Mmegi Online :: Along came Gaositwe
Last Updated
Thursday 18 April 2019, 13:15 pm.
Along came Gaositwe

JERRY KAI-LEWIS talks to retired veteran public servant and pathfinder Dr Gaositwe Chiepe and learns: When we all respect one another, everyone will have something good to contribute
By Staff Writer Fri 19 Apr 2019, 13:26 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Along came Gaositwe

To all intents and purposes, the story of Dr Gaositwe Chiepe cannot be adequately told in the context of a profile. For it is much larger than that. The task seems impregnable when one considers her many accomplishments. 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.

Gaositwe Keagakwa Tibe Chiepe was born in Serowe on 20 October 1922, 75 years after Dr David Livingstone introduced Western education among Batswana at Kolobeng in 1847.

Up to that time, the direction of education among Batswana followed the common trend in the region - girls outnumbered boys at all levels of primary school. The explanation for this was that at school going age, most Batswana boys spent their days tending the family's symbol of wealth, cattle.

But after primary school, due to societal expectations, the number of girls who proceeded to secondary school took a drastic nosedive.

The reality for a school going girl of the day was that she would have to quit after primary school to contribute to life at home and receive training, bojale, necessary for the time she would have to manage her own home.

"It wasn't legal discrimination, it was attitudes. The girls were supposed to get married and look after their children and husbands, and therefore the little bit of education that the parents could give their children was more or less for the boys because they were going to perpetuate the family name and so forth. So I grew up in that sort of situation," says Dr Chiepe in an interview.

But fortunately for young Gaositwe, she had a very determined mother who, after the death of her husband, Moruti Tibe Chiepe, who died the year Gaositwe started school, made it her mission to see her daughter continue her schooling. Even in England, women were only enfranchised in the 1920s, allowing them paid employment and greater access to education.

But those changes were slow in coming to Bechuanaland Protectorate. "Infact, my father's cousins were very angry with my mother for keeping me in school when I should have left after four years because I could write my name in church when I got married.

So what more was she keeping me in school for? But I was very brilliant and she couldn't resist keeping me on," adds Dr Chiepe.

Infact, when she finished primary school in the late '30s, Gaositwe was the best student in the country and was offered a bursary to further her studies at Tiger Kloof near Vryburg in the Cape Colony, South Africa. Being far from home, and with her tuition provided for, the pressure on her mother was eased.

Established in 1904, Tiger Kloof was the first post-secondary and premier educational institution for Batswana, including young Sir Seretse Khama. But the decision to build the school in South Africa as opposed to Phalatswe (Palapye) had pitted Kgosi Kgama against the London Missionary Society (LMS). The issue revolved around freehold versus communal land. Batswana believed that land should not be sold or owned by individuals, as it was communal property. The LMS wanted freehold land they could buy, citing their loss of land when freehold titles were abolished in Kudumane (Kuruman) where they had first set up their mission among Batswana.

Therefore, between 1904 and 1928, Batswana - through the agency of Dikgosi - sought to take control of education. The land issue and cultural and ideological differences between Kgosi Kgama and the LMS aside, the main reason for the takeover was that Batswana, who were very eager to receive education and demonstrated that by sending their children to school in large numbers, were not satisfied with the London Missionary Society's curriculum, which focused on conversion to Christianity as opposed to academic or vocational education. Back then, the most prestigious jobs among Batswana were court interpreter, church minister, teacher and nurse. Dikgosi wanted the British colonial government to assume control of education so as to give Batswana more educational and vocational options.

For its part, the colonial government showed little or no interest in educating the 'natives' because, even in England, education was the preserve of local government, church or private enterprise rather than a national right. Another reason for its reluctance to take over the administration of schools from missionary control was that between 1907 and 1929, it wasn't clear whether or not the High Commission Territories (Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland) were going to be incorporated into the Union of South Africa. Except for its grants-in-aid to the various schools in the Protectorate, the colonial government left education in the hands of the various church missions. The role of the government was clear: to maintain law and order and safeguarding British commercial interests in Bechuanaland. It wasn't until after World War II and pressure from both Batswana and the missionaries that the colonial government took control of education.

The first step taken by Batswana to realize a proper post-primary school education institution within Bechuanaland Protectorate came with the levying of an extra hut tax to raise money for education. The first merafe to initiate this was Bangwaketse under Kgosi Bathoen, who, starting in 1909, charged an extra shilling in hut tax to aid the advancement of education among his subjects. In 1910, the contributions amounted to 217.30 pounds. Bakwena and Bangwato soon followed.

