The Kgosi Chronicles Part Two: We don’t need Ntlo ya Dikgosi

September 15, 2015

There are two things that we are agreed upon; two things that have gained national universal agreement: first we want to choose our leaders and second, we don’t want anybody to rule us forever. This is because as our constitution states “Botswana is a sovereign Republic” and not a monarchy. It has an elected President as its Head of state who is elected into office in accordance with section 32 of the Botswana Constitution. We value the second point so highly that we have had to limit the term of office for the President during the presidency of Sir Ketumile Masire to a period not exceeding 10 years as captured in Section 34 of the Constitution which reads: “The President shall, subject to the provisions of this section, hold office for an aggregate period not exceeding 10 years beginning from the date of his or her first assumption of office of President after the commencement of this Act.” The right to choose one’s leaders is a central and necessary element of any democracy. It is so fundamental to democracy that to claim any democratic credentials without election of leaders is a farce. The very word democracy is of Greek etymology. It is from the Greek word demokratia constituted by demos meaning the people and kratia meaning power or rule. Democracy is purely about the people’s power or rule. Power lies in demos – the people themselves. They, the people have the power to rule or govern. Demos must govern. The people make decisions about what they want to do with power. Through an election they entrust their power to a group of chosen leaders. In this way elections become only one way of facilitating democracy. Democracy must always be about demos-power and not leaders-power. Power must consistently remain with the people.  Through an election, the people can take power away from one leader and pass it to the next leader. This democratic necessity insulates the people against a leader who may want to take power from the people and rule forever. Second, it ensures the power to choose one’s leaders remains with the people. These modern democratic principles are a direct opposite of segosi.


The monarchy, such as the institution of bogosi as practised by Batswana, is principally hereditary; it bestows leadership on men or women, who are not elected, who have not earned any legitimacy from the people they govern. The dikgosi are the unchosen leaders who through an old system of leadership inheritance, find themselves with unmerited power and influence. Men become rulers of principalities, not because of merit, not because they are the fiercest warriors, not because they have the swiftest feet, not because they are fairer than the rest, not because they are the most intelligent, not because they are the most cultured, but simply because of an accident of birth. This system of assumption of power is most unkind, discriminatory and unfair. By definition bogosi is undemocratic. Contrary to popular belief bogosi is not an epitome of democracy. It is in fact a perfect example of how an undemocratic system functions. It limits leadership opportunity of a morafe not only to a single family but also to the eldest son of the senior wife. Power is limited to a family because all the children of a sitting kgosi are automatically dikgosi, though the eldest son becomes kgosikgolo. I am aware that bogosi is an important part of our culture, but it is that part of our culture, which though highly celebrated and defended by some, is most unfair and undemocratic. This is why I was appalled when the dikgosi recently demanded more powers and pay. At a later article I will try and demonstrate why modern dikgosi must not be mistaken for the dikgosi of old such as Seepapitso III, Khama the great or the great Sechele of the Bakwena. Botswana does not need the current Ntlo ya dikgosi. It is neither a house of experts nor elected leaders. It is a group of principally men who have attained a right to the house on account of who their fathers were. They are neither qualified leaders nor talented individuals. There is no other government leadership position which is hereditary. We don’t allow such a state to exist because it would rob us of two important elements of democracy: the power to choose a leader of our choice & second, the power to change leaders through an election. With bogosi one can become a kgosi for life: we cannot vote him out even if we wished because he was born a kgosi and not elected.

Botswana needs something equivalent to a House of Lords in the United Kingdom whose membership would be drawn from distinguished members of the society from the various fields of Arts, Culture, Science, Technology, Business, Management, Finance, Law, Education amongst others. These would be eminent members of Botswana’s society who can lend Botswana parliament and society in general, professional leadership and advice. Am I here arguing for the dismantling of bogosi? Not at all; at least not now. There is still room for dikgosi in modern Botswana. Dikgosi are still important in community development and cultural preservation. They are critical in instilling discipline, preserving and promoting the various cultures of their merafe. They also have a role within their merafe to lead community projects such as the building of dams, halls, gardens, schools and parks to improve the quality of life in the morafe. Central government must always be constituted of elected individuals and in the case of appointed individuals, it must be because of merit.

