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Glitz & glamour at Independence Celebrations

The strong winds of the previous night having subsided, the morning of Friday, September 30 2016 presented glorious weather over Gaborone; neither hot nor cold, perfect for outdoor activity.

A flock of birds could not resist pecking about the national stadium pitch as Batswana filed into the stadium for the country’s 50th anniversary of independence celebrations.

“One swallow does not a summer make,” the English say, literally meaning that the sighting of a single bird of migration does not gesture the advent of summer.

Figuratively, the expression communicates that one event cannot be presented as evidence of longer-term fact.  Indeed, half a century of independence was always going to be difficult to sum up in a day’s activities.

But the colourful events of Independence Day presented as much as possible of the country to its citizens and guests.  After the crowd settled into the stadium, President Lt Gen Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama was chauffeured around the stadium’s athletic track in a majestic black Daimler vehicle.

That was the very vehicle used by his father, founding President Sir Seretse Khama during Botswana’s first independence celebrations at the same venue 50 years earlier.

Upon ascending to the podium, President Khama extolled what had transpired in the interim five decades.

“Exactly fifty years ago, on a Friday like today, the 30th of September 1966, the men and women of this country demonstrated exceptional courage and foresight when they established Botswana as a sovereign republic,” he said

While, “their determination to claim for themselves, and posterity, their God given right to be architects of their own destiny may appear to have been an easy choice,” the reality is that “given our nation’s subsequent progress many may not be aware of just how daunting the economic, political and social challenges our people faced were like.”

Botswana, President Khama notes, was one of the world’s ten least developed countries, lacking in basic infrastructure, with illiteracy widespread, less than seventy people with the country possessing any form of post-secondary school qualification.

The country was survived by hostile white minority ruled regimes, apartheid-ruled South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia) as well as the settler-states of Rhodesia, and Portuguese-ruled Mozambique and Angola.

“Many dismissed our potential to survive, much less prosper as a nonracial democracy.  But by focusing on our visible poverty, what most outsiders failed to see was our hidden wealth in our character and determination as a people,” President Khama said.

Regarding modern Botswana as a “the legacy of visionaries who had the confidence to ignore the many skeptics who insisted that we were too poor, too small, and too weak,” President Khama urged the nation to “further contemplate what we can and should achieve if we continue to work together in the next fifty years,” he said.

The mood around the stadium and across the city was a carnival one; people and their vehicles clad in the country’s blue, white and black colours.

On Independence Eve, the story of Botswana was told by a well-choreographed show at the National Stadium, with the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) also sprucing the night with a parade before fireworks lit up the Gaborone skyline.

Having traversed the length and breadth of the country, making stopovers in 471 villages and towns, the roving torch, molelo wa kgolagano in local parlance, arrived at the National Stadium.

Ntlo ya Dikgosi chair Kgosi Puso Gaborone presented the roving torch to the Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development minister Thapelo Olopeng and Miss Botswana Thata Kenosi, with the minister presenting the torch to President Khama.

The new national vision 2036 was also launched, as the country mapped a way towards its aspirations for the 70th anniversary of independence en route to completing a century as an independent state.

Among the foreign dignitaries who graced Botswana’s golden jubilee celebrations were the kings of Lesotho and Swaziland, King Letsie III and King Mswati the III, Mozambique president Filipe Nyusi, the vice presidents of Namibia and Cuba, British royal Prince Andrew, and former presidents of Namibia and Nigeria.

They got to see the celebrations of a nation transformed, very different from the country the world had seen half a century earlier.  In the build up to Botswana’s independence in September 1966, reporter Charles King of the Southern African News Service described the country as a “vast, trackless wasteland,” with little to celebrate.

Article: Pako Lebanna

“Two years of disastrous drought and crop failure have brought havoc and hunger…more than one fifth of the population is literally being kept alive by emergency feeding.  Botswana has debts and economic misery, is destined to be an international charity case forever, exporting its ablest men and its cattle in exchange for cash and kindness from abroad,” King wrote.

A sparsely populated, drought-prone country with very little in the way of modern physical infrastructure and social development, Botswana was seen as a candidate for a dysfunctional failed state.

But the discovery of diamonds and other resources after independence led to huge economic growth and social development instead of “resource curse” conflict.  The government provided universal basic education and tertiary funding for citizens, and literacy rates improves manifold.

Tarred roads, portable water, electricity became available to citizens of what was a very rustic terrain at independence. Through this all, the country maintained a multi-party democratic culture; every parliament since 1965 having an elected opposition, and not a single one of the eleven general elections held every five years being marred by electoral violence. 

Consultative structures anchored in the age-old kgotla traditional system were modernized.

While many challenges have remained or sprung up, Botswana still felt they could look back at the first half a century with a genuine sense of pride.

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