The building of 'Kgotla schools' like Seeipapitso and Kgari Sechele met the needs of a population hungry for education. Batswana returning from school at Lovedale, Tiger Kloof, Healdtown and Fort Hare were paid handsomely to teach at the Kgotla schools to satisfy this hunger. In Gammangwato, three such notable teachers were Tibe Chiepe and John and Simon Ratshosa. The result of this bold move was that literacy rates among Batswana, especially among Bangwato who made up most of the students returning from Lovedale and Tiger Kloof, rose. The crowing glory of this act of self-reliance was Moeng College (1948), which was funded and built by Bangwato under the leadership of Kgosi Tshekedi Khama to the tune of 100, 000 pounds.

During this time of great change, the number of boys entering post-primary schools and tertiary institutions was still higher than girls.

It was against this backdrop that Gaositwe made her way through three years of Tiger Kloof in the early '40s. In 1946, nearly a hundred years after Western education was first introduced among Batswana, along came Gaositwe Keagakwa Tibe Chiepe to become the first Motswana woman to earn a diploma and college degree after she obtained a BSc (Bachelor of Science) in education from the University Fort Hare, a school for 'natives' in South Africa. She also became the first Motswana woman to earn a postgraduate degree when she received her MA from Bristol University in the UK.

"When I was at school, especially primary and secondary school, I wanted to be a nurse because I loved my sister's starched uniform and the little hat. But then I realized I was too soft-hearted to help a patient in pain. So I gave that up. But what else could I do in those days when you were either a teacher or a nurse? I decided I was going to be a teacher, and I have never regretted it," she said.

After two years of teaching, Dr Chiepe embarked on what became the longest career in the public service for a Motswana woman which totalled 50 years. During her extensive career, she was appointed the first Motswana woman:

.Assistant Education Officer in 1948;
.Inspector in 1953; Senior Education Officer in 1962;
.Deputy Director of Education in  1965;
.Director of Education in 1968;
.Ambassador to: the UK, West  Germany, France, the European  Communities, Denmark, Norway and   Nigeria from 1970-74;
.Member of Parliament 1974;
.Minister of Trade and Industry 1974-77;
.Minister of Mineral Resources and Water Affairs 1977-84;
. Minister of External Affairs 1984-94;
.Minister of Education 1994-99.
   During this period she received many accolades, including:
.Presidential Order of Merit  (Botswana);
.Presidential Order of Meritorious  Service (Botswana);
.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;
.Honorary Doctor of Laws from  Bristol University.
But Dr Chiepe would be the first to admit that the sum total of one's life cannot be measured in terms of achievements and or possessions, but rather by the principles and values by which they lived. Looking back after ten years into her retirement from active public service, she pointed to several factors that shaped and guided her life and career.

First were her mother and the sense of community and family that influenced Batswana of her generation.

Her mother was her


sole influence for most, if not all, her life. "My mother was a wonderful woman. I don't know how she did it. She always seemed to have an answer for every eventuality and her answer would always be appropriate. And no job was below her. The way that she brought us up was that it didn't matter if you were one's child or employee, she treated us all the same," reminisced Dr Chiepe.

Coming from the era of Self-reliance or Ipelegeng, she said Batswana were very encouraging to one's accomplishments instead of being jealous. That same spirit of self-reliance and extended family led Batswana to work hard to provide for their families and communities, and children received primary guidance and direction from their parents.

"Today there is a lack of parental guidance, so boys and girls learn from things they see on television.

The parents have no time to guide them and help them because the parents are both busy. The father goes to work this way and the mother that way and they hardly see each other. They are too busy attending gala dinners, going away and leaving their children to the nannies; and when the children sulk they're given more money to go and buy whatever. So the children get to learn from all sorts of angles with very little parental guidance. A lot of children spend all their lives watching television, reading comics, watching terrorism, and then they want to try these things out," Dr Chiepe said.

This lack of parental direction is gnawing at the fabric of Tswana society. The current drive towards a uniform commercial culture is taking is threatening native cultures with many young people falling prey to social ills. "Today you find girls wanting to beat boys at their own game, even beating them at their own thing.

They are now coming up being sure of themselves, which is a good thing. No longer do women feel inferior because that can keep them away from what they really are capable of doing. Girls should not feel they can't, that this is too much for them, that they cannot do this or that.

