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.