She is a role model, mother and an inspiration to many – a daughter that the nation can truly take pride in.
Vivacious and versatile, Unity Dow is a qualified lawyer, former high court Judge, human rights activist and published author.
Voice reporter Onneille Setalekgosi caught up with the current Minister of Education, who hails from Mochudi, to discuss her journey to date.
Q. With over 620, 000 Google entries you are one of the most Googled individuals in the history of Botswana. Why do you think that is?
It is because I am 57-years-old, that’s a long life (laughs loudly).
Maybe one of the reasons is that I have itchy feet.
I am a professional nomad in the sense that I really pop from one area of the law to another, ever since I graduated from University at the age of 24.
I have worked for the government as a prosecutor, defence counsel, human rights activist and have co-founded many organisations, including a school.
I have been on many school boards and have worked locally and abroad.
I have slept on the hardest of floors in this country, teaching women about their rights in the early 80’s and 90’s – that’s my life in a nutshell.
Q. Since you have worked for so many institutions and organisations, what legacy would you like to leave at the Ministry?
There is a short statement I made to somebody recently; I asked myself if I’ve tiptoed through life? I have not done that.
Have I trashed or injured life, being aggressive and offensive? I don’t think so.
That’s not me. I think I am very lucky to have lived the life I have.
To be born in 1959 – it was a great year.
I was lucky to be raised by parents who believed in education.
If I died today, I would have no regrets!
Q. Are you happy with the current state of education in the country?
Botswana spends the highest portion of its budget on education.
We have not done well in Maths and Science recently and are not rated highly (in these subjects) internationally.
We attained more than 98% entry into primary school, and Form One to Form Three.
We have also attained 20% transition from high school to tertiary education, which is good because the international average is 18%.
Q. After being elected the first female to Botswana’s high court, do you feel you paved the way for other women fighting for equality and justice?
A. I believe so, for many reasons. I was not just the first woman judge of the High Court, I was also the youngest!
It was the major milestone in my life. It told people that the circumstances of your birth don’t define where you are going.
Q. You are a successful author too Madam Minister. One of your novels is intriguingly called ‘Screaming of the Innocent’ – what prompted the title?
I have four books of fiction, including ‘Screaming of the Innocent.’
I am an author of both fiction and non-fiction books.
Screaming of the Innocent has a shocking title – it is a dark and very tough book.
It is a cry for help by somebody without power and aims to communicate that there must be people who will raise the alarm and speak up for the powerless when things are not going well.
It is based on the practice of ritual killings, when an individual believes it’s okay to harm another person for their own personal needs.
Q. What role do you play in influencing women to join politics?
First of all politics is expensive – it is expensive financially, emotionally and time wise.
But it is an interesting career. I hope more women will join politics in the future.
Q. There are often insults and harsh words in politics. How do you deal with them?
Sometimes it is frustrating when the focus is on people and not on the issues at hand.
Actually, it’s incredibly frustrating!
Q. What’s happening with the Woman’s Movement, is it still alive? Cynics feel it was used by a few women to climb the corporate ladder. What are your thoughts?
I think that’s unfair. When I joined the movement, I lit the torch for younger women to get a bit of light.
I spent a lot of my money and my family time advocating for women but they seem not to care.
Movements, it doesn’t matter the nature, they go up and down depending on the pressure of the time.
Q. Recently you fought with UDC President Duma Boko in parliament over the Matsha tragedy. There seems to be a rift between you and Boko, why is this?
We are both lawyers and are extremely passionate about the issues we care about.
Clashes will happen, this was not the first and it won’t be the last; undoubtedly there will be many more in the future – that’s just the nature of the beast!
It doesn’t mean I do not like him or he doesn’t like me. On the parliament floor we are very cordial to each other.
Q. Your 11-year tenure at the high court is best remembered for the landmark 2006 case where Botswana’s Bushmen took the government to court over their right to live and hunt in the central Kalahari game reserve. Was it the reason you chose politics?
(Laughing good-naturedly) I chose to join politics because I had temporary insanity. I lost my mind a little bit.
No, it was not the reason I joined politics, but of course people who join politics are moved by something and believe they have something to offer.
You must believe you can contribute to societal change.
Q. How has your political life compared to the high court bench? Have you any regrets about making the switch?
No. I was at the high court for 11 years and learnt a lot there. I miss it sometimes.
I miss my colleagues, the quiet civilized life of the judiciary.
When you are a Judge, problems come in different coloured files, either blue or green, depending on the nature of the case.
Everything is scheduled ahead of time at the high court. But with politics anything can walk through the door.
I miss the reading day at the high court. However, I do not regret anything because it was a choice – it’s not like anyone is holding a gun to my head to stay on.
Q. What have been the highlights and lowlights of your time in politics so far?
The harshest was the Matsha tragedy. I could just imagine the parents grief, it was really heart wrenching.
The highlight has not yet come.
Q. What is your opinion on Mmamoitoi’s chances on the AU chair?
She is hopeful. We are committed to supporting her.
It is the highest office on the African continent.
I think more Batswana should apply for international jobs.
Q. The #IShallNotForget petition was handed in on the 8th of June – has it been signed yet?
First of all I congratulate the movement.
I am actually having a meeting with the activists this afternoon.
Q. There are allegations that DCEC (Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime) recently raided Limkokwing University to investigate issues of possible conflicts of interest. You yourself have been accused of Nepotism. Care to respond?
I am not sure I can say too much about that.
I do not know for a matter of fact that Limkokwing was raided.
On the question of conflict of interest, we have more than 23 tertiary schools – to suggest that there is a conflict of interest is incorrect and unfortunate.
I don’t make decisions where to place students and I do not hire staff.
Q. Finally, we are approaching another weekend – what are your plans?
On Friday I am going to Leshibitse. I will probably slaughter a chicken and relax for a bit.