From the bench to the freedom square
Human Rights Activist, former judge and writer, Unity Dow has dismissed allegations that she is looking for a top post in the Botswana Democratic party.
Her recent affiliation to the ruling party caused a stir when the BDP placed adverts in newspapers to announce that she has joined the ruling BDP.
Rumour was rife that the high profile reception she received was because the BDP was recruiting her for the position of Vice President of the country.
A Vice President automatically becomes President at the end of an incumbent President’s term.
The Voice newspaper caught up with Dow at her home in Odi where she was preparing to travel to Maine, United States to present a lecture on the inaugural Justice for Women last Tuesday.
The fearless lawyer gained international recognition when she took on the Botswana government in 1992 and scored a victory for many Batswana women who had children with foreign nationals.
Prior to the Dow case, nationality only descended from the father but she changed all that. Below is how the interview went.
Q. The announcement in the form of a press release that you have joined the BDP aroused so much interest, speculation and disappointment from the general public that you joined the ruling party. What could be the reason?
I never knew that the joining of a political party of one’s choice by one person could generate so much fury.
Both the public and the press were furious and there’s very very little difference between the press and the public anyway because many of you people are politically aligned.
But I am used to people feeling like they know me and own me. If you look at when I sued the government during the Dow case, I sold so many newspapers I should be a millionaire by now because everybody was angry.
I sue the courts you are angry, I form Methaetsile you are angry, I leave Metlhaetsile for the courts you are angry, I leave the courts and join the BDP you are angry. It was like I had promised some people a certain career path but I can only control my actions not other people’s .
I have a contract with myself and not with all those people who were foaming at the mouth because I have simply decided to join a political party of my choice.
Q. Perhaps many people could not associate your reputation as a progressive human rights lawyer and women rights activist with the conservative ruling party?
I have never been the one to support anarchy. Some people say that they did not expect me to join the same government I sued during the Dow case but I was simply fighting what was a sentiment of that time and that did not make me anti government.
How many opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) supported me at the time? The sentiment I was fighting was held by many MPs across the political parties and an average Motswana alike.
How many opposition politicians supported me back then? None. One Manyepetsa claims they contributed money towards my case. If they did, I am thankful but I am not aware of such!
Q. What prompted you to join the BDP?
If you want to be a leader, you either lead or oppose those who lead. I want to be able to be part of the decision making process and not just to oppose.
Even the branding “Opposition Parties” does not appeal to me because it presupposes their role is just to oppose.
Whatever space I have occupied before I have participated in the decision making processes and I was not about to start operating from outside looking on the inside. I want to be able to participate in influencing policies.
Q. We hear you have been offered the VP position. Have you?
Oh my God(chuckles) No! That’s what people do. They speculate. They just want to make up stories. That is just not true!
Q. What are your plans then for 2014
I have not made up my mind yet. The expectation is that if a run for office I should do so in Kgatleng East because that is where I live but Kgatleng West is where I have my farm and where I feel is home.
Q. President Khama has been on record saying politics is a dirty game, How ready are you for political dirt?
I haven’t yet embraced the dirt or been embraced by the dirt. What I know is that with politics, the rules of competition are not clear and mostly it’s a question of strategy that determines the winner.
I am too new to politics to talk about the dirt but what I know is that politics is expensive both time and money wise. It is particularly expensive for women because women can become very useful tools looking after children and the family as their spouse advance their political career.
Unfortunately, women can not get themselves wives. If only we could get ourselves wives then the playing field would be levelled.
But it shouldn’t be that way and it’s sad that such conditions should prevent capable women from joining politics.
Q. It is a bit hard to imagine Unity Dow the respectable former Judge insulting and assassinating opposition party individual characters at a freedom square in pursuit of votes as is common in local politics.
I was raised to respect people and I don’t believe an argument improves on the basis of how loud you say it, but I do appreciate that the freedom square is the space used to communicate with the people and not posh hotel conference rooms.
Q. Does that mean you are ready for the opposition to bring it on?
Dow. To open yourself to leadership is to say “I have something to offer” It is to offer yourself and allow the people to either accept or reject your offer.
I believe I am a resilient person and if the people don’t like what I am offering it won’t be the end of the world for me. Look I would be disappointed of course because no one likes to lose but It won’t change the price of bread for me. At 53, what do I stand to lose?
Q. What do you hope to bring to the BDP?
Dow. I and others offer to bring a generation of progressive thinkers to the BDP. There’s a slow change of guard within the BDP. I am very lucky that with my professional experience, I can now give politics undivided attention and the time it deserves.
Q. Speculation is rife that you were a closet BDP member. Were you?
The problem is that in Botswana’s young democracy everything is new. In older democracies it is common for judges to resign and join politics and even the reverse is possible and no one would question their decision.
You have to be suspicious of anyone in their 40’s who has never voted or showed interest in political participation.
But to answer the question, it is not true that I was a closet BDP member, but even if it were true we know judges who were active and not even closet members of certain opposition parties and no one says its wrong.
Q. Any last words
There are many things that need to change in this country. The idea that schools and roads and clinics are owned by government for one needs to change to a mindset that such things are actually owned by the public.
Schools currently wrongly labelled as Government schools should come to be rightly known as public schools, government clinics should be known as public clinics and government media should also be known as the public media.
That way the public would have a sense of ownership and therefore feel a sense of responsibility towards these structures. The public would also know that they have the right to ask whatever they want to know about what rightfully belongs to them.
In Botswana simply because a proportion of people paying tax is small the public do not realise that whatever development government brings to them is financed through diamonds and tourism, which belong to the public and not elected member of government and that perception ought to change!