(ARISE magazine, issue 18) Best known for its diamonds, safaris and peaceable record, Botswana is widely viewed as one of Africa’s most economically and politically stable countries. Once a British protectorate, Botswana (or Bechuanaland as it was then) became independent in 1966 under the leadership of national hero and Botswana’s first president Seretse Khama. Following presidential terms under Quett Masire and Festus Mogae, Khama’s son Seretse Khama Ian Khama took the mantle in 2008 and today presides over a country of 2million people with a GDP of US$17.63billion.
Botswana attracted attention in 2002 when indigenous bushmen, or San people, of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve took the government to court for forcibly evicting them from their ancestral lands. After a four-year legal battle the community won its fight and, with it, the right to live and hunt on the reserve.
The country is also known for its high HIV rate, with one in four adults in Botswana infected with the disease, according to 2009 figures. Though this has lowered from the 2003 rate of 37.3 per cent it’s still the second highest in the world (behind Swaziland). The government has responded by rolling out an extensive programme of free antiretroviral (ARV) treatment and launching the Zero New Infections By 2016 campaign.
Most recently Botswana hit the headlines for granting women the right to inherit (after a dogged campaign by a group of sisters, all aged over 65) and winning its first Olympic medal; 18-year-old Nigel Amos scooped silver in the 800-metre final at London 2012. The country is known as “the place to go if you want to see The Big Five in the wild” (CNN Traveller). And tourism is on the increase, with 2.1million people visiting in 2010 – in part due to Alexander McCall Smith’s bestselling series The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Set in and around the capital, Gaborone, the novels inspired the hit BBC/HBO adaptation starring Jill Scott.
Here we meet five local heroes making a difference in the southern African country.
The lawyer: Uyapo Ndadi
Lawyer Uyapo Ndadi has worked with the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/Aids (BONELA) since 2007 – first as legal officer and now executive director. Alongside implementing BONELA’s aim to advance an “ethical, legal and human rights approach” to how the country responds to its HIV/Aids epidemic, Ndadi blogs for online paper Mmegi and was invited to meet President Obama in 2010, after been named one of JCI’s 10 Outstanding Young Persons Of The World.
“BONELA is something that is close to my heart because I see the organisation bringing dignity to people’s doorsteps. People come saying ‘I’ve been fired from work because of my HIV status’ and you fight for their rights to be restored by taking the matter to court and getting a reinstatement or getting good compensation for the client.
“I think what I’m most proud of is changing the law. There are laws now that say no one should be fired from work because of their sexual orientation or their HIV status. I’m also proud of changing mindsets. It used to be a taboo to talk about issues of sexual orientation, issues of sex workers or gay rights but these days the nation is talking. Recently there was a huge outcry after I brought it to the fore that the government had problems with ARV shortages and didn’t tell the nation. The minister of health refused to talk to me on the radio but it got the nation talking anyway. People called to say ‘No, this is unacceptable. We need to know what happened and we need promises that it will not occur again’. They’re still dealing with the backlog but at least ARVs are available and people can get a full month’s supply.
“We have about 80 organisations signed up to be part of BONELA, to infuse human rights into their work. Human rights in Botswana are like a foreign thing. People don’t believe much in human rights or see the need to talk about them. We’re trying to change that mindset.”
The drugs advisor: Lebo Mothibatsela
Lebo Mothibatsela is acting executive director of Botswana Substance Abuse Support Network (BOSASNet), the only organisation dedicated to providing specialised outpatient rehabilitation, support and relapse prevention services in Botswana. Alcohol is a thorny issue in the country since President Khama imposed a 70 per cent levy, or ‘sin tax’, on alcohol (later reduced to 30 per cent) and a midnight curfew on bars.
“When I joined BOSASNet I saw it as an opportunity to contribute to the mitigation of substance abuse and dependency. I’ve seen and dealt with the challenges and consequences of dependency, [so] being involved with rehabilitation and relapse prevention services has been wonderful.
“There is a lot of stigma, discrimination and lack of understanding of substance abuse and dependency in Botswana. And because of this we, as a nation, will continue to have ineffective interventions and programmes. Many people are not prepared to accept or identify problems or talk about the problems that they or their family members are going through. We need factual more than moral education and we need to ensure that we have the necessary services available.
“Like HIV/Aids, substance abuse affects all ages and backgrounds, religions or races. Our clients range in age from 15 to over 60. And the substances we have dealt with to date are alcohol, mandrax, cocaine, crack cocaine, crystal meth, nicotine, heroine and sleeping pills. We have also provided a counsellor to Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital in Lobatse since May 2011 but due to lack of donors and insufficient funding we will be ceasing clinical services in December.
“Sin tax and restrictions on the sale of alcohol can be effective to mitigate alcohol consumption, when implemented alongside complementary interventions and services. But the effectiveness of these measures
on actual alcohol and substance abuse or dependency still requires conclusive evidence. BOSASNet has been a recipient of a grant from the Alcohol Levy Fund for just under 3million pula [US$379m] from June 2010 to November 2012. Unfortunately the funds from the alcohol levy have not been sufficiently dedicated to rehabilitation and relapse-prevention services since its inception. We hope that the ministry of health will provide such services nationwide in the future.”
