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UNPERTURBED: Kelly Ndebele is working on forming an organisation that will help bring people with albinism together

Like a desert flower, Kelly Ndebele’s life has blossomed into something she could not have imagined even in her wildest dreams. The happy and confident young woman overcame discrimination, rejection, despair and loneliness that came with being born with albinism and testifies to the power of attitude in transforming her life.

Although being the second born of five siblings, she grew up as the centre of attention and care because of her condition. In spite of being showered with love in the family, outside of the house, Ndebele quickly learnt that she was different. Born with albinism and growing up in Tonota, it did not take long for her to realise that she was also the target of both prejudice and wonder.

“I remember how some children would avoid me when I played outside. At school, there were times when I was not chosen for the team because some of the children did not want to be close to me,” she recalls. “The snide remarks, open stares, I saw it all and it was disheartening. When I joined junior school later, things did not change much. People still stared at me. Some fearfully. Others in shock. I always felt like I was the clown in a circus or a specimen under observation.”

The word albinism comes from the Latin word albus, meaning white. Albinism is caused by a defect in one or several genes that produce and distribute melanin. The lack of melanin is characterised by an absence of pigment in the skin, hair, and eyes resulting in a light complexion. One in 15,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa have the condition. As a result of the lack of melanin pigment in the hair, skin and eyes, people with the condition are vulnerable to sun exposure.

But in some parts of Africa, people with albinism face kidnapping, violence and murder based on the belief that their body parts can bring people magical powers, luck and wealth. Although most notable features of a person with albinism are in their appearance, the skin’s inability to protect itself from sunlight is only one of the symptoms of albinism. “One of the biggest issues people born with albinism face is problems with eyesight,” Ndebele who only went up to form three in her studies explains. Difficulties in seeing and the lack of tools to assist eyesight contribute to the high number of learning problems common to people with albinism.

In spite of the difficulties in learning, Ndebele is quick to point out that the issue lies in the lack of equipment, not capabilities. “Albinism is not related to the intellectual abilities of a person,” she said in an interview recently. Turnng to the overall situation of albinism in Botswana she emphasises that the current state of awareness and action is good and progressing, except that it tends to be limited to towns and cities.

In comparison to countries where the persecution of people with albinism is prevalent, Botswana is one of the exceptions. On the other hand, acts of violence against albinos may not be experienced, but neglect still remains critical. According to Ndebele, ignorance is most commonly manifested in the neglect of the special needs of a child with albinism. This neglect in turn results in the inability of the child to develop to his or her full potential. It is for this reason that the mother of two, currently working as a security guard, has undertaken a mission to form an association for albinos in the rural areas especially in the Northern side of the country.

“We want to create awareness as well as eradicate the stigma associated with albinism,” she says. With regards to the creation of awareness, Ndebele also hopes to see a change of perspective in the ways of discussing and representing albinism. “People with albinism are not sufferers. They are not victims, but equals.” The organisation will also focus on creating a close knit community of people with albinism.

“It’s important for us to have this space to understand each other and to share our hopes and ambitions,” she said, adding, “We are here to uplift one another.” Besides having a supportive family, Ndebele believes everything depends on confidence. “It is about loving yourself and your skin the way you are,” she says.

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TLHOMELANG BLASTS KHAMA

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HARDHITTING: Leach Tlhomelang

Former nominated Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) councillor, Leach Tlhomelang has come out guns blazing describing former President Ian Khama as the most useless president this country has ever had.

Speaking at a political rally over the weekend to launch the BDP council ward candidate for Ranaka village, Mothibedi Mothibedi and BDP parliamentary hopeful Thapelo Letsholo, Tlhomelang who was the guest speaker lamented that Khama has got nothing to show for the 20 years he was in political office. He told the rally that Khama was a vice president for a decade and president for another 10 years but there is nothing concrete that he has achieved for the country. “Masisi has been in office for only one year, but has delivered far more than what Khama did in 20 years,” he said.

Tlhomelang said that he supports President Masisi whole heartedly because unlike former president Khama, in the short time he has been in office he has increased salaries for civil servants, lifted the hunting ban and he is doing a lot to make sure that young people are active in the economy. He said he is not bothered by people who are against President Masisi’s initiatives more especially those who oppose the hunting ban. He said those people’s motives are to see Botswana as a gigantic animal zoo.

