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Thursday 15 November 2018, 14:12 pm.
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ETCETERA ||

Robert Oakeshott 1933 - 2011
By Staff Writer Fri 16 Nov 2018, 03:30 am (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: ETCETERA ||








Robert Oakeshott was working in Lusaka enjoying the euphoria of an independent Zambia when he first met van Rensburg, decided to join him in Swaneng and immediately started making plans.  In her diary entry for November 12th 1966, Sheila Bagnall recorded that, 'we are importing a pukka economist, Robert Oakeshott, who used to work on the Financial Times and was a Liberal candidate in the last (UK) election.  He and Pat (van Rensburg) have already formulated a scheme for experimenting in intermediate technology.  Inevitably this involves the science department, and hence me.  We have draft plans for a large lime kiln and a small blast furnace. Some karakul lambs are in the offing and heaven knows what else is in prospect.'

In June, she listed the staff with comments about each one.  Of Robert Noel Waddington Oakeshott she remarked, 'English. Economist. Teaches Civics when he must.  Writing textbook on school civics and in general charge of new Brigades.  Has difficulty with his waist line from which belts fall, shirts flap and underpants peep. 

Terribly intelligent and overbearing but kind soul at heart.  Extremely academic'.  Forty four years later  it is worth recalling Sheila's comments when remembering Robert who died in London on the 21st of last month having suffered a heavy stroke and been incapacitated for several months. Since Independence, several thousand people of different nationalities have come to this country for varying reasons and for short periods of time.  Very few of that number will have left their permanent mark here and been, especially remembered. But of that elite group, Robert Oakeshott must come near the top of the list. Swaneng attracted a wide range of individualists all eager to make a contribution, many being young short term volunteers.  Robert, with Sheila and van Rensburg were, therefore, amongst the few who were both older and around for longer periods.  Together they made a remarkable, contrasting lead triumvirate - van Rensburg the ex-South African Afrikaaner diplomat, Sheila the career educationalist who had been involved with Oxfam in the Algerian war of liberation, and Robert the English patrician, intellectual, economist with a classical education, and journalist who had trekked to Hungary during the 1956 uprising.  Sheila looked after the school whilst Robert seized his opportunity to open up a range of development initiatives, establishing a Farmers Brigade and ranch at Paje and by reinventing civics as development studies and drafting a course which was recognised by the government and taught for many years throughout the country.

He then began the ground work to get Shashe River School established being its first hands-on

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Principal running both school and new Brigades.  In 1970 he participated in the Botswana Society's Conference in Gaborone on Developing the Kalahari and startled many of those present by quoting La Rochefoucauld (in French, of course) and then by giving them his own maxim - that a cow has no added value, however, many herdsmen follow it around all day in the bush.

When he left Botswana in mid-1971 it was with a lifelong commitment to empower people by developing both their productive and management skills.  Drawn to communities left bereft by economic change, he settled in Sunderland in north east England, once famed for its ship building - but then experiencing massive unemployment.  Robert's valiant attempt to create cooperative employment there eventually failed.  There then followed his establishment of the company, Job Ownership in London and his involvement with the famed Mondragon federation of worker cooperatives in Spain on which he became a recognised authority.  Following the collapse of the USSR the previously subservient countries of eastern Europe opened up and Robert was frequently engaged, particularly in Bulgaria, as each country sought new ways of stimulating productivity and creating employment.  Even when prostate problems reduced his mobility, he was still able to move around, even to re-visit this country perhaps five years ago.  Here, he took great pride in the career achievements of those he had taught at Swaneng and Shashe and in the country's progress.  Responding to my concern about increasing corruption he once suggested that robber baron corruption here, contained internally, was infinitely less worrying than the next stage when huge sums are expatriated abroad.

Robert was one off, or being a twin, a two off continuing a family tradition of public service, but in less usual areas of need. Robert, as Sheila accurately noted, was indeed terribly intelligent, extremely academic but a kind soul at heart.  He was also infinitely polite, generous, amusing, caring and hospitable. Answering my question as to why he had chosen to live in Hackney, an unfashionable, cosmopolitan area of northern London, he explained that housing costs there were within his range and that its mixed population had great appeal for him.  There the quintessential English gent was at home, with his mixed bag of neighbours, Brit, Cypriot, Iraqi,  or Turk living with them in social ease - somehow a rightful culmination for someone who had chosen to use his privileged background and education for the betterment of others.  A rare, lovely person who enjoyed a full, rewarding life and gave so much so widely, not least to this country.

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