The Selibe Phikwe West parliamentarian says there is no how an official office bearing member of the BDP could have gone to complain at GabzFM without permission from Masisi as party chairman.
Tempers flared in Parliament on Friday when Selibe Phikwe West Member of Parliament Dithapelo Keoraptese accused Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi being ultimately responsible for the suspension of GabzFm morning show presenter and host of “Breakfast with Reg” Reginald Richardson and his executive producer Keikantse Shumba.
Richardson and Shumba were suspended for 10 days on 3rd of November 2016 for what has been reported as several complaints raised by different institutions, including a letter from a member of the BDP communications committee and a listener. Currently the duo are on an indefinite suspension after reporting to work on 18th November.
In a letter dated 31st October 2016 Chairman of the Publicity Sub-Committee of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party, Thapelo “Fish” Pabalinga demanded an apology from GabzFM ostensibly on the basis that he was not contacted by the “Breakfast with Reg” duo contrary to their assertions on air. Under the Botswana Democratic Party’s Constitution Pabalinga derives his powers directly from the President, Khama and the party Chairman, Masisi.
According to Keorapetse, no member of the BDP, let alone one that heads the party publicity structures, could have gone to Gabzfm to lodge a complaint without Masisi’s permission as the party’s chairman. “There are complaints by the BDP to GabzFM that led to the suspension of Richardson and Shumba and we know the complainants include the vice president. He has sent people there to complain at GabzFM because it is not biased like BTV, Radio Botswana and the government website.”
Keorapetse’s utterances seemed to have rubbed the Vice President the wrong way, standing on a point of order to state that it was unfair for the Selibe Phikwe legislator to allege that he, as chairman of the BDP sent a functionary of the BDP to complain at GabzFM, let alone to ascribe the allegations to him as an individual. “What the honourable member is saying is blatantly untrue. I have never sent anyone to complain at GabzFM. The member of Parliament should tell the truth,” Masisi said.
Asked then by the National Speaker Gladys Kokorwe to state the “truth” and also produce evidence that indeed the Vice President was behind the complaints at GabzFM, Keorapetse reiterated; “The truth is that the Vice President is the chairman of the BDP and the complaint is from Tsholetsa House. No one could have gone to GabzFM without the permission of the VP in his position as chairman of the party. So yes, you are the principal complainant and you have led the suspension of Richardson.”
On producing evidence, Keorapetse said they could go to GabzFM and ask who the complainant on the matter was. “I can assure you, it is the BDP. It is the BDP and its chairman is here.”
Presuming no knowledge of BDP party structures Kokorwe sought clarification by stating “You are now saying it’s the BDP, but at first you said it was Masisi,” prompting Keorapetse’s response that “His honour the Vice President is the chairman of the BDP, its unimaginable that somebody can go to GabzFM on behalf of the BDP when the vice president as chairman of the BDP has not okayed that.” Keorapetse reiterated that, “I still maintain that it is him, he is responsible directly as the chairman of the BDP for that complaint at GabzFM. Why does he want to separate himself from the BDP?” he added, pointing a finger at Masisi.
Seemingly agitated by Keorapetse, Masisi stood on a point of order, saying the legislator was out of order to be ‘howling and pointing fingers,’ a statement which was challenged by Leader of Opposition Duma Boko. “You can’t say someone is howling. It is derogative and it is unparliamentarily. It is unacceptable.”
“Take the dictionary and look up that word. ke tla go se ruta sekgowa gompieno,” the unmoved Masisi stated, resulting in Keorapetse’ response; “His honour the vice president ga a lekana gore o ka re o ruta Boko sekgowa. His fake rehearsed English accent ga e re tshosetse.”
Masisi said Keorapetse seemed unsure of whom to blame for the GabzFm duo’s suspension. “You started by saying myself, as the vice president complained at Gabzfm. Am asking that you be precise. I have never complained in my role as chairman or as vice president. It is blatantly untrue,” he said, advising Keorapetse to point out to the actual person and rank or level or position of the person who complained, truthfully.
“I am very clear, the principal complainant at GabzFM is his honour the vice president by virtue of his position as chairman of the BDP. Whether he went there physically or sent an emissary is neither here nor there.”
The current complaint by the BDP Chairman of the Publicity Sub-Committee of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party, Thapelo “Fish” Pabalinga are a follow up to a series of persistent complaints filed by ruling party functionaries since October last year and come in the wake of a BOCRA investigation into GabzFM which may result in the loss of its broadcasting licence.
Keorapetse concluded his statements by noting that there was a need for parliament to guard against legislating or enacting laws which restrict freedom of expression and press freedom. He said that the Constitution creates Freedom of Expression under Section 12 (1) but under the clawback provision Section 12(2) there is scope for abuse should parliament not construe the provision very narrowly used and interpreted or they would be used to create serious limitations on Freedom of Expression. “There is a need to have the State broadcaster transformed into a public broadcaster with an independent board. Currently what we have is tantamount to witchcraft,” the Selibe Phikwe legislator stated.
Botswana is a signatory to the African Charter on Human Rights that recognises Freedom of expression and information. The right includes the “right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other form of communication, including across frontiers, is a fundamental and inalienable human right and an indispensable component of democracy”.
The African Charter on Human Rights critically provides that “No one shall be subject to arbitrary interference with his or her freedom of expression”.