Most of the modern dikgosi are lettered. They have earned degrees in various fields such as law and education. They can therefore compete with every other citizen for a decent job, just as they competed as students for academic credentials. In their academic pursuit they were not favoured in any way. Neither their family name nor their community status had any bearing in the attainment of grades at school or degrees at a tertiary institution. They received their qualification purely on merit. They should therefore not be entitled to any leadership position on account of their birth. They should compete for any leadership position that may arise in the community, including political office.


Masepa Revisited

September 3, 2015

cowdungSo a lovely friend of mine this morning did call me with a question: “A ra re “masepa a dikoko” kgotsa ra re “boloko jwa dikoko”?” I hear the expression “boloko jwa dikoko” was used on the Radio Botswana news the previous day. The fact that the question arises at all is a demonstration of how far we have heeled away from our language. The city lights and its greasy burgers have cocooned us from how our people speak their language around the country. Coupled with political correctness we may end up speaking a language that is unrecognisable to its owners. However, the question was posed appropriately: “A ra re…” The questioned sought to ascertain how we speak; not how we should speak or what is considered correct or right by language purists. A couple of months ago I wrote the article “Masepa is not an insult or a swear word“. That article is here. The word masepa translates to faeces and is used in Setswana to refer to chicken, human or dog excrement. So we do say: masepa a dikoko, masepa a ntša a dujwa a sa le metsi. Sometimes an elder’s reprimand would be: O tlaa ja masepa a balekane ba gago. Batho Molema has earlier in the year contended that a line from a contemporary song was absurd. The said line is: o tlaa ja boloko jwa bankane ba gago. Molema was incensed. He objected that there the idiomatic expression go ja boloko jwa balekane ba gago does not exist in the Setswana language. He was right. He posed the questions: A motho o na le boloko? A le itse boloko? Bommaetsho ba kgapha ka boloko, ba kgabisa matlo ka jone. Why did the artist avoid using the appropriate generic word: masepa? The answer is fairly predictable. The artist considered the word masepa a profanity. Why would that be the case when the same artist doesn’t consider the English word faeces a profanity? We know that excrement from various animals is termed differently in Setswana.  Masepa a podi ke dithokolo, Masepa a tonki le pitse ke bopere, Masepa a motho one ke masepa e seng boloko. Boloko is a cow’s excrement; when dry we call it sebi. A few years back I took my son Lobopo on a drive into the wild. I picked dry cow dung (sebi) and turned it upside down for him to see. He bolted: “No daddy o tshwere poo poo ya kgomo!

So in Setswana we don’t say mantle a dikoko or makaka a dikoko, we simply say masepa a dikoko. This is in part because the word masepa is not intrinsically offensive such that it needs a euphemism. This is not to deny that in Setswana we can insult or curse someone by saying “O masepa!” or “Masepa a gago!” However the reason why this is an insult is precisely because there is a linkage between faeces and an individual; the thought of one covered in faeces is a most ugly sight and most offensive.

We are Batswana; they call us Batswanan

August 18, 2015


The year was 1999. I had just enrolled into the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology & Phonetics on Walton Street at the University of Oxford as a graduate student reading Comparative Linguistics and Philology. A walk from Lincoln College on Turl Street, took me past Balliol College, where Sir Seretse Khama was a student, to a busy bookshop at the end of Broad Street, the street on which Christian heretics were burnt at the stake. I purchased a number of linguistics books including an imposing desk dictionary bearing the title: The New Oxford Dictionary of English edited by Judy Pearsall. This dictionary was later to be known in lexicographic circles by its acronym: NODE. It was when inspecting the NODE that I first came in contact with the adjective Botswanan.


I immediately wrote a letter to the Oxford University Press pointing out this error. I argued that the appropriate adjective was Tswana as in Tswana chicken or Tswana people and that the people preferred to be called Batswana (plural) and Motswana (singular) while the language is known as Setswana. A response came from Mr. Angus Stevenson, one of the Associate Editors, a few days later thanking me for the correspondence and giving me corpus evidence of Botswanan which guided the Oxford lexicographers to lemmatize Botswanan. Stevenson’s response did not placate me. I wrote back querying the corpus design: junk in, junk out. He wrote back defending the Oxford corpus. I cursed and gave up! This confrontation with Stevenson was to later influence the trajectory of my PhD. I investigated corpus design for lexicography and wrote a PhD thesis: Corpus design for Setswana lexicography. This week three colleagues drew my attention to an article: Botswanan or BatswanaIt’s complicated by Sitinga Kachipande which brought back the memories of my encounter with Oxford lexicographers. Sitinga Kachipande observes that “According to Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries, the correct English term for nationals from Botswana is Botswanan. Therefore, it’s the preferred term by editors and writers worldwide.” This is false and betrays a weak understanding of how lexicographers lemmatize entries. Modern lexicography, very much like much of the linguistic field, is principally descriptive and not prescriptive. It doesn’t make any claim that “the correct English term for nationals from Botswana is Botswanan.” The references, both of Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries, to which Kachipande refers nowhere do they claim that “the correct English term for nationals from Botswana is Botswanan” as Kachipande claims. The online Oxford dictionary that he references only gives Botswanan as a derivative with no definition or commentary.


