In 1966, Bechunaland adopted a new Constitution which blended most of the traditional features of the British Westminster Parliamentary model with other features imported from elsewhere, notably an Executive Presidency. The same Constitution provided that the President would be the Head of State, and also vested in the President all prerogative powers which had hitherto been exercised by the colonial Government. The Constitution provided, further, that the First President would be the person who, immediately prior to the 30th September 1966, held the office of Prime Minister. Thus, on 30th September 1966,Bechuanaland became an independent and sovereign state and was renamed the Republic of Botswana. Sir Seretse Khama, who was previously Prime Minister became President, and Mr Quett Masire, who had been Deputy Prime Minister, became Vice- President.
Since independence in 1966, the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana has undergone several amendments. The first category of amendments discussed here are those which impacted on the composition of the National Assembly, particularly increases or additions in the number of elected Members of Parliament. In 1972 there was a constitutional amendment which increased the number of constituencies from 31 to 32, and in 1982, the number was increased from 32 to 34, and in 1993, there was a further increase in the number of constituencies from 34 to 40 and, again, in 2003 when the number was increased from 40 to the present 57 seats. The number of specially elected seats has not been altered and still remains at four (4).
There have been other constitutional amendments, such as that of 1987 (following a national referendum) whereby only Batswana by birth or descent are now eligible to occupy the offices of President and Vice President. There were other amendments in 1997. One of the consequences of these was a limitation in the term of office of a President, which is now restricted to ten (10) years. Another consequence of the 1997 amendment is the automatic succession of the Vice-President to the office of President in the event. The 1997 constitutional amendments also transferred the administration and management of all elections to an independent electoral commission, and in addition reduced the voting age from 21 to 18 years, as well as also permitting external voting by persons eligible to vote, but are outside Botswana.
More recently there has been a series of wide-ranging constitutional amendments. One of these amendments has been to remove the Attorney General who was an ex-officio (but non-voting) MP, from membership of the House. The functions and responsibilities of the Attorney General in the National Assembly have now devolved upon a public service functionary, specifically Parliamentary Counsel, which is an administrative office. Another consequence of the recent amendments has been to divest the Attorney General of the powers of criminal prosecution, which powers have been devolved upon a new, and constitutionally specified, officer called the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
In addition to the major debates provoked by the aforementioned constitutional amendments, the National Assembly of Botswana has been closely associated with the major challenges which have confronted us as a nation, and for the most part, has fashioned national responses and led the nation ofΒ Botswana. At the height of the aggression of Botswana΄s (then racist and minority regime) neighbours, specifically Rhodesia and South Africa, the National Assembly boldly assessed matters and decided that Botswana needed a defensive military capacity resulting in the establishment of the current Botswana Defence Force. Consequent upon the abrupt and unilateral nationalisation of the assets of the then tripartiteΒ University of Botswana,Lesotho and Swaziland, Parliament seized with great energy and passion the challenge of the development of the Botswana campus of what was to subsequently become the University of Botswana.
In more recent times, the National Assembly was seized with the challenges of major amendments to the Tribal Land Act, following upon the disclosures by what became known as the Kgabo Commission of widespread irregularities in relation to tribal land. In addition, there was the enactment of the Corruption and Economic Crime Act, leading to the establishment of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime in the aftermath of the Christie Commission of Enquiry into certain malfeasance at the Botswana Housing Corporation. The National Assembly has also been ceased with the enactment of constitutional amendments to ameliorate hitherto ethnically iniquitous provisions, and create a more balanced and inclusive Ntlo ya Dikgosi. The same Parliament has also been in the vanguard of the march for gender equality, and it recently enacted the Abolition of Marital Power Act with a view to ameliorating the harsher effects of gender imbalances deriving from both customary and the common law.
The Parliament of Botswana has also superintended over important epochs in Botswana΄s political history. Following upon the tragic and untimely passing of the late Sir Seretse Khama on the 13th July 1980, the grave responsibility of choosing his successor (under then applicable constitutional provisions) fell upon Parliament, which elected Dr QKJ Masire (later Sir Ketumile Masire) as second President of Botswana. Consequent upon a split in the Botswana National Front (BNF) in 1998, the majority of the elected representatives of the BNF defected to the newly established Botswana Congress Party (BCP) with the result that the BCP became the official opposition in the National Assembly. On 1st April 1998, His Excellency Mr F. G. Mogae became the third President of the Republic of Botswana consequent upon the retirement of Sir Ketumile Masire on 31st March 1998. Although the National Assembly was not involved in the election of the third President, because by then automatic succession of the Vice-President to the Presidency was in place, Parliament oversaw this orderly transition.
Another equally important consequence of the 1997 amendments is that the President of the Republic is only permitted to appoint a Vice-President from among the elected (as opposed to specially elected) Members of Parliament, and further that, any such appointee must be approved and/or endorsed by the National Assembly. This development represented a significant break with past practice because in 1969, the first President appointed Hon. Quett Masire (then specially elected following his defeat in Kanye South) as Vice President; and later President Masire, for his part, appointed Hon. P. S Mmusi (who lost to Hon. Kenneth Koma in an bye election for the Gaborone South Constituency and was later specially elected) as Vice President; later in 1992, following the Hon. P. S. Mmusi΄s resignation as Vice President and Minister of Local Government and Lands, President Masire appointed Hon. F. G. Mogae MP, then Minister of Finance and Development Planning (and a specially elected MP), as Vice President.
