- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

RAMOTSWA, Botswana — Draped in a ceremonial leopard skin, a former bank manager was installed as the first female paramount chief in Botswana last weekend, one of the few women in traditional African society to hold such a high-ranking position.

Mosadi Seboko took over as the highest-ranking chief of the Balete people in a five-hour celebration on Saturday attended by thousands, including some of the country’s top political and religious figures.

One of eight such traditional leaders in the country, she will preside over community matters concerning Botswana’s 30,000-strong Balete people.

“She is a born chief. She is calm, she is caring … she is intelligent,” said Leabile Mokgosi, a community elder who is also her uncle.

Mrs. Seboko is the daughter of the former paramount chief and was appointed by the community’s elders after her brother died in office.

Female leaders in traditional society are rare on the continent, where men have tended to hold the reins of power throughout the generations. Botswana has never before had a female paramount chief — a position normally passed down from father to son in this community.

Mrs. Seboko, said by relatives to be about 50, is among two female chiefs in the country’s 15-member House of Chiefs, where she has been appointed chairwoman. The House of Chiefs advises the government on matters of Botswana custom and tribal property. It includes the paramount chiefs of the country’s eight tribal groups.

Thousands gathered in the village of Ramotswa, about 20 miles south of the capital, Gaborone, for a peek at the new paramount chief. The lucky had seats in the sandy courtyard of the thatched-roof Kgotla, the traditional meeting place of the community.

Some sat in trees to get a better view. Children scampered onto stone walls and leaned on one another during the five-hour ceremony attended by the president of Botswana, as well as priests, chiefs, diplomats and community members.

Singers compared Mrs. Seboko’s power and strength to the symbol of the Balete people — the buffalo. Dancers stomped in the sand, sending their animal-skin shawls whirling and the dust swirling.

The sound of cheers and the echoes of ululating women and choirs singing “She’s the chief” thundered into a cloudless sky as Mrs. Seboko, wearing a pale pink silk suit and a rope of pearls, waved from under the leopard skin, which signifies supreme authority.

In her hands, she held a shield and a spear.

“Use it if troubles come; but it’s best to use your mouth to fight,” said one of her uncles, Mareko Mosiele, as he handed her the spear.

Mrs. Seboko spoke of working within tradition while moving forward.

“I feel honored and humbled to be part of a tradition and history,” she said from the podium. “Rally beside me with tolerance, as we take the Balete forward.”

She also spoke of the need to fight the scourge of AIDS — Botswana has the highest HIV-infection rate in the world — about one in three adults carry the virus.

At a feast after the ceremony, Galatwe Kgari, 70, reflected on seeing a female paramount chief in his lifetime.

“Before, the time had not yet come, now the time has come for a woman to be leader,” Mr. Kgari said, then resumed his place in line to choose from steaming pots of chicken stew, corn porridge, spinach and rice.

Cattle, a symbol of wealth in Botswana, as in much of southern Africa, are traditionally given as gifts. But keeping in line with new traditions, the female chief was presented a silver Toyota four-by-four pickup truck filled with more gifts — a washing machine, vacuum cleaner, computer and printer.

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