So the lexicographic argument by Kachipande fails, not just because it is clumsy but largely because it fabricates lexicographic evidence.

From here he develops an Onomastics argument laced with Setswana morphology. He argues: “The majority of nationals from Botswana prefer the use of the complicated term Batswana. The addition of “Ba” meaning “the people of”, seemingly implies that everyone in Bostwana (sic) is Tswana. This makes it a term loaded with problematic histories of colonialism, exclusion and ethnic relations.” There is nothing complicated about the term Batswana. It is understood to be polysemous between “a citizen of Botswana” and “a member of the Tswana ethnic group”. A similar comparison with the word English can be made. Kachipande is wrong therefore in claiming that “Colloquially, all these ethnic groups (Tswana, Kalanga, Batswapong, Babirwa, Basarwa, Bayei, Hambukushu, Basubia, Baherero and Bakgalagadi people) are referred to as Batswana. However, applying the term Batswana to them is misleading.” There is nothing colloquial in the application of the term Batswana in this case and such meaning is not applied haphazardly. It is formal and not colloquial. The label Batswana in this case is not applied to any Tswana, Kalanga, Batswapong, Babirwa, Basarwa, Bayei, Hambukushu, Basubia, Baherero and Bakgalagadi people. It is applied specifically to those who are citizens of the country Botswana. In this application, no ambiguity arises or exists.

Kachipande then asks the question: “Who then is Tswana?” He proffers an answer: “It is used to describe the North Sotho, West Sotho, Sotho, and Pedi ethnic groups who have a similar culture and speak the same language.” Kachipande is here again too generous to include the Sotho group which isn’t Tswana. Northern Sotho group (also known as Bapedi) as well as Basotho (Southern) found in Lesotho and around Bloemfontein while historically & linguistically are related to the Tswana are not Tswana. He is therefore right in the development of his article that Batswana are, “Culturally,…. arguably more similar to the Pedi and Sotho in South Africa then (sic) they are to some ethnic groups within Botswana.” It becomes clear as you read Kachipande’s article that the central thesis is this: Should the citizens of Botswana be called Batswana and should the country of Botswana, with its multiculturalism be called Botswana?” He provides his answer:

Botswana does not constitute a homogenous nation with a single language or culture. Therefore, the term Batswana should not be an umbrella term for all of the people within Botswana’s borders which include non-Tswana groups who have a different culture and may speak their own language. Additionally, anyone speaking the Setswana language should not be considered Batswana because this dominant language needed to function in contemporary Botswana where 26 languages are spoken. Therefore, an ability to speak a language doesn’t make a person the ethnicity of the people from which that language derived. As an example, the ability of the Khoi-San to speak Setswana does not technically make them West Sotho nor (sic) Batswana.

There is nothing ambiguous or problematic with the label Batswana. Kachipande makes the following presupposition: For the country of Botswana to qualify to be named Botswana, its population must be formed by a homogeneous Tswana ethnic group with a single language and culture. However there is no assumption of homogeneity in the term Batswana. It has never existed. Anyone who has studied the composition of the Tswana merafe knows that there is no assumed homogeneity within a Tswana morafe and yet there are Bangwato, Bangwaketse, Bakwena or Bakgatla. For instance, amongst the Bangwaketse there are Batloung, Bangwato, Bakgatla, Bahurutshe and other groupings with over 10 totems having been identified as part of the Bangwaketse morafe. The Batswana have always been inclusive of bafaladi or those from elsewhere. They have largely identified such individuals who have settled amongst them as part of themselves. They have in general not marginalised them from the general society. This has also happened amongst other groups, for instance there are Kalanga of Pedi origin who now identify themselves fully as Kalanga.

