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Celebrating our heroes and heroines: Dr. Gaositwe Chiepe

Publishing Date : 12 September, 2017

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

The week before last we celebrated Michael Dingake. Sadly, last week we lost one of our heroes and heroines, Kebatlamang Morake, for whom we had to, after wiping our tears, write a tribute.

This week we celebrate yet another of our heroes and heroines, Dr. Gaositwe Chiepe, daughter of Moruti Tibe Chiepe and S. T. Chiepe (nee Sebina). Gaositwe Keagakwa Tibe Chiepe was born on 20th October 1922 in Serowe, seventy five years after Dr. David Livingstone introduced Western education among Batswana at Kolobeng in 1847. Writing a celebration for such a giant as Dr. Chiepe is indeed a toll order. Writing for Mmegi newspaper, Jerry Kai-Lewis said “the task seems impregnable when one considers her many accomplishments...”

He continued to say “...How does one do justice to a life and career replete with landmarks at every juncture? One avenue could be to look at her life against the backdrop of the issues and prevailing social attitudes of the day”. Dr. Chiepe’s colorful educational path started at Serowe Primary School. At the end of her primary school she was the best student in the country and was offered a bursary for her secondary education at Tiger Kloof near Vryburg in the Cape Colony, South Africa.

She later studied at University of Fort Hare where she obtained a Bachelor of Science degree and Postgraduate Diploma in Education, becoming the first Motswana woman to earn a Diploma and college Degree.  She, in 1958, went to the University of Bristol, England, for a Master's degree, becoming the first Motswana woman to earn a postgraduate degree. Demonstrating her love for Education, her Masters’ Degree thesis was entitled "An Investigation of the Problems of Popular Education in the Bechuanaland Protectorate in Light of a Comparative Study of Similar Problems in the Early Stages of English Education and in the Development of Education in Yugoslavia and Uganda."

Having started her education the year her father died she no doubt, with only her mother to fend for her, faced an uphill battle in the pursuance of her education. This more so that it was during an era when it was, owing to our patriarchal society, not easy for a girl child to thrive in her educational path. She was awarded an honorary degree from DePaul University, United States. She began her career in the Bechuanaland Protectorate Government in the Department of Education and was one of the first two Africans appointed to an administrative position as Education Officer in the colonial government.

Her granddaughter, Moduduetso Lecoge, was right in asserting through her play, which premiered on 14th to 16th April 2016 at Moving Space (at Maru-a-Pula School), that  her grandmother was a woman of many firsts. She has had an illustrious civil service career. She was the first female Education Officer of Botswana. She served as assistant from 1948 to 1953; Education Officer from 1948 to 1953; and Education Officer (with administration and inspectorate duties) from 1953 to 1962.

From 1962 to 1965 Dr. Chiepe served as Senior Education Officer. She became Deputy Director of Education from 1965 to 1967; and Director of Education from 1968 to 1970. Dr. Chiepe also had time for civil society service. She was National Deputy Commander of Girl Guides in 1953, 1957, and 1963. She, in 1981, became Chairperson of the Botswana Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA). From 1981 to 1983 she served as Chairperson of the Africa Region of the CPA.
She was, in 1973, admitted as a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In 1982 she served as Honorary President of the Kalahari Conservation Society (KCS). In 1984 she was appointed Patron of the Forestry Association of Botswana (FAB).

Dr. Chiepe was also a woman of many firsts in politics. She was, in 1974, appointed by the late president, Sir Seretse Khama, as the first female cabinet minister, having been elected as a Specially-Elected Member of Parliament (SEMP). Dr. Chiepe proved her popularity with the electorate when she was, in a by-election in 1977, popularly elected to Parliament representing the Serowe South constituency in the Central District of Botswana. Dr. Chiepe is no doubt Botswana’s most decorated career diplomat. She has, from 1970 to 1974, served as High commissioner to the United Kingdom and Nigeria and Ambassador to the then   West Germany, France, Denmark,  Norway, Belgium,   Sweden and the  European Economic Community (EEC).

She actively participated in negotiations with EEC for Lome I, Lome II, and Lome IV and was Chairperson of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Council of Ministers. During her tenure in the Diplomatic service Chiepe traveled widely in Southern Africa, Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States of America(USA), Canada, China, the Caribbean, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the Pacific Islands. In 1994 she came back home, serving as Minister of Trade and Industry From 1974 to 1977. From 1977 to 1984 she served as Minister of Mines & Natural Resources. In 1984, she went back to diplomatic service but now as Minister of Foreign Affairs, a position she held until 1994.

In 1994 Chiepe went back to the field for which she was trained, Education. She served as Minister of Education between 1994 and 1999 when she retired from the public service after nearly thirty years of country commitment and honour. Dr. Chiepe the Intellectual and Educator, was, together with such stalwarts as the late Kebatlamang Morake, instrumental in the formulation Botswana’s education system. As a diplomat, politician, and cabinet minister she contributed to the development of Botswana’s domestic and foreign policy.

Hers has been a life of selfless service to one’s country. This has not gone unnoticed since she has obtained honorary doctorate degrees from the Universities of Bristol and DePaul. She was also awarded national honors by both Great Britain and Botswana. She was named Chief Councillor of the Royal Order of King Sobhuza II by Swaziland. The Botswana government needs to be commended for acknowledging Dr. Chiepe’s contribution to Botswana’s development. She has been awarded the Presidential Order of Merit and the Presidential Order of Meritorious Service.

Dr. Chiepe has also been acknowledged internationally. Her awards include the Commander of Royal Order of Polar Star from the King of Sweden, Member of the Order of the British Empire, Honorary Doctor of Education from the University of Fort Hare, Honorary Doctor of Literature and Philosophy from the University of Chicago in the U.S and Honorary Doctor of Laws from Bristol University. Few mortals remain in the public service for so long almost without blemish. This is what Dr. Chiepe has been. It is such people we should celebrate during their lifetime, not when they have departed.

Where ever she is, her late mother, whom she says “... was a wonderful woman who always seemed to have an answer for every eventuality and her answer would always be appropriate...”, would indeed be proud of her. It is for such people that our schools, roads and hospitals should be named after. It is for such people that a hero and heroines acre should be established for their burial. It is for such people that a Hall of Fame should be built for their names and contributions to be indelibly inscribed for future generations to learn from.



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