Security minister expands his mandate to policing phonetics


Years ago when the State House would host the media around Christmas time, then president and host, Festus Mogae, remarked at one of these shindigs that journalists’ mastery of English was woefully wanting. One example he gave was that they couldn’t pronounce the word “determine” properly. The proper pronunciation is “de-tar-mean” but one too many non-native speakers pronounce the word as “de-tar-mine”. From the look of things, the Minister of Justice, Defence and Security, Shaw Kgathi, has also joined the phonetics police of his party.

What has been known as the Botswana College of Agriculture for decades is now being renamed the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUANR) and as it is a state institution, parliament’s approval is needed. Francistown South MP, Wynter Mmolotsi, took the floor to debate the BUANR Bill before Kgathi but was absent when the latter got a word in edgewise. “It’s a pity Honourable Mmolotsi is not here. He is a student of agriculture but he pronounces this word as ‘agrigulture.’ It is pronounced ‘agriculture’, not ‘agrigulture.’ He [Mmolotsi should know better because he] was an Agriculture teacher.

I say this so you can tell him to pronounce words properly because students visit parliament and listen to our debates,” said Kgathi and still puckish, rubbed it in for good measure. “The word is not pronounced as ‘agrigulture’.” Many years ago, the former and now deceased MP for Gaborone North, Maitshwarelo Dabutha, found himself the butt of David Magang’s joke during a parliamentary debate. Unlike now, then it was a requirement that MPs should use English in their debates. Dabutha was on the floor when his pronunciation of one English word met Magang’s disapproval.

“It’s helicopter, not hilly-kopta,” the latter said. One would like to hear Mogae, Kgathi and Magang pronounce “Emily” and “extraordinary” to determine (de-tar-mean) if they really qualify to make such kind of ribbing. Generally, Botswana Democratic Party MPs tend to be unusually sensitive about English. In another language-based encounter from the past week, Moswaane, who – as a matter of policy and practice – routinely leaves his gloves at the door of the chamber, chafed at the suggestion by the Gaborone North MP, Haskins Nkaigwa, that his grasp of English is infirm.

Nkaigwa was on the floor, assembling an anti-BDP argument in English, when Moswaane interjected on a point of order which the latter adjudged to actually be a point of clarification. “The unfortunate part about the Honourable Member is that maybe he is not so familiar with the language that I am using and will not be able to understand me.

I think if it was Kalanga, he would understand it better,” said Nkaigwa when he was back on his feet. Then Moswaane did rise on an authentic point of order to return the slight by telling Nkaigwa that “I didn’t realise I was speaking to a mere antbear and not an MP”: “Ke ne ke itheile ke re ke botsa mopalamente kante ke botsa thakadu fela.” The MP seems to have a rare skill of comparing parliamentary colleagues on both sides of the house to furry and non-furry mammals. In the December session when he was only a rookie, Moswaane likened the Deputy Speaker, Kagiso Molatlhegi, to a “prison bully.” Moswaane followed up by telling Mmolotsi, through the speaker, that “I am very learned like himself …

He is out of order to say that I am not familiar with the English language.” Much later, Moswaane would allow himself a little, if factually-challenged fun with his Umbrella for Democratic Change opponent by claiming that when he (Nkaigwa) was mayor, he personally led a physically-demanding operation by the Gaborone City Council to tear down the stalls of street vendors in the city’s business districts.