not earn us any keys to Heaven. Some people own chunks of land here in Gaborone while some live in Old Naledi- derogatively called Ditakana (‘a garbage place’). Most of us are renting. Until and unless we have equitable access to resources, this pillar will never be realised. The lack of equitable access is also compounded by institutional rigidity, institutionalised tribal hegemony and the ‘national’ culture ‘myth’. Whenever Batswana try to question the government, they are viewed as anti- government. Is it wrong to be anti government? Only kindergarten kids would think it is wrong. Well, it is this quagmire that Batswana, for the sake of those in power, accept that they are united and proud. What a dangerous society is being ‘cooked’. The society is very much polarised. When people talk about their resources, they do so with sincere concern. Most are very helpless. 


The introduction of the Tribal Land Act (TLA) in 1968 was to disband tribal ownership of land, which was considered divisive and anti-nation building. To achieve the so-called nation-building, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) founders, led by Seretse Khama and Ketumile Masire, legally sidelined the dikgosi using the TLA. Some dikgosi, especially those from the so-called principal merafe, protested resulting in some joining the opposition. Masire, a commoner, was eager to ensure that the state plays a pivotal role in land administration. The TLA was the most significant piece of legislation that the BDP introduced. It was followed by the introduction of the tribal-based land boards. In principle, the TLA aimed to promote a ‘united nation’. 


I argue that the land boards failed to promote a ‘united and proud nation’ as they assumed tribal connotations. The land boards are faced with mismanagement- some stemming from tribalism.  At their formation, they assumed their names along tribal affiliations: for example,  the Ngwaketse Land Board, Ngwato Land Board, Kweneng Land Board, Kgatleng Land Board etc. On the other hand, the land boards in the so-called minority populated districts did not follow the same nomenclature. For instance, in the North East District, we have the Tati Land Board.  In the Chobe District, we have the Chobe Land Board. This, I have argued elsewhere, does not foster a united and proud nation. It makes other merafe to think that they are entitled to certain portions of land in this country (some even think that they own Botswana). This is politically divisive.  It goes against the principles of a united and proud nation. Even after the TLA was amended in 1993, the land boards still retained their tribalistic names. In 2012, the government, on paper, introduced the land quota model to try to resolve the land crisis in the urban areas. The main problem with this ‘policy’ is that tries‘re-tribalise’ land. In 1993, the TLA was amended to make it possible for Batswana to be allocated land anywhere in the country. The land quota would undermine this.  It will create disunity further undermining the illusive ‘united and proud  nation’. 

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