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Remembering General Mompati Merafhe

Publishing Date : 25 December, 2017

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

Ordinarily, at the end of the year, writers write about the year that was, reflecting on the positives and negatives thereto and making projections for the ensuing year. I too had such a compelling impulse, but I had this irresistible urge to write a remembrance of one of the greatest Batswana that ever lived, the General, Mompati Sebogodi Merafhe, who departed this world on 7th January 2015.

Though many remember him as having played a significant role in the factions within the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), Merafhe should rather be remembered for the role he played in the building of our country, Botswana. It is for this that I remember him for.  
Born on 6th June 1936 to Rre Sebogodi and Mme Nthanthele, and educated, albeit in a modest way, up to Standard 6 at Higher Primary School, Merafhe, as shall be shown below, went on to serve his country, Botswana, with distinction.

The odds of being born to a family of modest means, living mainly off pastoral farming at subsistence level, did not deter him. In his official obituary, from which I draw extensively, it was reported that he proved himself to be an outstanding pupil, who invariably topped his class.
This, it was said, was notably reflected in his mastery of both written and spoken English at an early age, something which became his trade mark even in later years. His English was simply impeccable.

In 1960, Merafhe joined the then Bechuanaland Protectorate Police Force. This, as reflected in his official obituary, was the beginning of a long and distinguished career, something which could only have been because of discipline and honour and commitment to serve one’s country.

Consequently, he rapidly rose through the ranks of the Police Force, and, in September 1971, he was appointed as Deputy Police Commissioner, becoming the first citizen to occupy such a position. Before becoming Deputy Commissioner he had served as a constable, prosecutor, and Instructor at the Botswana Police College.

Because of his quest for education, Merafhe did not end with his Standard 6 qualification. While a member of the Botswana Police Force he received additional academic and vocational training, which included a General Overseas Officer Police Duties Course at Wakefield in the UK in 1967. Owing to his exceptional academic abilities he, in the Wakefield examinations, came second in a class in which he was the only candidate who did not possess an academic degree.

Not only that. He also undertook an Executive Development Course at the Botswana Training Centre in 1968; the Overseas Police Officers Command Course at Bramshill Police College in the UK in 1970; and a Security Administration Course in London in 1972. Obviously owing to his exceptional leadership abilities and discipline, Merafhe was, in April 1977, appointed as the first commander of the newly formed Botswana Defence Force (BDF) at the rank of Major-General. He was elevated to Lieutenant-General in 1986.

As its founding commander, Merafhe, despite the scarcity of both material and human resources, played a pivotal role in the building of a disciplined and professional force that has become the envy of many, especially in Africa where some of the defence forces lack discipline and professionalism and occasionally wander from their mandate and enter such terrains as politics to the detriment of their country’s peace and stability.

After years of distinguished service, Merafhe retired from the army in 1989, though he continued serving as Chairman and Member of the Defence Council of Botswana for some time. In the same year he retired from the army he was elected as a Specially Elected Member of Parliament and appointed Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, a portfolio he served with distinction until 1994 when he was appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

It was during his tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs that Botswana became a fixture on the world stage. To me, he is the best Minister of Foreign Affairs that we have ever had, followed by the current Minister, Dr. Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi. Because of his unparalleled diplomatic prowess, those who did not know Botswana could have been forgiven to think that Botswana was a big player in the world stage. During his tenure Botswana truly punched above its weight.

His official obituary is right in asserting that as Minister of Foreign Affairs, General Merafhe emerged as an international statesman who was held in high regard by such eminent figures as Nelson Mandela and former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Consequently, as his stature grew he was entrusted with an increasing number of international assignments, while being co-opted into key task groups. He, among other assignments, served as a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Human Rights Network and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) from 1995 to 2002, also serving it as Chairperson from 1998 to 2002.

He also served as President in the Office of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States from September 2003 to February 2004. In 1995, he presided over the Security Council Resolution 976 during Botswana’s tenure as President of the Security Council, which paved the way for the deployment of the United Nations Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM III).

Then a fully-fledged politician, he, in 1994, contested and won the Mahalapye parliamentary seat, a seat he retained for fifteen years having been re-elected in 1999, 2004, and 2009. Indeed, his name had become synonymous with the Mahalapye constituency. On 1st April 2008, he was appointed Vice President of the Republic of Botswana and simultaneously became Leader of the House. As one of the Vice Presidents of the 65th Session of the UN General Assembly, he chaired a Session of the 20th to 22nd September 2010 High Level Plenary of the General Assembly on the Review of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Unfortunately, General Merafhe’s public service was cut short by illness and he, on 31st August 2012, stepped down from the Vice Presidency, handing over to one of the greatest sons of the soil, Ponatshego Kedikilwe. Of course, Merafhe’s life was not only defined by the Police Force, BDF and politics. He also made immense contributions in such other realms as sports, and civil society organisations, especially the former.

He, from 1978 to 1980, served as 
President of the Botswana Amateur Athletics Association, Botswana Netball Association and Cancer Association of Botswana and Tourism Association of Botswana. From 1980 to 1989 he served as Chairman of the Botswana National Sports Council (BNSC) and 
Botswana National Olympic Committee (BNOC).

He also, from 1984-1989, served in the Executive Committee of the Association of the National Olympic Committees of Africa representing Southern Africa and
President of the Association of National Olympic Committee of Southern Africa, which he served from 1987 to 1989.
He also served as Executive Member of the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa from 1980 to 1989.

Not forgetting his roots and, perhaps as a way of giving back to the BDF, which no doubt shaped his life, Merafhe also served as patron of BDF Tennis Club and BDF XI Football Club. He was also patron of Botswana Family Welfare Association (BOFWA); Botswana Amateur Athletics Association; Miscellaneous Sporting Club (Serowe) and Gaborone Choral Choir. He was Honorary Member of the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa; Tshole Trust; Bamalete Lutheran Hospital Hospice and Mahalapye District Hospital.

Because of the selfless and distinguished service he rendered to humankind, Merafhe departed this world a truly decorated individual, having received innumerable domestic and international honors and awards. Deservedly so, General Merafhe was, in November 2011, bestowed with Botswana’s highest honour, Naledi Ya Botswana. He also obtained the
Presidential Order of Honour;
Botswana Police Medal for Meritorious Service;
Distinguished Service Medal and
Founder Officer Medal
Legion of Merit from the United States of America (USA).

He also received the Legion of Honour from France; BNSC’s
Chairperson’s Award;
Friendship Medal of the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba; and
Honorary Professorship by Shanghai Normal University of China in July 2010.In October 2010 he had bestowed on him the World Citizen Award for Excellence from The Bahamas. Merafhe’s was a life truly lived and worth remembering.



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