Bakalanga unapologetic over mobilising against Botswana govt
by Khonani Ontebetse repr. Sunday Standard
Prominent Bakalanga leaders, among them former Permanent Secretaries, former ambassadors, former Chief Justice and leading businessmen say they are unapologetic about their recent petition against government that Botswana budget remains skewed against the North East District since the 1990s.
They are former Chief Justice Julius Nganunu, former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Botswana Meat Commission Chief Executive Officer, Dr Martin Mannathoko, former Permanent Secretary, Gobe Matenge, former ambassador and Lazare Kaplan Botswana Managing Director, Alfred Dube, former ambassador and one of Botswana’s most successful entrepreneurs, Samuel Mpuchane, prominent lawyers and ex-Motor Vehicle Chairman, Tendekani Malebeswa, Botswana ‘s first qualified accountant, Lawrence Maika.
The petitioners’ spokesperson and former Permanent Secretary, Gobe Matenge, was responding to reports that it was not clear whether they were complaining as tribesmen or residents of North East District.
“We stay in Gaborone but our roots are in North East. We cannot be intimidated by people saying we raised that issue as Bakalanga. North East is where we come from. We are citizens of this country and by nature we are Bakalanga. We are not going to run away from that. If some people are going to come up with the issue of us being Bakalanga as a threat, let it be,” said Matebe, in an interview with Sunday Standard.
Matenge said they were not only citizens but also taxpayers adding that they are waiting for a response from Minister of Works Transport and Communications, Nonofo Molefhi.
“We can’t say because we stay in Gaborone we are comfortable; North East is our area; that is where we come from; we have relatives there. We should not forget where we come from. Our roots are in North East. It should also get the share of the national cake,” he said.
He added that: “We are conscious that when we raise this issue people would think we are doing that in our capacity as Bakalanga and we intend to stir controversy. We raised the issue in our capacity as residents of North East. We made that clear even in the letter addressed to the Minister. We cannot ask for apology as residents of North East or as Bakalanga,” he said.
“If someone says Bakalanga are raising the issue, we don’t regret. We are Bakalanga yes; we won’t apologise, if we are not Bakalanga what else can we be,” asked Matenge rhetorically.
He said they do not want to see deliberate bias against the North East District in the expenditure distribution of Botswana’s national budget.
“It seems the government is not keen to develop the North East. The issue that we raised in the letter is not a new one,” he said.
He revealed that the issue was raised in the 1990s when the late Chapson Butale was the Member of Parliament for the area.
Matenge said their main bone of contention is that since the 1990s infrastructure development for the North East has always been included in the National Development Plan only to be removed at a later stage.
“What bothers us mostly is that is always included in the National Development Plan and then unexpectedly it is dropped without satisfactory reasons and development takes place somewhere. It seems the government doesn’t take us seriously,” he said.
He added that: “By then we were talking about almost the same thing and emphasis was on roads. Then the Minister responsible was David Magang. We paid a plane ticket for Butale so that he could come and meet Magang and talk about our concerns.”
According to Matenge, Butale did not brief them about his meeting with Magang.
“Magang is a personal friend of mine. He told me that when he looked at the delegation, he could not face us. He later travelled to North East and promised the residents that his Ministry would address their concerns but nothing happened until he retired,” Matenge said.
He added that another former Minister of the same Ministry, Lesego Motsumi, also promised North East residents that she would address their concerns but she never fulfilled her promises until she left the Ministry.
“Nothing has happened since then until we petitioned Molefhi by way of a written letter; he is also making similar promises; they are not taking us seriously,” he said.
Matenge also revealed that: “When we met the Minister recently we just confirmed what we wrote in the letter. The Minister promised us that he would reflect on the letter and give us an answer in due course.”
However Matenge is optimistic that “Molefhi means well and it would be nice to see what he has for us after reflecting on the letter. We feel that we must give him a chance. We must reach a stage where we believe they have failed, but for now we will continue to push them.”
Matenge explained that they do not expect Molefhi to bring something new, adding that they also do not intend to detract from what they had written in the letter. He revealed that Molefhi apologised for delaying to respond to their letter until the matter was covered by the media.
On suggestion that they could have used other means to address the issue while they were still civil servants and not now when they are retired, the former Permanent Secretary said that some people fail to appreciate that there is a difference between being an individual and being a civil servant.
“As an individual, I can talk about my constituency but as a civil servant I must be impartial and serve the nation. Each Ministry has a portfolio and a civil servant has to execute his or her duties in an impartial manner and serve the people countrywide. As a civil servant we have to talk for our country and not for our area, there is no question about that,” he said.
Molefhi declined to comment saying he could do that only if inquiries are in the form of a questionnaire.
In the letter, which was addressed to Molefhi, the petitioners dismissed government recession excuse. “The government now pleads poverty as pretext. We are told there is recession, yet new projects are being undertaken elsewhere in the country. What wrong have we the people of North East District done to have such punishment meted out on them,” they charge.
Although the letter addresses the specific issue of roads, the petitioners say they want the government to know that there is a general “complaint that the district has been deliberately denied development”. They complained that their capital, Masunga, is not connected to most of the villages in the district.
“Even sub-district headquarters elsewhere in the country have good road connections.”
The petitioners say “this inequitable situation of Masunga is not only throttling development but it is also a glaring violation of espoused national principles”.