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Olga Ditsie, the country’s only female Mayor

Olga Ditsie, the country’s only female Mayor
FEARLESS LEADER: Ditsie

A female diamond in the Political rough

The First Lady of Jwaneng, an ardent advocate for female representation in politics, the fearless leader is an inspiration to many women looking to succeed in the rough and tumble cutthroat world.

The 48-year-old’s political journey actually started on a sour note, when she lost primary elections at council level back in 2004.

It was a setback that caused the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) member to fall out of love with politics for a while, and she quit ‘the game’ to focus on her business.

After almost a decade away, Ditsie returned to active politics as the BDP Branch Secretary for the Jwaneng/Mabutsane constituency.

It proved the launching pad for her current role, the Mayor of Jwaneng, a position of power she assumed in 2019 having previously served as the diamond town’s Deputy Mayor.

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This week, with possible mass retrenchments looming in her mining town, The Voice’s SHARON MATHALA caught up with Her Worship.

For those who don’t know you, how would you describe yourself?

Well, I am a businesswoman at heart.

I am a mother and a wife.

I am a trained health inspector.

I have previously worked for Local Government in councils before I resigned and ventured into business.

I like to believe I am a very compassionate person.

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Tell us about your political journey.

I started active politics in 2004 when I contested at Maokane ward in the BDP primary elections and was not successful.

I focused on my business for a while.

Then in 2013, I was elected BDP Branch Secretary for the Jwaneng/Mabutsane constituency.

In 2014 I was specially elected as a councilor in Jwaneng.

In 2017 I became Deputy Mayor for Jwaneng Town council.

In the same year, I was elected as the Regional Secretary for Southern Region BDP which covered seven constituencies being: GoodHope/Mabule, Lobatse, Mmathethe/Molapowabojang, Moshupa/Manyana, Kanye North, Kanye South, and Jwaneng/Mabutsane.

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The region was split in two and I was again elected the Secretary to the now South West Region, which covers only four constituencies (Kanye North, Kanye South, Moshupa/manyana, and Jwaneng/Mabutsane).

Now I currently hold the position of the Jwaneng town Mayor.

As a Mayor, what would you say is your fundamental role?

My role as the Mayor of Jwaneng is to advance community cohesion, promoting civic awareness.

Promoting partnerships with other stakeholders. Also providing a strategic vision of the town.

What impact will Debswana’s decision to terminate its contract with Majwe Mining have on the town?

The cancelation of the Majwe contract came as a shock to us because they were just awarded the contract last year.

We were hopeful that, as the Jwaneng community, we were still going to enjoy their CSI projects.

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I trust and believe the decision was taken after thorough introspection that there will be no job losses.

I’m hoping that Debswana will absorb all Majwe employees.

Currently, with Covid-19, companies are struggling.

It will be a mammoth task for those who lost their jobs to find new employment.

What would you say are some of the challenges that come with being a female leader?

The biggest challenge is patriarchy.

What boggles my mind is that I have received it from the least expected places and corners.

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Mind you, I am the only female councilor here Jwaneng Town Council (JTC).

My first six months in office were made unbearable by some top civil servants whom I had expected support from.

We still have men who think women are incapable of taking responsibility in what are perceived to be male-oriented areas.

What is the toughest aspect of being a female leader?

Fighting the stereotypes that some men have towards women in politics. It’s real!

Last year you received criticism from some quarters when your company, Ditsie Investment, was awarded a Covid-19 food relief tender. Can you clear the mist for us, what actually happened?

Actually, there was no tender on the supply of food commodities.

Instead, JTC offered all 22 general dealers orders to supply food without going to competitive bidding.

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There are 22 general dealer licence holders in Jwanang, the mine inclusive.

The council fixed the prices.

They went to wholesalers, got the selling price, and put a 20 percent markup for all items.

All shops were given the same amount of order.

So do you feel it is ethical for councilors to do business with the councils they are in?

If you remember, the Lapac Act was implemented to take out councilors from the tendering process as they used to sit on tender committees and there was an outcry from the public that they give each other tenders.

The political landscape has changed in recent times – would you say it is becoming more difficult for women to engage in politics?

Indeed the political landscape has drastically changed, especially with the advent of social media.

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Our politics have turned into politics of hate.

In the past, exchanges were made during campaigns; thereafter people would concentrate on delivering their mandate.

Nowadays it is a different story.

Women are generally easily intimidated.

Most women are afraid to be insulted, especially on social media.

So yes, most women tend to want to stay away with the fear of having their dirty laundry and private business aired out on social media.

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At the end of the day, we have families whom as a woman we are very protective of and wouldn’t want to be ridiculed in public.

What is the one uncomfortable request you have received from your community and the people you lead?

Well, we receive all sorts of requests!

I can’t think of any right now because most would be personal requests but those don’t count as uncomfortable do they? It is to be expected as a leader.

Would you say there is enough support for female political leaders?

That is a difficult one.

I can’t make up my mind really, it is not enough and it starts from our political parties.

I believe it is time all political parties take affirmative action to have women’s representation.

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This should start during party primary elections; there must be constituencies and wards reserved for women.

I think the time has come now for the government to take action and a stand on this.

If it means changing our electoral system, then so it must be.

Why do you think it is so important to have female political figures in positions of leadership?

We need to have women’s voices in the decision-making processes.

It is in councils and parliament where laws and policies are made – we have to be there to advocate for ourselves.

We are in a better position to talk about issues that affect us.

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Has there ever been a point you thought of giving up politics?

Oh yes!

This job gets a little taxing sometimes.

It is draining but I will not quit.

I believe the voices of women of this country have to be heard!

No amount of intimidation will make me quit.

What advice would you give to upcoming young female politicians?

We need more women in politics.

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They should not give up their dreams and must develop tough skins.

Do you believe Botswana is still as democratic as in the past?

I do believe Botswana is still democratic as it was in the past.

How so?

Our elections are free and fair as they are always declared by international observers.

There is freedom of expression, especially on social media, though it is sometimes abused by some.

Batswana nowadays are more free to express themselves.

One can say with this our democracy has grown.

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The live broadcasting of parliamentary debates can also be pointed to as growth in our democracy.

One of the mandates you have given yourself is that of Gender Advocacy, why Gender Advocacy?

They are not many of us [women] in these leadership positions.

I have to make sure that I become the voice of the many who are not in these positions.

The way we present Gender Issues as women is completely different.

In my town, they are more women than men mainly because it’s a mining town.

And a number of them are in abusive relationships.

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I am currently chairing an organisation called Women And Aids Group, which empowers women on issues of abuse.

What is your message to the youth?

During our times when we finished at tertiary, we were posted, without applying for jobs.

These days it is tough.

We have graduates roaming the streets with certificates.

I would encourage them to venture into business and be innovative.

There are still so many opportunities in this country, especially if you look at the things that we are importing as a country.

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Away from the office, what do you get up in your spare time?

I am a businesswoman, during my spare time I help out in my businesses.

Lastly, TGIF, what will you be up to on Friday?

If it has rained, I will be at the farm.

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