These are exciting times and these are disturbing times. The arrest and incarceration of Kgafela in Mochudi has resulted with exciting and heated exchanges between some in the media. The name calling is silly and empty posturing and doesn’t intimidate us. Let’s deal with some of these issues first and then deal with the role of academics in dealing with these matters later.
Batswana in general love their culture and they would love to protect it from attack. The cultural renaissance in Kgatleng in the past year or so has been a source of inspiration and pride for many Batswana groups in this regard. Bakgatla are therefore to be praised as a group for re-establishing mephato to restore order and dignity as understood by them within the Kgatla cultural framework. As noted previously in this column, Kgatleng is characterised by much order and admirable decorum because of the cultural revival. We therefore celebrate the good reports we receive from Kgatleng. However, while we celebrate the good news, we are disturbed by the negative reports which threaten to overshadow the good that the tribe is doing. We cannot praise everything from Kgatleng in the name of cultural renaissance. The reckless beatings of individuals without a hearing cannot be condoned. The merciless whipping of church leaders and pregnant women cannot be disregarded by any reasonable person. Yes, we love Setswana culture and we wish to protect it, but we see the flogging of older members of the community as perverse, outright barbaric and lacking in botho. The question is not whether flogging is legal or not as some have wished to restrict the debate. The question is whether flogging people without a proper legal process is justified. Ka Setswana motho o a seka, mainanatho le maipobolo a gagwe a reediwe. Fa a bonwe molato a bewe mabele a kgomo, kgotsa a jelwe kgomo. As far as we understand the Setswana culture, some of what is happening in Mochudi is criminality masquerading as cultural revival. Young men wielding sticks, terrorising citizens and becoming a law unto themselves cannot be seen as the best example of Setswana culture. Whether they have been to bogwera or not is irrelevant, bogwera must never be condoned as a license to terrorise, harass and violate civil liberties.
Now this leads us to another question: what should happen to a chief when he breaks the law? Which law? Any law. The question is a relevant one. Chiefs within their territories cannot do as they wish, otherwise citizens will have nowhere to run. These men who have assumed great power and privilege through an accident of birth should not be allowed to be a law unto themselves. They were not voted in, and therefore cannot be voted out if citizens don’t like the way they govern. They have the potential to hold the whole tribe at ransom if there are no laws that shield citizens from their actions within their territories. Let us remember another matter. Not everyone who lives within the Kgatleng territory is a Mokgatla. There are civil servants as well as persons from other tribes who have exercised their constitutional right to reside in that part of the country. So what should happen when a chief flogs people without a hearing? At one level I sympathise with chiefs and I feel that they should be spared the embarrassment of going to prison. They are after all the embodiment of a tribe and all that it stands for. What about when chiefs rob people of their billy goats and cattle? Should they be allowed to do as they wish? Certainly something must be done to restrain the chief from doing as he wishes in the name of being monnga-mmu. What about when they flog pregnant women and their boyfriends without a hearing? Should chiefs be immune from prosecution? No and a thousand times no! Like everyone else, they should be prosecuted and if found guilty, they should be sent to prison for a long time, for all I care. The law of the republic should empower the chiefs in their territories to rule justly but not oppress and intimidate citizens. Since some are quoting the Bible to justify the role and function of the chief…. perhaps that route must be explored as well. The Bible says: “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” Now when the king uses the Bible in the morning and desecrates it in the evening, what should we do? When the king doesn’t fear God and when he doesn’t honour all men what are we to do? The king can only appeal to the Bible if he lives by biblical principles. He cannot selectively pick biblical verses jaaka motho a shashola nama. The king is not only immune from prosecution; he is also not immune from chastisement, ridicule and lampooning. He is one of us, a public figure just like a politician and a national leader.
I wish to conclude by dealing with the role of the academic in this regard. Firstly, the academic’s role is to question and demystify. His role is to expose that which masquerades as fact and holy writ and subject it to scrutiny. He has to shine a spotlight into the dark corners of bigotry and tribal allegiances. He is to point a way in the jungle of opinions. His would still be an opinion, but an informed one. He must resist being owned. The challenge would especially arise for a Mokgatla academic who feels hurt that his chief, his kgosikgolo, his barena and a host of mephato militia are under siege from outsiders. He would not look at matters objectively. He is likely to howl and wail and tear at others who hold a different view. Being an academic, he would be at pains to express a coherent view since he is at one level trying to defend the local base while at the same time trying to deal with glaring injustices. But this problem doesn’t characterise all Bakgatla academics. There are some Bakgatla academics that are concerned about what is happening in Kgatleng, but prefer to keep quiet for fear of mephato. They complain privately in their offices and don’t wish to be seen as critical of the chief. They are equally in a sorry state!