The poet mentor: TJ Dema
TJ Dema is a champion for poetry in Botswana, representing the country internationally and supporting up-and-coming artists through her arts administration company Sauti Arts And Performance Management. A former Chair of the Botswana Writing Society, she co-founded poetry collective Exoduslivepoetry! in 2003 and has recorded a multilingual CD of 12 Botswana poets entitled Dreaming Is A Gift For Me. In October she helped put on the first Botswana-based edition of Poetry Africa.
“Poets have a special place in our history. Weddings feel incomplete without a poet and they have always been unofficial advisors to leaders. The poet is the person that can chastise the chief. You don’t necessarily make any money from it but kids stop you on the street – they tell you that they want to be like you, they want to write like you. And their parents stop you to tell you you’re a really good role model.
“I had poets come to me saying, ‘Oh, I’ve seen you performing in South Africa, how did you do that?’ So for two to four years I would just give people advice: ‘talk to so and so’ or email them a draft of my contract. My roles ranged from mentor to editor to performance and stage management. Even today, having set up Sauti Arts, it’s more of a partnership with me and each artist than me fully managing them, because I don’t have the resources. I managed myself and struggled for 10 years; negotiating contracts, looking at fees. And I always wished somebody else were doing it.
“There are at least three platforms for spoken word in Botswana. We are used to performing as collectives. You don’t get the ‘Adele: performing for one night only’ type of shows. But it keeps you inexperienced; you only ever do 10 minutes so that’s all you ever rehearse, that’s all you build your muscles for. [At Sauti] we push our artists to do 15-minute to one-hour showcases, and the ones who put in the work see the benefits.
“In the future I’d like to build a team to translate poetry from Setswana to English. I would make it a two-step process: linguists from the University of Botswana with a focus in Setswana would first do a literal translation and then I would be in a position to make it a poetic translation. I could reference the Setswana and say ‘No, no, no, we’ve completely lost track of what we’re saying here’.
“The Botswanan is such a beautiful and developed language. Our similes, idioms and proverbs are built around what is most important to the people. So, for example, telling a woman she resembled a cow would
be the highest form of praise – poets often refer to cows as ‘wet-nose gods’ ”.
The landrights activist: Jumanda Gakelebone
Jumanda Gakelebone is the spokesperson of the First People Of The Kalahari (FPK), a non-governmental organisation fighting for the rights of the San people. Traditionally hunter-gatherers, the San people were evicted from their ancestral lands by the Botswana government from 1997 – before a 2006 high-court ruling re-established their land rights. But the verdict did not put an end to the struggles of the San, and the FPK continues to raise awareness of fresh obstacles, such as the 2010 decision to block reserve residents from using the Kalahari borehole or drilling a new one (a move that was overturned in 2011).
“At the time FPK was founded in 1993 I was still in school and got interested in the issues they raised. My community on the Central Kalahari Reserve was having a problem with land rights and I thought ‘this is a good organisation. I have to go there to do something’. Even at school I could feel the pressure – the way they would humiliate us – so that was on my mind. So when I came across the late John Hardbattle [co-founder
of FPK alongside Roy Sesana] we had a talk and found we shared the same ideas.
“Today the organisation is still running, it’s still living but we have funding problems and depend on outside donors. The people I was going to school with are now the governors of the country – so this [matter] is generation to generation. It’s going to be very difficult for the issue to be solved. But some things have changed since the 1996 ruling. I would say about 10 per cent of the population have understood and said that ‘this is [the San people’s] right and we need to respect them’. And the man who was the head of the struggle – Sesana – is now residing there [in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve] with his family.
“But whenever decisions are made [by the government] we are not there… there are no ministers or MPs from the San communities, so our voice is less there. The government still encourages the San to move into settlements instead of staying on the reserve. I would not say it’s because of wildlife, I would call it racial discrimination – them not really respecting us. They don’t recognise us as part of the population of the country. Gem Diamonds
did help to build wells after the 2011 ruling but I will not call that [real] help – whatever they’re doing is to show the outside world they care. If it wasn’t for the ruling they would not have paid for them.”
The eco champion: Keneilwe Moseki
Keneilwe Moseki is executive director of Somarelang Tikologo (Environment Watch Botswana), a pioneering NGO situated in its own eco-park in Gaborone. Since it was set up in 1991, following Africa’s first sustainability summit, ST has been a local leader in recycling. The organisation has represented Botswana at international platforms such as COP17 in Durban. It’s also lobbied government, resulting in Moseki winning a place on JCI’s 10 Outstanding Young Persons Of The World list for 2012.
“Setting up this park has been one of our major achievements. We used to go to schools to give presentations, to get people to understand conservation, but we said, ‘Some people are getting it and some are missing the point. What do we do?’ So we found this space, cleared away the rubble and built an orchard, an area for kids made of recyclable items, an eco café, a drop-off recyclable park and community hall, which people can hire for a small fee. There’s also our innovative green shop, which sells crafts made out of waste metal, paper and plastic by women from rural areas, students and unemployed young people.
“We do public tours to tell people which trees and plants to buy, how to plant them and how to start an organic garden at home. We also do awareness activities, such as trying to promote solar use and energy, and have worked in the corporate community.
“Working for a development office you need regular sponsors. If they become irregular there’s potential for your programmes to suffer. You find a lot of sponsors that come on board but don’t want to finance operational costs. But without those things there is no project. So we realised we had to have parallel programmes and fundraising projects that could support our activities. And we have had the support of Barclays, FNB, E.ON – and Shell Oil. I know that one is controversial to mention with environmental conservation but in Botswana they are behaving very well. They have been supporting us and are the ones who started the organic garden with us.”