As Africans, we must observe the five stages of mourning for our dead people lest we carry the trauma of loss for the rest of our lives and pass unshed tears on to the next generations as “unfinished business.”Rampholo Molefhe will always be in print, on air and in tune. His life and work forms an impressive part of Botswana’s politico-cultural heritage. The timbre of his voice, the turn of his written phrase, the embrace of his musical finger-work, the tone of his character, his incisive intellect, the tenacity of his memory, are all special. Gaborone and Botswana and South Africa will never forget his work. Molefhe belongs to a distinguished gallery of Southern Africa’s most intriguing cultural operatives.
To do the kind of things that Molefhe was involved in, one needs generosity of spirit, political courage and cultural acumen. Individuals with shrivelled spirits, narrow outlooks and those who harbour all kinds of superstitions cannot adequately carry out the tasks that Molefhe preoccupied himself with. The inventory of Molefhe’s work is staggering. His record speaks for itself. Anyone can make a career out of listing his activities. Index his work we must because he left a legible mark. Molefhe wrote himself into our conscience. His signature is there in the registers of all the good causes you can think of in this country. In fact, Molefhe himself defined national character.
Molefhe was not one to nibble around the edges of activities. He plunged right into them and devoted himself to them with genuine intellectual passion which made him forget all other things, sometimes for weeks and even months. Intellectual effort was both a pleasure and vital necessity for him. We marvelled at the way he detested taking short cuts.It is evident that by the time he was in his mid-teens, Molefhe was already in the process of making his mind ideologically as it often happens with such precocious and conscientious souls. He took a stand and adhered to it for the rest of his life. The story of his life is that of an unrepentant visionary.
Molefhe was keen to liaise with the existing structures of the most progressive unions with the aim of producing working class publications. Many of the questions he raised about his country remain unanswered. We still want to know what happened in 1652, in 1884 in Berlin, the circumstances surrounding the 14th of June 1985 or May 2009. Marikana is a question mark. We still want to know why the world is what it is. Molefhe undertook to examine Botswana’s class formations and interests within the broader context of an imperialist system.
Molefhe perfectly fits Edward Said’s definition of an intellectual as “an individual endowed with the faculty for representing, embodying, articulating a message, a view, an attitude, philosophy or opinion to, as well as for, a public. And this role has an edge to it, and cannot be played without a sense of being someone whose place it is to raise embarrassing questions, to confront orthodoxy and dogma (rather than reproduce them), to be someone who cannot easily be co-opted by governments or corporations, and whose raison d être is to represent all those people and issues that are routinely forgotten or swept under the rug. (Said, 1993:11-12)Molefhe’s journalistic, musical and political callings required a great deal of application, patience and resourcefulness. One needs at least three lifetimes to do the assignments that Molefhe chose to burden himself with. He was always harping on about the Botswana Jazz Appreciation Society. He worked hard to organise journalists and musicians. He was in the process of writing a comprehensive history of Botswana music. A history that reminds us of the outstanding artists such as Blackie Selolwane and bands such as Mofufutso, Every Mother’s Child, Badiri, the In- Crowds, Imagine and Demote.
The continued falsification of history, particularly the history of Southern Africa, was a source of bother to him. For him, the record had to be set right. He detested bare-faced fallacies bandied about by political opportunists of all hues. He frowned upon bogus souls who continue to foul the artistic and intellectual air. He had no kind words for shameless social-climbers.His work, in which he acquitted himself well, involved finding words that accurately depict how particular modes of production and specific social relations are experienced and resisted in contemporary Botswana. Molefhe stands as prima inter pares when it comes to pioneering a suave, ideologically sound and historically informed brand of investigative journalism in Botswana. Molefhe was always building institutions of independent and critical expression such as the Press Club, Penlight News, Wordworks and Rampholo and Freedom of Expression.
Though well-acquainted with liberation struggles across the international spectrum, Molefhe believed that at show-time, Botswana politico-cultural activists should act in a manner that reflects the specificities of the local situation.He would insist “Ke golo ga Botswana”. He was open to external influences but was against uncritical importation of values.He was always willing to share knowledge relating to his musical and journalistic vocations.We have had the good fortune of witnessing Molefhe scrupulously dispensing advice to medical doctors, taxi drivers, political activists, teachers, accountants, and administrators at the oddest hours and places. We are beneficiary of his wisdom. He said to one Tiro Sebina in an unhurried and bellowing voice that seemed to come out of Radio Freedom: “Comrade Tiro, you are good at listening but try to teach yourself how to listen like a baby.Cultivate the memory of an elephant.” Unforgettable lessons from Chumza, Chumzilo, Chumza Wee!
We are reminded of Milan Kundera’s words in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting that “the struggle of human beings against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Molefhe knew the value of memory. African-American jazz legend Louis Armstrong, as quoted in the New Yorker of 8th July 1944, put it eloquently: “The memory of things gone is important to a jazz musician. Things like old folks singing in the moonlight in the backyard on a hot night or something said long ago.”
