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CALLS IT A DAY: Tshireletso

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Imagine Parley without Mmaopeneka

Going down memory lane with Botlogile Tshireletso

Things will never be the same, that’s just the way it is with the coming 12th Parliament and the successive ones.

The last three Parliament sessions from the 9th to the 11th will be recorded in history as having one thing in common – their Hansards feature one funny name – Mmaopeneka, which was in reference to a self-made politician who was articulate, forceful and very tolerant.

That is none other than 65 year-old Botlogile Tshireletso of Mahalapye East who retired after general elections. She spent the last 40 years in active politics becoming a councilor in 1979 at the age of 24.

Tshireletso then held various positions in the council and became deputy council chairperson of the Central District from 1994 until she made another big breakthrough when she successfully contested for the presidency of the Botswana Democratic Party’s women’s wing in 2003.

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With a lot of confidence from the win, she successfully contested for the Mahalapye East Parliamentary seat in 2004 and was selected Government Whip.

But where did the name Mmaopeneka originate?

“It was my first few days in Parliament and as I was debating, I raised the fact that Botswana National Front had no female members. Before I could finish, the Late Paul Rantao interrupted me and asked if I thought that parliament was like a classroom, that even bo-Mmaopeneka should be allowed into the House. It was the best Parliament ever,” she says.

The name then became part of her, as fellow MPs from across the floor started referring to her as Mmaopeneka from the ninth to the 11th Parliament.

Although she is happy to have achieved so much with her limited educational background, Tshireletso’s ambition was to become full minister and president of Botswana at some point.

She appreciates that a Junior Certificate, political training in Russia, and other short courses, were not enough to take her to such great heights.

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From her time as deputy chairperson of the CDC, and member of the International Union of Local Authorities, Tshireletso was exposed to travel and training opportunities and she has been to the International Criminal Court in The Hague (Netherlands) Glasgow (Scotland), and spent two months in the United States of America among others.

As an MP she was also a member of several committees and international bodies such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Union, and the SADC Parliamentary Forum.

Few Women in political positions of power

“The issue requires affirmative action because as women we are still struggling in terms of whether a woman can hold a position of power. It is a cultural believe. Look at the country’s first Parliament, first cabinet, and the BDP’s first central committee – there were no women. It was a men’s club and the role of women was reduced to food preparation, and singing,” she said.

From independence, the first woman in the House was Dr Gaositwe Chiepe in 1974 and there was hope as more women were elected in 1989 and 1994, but the situation went backwards in 1999 and 2004,” she observed.

Tshireletso and the headgear

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“When I was growing up I had a special way of designing my head scarf and I loved the Nigerian style. I also feel comfortable wearing a nice hat,” says the former MP whose headgear became her trademark at the National Assembly, to the excitement of photojournalists.

She has brought to an end 40 years of providing leadership in Mahalapye East as a councilor, and MP, the only area that has had a woman leader for four consecutive decades.

As the population grew, the area was demarcated multiple times between her first council seat to date.

“Setsile, Mokoswana villages, and Xhosa One ward have known me as their councilor for 25 years, then I was their MP for 15 years. I thank them for giving me this opportunity, my name would not be known anywhere had it not been for them to vote for me,” she said.

She had an opportunity to work with four former presidents from Sir Ketumile Masire, Dr Festus Mogae, Dr Ian Khama and Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, and she appreciates their confidence in her. Her constituency has gone to a young male MP, Yandani Boko of the Umbrella for Democratic Change.

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