Tlhomelang accused Khama of confusing some people with serving them with soup and that makes them believe he is a good leader. He charged that “Maybe there is something mysterious in this soup that initiates people and makes them to think improperly, how can people not see that Khama is a useless leader who achieved nothing in 20 years?” he charged.

Tlhomelang pleaded with Ranaka residents who attended the rally to vote for Letsholo and the BDP council candidate. He described Letsholo as a capable leader who has worked for Kgalagadi Breweries and an astute businessman and has no doubt he will represent Kanye North well. Although he was disappointed to lose primary elections to Letsholo after some reflection he is convinced that voters made a good decision to elect Letsholo over him because he feels he might be too old for the task.

Tlhomelang said, “Nowadays I get easily tired and maybe if I was voted ahead of Letsholo I could probably have spent most of my time in parliament sleeping, so it is good that we have a young person like Letsholo who still has a lot of energy.” On the council candidate Tlhomelang pleaded with people to vote for BDP council candidate Mothibedi because he is a capable person who even led a regiment to Mozambique while a soldier, during the BDF deployment on a peace mission. After retirement Mothibedi served as VDC chairman for Ranaka village. The political rally was graced by Assistant Minister of Trade and Industry, Karabo Gare.

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A NATION IRRITATED!

Joe Brown

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YET ANOTHER INTERVIEW: Khama has been on numerous international media houses lambasting Masisi and his BDP government.

“This man wants war, nothing else. The sitting President must tidy up things before we lose innocent lives,” a concerned facebook user, Lualua Mangwane, says of former president Ian Khama. This is in response to the publicised interviews that Khama has lately been dishing out to numerous international media outlets on what he perceives of the current Botswana.

It is a general feeling of many that Khama is on a warpath, and that given his confessed disdain for his successor, President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, he will stop at nothing to make the world see him in bad light, even if his veiled reviews of Masisi and the current status of Botswana leave the country in economic ruin.In his string of interviews, reportedly organised for him by some public relations consultancy firm he hired in South Africa to help him deal with Masisi and the ruling party, Khama is out and about, saying things that give the international community an impression that Botswana under the current president has been plunged into anarchy and crisis, where the ruling party is pursuing a dictatorial modus operandi on citizens, especially those generally opposed to the party.

And while the sitting president is out there defending the recent decision to lift the hunting ban with respect to the marauding elephants that continue to kill Batswana and destroy crops, Khama is conversely using his media interviews to attack the lifting of the ban as an inhumane and insensitive decision by Masisi and his government. So busy has been the former president – trotting from one media house to the other away from home – suggesting that Batswana are unhappy since he retired from the presidency. In a recent telephone interview with a French news agency AFP, Khama is quoted as having said that he even had to quit the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) because of the immaturity and arrogance of the current leadership of the party.

“The person who I nominated to be my successor, as soon as he took office became very autocratic, very intolerant and it has led to a decline in the democratic credentials that we have a reputation for,” Khama is quoted by AFP. He also told South Africa’s Power 98.7FM this week that Masisi is drunk on power, adding that the president’s leadership style is about himself and not about the people. “We see him abusing state organs, especially security organs to go after his opponents,” Khama told Power Talk host Aldrin Sampear.  Yet many in Botswana call him bitter, delusional and irritating; and there is a groundswell of public outrage against his negative crusade that many deem dangerous for the country’s economy. There is a general feeling that Khama’s celebrated hatred for Masisi is even clouding his mental faculties to realise that his public spats to the international community could do more damage to the economic and social stability of the entire country while he pursues personal satisfaction of seeing Masisi lose the presidency. Common talk right now is that Khama was himself the worst leader Botswana ever had and that Masisi was bringing in reforms that make his predecessor uncomfortable.

Kgosi Douglas Segwagwa of Dutlwe village in the Letlhakeng-Takatokwane constituency says he has been observing Khama’s behaviour in recent days and has come to the conclusion that something is wrong with him. In fact he says from as way back as when Khama came to power, nobody believed him when he described him as ‘not cut out for the position of President.’ The Dutlwe tribesman has even spoken against the practice of royal leaders who become politicians, lamenting that they end up being dishonest.