The terminology matter that Kachipande grapples with is really not peculiar to the term Batswana. It is a matter faced by the term English, Swati or Chinese. There are individuals who identify themselves as English although they are Caribbean or South African. By identifying as English is not to claim cultural homogeneity. It is also not to claim Anglo-Saxon roots. So the onomastic contention fails as crafted by Kachipande. The word Motswana, like the word English, is polysemous between the citizen of a country and the native speaker of a language. All citizens of Botswana are called Batswana. All members of the Tswana ethnic group whether they are citizens of Botswana or not are Batswana. The word Botswanan on the other hand is an English/American way of referring to citizens of Botswana. I will not argue with it, after all I refer to all sorts of people as Mafora, makgoa, Mantariana, Magerika and Maarabea, terms which they don’t use to refer to themselves. The question: “Should the country of Botswana be called Botswana and should her citizens be called Batswana?” is an old and open question which has been a subject of much heated and hostile debate. The debates around the question are the subject of an old paper by Prof. John Makgala. Those who don’t want to be called Batswana have a right to object, but they must do so without mixing the polysemous meanings of the word Batswana.

Dumela! shared like “magoana a baRuele”; the typical – “a se tle ka molomo!”

August 7, 2015

The setting is the pitch black that was Bechuanaland; perhaps it was a couple of centuries before the name was coined. I have heard the etymological claim that the name comes from – Ba a tshwana. It sounds creative and terribly deceptive just like the makgwiwa mambo jumbo. We shouldn’t get distracted. Then, compared to now, there were neither paraffin lamps nor electric lights. There was only the God-given sun, moon and stars; the light sand, the shrubs, the beasts of burden and the birds of the air. The land was occupied by the industrious cattle ranchers; the tillers of the land, great dancers, the stunning women and the proud Tswana men. It should have come as a useful tool of communication to recognise one as an individual in the open lands in which these patient men and women lived. All you were expected to express to another was dumela. It was a certain way to separate the mute from The Articulate Mammal as Jean Aitchison would later title her book. All one had to say was dumela. Gore ba dumelang was immaterial. It was a sure way of separating ‘one who comes from elsewhere’ from the local. All that a member of the community had to do was utter dumela. Dumela became a principal tool of recognising the other as being, as existing, as one worthy of recognition. To deny one dumela was to deny them recognition of existence. It was to ignore and negate one’s presence. It in fact became rude not to say dumela for to deny another person dumela was to say “I don’t see you; you do not exist.” Dumela attained a critical meaning for it said you matter, I see you, you exist. Linguists have a technical term for expressions which function in this manner, they are called phatic communion. These are communicative acts devoid of any intrinsic semantic value; instead their primary function is to establish and maintain rapport and to open channels of communication between individuals who have just met. Dumela is however not limited to the establishment of the mood of sociability. It is also the cohesive glue which binds people who have known each other for many suns. Those who know each other share dumela – they share it like magoana a baRuele; the typical – a se tle ka molomo.


Dumela however did not stop with acquaintances. Dumela also permeated age and class. Those who wished to be recognised demanded dumela from the recognisers, that is, the lower class and the young. An elder, claiming seniority on the basis of age, demanded the young, who on account of their youth attained lower social status, to utter dumela to him. It therefore became a badge of seniority as elders expected dumela from the young. The young uttered dumela to say you are senior and I recognise you. It became a symbol of submission, in the words of social etiquette; it became a sign of good manners. Conversely, it became a badge of rebellion not to utter dumela to those who believed they deserved it. Dumela expected, but dumela denied, was elevated to an insult. How rude one could be to deny another dumela. Some not satisfied with a simple dumela, demanded that it be conjugated for plurality, so that although they were alone, they should be addressed as if they were many. Dumelang was born. Unsatisfied with this tortured grammar, Bangwato elders took this a bit far. They demanded that nouns referring to a singular adult be pluralised. This would be the ultimate respect that creates an uncontested chasm between the young and the old. Dumelang bomme, dumelang bontate for many years, even up to now, gratified many Bangwato elders who demanded respect and recognition from the young.