Upon President F. G. Mogae΄s assumption of the office of President, he appointed a Cabinet, amongst whom was Lieutenant General S. K. I. Khama who had been appointed Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, and who was neither an elected nor specially elected Member of Parliament. This Cabinet did not have a Vice President, and it remained without a Vice President until such time that the aforesaid Lt. Gen. S. K. I. Khama was elected as Member of Parliament for Serowe North (following the resignation of Hon. Blackbeard who immediately before had represented that constituency), whereupon His Honour Lt. Gen. S. K. I. Khama was eligible for appointment as Vice President. This appointment was endorsed by the National Assembly in 1998, and subsequently in 1999 and 2004 when President Mogae re-appointed the said Lt. Gen. S. K. I. Khama as Vice President, following general elections in these years. In terms of section 42(3) of the constitution the President is entitled to appoint a maximum of four (4) persons, not being elected or specially elected Members of Parliament, to the positions of Minister or Assistant Minister for a period not exceeding four (4) months. It is upon this basis that the appointment of Lt. Gen. S. K. I. Khama as Minister, while neither an elected nor specially elected MP. must be understood.
Another matter which cannot be omitted from any complete history of Parliament is the entry of women. Up until 1974 (third Parliament) the membership of the National Assembly had been wholly or exclusively male. Following the elections of 1974 which ushered in the Third Parliament, Dr Gaositwe K. T. Chiepe and Mrs Kebatshabile Disele were specially elected as Members of Parliament. In the case of the former, she was immediately appointed Minister of Commerce and Industry while the latter remained a backbencher for a while until her elevation to Cabinet as Minister of Home Affairs. In 1977, however, Dr Chiepe was elected as MP for Serowe South, following a bye election occasioned by the death of Mr B. Kgari the former MP for that constituency. The number of women MPs dropped to one (1) after Mrs Disele ceased to be the Member of Parliament on the dissolution of the 4th Parliament. In 1984 Mrs Clara Olsen was specially elected thereby restoring the number of women MPs to two (2) for the life of that Parliament.
The numbers did not change during the life of the 6th Parliament, though the personalities did. Hon. Dr. Chiepe remained an elected MP and Cabinet Minister, but was joined by Mrs E. Mosinyi who succeeded Hon. Goareng S. Mosinyi as MP for Shoshong. Mrs Mosinyi΄s tenure was short lived and consequent upon her defeat in a party primary election she did not contest the 1994 General Elections. The number of women did increase however. Dr. Chiepe was joined by Mrs Margaret N. Nasha and Mrs Joy J. Phumaphi, both of whom were specially elected. In the case of Mrs Nasha she was appointed an Assistant Minister of Local Government Lands and Housing. In addition, Mrs G. T. K. Kokorwe was elected as MP for Thamaga. All these developments raised the number of women MPs to four. There was a further improvement in the number of women MPs in 1999 (8th Parliament). Mrs Margaret Nasha and Mrs J. J. Phumaphi, both of whom had been specially elected in 1994, were back in the National Assembly as the elected representatives for Gaborone Central and Francistown East, respectively. In addition, Mrs T. Seretse had succeeded Dr. Chiepe as the elected MP for Serowe South. Furthermore, Mrs Daisy Pholo had been elected as MP. Ms G. T. K. Kokorwe had retained her Thamaga constituency seat. Over and above the aforegoing, two (2) additional women had been specially elected as MPs, namely Ms Pelonomi Venson and Ms Shirley Segokgo. Also, Mrs Lesego Motsumi had succeeded Hon. Geoffrey Oteng as MP for South East. The number of women MPs had risen to a record eight (8), of which number four (4) were Ministers or Assistant Ministers.
The numbers changed again after the 2004 election, leading to the present 9th Parliament. Hon. J. J. Phumaphi resigned her seat in the National Assembly and her post in Cabinet to take up an international job, and was replaced as MP for Francistown East by Hon. P. T. C. Skelemani. Mrs Daisy Pholo and Mrs T. Seretse were unsuccessful in their party primary elections, and consequently did not contest the 2004 general election. In the case of Serowe South the victor of the primary elections, who was also the successful candidate in the 2004 general elections was Hon. P. Venson so that the seat was retained by a woman. The Hon. L. E. Motsumi (formerly MP for South East) retained the seat of South East South. Hon. Nasha did not retain her Gaborone Central seat in the 2004 elections, but was specially elected. In addition, two more women were specially elected, namely Prof. S. D. Tlou and Mrs M. Mbaakanyi, who were appointed Minister of Health and Assistant Minister of Education, respectively Mrs G. T. K. Kokorwe retained her seat, and Ms B. Tshireletso was elected as MP for Mahalapye East. The total number of women in the 9th Parliament is seven (7) of whom five (5) are Ministers or Assistant Ministers. Of the remainder, one is the Deputy Speaker and the other is the Chief Parliamentary Whip.