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Ben Thema

Publishing Date : 08 October, 2018

JEFF RAMSAY
BUILDERS OF BOTSWANA



Benjamin Cogo Thema (1912-1990) was a much beloved educationist and politician who came to be known as “the nation’s teacher” due in part to his having taught so many of Botswana’s early post-colonial leaders.


Born in Ranaka, after doing his secondary education and teacher training at Tiger Kloof and Healdtown in South Africa, he became a Setswana teacher at Tiger Kloof in 1936. Thereafter he continued to study privately to obtain his Bachelor of Arts and, in 1948, Master of Arts in Education degrees.


In 1946 he founded the Tshidi Barolong Secondary School in Mahikeng, serving as its principal until 1955. During this period he also served as General Secretary of the Cape Teachers’ Union and as a member of the Federal Council of African Teachers’ Associations.


He then became headmaster of Moeng College for nine years. In 1964 he was invited to attend an educational conference in the USA. In the same year he resigned as an Educational Officer to become active in the BDP. In March 1965 he was elected to represent the then Lobatse and Barolong seat in the National Assembly. He became a member of the first cabinet under self-government when he was given the portfolio of Labour and Social Services. In November 1965, he was appointed Minister of Finance, but six months later he returned to his first ministry.


Thema’s cabinet responsibilities were enlarged in May 1967 into a relaunched Ministry of Education, Health and Labour. Following his re-election in 1969 he was put in charge of a newly created separate Ministry of Education. In a contemporary profile of Botswana’s first Cabinet, Thema was described as the: “Oldest minister in the government, unambitious and unassuming, trusted and well-liked. A fast speaker, so absorbed in the flow of ideas and so eager to get his thoughts across quickly that he sometimes becomes hard to understand. His dedication to improving educational facilities and standards has earned him high respect.”

Ben Thema retired from politics in 1974.

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