When the missionaries came amongst the Batswana, they tapped on dumela to drive the good news of the gospel of Christ home. The clarion was clear: Dumelang on Christ. The call was not just for persons to believe in or trust Christ. It was a call for one to recognise their existence and being as situated inside Christ. That is why the call was phrased as: Dumelang mo go Keresete. One had to see themselves as existing in Christ. It was not really a call for people to forsake their set of beliefs. It was a call for people to shift, to live elsewhere, inside Christ. Once this shift of perspective was achieved successfully, these recognising people or badumedi were to look around themselves and see their swarthy lives as incompatible with their residence, as it were. Go dumela was therefore a two-stage movement. First, one had to recognise themselves in Christ. Second, they were to check their lives against their immediate new surroundings of faith for compatibility. Tumelo, popularly known as belief, is actually recognition of existence, in this context, the existence of God. Is there a greater mark of unbelief than not to recognize the existence of God?

Dumela was seized by lovers too, yearning for recognition. Like the baboon with his red behind asking to be seen or like the brightly coloured peacock in its majesty, splendour and beauty, makolwane approached maroba and asked them mothonyana ntumela. The plea was for recognition. It was a plea for one to stand out from the many. Let me not be the background – foreground me, recognise me, see me, acknowledge my existence. The thing they call love is merely seeing differently. Mmereki Marakakgoro was expressing this very idea when he characterised Mary in a song as a rose amongst thorns.

It may indeed be apt that dumela is vanishing from our society for increasing we don’t recognise each other. The village spirit of oneness may be subsumed in this simple word whose etymology speaks of grunts of crude and rustic village peoples. When such a spirit dissipates, when it vanishes from the very fabric of our society – it may signal that when we look in the mirror, we are confronted by Frantz Fanon’s Black skin white masks. Dumelang!

The kgotla is not a democratic space

July 3, 2015

The word kgotla is a polysemous word. By polysemous, we mean that it has multiple related meanings in its use. It is used to mean a ward, that is a group of families living together in the same area in a specific part of a village. The cluster of households usually forms a circle or a semi-circle around a central kraal that is shared by the members. In a traditional Setswana village setup each village is constituted by multiple wards, each headed by kgosana or ralekgotla (a headman). Membership to a ward is usually by birth or marriage. In other cases it is by transfer from another kgotla of one’s birth. The tribal chief devolves power and authority to the headmen to establish a decentralised control of the village or tribe. “The lower-level kgotlas constitute the public domain of the respective residential sections and subsections of a village – entities also denoted as kgotla. All villages are divided into such wards.” (Gulbrandsen, 1995:420).

Every member of the village belongs to a ward since a ward forms a distinct social and political unit of the village. A ward is also known as lekgotla (pl: makgotla) or simply as kgotla. Schapera in his discussion of the kgotla observes that amongst the Bakgatla (ba ga Kgafela), Balete and Batlokwa, a ward is also known as kgoro (pl: dikgoro) while amongst the Bakwena (ba ga Sechele) and the Bangwaketse, for a long time a ward has been known as ntlha (pl: dintlha). Amongst the Bangwato, a ward is known as a motse (pl: metse) (Schapera, 1994:19), which is the same word that is used to mean a village. The terms ntlha and motse as identified above by Schapera have largely fallen out of usage and have been disputed by some Setswana native speakers. The word (le)kgotla can also be used to mean “either the men’s meeting-place or the body of men gathered at such a place for the specific purpose of dealing with public business (Schapera, 1994:19). Traditionally those admitted to lead makgotla and be kgosi’s advisor were “male persons but not women”.

Kgotla 1_tcm94-325330

The second meaning of kgotla is that one defined by Schapera (1970:8) as “a booth-like or crescentic windbreak of stout poles where the men of the hamlet meet to discuss their affairs”. This structure exists in at least three places. First it exists at the kgotla-kgolo (also known as the main kgotla or kwa kosing) which is found at the morafe capital, for instance for the Bangwato it is in Serowe, for Bangwaketse it is in Kanye and for the Bakwena (ba ga Sechele) it is in Molepolole. It is the administrative centre of a tribe where disputes are settled and where matters of tribe or village concern are discussed and debated. It functions as both a customary court where cases are heard, as well as a community space where village meetings and rituals (such as dikgafela) are conducted. “Besides serving as the appropriate place for national ceremonies and gatherings, the royal kgotla thus constituted the forum for the kgosi’s conduct of political meetings and for the administration of justice in his capacity as the supreme judge” (Gulbrandsen, 1995:419). The kgotlakgolo of the morafe is therefore from whence the kgosikgolo (the paramount chief) presides over village matters and rules supreme over his territory (Mompati and Prinsen, 2000). Traditionally, the kgotla is a male space. It is constructed by men and its attendance is by men.

