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Gladys Kokorwe: a living legend!

Publishing Date : 27 August, 2019


One hopes that as the curtain falls on Honourable Gladys Kokorwe’s public service chapter, her contribution to our country’s development is not forgotten only to be remembered when her obituary is finally written.

Let it be known that in Honourable Kokorwe, the person, resides a soul-an enormous soul-worth celebrating for Honourable Kokorwe is indeed a living legend. We do not need to await her departure from this world in order to celebrate her life. No, we need to celebrate it today when her eyelids are wide awake to join the celebration. Littering her final resting place with message cards and roses will not be celebration of her life, but will be in mourning her passing, mourning our loss and hoping we could have done better for her while she was still alive.

Reading her obituary when she is no more will not be in exaltation of her name, but it will be exaltation of ours. It will be more about us than her. Spending the whole night at her vigil will not be in service of humanity, but in service of self. It will be self-exaltation, not selfless service. She may be a stompie in physical stature, but hers has been a giant’s life. She has indeed been a tower. But most importantly, she has been a beacon, especially in our politics which are often characterised by darkness.     

Of course, being a politician, she has, in some instances, promoted the interests of her party, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), but she has not done so in a manner that is detrimental to our country’s interests. Unlike her deputy, Honourable Kagiso Molatlhegi, she has been less divisive, less inflammatory. She has been more acceptable to both sides of the political divide in Parliament because of the fair manner in which she handled MPs.

For instance, it is reported that during the General Assembly when the 11th Parliament resumed business she reprimanded Members of Parliament (MP’s) across the political divide for undesirable behaviour.  I had the privilege of serving the youth under her stewardship when she was Minister of Youth, Sport & Culture. At the time, I was Executive Director of the Botswana National Youth Council (BNYC). In her, the youth truly had a mother. Fortunately, during her tenure she had an exceptionally good Director of the Department of Culture & Youth, Mrs. Tlhabologo Ndzinge, who the youth also called mother.

I remember the time when government wanted to pass a BNYC Bill that would have made it almost a government department, contravening the Common Youth Councils’ principles. She, much against many in her party, listened to the youth’s voice, and she withdrew the Bill at the verge of its adoption by Parliament, saving the BNYC to live to fight another day though it was later obliterated by the former Minister of Youth, Sport & Culture, Honourable Thapelo Olopeng.

I remember the time when some cabinet ministers and BDP Members of Parliament (MPs) who were fighting their political battles with the then BNYC Executive Director, Dikgang Phillip Makgalemele, wanted BNYC’s funding stopped, but she stood up for the youth. Honourable Kokorwe, affectionately called Mma Stompie, stood up for the youth when she resisted the Department of Youth & Culture’s attempts to close BNYC’s district offices simply because its district officers did not want ‘competition’ from BNYC’s district officers.

I remember how she supported the drafting and adoption of a pro-youth and progressive National Youth Policy and National Youth Strategy. I remember how she tried, in vain, to prevail over the BNYC Board when a few Board members, who were acting as agents provocateurs for the BDP, were vying for my dismissal from the BNYC simply because they suspected that I was a member of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP).

She endorsed the National Youth Charter despite the fact that some in her party and in government generally regarded it as leftist. What mattered to her was its strategic foundations. In dealing with the youth, Honourable Kokorwe never bothered to enquire about their political affiliation. She related with the youth from her party, the ruling BDP, and the Opposition alike. No wonder Honourable Kokorwe, born on 28th November 1947 in Cape Town, South Africa, has had a very successful public life. Before joining politics, she had an illustrious career as senior civil servant.

That she rose from a position as low as a typist and minor clerical worker to Speaker of the National Assembly, especially during the time when gender inequality was rife, is indeed admirable. Honourable Kokorwe did not just become Speaker. She worked her way up the ladder, serving as Commercial Officer for  Lobatse; Town Clerk for Sowa Township Council and Gaborone City Council. She also served as Assistant Council Secretary for Kgatleng District; Chief Training Officer for local government officials and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for Kgatleng District.

In 1999, she was elected to the National Assembly. Former President, Festus Mogae, then appointed her Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Local Government, a position she served with aplomb until 2004.She then served as Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, becoming the first woman to hold the position, from 2004 to 2008, when former President, Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, appointed her as Minister of Youth, Sport & Culture, a position she held until 2009.

It was then that Honourable Kokorwe was called to the diplomatic service, becoming Botswana’s High Commissioner to the Republic of Zimbabwe, a position she held until 2014. Though she was based in Harare, Zimbabwe, she also had non-resident accreditation to   Malawi,   Mozambique, and Madagascar. After diplomatic service, Honourable Kokorwe returned to Parliament as Speaker of the National Assembly, a position she has held from November 2014 to date after defeating another giant of our time, Dr. Margret Nasha, who made history by becoming the first female Speaker of the National Assembly.  

Over and above making history as the first woman to hold the position of Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Honourable Kokorwe made history again when, in August 2008, she became the first parliamentarian in Botswana's history to have a private member's bill enacted into law. Honourable Kokorwe, one of the forerunners of Botswana’s feminist movement, successfully tabled the Domestic Violence Act which was passed into law in September 2008, a few months after she left Parliament in December 2009 when she was appointed Ambassador.

Honourable Kokorwe is one of the few public figures who have not faced any corruption scandal despite being in the public eye for well over four decades. She, despite the several positions she has held, has remained humble. She has been a true servant of the people who has put country commitment and honour above everything else. She is indeed a true patriot, a citizen par excellence.

I am aware that Honourable Kokorwe has been awarded a Presidential Order of Honour (PH). In my view, she deserves such a higher honour as Naledi Ya Botswana. I hope we do not wait until we bestow it upon her posthumously. I hope we do not wait until she passes on to name something after her. Does it mean that even Thamaga, a constituency she has served with such distinction, cannot name anything, even a classroom, after her?  

I have said before that we should celebrate our heroes and heroines when they are still mortals living among us rather than celebrate them when they are no more. In my view, honourable Kokorwe is one such heroines, a true patriot, a living legend and a citizen par excellence whose life deserves to be celebrated today for tomorrow may never come.



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