Motsamai Mpho's time shaped his ideas, influenced his actions and the way he lived. His experiences were always informed by his deep Christian beliefs and values instilled in him from childhood. In order to understand Mpho we have to reflect on the context of the society in which he lived, along with the ethical values derived from his religion and experiences.
These ethical values take a unique twist as he meanders through life's experiences. We cannot, for example, realistically expect the man - who in 1948 was found sitting under a tree taking notes at the hearing where his people, the Bayeyi, were requesting minimal tribal rights from slavery and peonage - to Bechuanaland and return in 1960 to initiate a political party, which placed him at the helm of the transformational leadership of the nation.
Yet without a thebe in his pocket but truth as his ally and a deep commitment to equality, a sense of righteousness and absolute determination, Mpho led the Bechuanaland Protectorate towards independence and gave the country a name, Botswana. To say his actions disturbed those in power is a gross understatement. With thousands of followers rallying behind the Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) flag from 1960 to1962, Mpho and the party created a new public space for political discourse called the 'Freedom Square'.
They shook the rulers, both black (i.e. the chiefs) and white (i.e. the British colonialist) to their core and led them directly into the creation of an opposition, the Bechuanaland Democratic Party (BDP), which rules the country to this day. In 1960, to the average person, the tribe and its chief were most important. Party politics and the country that came to be known as Botswana did not exist. The movement for Botswana's independence, which he initiated with the development of the nation's first active political party, originated from his basic Christian beliefs
It was this belief in the core values of Christianity that manifested into a political activism, which had evolved over time from Mpho's participation in his tribe's civil rights struggle to a demand for equality and human rights for all as informed by the worldwide peace movement.
In his own words
"I was born on February 3, 1921 the third child of Keyecwe and Lobatse Mpho. Mother died the year I was born. I was my father's child of the BaYeyi tribe. My father was a Moyeyi while my mother was of a Morotse father and a Moyeyi mother. As BaYeyi, both my father and mother were slaves of the Batawana. I had to find a way of freeing myself, and then others, by spreading the idea of freedom of conscience first, because unless a person is conscious that he is born free, he will remain mentally a slave, which is the worst slavery, mental slavery. I knew that freeing my tribesmen only would never serve a good and a permanent purpose. The remedy was the formation of a national political party. The spirit of nationalism and political awareness came to Botswana by the understanding that unless the country had a political party we could not unite our different tribes into a nation.
Oneness of different tribes as equals and not as masters and servants, but equals, is what I call nationalism.I formed the Bechuanaland Peoples Party and sought independence for Botswana because we as a people and a nation were not free. We were oppressed by the British government, and in many cases the chiefs, who were their allies here. We could not vote for our representatives.
We could not live where we choose to live in our own country. Without the consent of the chief, we could not send our children to schools and educate them to lead in future. There was no freedom of speech, because we could be fined and imprisoned for anything said against the system. And there was no freedom of assembly because we had to ask the permission of the chief to even hold a meeting.
There was no freedom to make the decisions, which affected our lives, in part because the capital of our country, then called Bechuanaland, was located in South Africa, which was under apartheid - someone else's country. Our rulers were foreigners who were not just from another race, but held other social, political, and economic goals from those we held, and were not held responsible for the decisions they made that affected our lives.
Grown men and women in Botswana were insultingly called 'boys' and 'girls' by the white rulers and discriminated against in all walks of life; for the whites were always viewed as better than Africans. I sought independence because I thought we could do a better job of ruling ourselves than the foreigners and chiefs had done during the Protectorate period.
I fought for independence because we needed to do something different to eliminate the vast poverty of our people and country, and it was not being done by the British. We said the British government had failed to look after our social lives, health, educational, cultural, mineral resources, economic development etc, therefore they must go.
We said Botswana was not a desert but a country rich in natural resources. We were correct in all respects. We said a free and independent Botswana would cooperate fully with other independent African countries so as to rid our continent (Africa) of all forms of foreign domination. That an independent Botswana would be a member of the Organisation of African Unity (AU) and would seek membership of the United Nations organisation and all its branches and would also seek membership in the Commonwealth of Nations. That Botswana would pursue a policy of non-alignment with ether East or West. We were correct.