The physical space that we call kgotla, where people congregate, is not only the kgotla-kgolo where the kgosikgolo rules. Each ward also has its kgotla, where members of the ward gather and where disputes in the ward are heard. Such a kgotla is shaped like the main kgotla, but it is smaller. Therefore every ward has its own kgotla where ralekgotla “a headman” presides. It is usually smaller than the main kgotla and adjacent to a kraal. Third, just as there is a kgotla in a ward, usually every household or a group of very close families in a ward also have their own kgotla. This is where men sit around the fire during funerals and weddings. It is also an exclusively male space.

A kgotla is therefore central to the Tswana life. While people identify themselves with the main, central kgotla, they also have strong allegiances to their wards. These allegiances are based on the fact that relatives usually constitute wards.

As an embodiment of tribal leadership the kgotla gives the tribe a sense of direction and existence. It is an image of chieftaincy and leadership. It is a political, legal, communal and religious space. Cases are heard at the kgotla (customary court) and village meetings (lebatla) are held here as well as village rituals (such as dikgafela, the harvest celebrations). In the past the kgotla was an exclusively male domain, and in many ways it still is, though it has increasingly developed into a place where women are occasionally welcomed to attend and contribute. It must be stated, nevertheless, that there is still a strong link between men and kgotla to the extent that all Setswana kgotla names are male. In this way kgotla names (such as Kgotlaetsile (the kgotla has arrived), Kgotlayame (my kgotla) and Modiakgotla (one who delays the kgotla proceedings)) are fashioned by gendered spaces and power relations between men and women amongst Batswana.

Having presented this short discussion above one must conclude that: in any imaginable form, it would be wrong to consider the kgotla a democratic space. Those who preside over the kgotla proceedings are not elected to their positions of influence. They ascend there through an accident of birth and stay in such positions of influence until they are deposed by death. James Shirley is right: “Death lays his icy hand on kings: Sceptre and Crown Must tumble down, And in the dust be equal made With the poor crooked scythe and spade.” Second, how can the kgotla be a democratic space when it has systematically excluded half of the village population: women and girls? Finally, kgotla proceedings themselves are not democratic. In case of disputes and disagreements, there is never voting. The idiot and the genius have a chance to be heard since mafoko a kgotla a mantle otlhe, but lefoko la kgosi le agelwa mosako, so usually the kgosi’s preferred opinion always has the day.

** picture from

Dikgosi are politicians!

June 17, 2015

There is a false dichotomy that has been maintained for a while now. In Botswana politics, it is as old as the republic itself. It is a view, a feeling, a claim that the kgosi should not meddle in politics because he is a leader of a morafe. The argument goes that if he were to meddle in politics then the morafe would be split along political lines. The argument sometimes takes the form of a rhetorical question: if the kgosi were to meddle in politics, how would he be able to serve his morafe well and equally without political influence? No one would make such an argument for ministers! The argument goes further than that. The kgosi should stay away from politics because if he were to get involved he would lose the respect of his morafe; his very subjects would insult him in the freedom squares because he would have removed the royal blanket, seana-marena, the protective leopard skin which hitherto had shielded him away from the fiery darts of the messy freedom square discourse. Here one is reminded of Alec Seametso’s infamous attack on Kgosi Tawana Moremi “Kgosi e ya nyena ga e a senyega e bolosokane, o senyegetse matlakaleng ka ntata ya nyena…o tebelegane; jaanong e bile gompieno o senyegela matlakaleng.” Sadly sometimes this line of argument is so entrenched in the Botswana politics that the dikgosi have not only imbibed it, they have actually argued against dikgosi getting involved in party politics. Kgosi Lotlaamoreng of the Barolong has previously been quoted as arguing that “We should not be lured into the game of politics because a chief is born and remains a chief until the end of time…Those who have chosen the political route did so of their own volition and we have to respect their decision. However, magosi must remain servants of all people, something which is difficult when you are in politics because you wear certain colours.” The kgosi missed a critical point. He was speaking as a kgosi, wearing certain royal colours which separate him not only from his subjects but also from other merafe, as a kgosi of a specific morafe.

