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Home » Columns » Long live the spirit of QKJ Masire, long live!

Long live the spirit of QKJ Masire, long live!

Publishing Date : 06 July, 2017

Kesitegile Gobotswang (PhD)
BCP Deputy Leader

 

As the country was trying to recover from the shock of losing Patrick Van Rensburg who was an education icon and revolutionary another educationist and political giant fell. To many Batswana the passing of former President Sir Quett Ketumile Jonnie Masire was untimely. This is because it was never in the public domain that he was sickly despite his advanced age. The timing of his death was quite unfortunate.


The country needed him most as we navigate through unchartered waters of excessive looting by those delegated to manage the country’s resources on behalf of citizens.  His voice of reason shall be missed. We still remember very vividly his parting shot over the introduction of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) captioned by a newspaper headline “You’re destroying our country.”  In the Setswana culture the word of the late former President Masire is the unwritten law which must be respected.
 

In 1965 Masire was a Member of the first Parliament at the age of 40 years. He was one of the youngest Members of Parliament. At the age of 41 years Sir Ketumile became the first Vice President of the Republic of Botswana and the first Minister responsible for economic planning which was later re-named Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP).  When he assumed the office of president of Botswana in 1980 Masire was 55 years.
 

It is worth noting that there are three remaining political veterans who were in the first parliament in 1966. These are Orbert Chilume from Nkange, Kenneth Nkhwa in the North East and Gaerolwe Kwerepe from Ngamiland. The transition from Seretse Khama to Masire was a historical milestone. This is because he was taking over from a charismatic leader who was admired and highly respected as the father of modern day Botswana.


Coming from the royal family of Bamangwato ethnic group had a significant contribution to Seretse Khama’s popularity.  On the other hand Masire was a commoner from Gangwaketsi.  At the time of Khama’s demise Batswana were still rooted in the traditional Bogosi system of governance. Obviously there was anxiety about the future of Botswana under the leadership of a commoner. 
 

Within no time it was clear that under Sir Ketumile’s stewardship Botswana continued to enjoy peace and tranquillity. Multi-party democracy was consolidated and enriched during his time as President of the Republic of Botswana. He ran a truly inclusive system of democracy where the contribution of the opposition and those associated with it were recognized and highly appreciated. 
 

Under his leadership Botswana introduced a consultative institution called All-Party Conference (APC). It was a crucial forum that allowed political leaders to exchange ideas to nurture our democracy.  Rre Masire listened to all sections of the society irrespective of political affiliation. Hence the most transformative electoral reforms were introduced under Rre Masire. These include the introduction of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), external voting, and reducing the voting age from 21 to 18 years.
 

Masire was one of the few remaining founders of the Republic of Botswana. He contributed immensely in laying a solid foundation based on constitutionalism and the rule of law. At the time of Botswana’s attainment of independence from the British rule Southern Africa was predominantly ruled by white racist minority regimes and one-party independent states. However, the founding leaders in their wisdom broke ranks and introduced multi-party democracy, which earned Botswana the title of “a shining example of democracy”.


The founding leaders instilled tolerance in political discourse, a trait that sets Botswana miles apart from the rest of most African countries.  Today the relationship between politicians from the ruling party and the opposition is one between opponents and not enemies.   In fact Masire believed that every Motswana has the potential to be President of the Republic of Botswana.
 

Another feature of pre-independence Africa was the existence of independent ethnic groups. In a few African countries political conflicts were a result of divided nations along ethnic lines. It is against this background that Masire and the founding leaders of Botswana prioritized National Unity as one of the key national principles. Everything they pursued was meant to promote unity.  Hence Setswana was introduced as a national language at the exclusion of other languages to unite the people of Botswana.  Whether this was a wise move in the context of promotion of mother tongue as a medium of instruction is a debate for another day.

 

During the early days of Botswana another strategy used to unite the country was to strike a balance between the North and South. The result of this was that when a President comes from the North the position of Vice President should be occupied by someone from the South. Seretse Khama who originated from the North was deputized by Rre Masire from the South. When Masire became the Head of State in 1980 his Vice President was Lenyeletse Seretse from the North.

 

Another issue that divided some African countries often resulting in civil wars was ethnically biased distribution of national resources. For this reason the founding fathers decided that all natural resources and mineral rights belonged to the state to be shared equitably. Whether this has been satisfactorily accomplished is a matter for another time.  

 

Sir Ketumile used to say that their intention was to set high standards for the rest to follow. As Minister of Finance he ushered in the first balanced budget in 1973 followed by budget surpluses in subsequent years. Hence Botswana received accolades on account of financial prudence. It may be argued that budget surpluses were a result of poor implementation which remained a challenge for decades. Part of the reason for a surplus budget could be attributable to the conservative budgetary approach adopted by MFDP under the leadership of Masire.

 

 Under his charge Botswana successfully introduced the Botswana currency in 1976 replacing the South African Rand. Prior to the Rand, pre-independence Botswana or Bechuanaland as it was called was using the British Pound.  It is for this reason that Seretse Khama used the occasion of 1969 dissolution of parliament to shower Rre Masire with praises for doing a sterling job in managing the national coffers.

 

It was not all smooth sailing for Rre Masire as he faced many challenges during his long service to the nation. Due to limited space one can only enumerate a few examples. One of the early tests to his leadership and negotiation skills was the violent strike at BCL Mine in Selibe Phikwe. He had been despatched by President Seretse Khama on a mission to deal with the crisis that entailed addressing an angry crowd of striking BCL Mine workers.

 

There were physical threats to Vice President Masire which angered President Seretse Khama. It would later emerge that had Seretse Khama been the one who had gone to Selibe Phikwe the state security forces would have been unleashed to disperse the striking miners by force.  If this had happened there was bound to be casualties. Frequent cross border attacks by South African security forces killing innocent citizens and South African refugees gave Rre Masire sleepless nights.

 

The Sedudu crisis brought Botswana and Namibia close to military confrontation. Rre Masire was at the centre of ensuring that the crisis was peacefully defused. I cannot imagine what the country and the sub-region would have gone through had the crisis happened during today’s trigger happy and erratic political leadership. Political icons like Sir Ketumile Masire, Kgalemang Motsete, Philip Matente, Motsamai Mpho and Kenneth Koma deserve national monuments to honour them for their huge contribution to peace and tranquillity which we all enjoy today.  There is no doubt that these were true patriots.
 

Long Live The Spirit of Sir Ketumile Masire, Long Live!

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