There was a song - "Anything you can do, I can do better.' It's not necessarily an important attitude, but do what you can and do it to the best of your ability. You shouldn't try to do what you can't because you want to be like a man. How many men want to be like a woman? Why should women try to be like men?"

Today the job climate in Botswana is looking more promising than ever. But certain fields are becoming saturated and graduates are finding it difficult to find jobs. The reason for this, said Dr Chiepe, is that parents put undue pressure on their children to study what is popular as opposed to what the children really like. "For example, currently the government has been doing everything possible to encourage agriculture. It's not just a question of having tractors and getting free seed and all that. It's changing the people's attitudes because people thought to be educated, to be in an office learning complicated things, is the best. The Ministry of Agriculture, I think, has the most 'degreed' people and yet agriculture is still doing so little in influencing our way of life," said Dr Chiepe. The negative attitude Batswana have towards agriculture has left the country dependent on its neighbours and the world for its food supplies, a dangerous position for any country to be in.

Dr Chiepe said other value systems that moulded her were self-respect and a personal philosophy to do her absolute best at whatever task was at hand. Coming from a generation where so much was expected from women, she implores young girls and the youth of today to take advantage of the changes in society and the world to realize their true potential. "One big advantage now is that women can enter into whatever their qualities and capacity is without having to give that up because they are married and they must bring up children, they must get married and bring up children.

When I started work, a woman had to resign, automatically, once she got married. It was the rule from Britain, or whatever it was. So, it was important to decide, are you going to stick to your job and not get married or are you going to get married and give up your job? That only changed after independence. Girls now are able to do both."

Dr Chiepe now enjoys her retirement attending to various causes close to her heart, the closest being family. To young people seeking to emulate her:"First thing I say to girls is be yourself, don't try to be something else. Respect yourself and everyone will respect you. I worked in a man's world, everywhere I went I was practically the only woman, but they respected me."

To those who plan on being teachers: "They must love the work and love children. Loving children means you love people. You must be committed. You will meet children of all levels of ability. Nowadays, there are facilities here and there where certain children can be sent. In the olden days, they were all dumped in one class, the fast ones and the slow ones. You need to handle them all and give them the attention they need. And you can't say that because I'm a teacher I know everything. You must be prepared to learn, even from your students. And nowadays, even more so with the Internet and IT, children know much more than their teachers and teachers should not be ashamed of that."

On Batswana no longer seeing farming (agriculture) as a viable career: "When the people lived off the land, they could share everything they had. When they depended on their salaries, they're not going to share their money with anyone. I think we should change that attitude. A people should be proud of being farmers and producing food. And while they're proud of being farmers and producing food, we will all be healthy and not be fed by the United Nations."

On Batswana paying school fees: "I think Batswana have become too dependent on the government. When I went to school, parents paid school fees, whatever it was. And parents felt like they contributed to their child's education and as a student you felt you had to work harder. After independence, the government decided that in order for education to be accessible to all, let it be free. What's happening now is that parents don't want to share, even those who can afford it are against it. And the government says no child should be denied education because they can't afford it, but those who can should. But they don't want that, which is wrong."

On women's empowerment: "I think, again, it's a question of attitude. What do we mean by empowerment? In the past, women denied themselves empowerment because they shied away from certain things. The woman would chase the husband out of the kitchen saying other men would laugh at him. So, it's not the men who say the women must be in the kitchen - it's the women."

On quotas for women in Parliament: "I am against the idea of quotas for women in Parliament or councils. I don't think that it is right to put a woman in a position just because she's a woman. Nor do I want a woman to be denied a job because she is a woman. But I also do recognize that because so very few women are in such positions, they must be given a head start, hence the reason for a quota. But they must earn it.

They must not get it because they are women. Women must stand for elections, must be voted into Parliament or council by the majority who are women. I always tell people it is not important whether you are a man or a woman, it is important what you are and whatever you do, it is your best. If it is not your best, then it is not good enough for this country."

On her career and legacy: "I have enjoyed everything I have done. I have enjoyed the love and respect I have had from people everywhere I go. I'd like to say to Batswana and Africans that whatever you do, respect yourself and respect others.

Whatever you do, make sure it's your best. Everything I did was my best, hence I have no regrets. In Setswana, there is a saying: "Susu ilela suswane go re suswane a go ilele."

In other words, the high and mighty must respect the lowly so that the lowly may respect the high and mighty. When we respect one another, everyones respect will have something good to contribute."

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