But let us return to the central thesis of this column. Dikgosi cannot avoid being involved in politics because the very institution of bogosi is a political entity. Politics is a term of Greek derivation. It is from the word politikos – that is, relating to citizens, a population or a group of people. It is by definition a theory and practice of influencing or controlling other people. It is about acquiring power and exercising positions of governance — organized control over a community or a state. Politics deals with how power and resources are distributed in a society. A kgosi is a leader of a morafe with immense power and authority. In traditional Tswana society the kgosi’s power was administered from a kgotla and it was almost impossible to envisage a kgotla without a kgosi. The kgosi and the kgotla both inextricably expressed tribal leadership. As Schapera (1970:5) observes, “The Chief is therefore not only the ruler of the tribe. He is also the visible symbol of its cohesion and solidarity” For ages the kgosi has been a supreme politician, a position he acquired by birth. The kgosi “governed the society through a hierarchy of headmen and with the support of personal advisors and officially recognised councillors. The supreme authority of the kgosi was vested in the royal office (bogosi)… The ruler is granted custodianship of the national material and symbolic wealth of the bogosi. Although the kgosi’s decisions are acknowledged as final – lentswe la kgosi ke molao (the kgosi’s word is law) – it was imperative for a kgosi to consult with the people, because kgosi ke kgosi ka morafe (the king is king by the grace of the people) (Gulbrandsen, 1995:419). The kgosi’s power included military power and sometimes bordering on the divine. The chief for many years amongst the Tswana was seen as in possession of great medicinal powers (both metaphorical and in reality); having powers to restore health to a sick and fragmented tribe. He united the fragmented tribe and restored order and discipline as he settled disputes and punished misconduct. “The chief was head of the dingaka and as ngaka supreme of the tribe he possessed two horns: the lenaka labokgosi (the horn of chiefship) and the lenaka lantwa (the horn of war). Only the chief could possess these horns, which were filled with tshitlho, medicine believed to secure protection for the tribe and combat hostile influences. In the possession of these horns lay supernatural power and sanction for the authority of the chief over the tribe.” (Dennis, 1978:53). Gulbrandsen (1995:421) observes that “The kgosi is not only rich but ideally generous, the source of wealth for all.” This is so since a kgosi used to control the tribal herd and a common granary (dihalana tsa morafe), serving as the major source of concord and prosperity. The kgosi has historically been an incredibly powerful politician. With the coming of independence, power shifted from dikgosi to elected leaders, mostly lacking royal blood. In other cases power stayed with dikgosi. The kgosi shifted from leading his morafe and engaged in party politics to lead his nation. This was the case with Sir Seretse Khama, kgosikgolo of the Bangwato, who turned his back on the Bangwato bogosi and took on the BDP and Botswana leadership. Julius Nyerere, kgosi of the Zanaki, also opted to lead his country to independence. Bathoen Gaseitsiwe, the father of Seepapitso IV also moved into party politics leaving Bangwaketse bogosi politics to his son. In the current Botswana parliament, we have President Ian Khama, who is the kgosikgolo of the Bangwato. We also have Kgosi Tawana Moremi who is kgosikgolo of the Batawana. Recently we have heard murmurs that Kgosi Lotlaamoreng of the Barolong may be joining party politics. He is doing nothing new. He will be in good company of other dikgosi who are into party politics. What appears to have happened is that over the years, power has shifted from dikgosi to the party politicians and bureaucrats and party politicians have convinced the dikgosi that it was a bad idea to be involved in politics. This was a great deception because dikgosi from time immemorial have been de facto politicians. They have never commanded a hundred percent following of their morafe. Dikgosi are slowly waking up to the fact that they are TS Eliot’s hollow men, stuffed men, leaning together, headpiece filled with straw. Alas! Their dried voices, when they whisper together are quiet and meaningless as wind in dry grass or rats’ feet over broken glass in their dry cellar. They are quietly walking to where power has shifted: party politics.

How baruti ran away from being herdboys!