In an interview with The Midweek Sun, Kgosi Segwagwa cited that Khama uses his status as Bangwato paramount chief (Kgosikgolo) where it suits him, to turn his subjects against the ruling party.
“Look at what he is doing. He calls a meeting as a Kgosikgolo saying it’s a meeting for Bangwato. When Bangwato arrive at his meeting, he tells them he is dumping the BDP and even incites his subjects to also leave the party. That is not good for the institution of bogosi as his actions are divisive,” he said. Kgosi Segwagwa’s words are somewhat echoed by Sam Ditshego, a well-known long-time social commentator on the socio-political issues of Botswana. “Ian Khama is using the ethnic card to undermine the incumbent president, which could be a recipe for disaster. He behaves as if Botswana belongs to Bangwato and is his personal fiefdom,” writes Ditshego from South Africa.

Some through facebook, like a post by one Othusitse Bantatetse, are even lobbying for a protest march against Khama so as to alert the very same international media he is using that actually the majority of Batswana no longer want anything to do with him. Some of those responding to Bantatetse’s idea are dismissive of it, arguing that given Khama’s past dictatorial rule, he is not one to listen to anybody’s view once he has made up his mind on anything. And so they feel that the protest march will not deter him. Not when in 2011 he could ignore an entire civil service strike and protests lasting weeks, where he even added that despite all else the government workers could do, he would under no circumstance accede to their pay increase demands. He would even go on leave with his cabinet while the strike continued. Of course there are those who have asked to be roped in for logistical arrangements of such a protest march against Khama, and it could happen given the numbers of people who have openly been describing his behaviour as selfish and dangerous to the country’s stability and peace.

Former President Festus Mogae is on record expressing regret that he ever trusted Khama to run the country. Mogae retired Khama from the army in 1998 to make him his Vice President and eventually endorsed him for the country’s presidency – a move Mogae now describes as one of his life’s biggest mistakes. This sentiment followed the general feeling that Khama was interfering in the running of the country and wanted to rule from the grave. He began early by criticising every move Masisi made as he tried to restore public confidence in his government. Khama was particularly incensed when Masisi fired head of intelligence agency DIS, Isaac Kgosi, hardly a month after he took over. At the time, Kgosi and the DIS were generally viewed with apprehension and deemed a monster that made citizens live in fear.

And as a close ally of Khama, Kgosi’s retention at the helm of the DIS was seen as Khama’s assurance of relevance post his presidency, and his sacking was described by political observers as a masterstroke that diminished Khama’s influence in the running of the country.

Since then, Khama has stood up to criticise every move by Masisi even suggesting that the sitting president was harassing him; dismantling his legacy and that he was immature and unfit to rule.
Ditshego sums up the general feeling of the citizens when he says Khama’s anger actually emanates from Masisi’s refusal to be his stooge, adding that the reason Khama even went on to form a new party to oppose and depose the sitting president is because “Masisi refused to play second fiddle and act as ‘regent’ for Khama and his brother Tshekedi.” And that is another thing – common talk is that Khama was betrayed by Masisi and one of the alleged agreements when Masisi was handed the baton, was that he would make Khama’s brother his Vice President.

This, observers say, was another way Khama would ensure the presidency would eventually return to the Khama royal family. But Masisi has come out publicly to say he never promised anybody the position of Vice President. This was after his other current nemesis and a Khama ally, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi had told a local publication that Masisi had promised her the position as well.
Strangely, Venson-Moitoi, who then went on to challenge Masisi for the presidency of the ruling party, would later confess that indeed she was never promised the position of Vice President, leaving many to question her honesty. Khama was the livewire behind Venson-Moitoi’s campaign to depose Masisi as the ruling party’s president, and recent reports suggested that they enjoyed the financial backing of some influential South African political figures and business tycoons.

