5 December 2016

Botswana: 'The Iron Lady' Twith a Soft Heart

The political landscape is overshadowed by a dark cloud of mourning following the sudden passing of Tlokweng MP Same Bathobakae on November 28 - at the time the only female opposition legislator. Commonly known as 'Kwakwentla' for her toughness and well-built body, and keeping a serious face, all these were often balanced off by her constant jokes. She was approachable and never aloof, always offering her side in interviews when asked to, especially on women politics. In 2012 when Botswana National Front Youth League (BNFYL) wanted to invite Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) President Julius Malema to their congress, this did not go down well with some with the BNF National Executive. Their reasoning was that they have a fraternal relationship with African National Congress (ANC) and it will be wrong for the Youth League to invite Malema. The then BNFYL Secretary General Arafat Khan insisted that they were an autonomous body and will invite whoever they want, saying the NEC cannot dictate to them who their guest speaker will be. As this was one of the big stories that threatened the stability in the BNF, her views on the matter were clear. "Heela naare bananyana bao ba peka neh! Ke reile Arafat kare ga go kgonege ijaaa! (Are those young ones crazy. I told Arafat Khan that they can't do that)," she declared in a tone fitting a Kwakwentla. When BNF decided to suspend and expel some of the cadres who they deemed were causing havoc within the party, once more she did not beat about the bush to justify the move.

"BNF ga se kwa mmapereko ga re kake ra tlhola re tsengwa dingalo ke batho ba palelwa le ke go rekela khwaere ya party magwinya... Wa tshega re tlwaelwa ke bannabagolo! (BNF is not a playground and we cannot be held at ransom by people who cannot even buy the party choir some fat cakes!)," as I broke into laughter and she cautioned me,

Though she was mostly quiet in Parliament, she picked her moments very well to break the ice with a joke or in a serious dress down of those she opposed. She mostly mocked the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Shaw Kgathi. When there was a heated debate she would keep quiet and just smile. In my regular end of session analysis of MPs performance in Parliament I rated her as one of the worst performing MPs. Ahead of the BOT50 celebrations BNF threatened to boycott the celebrations, citing corruption and deteriorating democratic credentials. I called her to ask her position regarding the boycott and my prayer was that she won't pick the phone as I was expecting fireworks. "Heela wena Phillimon naare Puso o go tseetse Tshepo ha o kelemile ka go ntlhobosa mo batlhophing jaana. O batlang jaanong mo go nna! (Have Puso taken Tshepo from you as you're hell bent on trying to destroy my political career)," she shouted on the other end. Puso Phetwe is the husband to her only daughter Tshepo. I told her am only asking about her position on the boycotting of the BOT50 celebrations and she laughed off, saying she is going to celebrate with her constituents. On Friday the 25 November 2016, the last time she was at Parliament, she was quiet and looked lonely. I greeted her as I passed her. She stopped and said "hei, come here is not the first time I hear that voice!" I was shaking and thinking of giving myself a false name to avoid being confronted by her but my conscience had the better of me as I told her my full name. "Oooh, is that you. I am happy to now see you in face," as she opened her arms to hug me and that was the first time we spoke face to face.

Daughter's tribute

Fighting through her fresh grief, her only daughter Tshepo Phetwe revealed the other side of Honourable Bathobakae which was not known to many. "Though my mother always put on a very serious face which led her to be called iron lady, she was soft person who just knew how to hide her fears," she said. According to Phetwe, her mother was full of the kind of open-minded compassion for life that is rarely found nowadays. Tshepo is apparently a Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) staunch follower while the mother has always been with BNF. "We respected our political differences," she said.

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