June 10, 2015

The word moruti is used generally to refer to a church pastor. Pastors are baruti in common Setswana discourse. How this translation problem came about perhaps may be explained by the fact that those who established churches across the Tswana land from the areas of Kuruman, where the Bible was first translated into an African language, to the land of Khama the Great who believed so much in God that he constructed for him a most spectacular temple, spent much time teaching; not just Christian doctrine, but also teaching general education studies that included reading and writing, agriculture and other essential skills for the morafe. However the concepts of teaching and pastoring amongst the Tswana predate Christianity. The concepts were lexicalized many years before through the practices of bogwera and bojale as well as through the pastoral life of caring for livestock. Moruti is a personal noun derived from the verb ruta (to teach) mo + ruta + -i = moruti. Moruti is therefore one who teaches, a teacher. The biblical text 1Cor 12:28: “…third are teachers…” is therefore translated correctly “…ba boraro baruti…” since it renders teachers as baruti. Nothing would be interesting about this observation if we had teachers in Setswana general vocabulary referred to as baruti. However this is not the case. Teachers are not called baruti. They are called barutabana. Setswana translates the term baruti into pastors. Now this is the problem. Teachers in a classroom are called barutabana while teachers in the Bible are called baruti. How did it happen that in the domain of Education teachers are barutabana while in the domain of Religion they become baruti? What about those teachers who are not teaching children? I am here thinking of lecturers in colleges and teachers of adult classes. Certainly these are not barutabana because the people they teach are not children (bana) but adults. In certain quarters these are referred to as barutabagolo, which is a weak attempt at making the term for a teacher more applicable to adults as well. We must however be careful, we are not actually right in claiming: “…in the domain of Education teachers are barutabana while in the domain of Religion they become baruti.” What we find is that in the same domain of Religion, teachers are called baruti and pastors are also called baruti. The Bible translates the term teachers accurately as baruti while in the day to day running of the church the term pastors is translated to baruti. But are the words pastors and teachers the same? Not at all. We must return to the biblical text. Ephesians 4:11 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, evangelists, the pastors and teachers.” The Setswana text reads: “Ke ene yo o tlhomileng bangwe go nna baaposetoloi, ba bangwe go nna baporofeti, ba bangwe go nna baefangele, ba bangwe go nna badisa le baruti

What we see here is that the word pastor is an agricultural term that translates to modisa; a de facto herdboy, who takes care of a herd of believers, or in the biblical language, he takes care of the flock. The image of a church leader as a pastor, a herdboy who takes care of God’s flock runs across the entire Bible. The very judgment is a matter of God separating the goats from the sheep. One of the Proverbs says to leaders: “Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds” or Jeremiah 3:15 “And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” Jesus also revealed himself and even God as a shepherd. Church leaders should therefore be called badisa and not baruti because they are pastors and not necessarily teachers. I am not here claiming that pastors cannot be teachers at the same time, or that they aren’t. I am instead grappling with words and their equivalence across the two languages of English and Setswana. The term baruti (teachers) must not only be restricted to those in the Bible, because that is not what the translators of the Bible intended. They did not attempt to restrict the use of the term baruti to the Christian or religious domain. Teachers in schools should also be referred to as baruti because ba a ruta. There is nothing religious about the term baruti; in fact when the Bible was translated into Setswana, the term baruti simply meant a teacher, one who teaches. It lacked any restricted theological connotations that it now has. It is time that the users of the Setswana language claimed the word baruti to its original meaning of one who teaches. The Bible translators were also accurate in translating the term that refers to students or disciples. They translated the term as barutwana. Unfortunately that is not what we call them. How students developed into baithuti it isn’t clear. The word barutwana for students is ideal since it refers to those who are being taught or trained. It acknowledges the presence of a teacher in the learning process. The word baithuti on the other hand, negates the active role of a teacher. It falsely assumes that learners are in some kind of self-directed independent learning process devoid of an instructor. Unfortunately barutwana has also become fossilized and restricted as a term for the religious domain. It is actually impossible to imagine the word barutwana in any other context, except that of the disciples of Jesus Christ. However, barutwana is a good word for referring to students in general and must be seized by writers and speakers of Setswana to express the meaning of students in general.

There are a lot of words in the Setswana Bible that need to be revisited, partly because language changes; it grows, ages and dies; partly also because conceptually they do not capture the central meaning of certain theological concepts. Take for example the term baptize which in Setswana is rendered as kolobetsa. Now go kolobetsa is to make wet while to baptize is to bury under water (from Greek baptizein: to immerse or bury under water). That certainly is more than to make someone/something wet which can be easily achieved with a mug full of water!


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