Friday, May 13, 2005

Why Mr. Botsalo Ntuane is wrong on Tirelo Setshaba

Reading Botsalo Ntuane’s column arguing for the reinstatement of Tirelo Setshaba was a refreshing experience. He argued for a consultative process of soliciting views on the banished scheme. Ntuane must be applauded for submitting a courageous criticism of the status quo of the nation under the leadership of his party, the BDP. A criticism of one’s own party is a rarity amongst politicians and those with political agendas. Lamenting the state of our educational system that leaks profusely at form 3 and form 5, he reminded us of high levels of unemployment that condemn youngsters to “alienation, listlessness and loss of hope.” Ntuane “admits that the problems facing young people are myriad and complex, and government, determined as it is to resolve them is not faring well.” What a devastating indictment of one’s party! And finally on tribalism he argues for a detribalised Motswana. He raises all these criticisms to argue for one thing: the reinstatement of TS.

Mr. Ntuane’s motives are candid; his analysis of the state of affairs, meticulous and irrefutable; his proposal, miles off the mark and contradictory and in demand of a response.

He proposes TS that would cater for those who “found themselves in the streets because circumstances had contrived against further progression in the education system or opportunities.” His proposition runs the risk of condemning the scheme as a domain for failures, underachievers, academically challenged persons who couldn’t make the mark. It is these persons Ntuane argues should carry the hope of the nation and redeem us from the scourge of tribalism and ethnic intolerance. Oh, how we find ourselves trapped in a Blakean "Human Abstract", forced to acknowledge that “Pity would be no more, If we did not make somebody Poor”.
Ntuane must be challenged both on pedagogic and economic grounds to answer what the causes of failure at form 3 and form 5 levels are. Are there impediments to progress buried within our educational system, our moral fibre or economic management? When we address these questions and others in the similar vein seriously, we will draw closer to addressing the plight of those on the fringes of educational opportunities. Bundling those on the streets and sending them away for a year of national service is procrastination and not progress. It is buying time before poverty strikes her blow: it is extending human agony and anguish by twelve months: it is, dare I say, introducing a veiled Namola Leuba to youth. It is avoiding underlying causes by proposing sweeping away superficial signs. The underlying causes of poverty, violence, failure and apathy need to be identified and rooted out. Revisiting our pedagogy and interrogating the relevance of our education system to the national interests and answering perceived inequalities will be a good start.

“Tribalism” has been turned into a scapegoat by those who choose to evade debates of maintaining a pluralistic society. Arguments of detribalising Botswana are perverse. The existence of tribes is not a cause of tribalism. Such a line of thinking is flawed for it implies there is something sinister in tribal associations. Ntuane is wrong. I am a Mongwaketse man, from Goo-Ruele and my chief is Kgosi Seepapitso the IV of the Bangwaketse. I am proud of my tribe, my village, my kgotla and my chief and I see no danger in defending such a position. I celebrate my tribal identity without denigrating another person’s. Such positions are not mutually exclusive or incongruent. What is unhealthy is tribal intolerance which is in no way synonymous with tribal association. Such intolerance and stereotyping cannot be healed by sending away for a year teenagers who have failed their GCSEs. The argument also inaccurately presupposes that previously TS participants were sent to tribes they despised, for tribal therapy. Further, since Mr. Ntuane believes TS can help address tribalism, and he argues that TS should be for those who have found themselves in the streets, what about those who find themselves in universities and colleges? Should we assume that they will develop into tribally-hostile graduates?

The sources of tribal tensions in Botswana are diverse. They are in part a complex consequence of stereotypes, power, perceptions and land - possessed or denied. Some have attacked what has been previously termed Tswanadom - crudely defined as domination by Tswana-speaking tribes. They have the land and other tribes live in it. For instance, the Bakgatla-ba-ga-Mmanaana of Moshupa who live on Ngwaketse tribal land. Related to all this, is the matter of language which remains an area of great contestation. Why has the Setswana language been nationalised when members of other ethnic groups in Botswana are incompetent in the language for pedagogy? The answer is obvious: multilingualism is perceived as divisive and rallying around a single language is unifying. But that’s precisely what led to the collapse of Yugoslavia when Slobodan Milosevic considered multilingualism a threat and established Serbian as the only medium of instruction. Multiculturalism and multilingualism can be a tool of national unity too. South Africa is only waking up to this fact. But a commitment to a pluralistic state should not be a matter of political rhetoric, but must be matched with clear policies, adequate provision of resources, strong institutional support that will make it thrive. The resuscitation of the national service is no where close to answering this call.

The needs of the nation have also shifted since the establishment of TS. There are more graduates from UB, colleges and international universities, some who remain unemployed, indicating no dire need for lesser qualified TS participants in schools and government departments.

TS was an expensive scheme, particularly when its benefits are juxtaposed with its costs. Money put into the scheme ran into millions of Pula and with the current Aids pandemic we are better off letting it lie. Finally, the current system is attractive. It leads students straight to university after form 5, meaning they can complete early and start work. While I understand Mr. Ntuane’s motivation for his motion, it provides no answer to the plight of form 3 and form 5 dropouts and it provides no solution to the underlying causes of the problems he isolates. The return of TS will neither address tribal acrimonies nor the lack of educational opportunities and marginalisation. His motion is better defeated.

[This article appeared ruthlessly edited on Mmegi here:]

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