These are the people currently believed to be sponsoring Khama’s ongoing media strategy to discredit Masisi and the ruling party’s current stance on the widely-reported hunting ban.
Among the issues Khama is raising is what he calls political intolerance on the part of Masisi. Soon after Venson-Moitoi announced her intention to challenge Masisi for the ruling party’s presidency, she was relieved of her duties as a minister in Masisi’s cabinet. While Masisi’s handlers have argued that it was illogical for the sitting president to work with a person who had publicly declared him unfit to lead the country, Khama has described the sacking of Venson-Moitoi as political intolerance.

He also argues that Isaac Kgosi was removed as head of intelligence simply because the latter is his close friend. Khama goes on to cite Tati East MP Guma Moyo, his close ally as well, saying he was forced into exile because his life was in danger. Masisi’s government has since dismissed the self-imposed exile as melodramatic and deliberately conjured up as part of the ‘Discredit Masisi’ campaign. Khama is himself on record saying he would do anything possible to ensure Masisi and the BDP lose elections this year, even if it means he goes in cahoots with the opposition parties. He has even vowed to take his war on Masisi to the outside world. And it is this deep-seated disdain that he has for Masisi that has had a lot of people now questioning exactly what he is scared of beyond his usual rhetoric of Masisi reversing his policies and purging those opposed to him.

Popular opinion is that Khama is apprehensive of the likelihood of facing prosecution for alleged corruption while in office, and also for other alleged atrocities that include extra judicial killings that happened under his watch with the aid of Isaac Kgosi’s DIS. Khama is said to have banked on Masisi protecting him, and the firing of Kgosi was the first real sign that Masisi was never going to stick to the desired plan. At the time of being sacked, Kgosi was himself linked to allegations of corruption, abuse of office and abuse of the DIS. Welcoming Kgosi’s dismissal at the time, militant trade union leader Tobokani Rari said the DIS was a monster that had lost its mandate and was used to advance the interests of Khama and his party.

He even poured scorn on the attitude of Kgosi at the time, when he told the Public Accounts Committee, an oversight parliamentary body, that he was answerable to no one, not even the president.
Kgosi would later be fired by Masisi, and when months later he was arrested for alleged corruption, Khama criticised the move as harassment of his ally.But it is Khama’s latest media statements that have since turned a number of citizens against him. A lot of adjectives and phrases have been used to describe him, be it in offices, at social gatherings or on social media. The permeating sentiment is that he has become a danger to Botswana’s stability. Many commentators say they are now fed up with waking up every time to hear he has told the international media one thing or the other about Botswana being an unstable country when in actual fact people generally feel freer than during his era.

A post by one Tshepang Mooketsane sums up the mood about the former president: “Motho su! Ga re robale ke ene. What’s next?” – loosely translated to mean that this irritating person is giving us sleepless nights. It was a response to this week’s post by former Chairperson of Law Society of Botswana Lawrence Lecha who also expressed being fed up with reports of what Khama has been saying to the international community. Last week Permanent Secretary to the President Carter Morupisi addressed a press conference where he suggested that government had gone overboard to satisfy many unreasonable demands of Khama, saying the least he could do was to be grateful as no other former president has been given the special treatment he is getting.

Buttressing his point, Morupisi revealed that in the just-ended financial year, former president Festus Mogae was allocated P160, 000 for employees’ overtime costs of which P109, 000 was used, while Khama’s office used P540 000 from the allocated P650, 000. Khama also has 13 more employees attached to him, compared to Mogae, Morupisi revealed. He added that with former presidents Sir Ketumile Masire and Mogae, when the government could not assist them because of circumstances beyond control, the two leaders understood and let go; but with Khama, it becomes an issue that is communicated to the whole world as an example of what he means when he says the current leadership ill-treats him.

Among his concerns, Khama worries that Masisi is reversing his policies and values enshrined in the Botswana constitution, something Batswana have laughed off. Many feel that while Khama often acted according to his wishes, the current president consults before acting. People say they feel free to talk nowadays than in the last ten years. While Khama says Masisi is not a uniting figure, people cite the unprecedented split of the BDP that gave birth to the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), which happened because some members of the party felt Khama was autocratic and intolerant of dissenting voices. Currently another new party linked to Khama is being formed, lending credence to the notion that Khama is the most divisive leader the ruling party has ever had. It is against this background that many feel that Khama is delusional.

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