Royal talk

Francinah Baaitse Mmana
Charles Letsholathebe

The longest serving member of Batawana Customary Court, senior chief representative, Charles Letsholathebe is planning to retire next year.

Born on March 23rd, 1939 in Tsau, the 81- year -old royal and uncle to the Batawana paramount chief has served the community for the past 58 years.

Letsholathebe started off as a court clerk in September 1962 and was elevated to Chief representative position in 1976.

In 1980 he was appointed the senior chief representative, the position he still holds to date.

In this candid interview, FRANCINAH BAAITSE-MMANA speaks with him over the changing society and civiliasation.

Q: Tell us about your journey in this royal career

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A. I started off as a records man, a court clerk.

My duties involved collecting monetary payments, fines and processing passes for cattle.

At the time, the cattle were sold in and through the kgotla (customary court).

Fourteen years later, I was appointed chief representative.

My work involved adjudicating over criminal and civil matters, In October 1980 I was appointed senior chief representative.

Q: Were you trained for such duties?

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A. I have done my old standard six during the colonial rule at Batawana national school (now Moremi memorial school).

I was a schoolteacher when I heard an announcement of the existing vacancy and applied for it.

The rest is history.

Q: You speak fluent English with a rich British accent for a standard six graduate!

A. (Chuckles) Yes, We took our education seriously. Mathematics and English were very important subjects during our time.

We were given quality education.

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Our level of education was determined by good marks in both maths and English and on how well we expressed ourselves.

Q: Having worked at the tribal administration since the early 60s, it means you had worked closely with the Batawana paramount chief’s father, kgosi Letsholathebe II. What kind of a leader was he?

A. He was a king that one, very kind hearted, smart and yet tough. He was my brother’s son, my nephew.

Q: You look strong for your age. Any plans to retire in the near future?

A. I have long retired actually; it is just that I have been working on two-year contract basis.

The current contract ends next year and when it does I just want to retire fully and enjoy farming.

I will just be home as a village elder, a village headman who gives advice whenever it is required or asked for.

Q: Young people will probably sigh with relief? I have been informed that many of them bear scars on the butt from your corporal punishment.

A. (Laughs) But I am not the only kgosi who gives such orders.

It is only that the elders prefer to bring their naughty children to me because they have this belief that I dont hesitate to administer the “medicine” (whip).

The deputy chief representative, Kgosi Ledimo and deputy chief, Kgosi Dithapo also make orders for the boys to be whipped on bare buttocks.

I tell you this punishment method work wonders, although not as effective as bareback whipping.

Q: Is that so?

A. Yes, bare back whipping bears required results very fast. Once an offender gets it, it is rare for them to repeat the offence.

The whipping is enough to heal them from the naughtiness.

It incorporates them into the society as upright citizens very fast.

If it were according to me, government would enforce it to curb petty crimes that have really gone up in our society.

We may talk about human rights and all, but the fact is, for many years, this kind of punishment worked for us and it does mitigate nuisance.

Q: Are there any changes in the way the customary court was run then and now?

A. Not much except that the bareback punishment was meted out without contest.

But then we still acted within the jurisdiction of the law.

The cases are still much similar, criminal and civil though today there are more cases and some shockingly absurd.

Q: If you were to be a president for one day, what would be the first thing to change in our laws?

A. I will change the customary court act and give power back to dikgosi.

Q: so you do believe certain laws and regulations have disempowered that dikgosi?

A. Yes. Dikgosi no longer have power.

They no longer have power over their tribal land, which have been given to landboards.

Dikgosi used to have responsibility over both domestic and wild animals.

They knew when to ban and open hunting.

They knew that wildlife has to be given time to breed and game meat was not for sale and profit making as we see in butcheries today.

Hunting was not a privilege for a chosen few, it was controlled and the community knew how to protect the animals.

Matimela (roaming cattle) were put under care of dikgosi, not the council.

Q: Don’t you agree that times have changed, population have grown and thus it was important to separate duties and create bodies to take care of those, for the benefit of us all?

A. Yes I agree that we have grown and developed, but you should know that these things did not benefit dikgosi only, but the whole community.

For instance Matimela were not only for kgosi, but the whole community.

They were well taken care of and there were times were thrown for the whole community, but now they are kept at the council and such traditional and historic norms are lost.

That is why we have rowdy youth and we are helpless as the so-called “rights” prohibits us from punishing them.

Q: What are the challenges you have faced as a tribal leader?

A. Children are doing unprintable things but the law is on their side.

We live in a democratic country, which had given everyone freedom to do as they pleas and because of these many freedoms there are some members of the community that abuse such rights to hurt others.

Parents are failing to reprimand and correct their children; instead they bring them to us for punishment.

Just recently some parents brought a teenager here and requested that we whip him instead of opening a theft case against him.

The schoolboy simply told us he understands his rights and he won’t be whipped and the same parents who brought him here, let him go! That is the kind of parenting we see today.

Q: Interesting. Are there any other challenges?

A. Stock theft cases are giving us a headache.

Thieves are getting smart, they know how to cover their tracks and they don’t easily admit guilt until proven so beyond reasonable doubt.

So there is a lot of work that goes into preparing for such cases.

Another concern is rising cases of insults. Culprits are mostly women.

They hurl terrible insults at each other and at men and then we have to sit and listen to the insults repeated in court, as proceedings require that you call a spade a spade during trial.

Q: What advise can you give to your community and the rest of the nation in regards to law and order?

A. If you are troubled talk to the elders, seek help from us, dikgosi, the police, elders or social services instead of taking the law into your own hands.

Let’s preserve our legacy of a loving, caring and united nation.

Stop killing others for when you commit murder or commit suicide, you are hurting many others.

Drugs, cocaine and dagga are a serious concern and I can only ask our community to rethink its future and say NO to these temptations and delinquencies.

Q: Your last word?

A. I wish dikgosi could be given back their power.

They used to reign over and lead their communities in piece and with respect.

That is why we had initiation schools and regiments.

Regiments kept communities in check and in order.

We need to bring back those good old times.

Such traditional schools may seem unnecessary in today’s civiliasation but to restore dignity and morality in our society we need them.

Initiation schools can be turned into summer boot camps for the youth.

We need to instill discipline in our children and preserve our culture before it is completely lost.

Q: Away from kgotla duties, how do you spend your quality time?

A. I lost my wife in 2015 so I spend quality time at the farm, if that is what you are asking.

All my children are adults now and have families of their own.

Farming remains my only rest exercise.

However sometimes I am called to settle dispute even on my off days.

Q: Thank God It’s Friday, what are you up to this weekend?

A. I am going to the farm.

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