We may refer to Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, (1967). Fanon observes: “In every country of the world there are climbers, the ones who forget who they are, and in contrast to them, the ones who remember where they came from.” Molefhe belongs to the latter set.Like every individual, Molefhe had his contradictions, imperfections, eccentricities, excesses, indulgences and vanities. If Molefhe has detractors, they had better repent because there is a whole band of permanent persuaders that is ready to be mobilised in defence of Rampholo Molefhe’s legacy. This troupe of politico-cultural workers will spare no effort in the refurbishing and preserving Molefhe’s memory. They will use trombones, meropa, melodi, digaba, metontonyane, trumpets, flugelhorns, poetry, short stories, treatises, paintings, guitars, pianos and keyboards as well as well-crafted sentences written and spoken in all languages of the world to adduce evidence that, by and large, the line that Molefhe towed was correct.
History and herstory, and even future-story are on Molefhe’s side.Molefhe was, above all, determined to write and disseminate a history of resistance and reconstruction. He indentified with and demonstrable respect for the resilience of ordinary working class people. He contested establishment ethos and ideas, not only in Botswana but also globally.Conceptual categories such as: uneven development, exploitation, inequality, injustice, conflict, class struggle and resistance were staples of his lexicon. The things he cared deeply about include the production of a regular BNF publication and the resuscitation of a systematic and well-thought-out programme of political and cultural education for activists. For decades, Molefhe has been inducing headaches and insomnia on the parochial sections of the ruling class. He was instrumental in revealing a lot of issues that the members of the Botswana’s nomenklatura would have preferred to keep concealed.
Molefhe was interested in politics of commitment, progress, principle and hope. Whenever we felt thirsty for fine-grained historical perspective all we had to do was call to find out where he was and make our way there. We admired his willingness to subject Marxist classics to nuanced re-reading. His favourite amongst Marx’s works was Grundrisse. He was also partial to John Reed’s classical eye-witness account of the 1917 Russian Revolution, Ten Days that Shook the World.We sought him out whenever we felt the need to discuss the work of Hungarian Marxist George Lukács, Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, who pioneered the study of culture as a mode of political struggle, and German Marxist Rosa Luxemburg.
When we needed to remember the political legacy of Kwame Nkrumah, Frantz Fanon, Walter Rodney, Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara, Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, Bantu Biko, Ruth First, Onkgopotse Tiro, Angela Davis, Huey Newton of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defence, George Jackson and Irish revolutionary Bobby Sands, Chumza was the point person.
Molefhe did not hold a magic key to any door but it was worthwhile to consult him when fresh plans for Botswana’s liberation project were formulated. We remain grateful for Molefhe’s wealth of experience, foresight, determination and sound orientation.He liked watching recorded performances of jazz composer Thelonious Monk playing tunes such as ‘Round Midnight, Epistrophy, Blue Monk and Lulu’s Back in Town.In appreciation of a fruit cocktail offered to him in his hospital bed he switched on that huge smile of his and referred to the beverage as “revolutionary.” First-rate Tanjtie! We cherish his enduring sense of gratitude.We would like to dedicate to the loved and loving Rampholo Molefhe a poem by Bertolt Brecht entitled ‘In Praise of Communism’:
It’s sensible, anyone can understand it.
You’re not an exploiter, so you can grasp it.
It’s a good thing for you,
Find out more about it.
The stupid call it stupid and the squalid call it squalid.
It’s against squalor and against stupidity.
The exploiters call it a crime but we know:
It is the end of crime
It is not madness, but the end of madness.
It is not the riddle but the solution
It is the simplest thing so hard to achieve.
Ga se gone fela mmina Phofu ya Tonota, Morwa Topo James-Rampholo-Molefhe-Tholo-Molebatsi-Majatho-Makole-Monyai-Madisakwana-Lesele-Motebele-Mohurutshe-Malope-Masilo. Tsa rona dikgang ga se tse di felang. Go na le leboko la ga Kgafela oa Magogodi mo lekwalong le go tweng Outspoken (2004), le bidiwa ‘Mo Faya’. Ke gakologelwa o tshameka Keyboard ko Extension 10, o mpatile ke bala leboko le le latelang:
Ga ke boke ke kgwa ditlhase
Ke tlhatsa sa tladimothwana e ratha lefatshe
Ke legala ke kgwa molelo
Ga ke kgobola molelo ke a o kgwa
Molelo ke okgwa ka molomo
Ke phepheng ke a baba
Ke baba se Lumumba
Ke baba ke babela babilone
Ke baba ke babela babilone
Babilone ya wara
Ke umaka che guevara
Ya re eo tsietsi
Ga ke kgotla mochini
Ke sheshela se mashinini
Ke kokota mabati
Ke batla kimathi
Ke gopola ditiro
Tsa ga onkgopotse tiro
Ke kokota kokota mabati
Ke batla kimathi
Ya re ke duba ditopo
Ke oka diboko ka poko
Ya ke epa dibodu
Ke tsosa dipoko
Ya re tshosa ditlhapi
Ke tlhapisa ditlhapa
Ke roga makgoa
Nna ga ke itire
Ke tenwa ke bogatlapa
Ke tenwa ke go rekisiwa
Go rekisiwa ke ditlatla
Ke tenwa ke tlala ya bana
Naga e hupile dijo
Dijo tsa metlhale yotlhe
Bana ba lela
Ba lela selelo
Ba lelela molelo
Ba kua ba goa ka sekgoa
Bare more fire
Ka lebitso la biko ba bua
Bare more fire
Ba kua ba goa ka sekgoa
Bare more fire
Ka lebitso la sobukwe ba bua
Bare more fire
Rampholo Molefhe, a kagiso e nne le wena, monnamogolo wa senatla tsa dinatla