Neighborliness however prevailed and the two countries found love for each other again.
Although there isn’t much trade going on between the two countries at the moment, Botswana’s envoy in Harare, Kenny Kapinga, who was posted to Zimbabwe after a stint in Pretoria says he will do all he can to ensure that there is increased interaction between the countries’ two leaders. In this interview, Kapinga talks to former Voice News Editor and Zimbabwe Mail Deputy Editor Sinqobile Tesa about relations between the two nations and life in the Sunshine City.
Q. What crossed your mind when you were told you had been appointed Botswana’s ambassador to Zimbabwe?
I believe somebody looked somewhere in our files and noticed that I had worked in Zimbabwe before and had some experience of this country and that I actually enjoyed being in Harare. I guess that’s what informed the decision that I was the ideal person to be posted here.
Q. When you were here before, where did you work and in what capacity?
I worked at the Interpol Regional Office as the assistant director responsible for Southern Africa. So Harare is not new to me.
Q. How is your typical day like?
Since I am still new having come here on April 23, I spend most of my time paying courtesy calls to other ambassadors, receiving visitors here at the mission and signing off reports.
Q. How would you describe current relations between Harare and Gaborone?
Relations are basically good, both countries accept that we are neighbours and that we have to live with one another.
Q. Relations had thawed in the last few years, especially after 2008 when Botswana said it does not recognise the Zanu PF government as it had stolen the elections, even threatening to close its embassy here?
What I can say is that in life, friends can have differences but those differences don’t mean they won’t relate anymore.
So there were differences between our two countries, mostly political but that did not result in us not appreciating our neighbourliness and that we need to co-exist peacefully.
Q. President (Ian) Khama broke ranks with other Sadc leaders and openly criticized President Mugabe for allegedly stealing the elections, why do you think he did that?
Our country chose to stand for principle more than mere solidarity, for truth, rather than for convenience. People were not comfortable with that because they were not used to that kind of approach.
Q. After last year’s local elections again Botswana raised issues saying elections were not free and fair, why is that the current Botswana government seems to always have issues with the current Zim government?
Botswana made observations about certain irregularities in the way the elections were managed and since my arrival and having done my research I am informed that even the AU (Africa Union) in its report raised the same issues of how the elections were conducted.
So I wouldn’t say what Botswana raised was out of the blue.
Q. Botswana also threatened to pull out of Sadc observer missions but later made a U-turn, why did it chicken out?
Botswana received a response from Sadc, which indicated that it would remedy the deficiencies or address the issue raised and the government in its wisdom decided to rescind its earlier decision.
Q. Sadc, has at one time been described as a toothless dog because of its perceived failure to stamp its authority, why do you think they will address concerns raised by Botswana?
Well, we believe they will live up to their word.
Q. Trade relations between the two countries, how are they?
You know Botswana used to buy almost everything from Zimbabwe when the industry was productive, farming equipment, steel and a whole lot of other things.
We are still in a position to buy from here if industry reverts to its healthy position.
At the moment trade is very limited but we sold some cattle to Zimbabwe in the recent past which was a good thing between the two countries.
Botswana also benefits from cross border traders but you know that does not help to revive industries in Zimbabwe. We would rather be having a much healthier trade than cross border trading.
Q. Talking about the cattle deal, the Zimbabwe government owes Botswana money from that deal and seems to be struggling to pay it off, any chances of the debt being cancelled?
The matter is being dealt with through the right channels and I am sure it would be amicably resolved.
Q. Are there any Batswana companies here in Zimbabwe?
I am not aware of any companies that have invested here but I am aware of delegations that have come here seeking investment opportunities, but I am not informed of how they progressed in that regard.
Q. If you were to advise Batswana wishing to invest here, which industries would you advise them to venture into?
Interest so far has been in mining but of course it’s all about individual’s interest.
Q. Botswana has a success story in terms of mining, looking at how diamonds have sustained its economy.
What lessons can Zimbabwe draw from your country.
There is a lot to be learnt from, Botswana in terms of managing the whole industry, from the stage of exploration up to extraction.
We believe we have done very well in managing the products that come from mines and the revenue derived.
Q. At the moment Zimbabwe is going through a rough economic patch, what do you think should be done?
Zimbabwe needs to make itself attractive to direct foreign investment, how they do that is the country’s prerogative.
Q. On a different note, Botswana has a well known relationship with opposition Movement for Democratic Change and its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai who at was at one time hosted by President Khama, how are relations now considering that the party seems to be falling apart?
I cannot confirm that the Botswana government is friendly to the MDC or that President Khama is Tsvangirai’s friend.
What I know is that as a country we uphold the principle of non-interference in other country’s domestic affairs.
Our foreign policy though is that anyone who seeks our audience, we give them a chance to see if there is a way we can assist with.
Q. There have been reports that Botswana funds or used to fund the MDC?
I am not aware of any budget or funds that were ever allocated to MDC by Botswana.
Q. Botswana recently went on a drive to recruit local teachers, is it a question of Botswana having so much trust in Zimbabwe teachers or you were also recruiting from other countries?
The government was recruiting from all over but we were given that assignment as a mission to recruit science and physics teachers from here because we are confident of the quality of teachers from here.
I was taught physical science by a Mr Munozogara in 1980-81, a very good teacher from Zimbabwe. Botswana has come from afar with Zimbabwean teachers.
Q. Back in the days there used to be quite a number of Batswana students schooling here, is it still the case?
No, not anymore, only a few and I am sure it’s largely because of the current economic challenges.
Q. Botswana is going for elections later in the year, which party do you think is going to win and why?
(Laughs) You know I am sworn in civil servant and cannot comment on that.
But what I can tell you is that I am going to exercise my right to vote.
Q. Is your family here with you?
Unfortunately no, my wife did not move with me when I was posted to Pretoria but I hope she will be joining me here as she has a soft spot for Zimbabwe.
Our kids are all grown, the youngest is 19 and starting university education.
Q. What do you miss most about Botswana?
I miss my home village, Shakawe. I was last there in December and wish could go there quite often but unfortunately it’s not that easy.
Q. And what will you miss about Harare when you leave?
Zimbabwe has a special place in my heart.
There is a lesson to be learnt about how people adapt or cope with the challenges they are facing.
It’s a lesson to be learnt in life. Zimbabweans are quite cultured, hospitable and very industrious.
That’s what I will miss about people here and of course I will miss the good weather.
And the food?
(Laughs) Of course I will miss my sadza, nyama and muriwo (vegetables).
Q. Thank God it’s Friday, what are you up to this weekend.
I am an Adventist so as usual I will be in church tomorrow.
Sunday morning I will be working out before I take a drive to the rural areas. Basically that’s how I spend my weekends.
Q. Parting shot
I want to emphasize that we all want to see a prosperous Zimbabwe, the industries up and running, schools back in their glory so we can send our children to come and learn here instead of them going to countries where they will come back with drug problems.
We wish the economy can turn around so Zimbabwe can be prosperous once again.