The Kgotla is still relevant

22nd November 2017
The Fireplace


By Matshediso Fologang -

Traditionally the kgotla system has been the hub of our indigenous democracy. All major and critical decisions were taken here. Such decisions were subjected to thorough, robust and open debate. The final outcome was based on consensus, with the presiding official finally announcing the related resolution. Never in our tradition did the leader impose his will or his word. We have always had the mechanism to counter such behavior. Any leader in our society had a cycle of uncles and brothers to dissuade him from imposing his thoughts over the people he led.

This was and is how our traditional kgotla system worked. It remains the foundation of our democracy upon which the modern republican system of governance derives its strength. Leaders who in history are known as good were those who strongly adhered to the simple processes of consultation and consensus. It is therefore not strange that our democracy as an emerging nation in the 1960s did not like those of many of our contemporaries. Despite the republican constitution then placing much power on the leader, we did not like many other newly independent states, our founding fathers never thought of a one party state system. For a long time there was dominance of one political party and there was never a time that our people thought of joining the African bandwagon of one leader. Our democracy was based on the principles and tenets of ‘mmualebe’ and ‘mafoko a kgotla mantle otlhe.’

The kgotla has built the democracy of our society. In every village in this country the whole process of consultation on almost all matters that affect the socio-economic development of the people is anchored on the kgotla. All leaders including the political leadership always meet the people to get their views and report back on matters of national interest through the traditional meeting place. Whereas the Romans and Greeks in the evolution used amphitheatres and public squares as the arena of debate ours was and remains the kgotla. Can we have an alternative meeting place which is more democratic and neutral in our contemporary society than the kgotla? Recently I have had interaction with people who think that the kgotla system stifles debate and that issues relating to development should be taken out of the kgotla to community centres.

The reasons advanced by the anti-kgotla people were that the leadership imposes its views and opinions on the majority. In my working life I have had the opportunity to serve in the various villages in this country and I have witnessed the manner in which traditional system of consultation has in a number ways helped in finding solutions to what would have not been easily resolved outside the kgotla. Yes, there are some constraints in the system. Previously it was a patriarchal setup and women and youth were not traditionally allowed participation. However, as we advanced socially and economically, we embraced such developments into our culture, In the modern Botswana I have witnessed people vigorously put across their views in the kgotla meetings without fear. Never have I seen any Kgosi or leader imposing his/her personal views on the people. The Kgotla is still important to our development and democracy. It must be preserved.

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