When I parted with Beata on the 10th of last month as we alighted the Air Botswana flight BP 222 in the evening, after a two-hour delay in Johannesburg due to a technical problem on the aircraft, I did not know I was seeing her for the last time.
I regret why I declined her offer to drop me off at the office to collect my car on arrival in Gaborone.
Her husband, Patrick Kabango, had come to pick her up and because my driver was taking long to collect me, they offered to drop me off.
“Please, Beata the farm is the other way, you have to go and rest,” I said, indicating to her that we are going in opposite directions, as my office is in the Main Mall and they stay in Marokolwane, outside Rasesa.
It was already after nine in the evening. It had been a long day too, due to inordinate delays at airports.
Beata and I, together with three other local media executives, had just attended the Women In News (WIN) Africa Summit in Nairobi, Kenya. Beata, a former strategic Advisor for the World Association of Newspapers’ Women In the News initiative, was actually one of the facilitators at the conference.
This was just one of the advocacy forums that Beata was associated with as someone who was passionate about human rights in general, and women’s rights, in particular. Because of the strategic position that she occupied as a media personality, Beata saw her role in society as an agent of change.
She fought for redress of the plight of the Basarwa. And she was also on the forefront of the fight against patriarchy and all its manifestations in society.
I remember when I found out that she was attending the Nairobi conference a month or so earlier, I immediately called her and said to her that I looked forward to spending time with her away from the madness of our work in Gaborone.
“Ee tlhe monna, there is a lot of catching up to do and just to unwind,” I recall her saying enthusiastically. And indeed, to our credit, although the conference schedule was tight, we did find time to hang out together while in Nairobi.
On our way back, after going through stringent security checks at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, we recline at a table in a coffee shop for a snack. In no time, Beata pulls out her laptop, and says, “Titos, I have been wanting to show you how our Content Management System works”.
As she says that, I knew the time for banter is over. It’s now business. The application she is referring to is a work-flow management software that we have been talking about for the last year or so.
She switches on the laptop, and walks me through the system.
“I have access to the whole paper and can make changes on every section as I please from the comfort of my house without having to set my foot at the office,” she says.
“I can even make changes on the paper from here,” she adds.
We then get carried away in that discussion until a colleague from Zimbabwe who is passing by says, “I heard your flight number being called for boarding, you guys might be late”. We immediately gather our hand luggages and go towards the boarding gate, about 50 metres away.
As we await to board, she tells me about a freak accident she had in India towards the end of last year, when she flipped over and hurt her back as she was travelling back to Botswana. She says she was writhing in pain, but had to board the plane back to Gaborone that same day because she had things to do here. She endured the pain throughout the long journey until she arrived home. She was still not fully recovered from the injury
She could not believe when I told her that I suffered a similar mishap last October, when I slipped over a sliver of soap in the change-room at a local gym, and fell hard on my back as my head crashed on the tiled floor and momentarily blacked-out.
She recoiled when I told her I had to rush to the doctor’s office where I had four stitches in my back-arm as I had sustained a deep cut, having fallen over the edge of the shower door-step. I first met Beata 30 years ago, in May 1989 to be specific, when both of us had just cut our teeth into journalism. We were both attending a workshop organised by our mutual friend, veteran journalist Methaetsile Leepile, of Mmegi Publishing Trust, held at the President Hotel in Gaborone.
I had just joined Mmegi as a sub-editor and Beata was a freelancer. We were both in our 20s, idealistic and gun-ho about the prospect of contributing to a private media sector, which was just beginning to take root in the country.
My friendship with Beata blossomed from there until her untimely death this week. In the early 1990s she relocated to Namibia, but came back later, and joined Don Moore at the Francistowner (now The Voice) in Francistown. The Voice had just graduated from being a magazine to become a tabloid size newspaper mainly circulating in Francistown and its hinterland. Most of us in the mainstream media underestimated its potential to grow.
Once Beata came on the scene she changed the look-and-feel of The Voice, which at the time was a struggling small town paper, and turned it into a national weekly. She always reminded me, especially in the presence of her former critics that I was the only person back then who had faith in The Voice.
She would quip, “You were the only person who used to say The Voice is going to become the largest circulating newspaper in Botswana. Everybody else dismissed us”.
My prediction was based on the fact that the content of The Voice had appeal to a mass market because of its light human-interest orientation. I was right! For the last 10 years or so, Beata worked very hard to organise fellow publishers into a registered association. She believed that it was only through such a forum that media owners could engage meaningfully with government and the private sector.
Of course it was not always easy for her to bring together the leaders of the disparate media houses that tended to allow their personal egos and professional rivalry to cloud their judgement when dealing with issues that bedevil the media industry.
But Beata was not the one to be deterred. Following on the footsteps of the late Clara Olsen of the The Botswana Gazette, she became the mother of the media industry in Botswana in many respects and we all held her in high esteem.
Her motherly instincts inadvertently placed her at the centre of conflict between her male colleagues in particular, as she endeavoured to mediate and reconcile them whenever such differences got out of control.
I will sorely miss Beata as a loving sister, loyal friend, fierce competitor, but most importantly as a free spirit who loved life. Her passing away is not just a loss to her family and friends, but also to the profession of journalism and the nation at large. Her indomitable spirit to fight for the voiceless will be sorely missed. The media fraternity has lost a fountain of energy and wisdom.