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Remembering Sir Ketumile Masire: one year on!

Publishing Date : 04 July, 2018

Ndulamo Anthony Morima
EAGLE WATCH


About one year ago, on 22nd June 2017, former president Sir Ketumile Masire passed on. The nation mourned. The nation lamented and decried the fall of a democrat. While many Batswana’s heats were heavy, many consoled themselves with the knowledge that a democrat had rested.


Today, one year on, the life of this great soul that once walked our land is worth remembering. In their book, ‘The Hidden Injuries of Class’, Richard Sennett and Jonathon Cobb wrote: “character is expressed by loyalty, and mutual commitment, or through the pursuit of long term goals, or by the practice of delayed gratification for the sake of the future end.”


This, in my view, defines the person that Sir Ketumile Masire was. It would be remiss to ascribe the word ‘personality’ to the democrat that Masire was. His was character, not personality. His was charm, appeal, atmosphere, attractiveness, charisma, and oddity. His oddity, though, was neither quirk nor foible; it was neither idiosyncrasy nor eccentricity; it was neither twist nor kink. It was not tic either. It was a peculiarity rooted in incomparable humility.   


Rra Gaone, as he was affectionately called, led a life defined by loyalty. I remember with fondness when, in a programme aired on Botswana Television(Btv), one of his siblings, almost his age, referred to him as his father, recounting how he became a ‘father’ to them following the death of their parents at an early age. He said his care for them was like warmth itself.  His eyes glittered with happiness when he stated that when Mma Gaone joined the family after marrying Rra Gaone she became their ‘mother’. As a result, they have, though orphans, never felt they were orphans.


I remember that in the same Btv programme, Mma Gaone narrated Rra Gaone’s loyalty to her as a wife, stating that he treated her as an equal, respected her and consulted her in all matters that touched on their livelihood. He referred to him as ‘Rre’ almost as if he was more than a husband to her. A parent of some sought. Yet, she did not appear as though she had been subjugated. She did not regard herself as inferior to him. It was almost as though she regarded herself as an unequal equal; a subordinate superior; a wife cum daughter; but a wife cum mother too.


To Rra Gaone, respect for democracy did not mean that other life attributes should be compromised. His brother stated how Rra Gaone used to discipline them with love when they engaged in deviant behavior. Andrew Sesinyi, Rra Gaone’s former Chief of Protocol, has said ‘Rre Masire one ale bogale, mme one a loma a fodisa’, meaning that he was a disciplinarian, but also knew how to soothe people’s feelings after disciplining them.


If soothing means calming, pacifying, quieting, mollifying, appeasing and lulling then I agree with Sesinyi. This, as all Batswana know, he did through, inter alia, the dinyawe, i.e. jokes that have become his trade mark and have become a heritage for our people. One tribesman, a lot younger than Rra Gaone, narrated how Rra Gaone used to give them lifts to the cattle post in his van. We knew, the tribesman said, that every Friday he would be driving to the cattle post so we waited for him. He even remembered the vehicle’s number plates.


Rra Gaone was not only loyal to his family. He was loyal to his country which he served as a teacher, journalist, farmer, Vice President, President and father. His was not just service though. It was voluntary servitude. His life was the epitome of country commitment and honour for the youth, men and women of this beloved Botswana, our land. For, there are very few mortals who serve mankind as though they are serving God Almighty. There are very few mortals who serve their people for more than forty eight years and retire almost blemishless.


Though still very popular when his time to retire came he did willingly. When many of his peers in Africa clung to power to the detriment of their people he listened to his conscience and left. Knowing that he owed Batswana a farewell he travelled the length and breadth of this country bidding them farewell.


Rra Gaone’s calling was not just to serve Batswana. His was to also serve the world. As we lamented in that June of 2017, Basotho too lamented. So too did the Zaireans for they knew peace because of him. Not even when his life was in peril did he relent. What selfless human being was this? Sesinyi said he was humbled when, despite his plane being shot at in August 1988 while flying over Angola on his way from Gaborone to a meeting in the Angolan capital, Luanda, he nonetheless wanted to continue assisting in peace keeping missions in war torn countries.


Rra Gaone’s life was for both the present and the future, but probably more for the latter. He had this insatiable pursuit for long term goals. The vision he bequeathed upon us, Vision 2016, is a case in point. Rra Gaone was a true disciple of the practice of delayed gratification for the sake of the future end. This he showed not only through the long term vision, Vision 2016, but also through the potentially politically suicidal political reforms he championed.


As a true democrat, he reduced the voting age from 21 to 18; he introduced the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC); the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC); the Ombudsman and external balloting. Being the democrat he was he tolerated those with differing political ideologies. Leach Thomelang, formerly of the Botswana National Front (BNF), has narrated how Rra Gaone used to engage him in national assignments despite belonging to the Opposition.


BNF Secretary General, Moeti Mohwasa, has stated that during Rra Gaone’s tenure as President the All Party Caucus where the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) met with all Opposition parties to discuss political issues, especially those related to elections, was functional. Rra Gaone was a statesman. Yet, he never forgot his roots. Obviously influenced by his love for farming, he championed the introduction of such Agricultural programmes as Accelerated Rainfed Arable Programme (ARAP), Arable Lands Development Programme (ALDEP), Services to Livestock Owners in Communal Areas (SLOCA) and the Financial Assistance Programme (FAP).


Rra Gaone was proud of his culture as a Motswana. He loved Setswana and spoke it with such eloquence that very few who rise to his heights do. Being a graduate of Tiger Kloof and being a state President did not make him claim to have forgotten some Setswana words.  Though I had always known that he is humble, when I met him in January 2016 I was humbled by his humility. He was unassuming. He made me feel important. He gave me about three hours of his time during which we collegially discussed the state of our nation, Botswana.


He told me that though he does not always agree with what I write, he appreciates my contribution to the growth of our democracy. He never asked me which political party I belong to. He never recruited me to join his party, the BDP. He never asked about my tribe. He lamented how our cow, Botswana, is dying before our eyes; how we are regressing as far as adherence to democracy is concerned; how our leaders no longer listen to the people; and how our commitment to tolerance as a nation is waning.


He bewailed how our leaders do not listen to advice from former leaders and the elderly. In his trade mark laughter he said ‘Monna gatwe we want to rule from the grave’. He disclosed how he was among those who were accused of contributing to the formation of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), a political party that splintered from the BDP in 2010.


He mourned that had the BDP leadership listened to the advice of such leaders as Dr. Gaositwe Chiepe the late Gomolemo Motswaledi would not have been suspended from the BMD and the formation of the BMD would probably have been avoided. He bemoaned how we, as a nation, are departing from such principles as ‘therisanyo’ i.e. consultation that our founding President and his predecessor, Sir Seretse Khama, sacrificed so much to set, of course with his help and that of our other founding fathers and mothers.


Towards the end of our meeting, in his characteristic jokes, he said ‘Rra ke seka ka go beela ruri fa ka nna Mosadi wame o ntlogetse. O tshwanetse wa ya lapeng ka nako oe go bona Mosadi’ loosely translated to mean ‘Sir, I should not keep you here longer because my wife is late. You have to go home in time for your wife.


Of course, we continued our meeting for about thirty minutes after, during which time I expressed concern how we, as a nation, do not recognize and honour our leaders during their life time. He expressed similar concern, but did not speak much on the subject matter, perhaps because it affected him. After the meeting, he, through his Private Secretary, Fraser Tlhoiwe, sent his gratitude that I honored his invitation and attended the meeting.

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