The principles we stood for in the BPP in December 1960 can be best cited in the party's aims and objects
Aims and objects
To awaken the political consciousness of the people of Botswana.
To organise the unorganised inhabitants of Botswana into one united nation.
To organise and unite all the tribes of Botswana into one cohesive nation of equals, and establish a democratic government founded upon the will and participation of all inhabitants who are Batswana nationals.
To fight for the immediate economic independence of Botswana so that Botswana shall be free from economic pressure of the neighbouring white states.
To act against all oppressive and racially discriminatory laws and inhuman practices in Botswana.
To provide the advancement of the people and the development of Botswana economically, educationally, culturally, socially etc.
To cooperate fully with other independent African countries so as to rid the continent (Africa) of all forms of foreign domination.
To achieve these aims and objects by non-violent positive action as far as possible."
It is us who brought about freedom and independence in Botswana.Having been shaped by the ANC when I was finally deported to the then Bechuanaland Protectorate, I immediately thought of forming a political party for Bechuanaland Protectorate, which could call for immediate freedom and independence from the British government. [In general we] formed the BPP on the same lines of the ANC [only] if you understand the lines of the ANC to mean political freedom and independence of all the people ... irrespective of race, colour, creed or religion, as I understand it.
We were essentially saying that Botswana was not poor but was being exploited. Even in 1960s I never believed Botswana was poor. We always had trees, land, animals and mineral resources. The people were poor and underdeveloped, not the country. I created the first active political party in Botswana because the people of Botswana, and the country then known as Bechuanaland, under British colonial rule, were not free, and though we as people and a nation were said to be poor, even the poor need freedom.
To me freedom is an indivisible necessity, which every human being is entitled to enjoy. Freedom is peacefulness and happiness, and peacefulness and happiness are indivisible. That is why millions of men and women have lost their lives in search of freedom the world over. The struggle to gain freedom is continuously claiming millions of lives of people all over the world because it is indivisible, and because human beings [in the eyes of God] are born free and equal, regardless of their races, colour or religion.
A human being who is free thinks freely, speaks freely, worships in a church of his or her choice freely, moves around freely and he plans his future freely. He takes an active part in the election of the government of his or her country freely, and can stand for and contest any election freely. He can send his or her children to any school in his country freely. Can seek work of his or her qualifications anywhere freely in his or her country. Can have a house anywhere freely in his or her country without fear. He is free to express his or her opinion in writing to news media without fear etc.
There were no registered voters. Hence there was no Parliament or elected council. There were hardly any clinics, hardly any primary schools, which means there were hardly any secondary schools. There were no copper mines, no diamond mines, no coal mines, no soda ash mine, not one full tarred road, ordinary black people had no cars.
It was December 1960 when for the first time the representatives of the British colonial rulers in Bechuanaland Protectorate were openly and publicly told to hand over the reins of government and go back to England, the country of their birth, by one of the sons of the sub-tribes through the Botswana Peoples Party.
He said the British must go back and leave us alone to manage or mismanage our own affairs. We were very much correct in saying so, although it sounded as if we were mad, if not like we were day dreamers, in the ears of the then chieftainship leadership of the Botswana Democratic Party.
To them it was an insult to tell the British to hand over to us the government. They said we were not ready for self-rule because we were not educated. Political immaturity and ignorance among the Botswana Democratic Party chieftainship leadership was immeasurable. I can assure you that unless all peace loving peoples of the world stand up to fight for the realisation of World Peace, we too will be refugees somewhere one day. Freedom is indivisible. Thank you".
Motsamai Keyecwe Mpho died November 28th 2012 evening at 5:30pm at Princess Marina. Speaking for those who knew him, we are so happy to have had the chance to work with him, to talk to him about his life, to share moments of great joy and laughter with him, as we explored the shaping of the man, the shaping of Africa and Botswana, the country he loved so dearly. It meant a lot to him and to us. We have had the pleasure to work with a giant amongst men and for that we shall be forever thankful.
Personally as his biographer and adopted son, I am honoured to have written his story and to gain a deep understanding of his motivations, his driving spirit, and his will to bring about equality, peace, prosperity and freedom.