Gaotlhaetse Utlwang Sankoloba (GUS) Matlhabaphiri’s bones were interred in Molepolole a fortnight ago. For people had come from all walks of life in droves to pay their last respects to him. That I know. I saw it with my own naked eyes!
As the nation and the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) mourn the departure of my friend and good brother, the late Matlhabaphiri, fondly known as GUS, I think the party should celebrate the life of this fallen gallant fighter for democracy and trade union movement in Botswana. I have always held the conviction that the departed should be left to rest as they have fulfilled their mission on the earthly world.
They need to rest and have a good time with the Creator.
However, this time around, I am reluctantly shying away from abiding by the conviction.
The first time I broke the tradition was in May 2013 when I lost yet another brother, Booster Galesekegwe, the iconic photographer with a Midas touch when it comes to his money making skills (MHRIP).
In life, there are those who work hard and those in whose favour the benign hand of providence admirably works wonders. GUS falls in the former category. In short, he was a man who earned a living by the sweat of his brow, as they would put in Biblical parlance.
“Kana wena Stryker ha ene ele ko America o kabe o sa bilediwa interview”.
(“You know that if we were in the United States you would have not have been invited for an interview”). Here GUS was trying to explain the delicate balance between civil service, the party and professionalism.
At the time, I had been called for an interview for post of Private Secretary to the Assistant Minister. And Gus was the Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs.
He chaired the interviewing panel.
I understood GUS to be saying he needed someone who could be trusted with both the government and party affairs and more importantly the party affairs. For that was his love and passion. Of course, there was no official mention of these attributes in the advertisement for the position!
I and GUS have a litany of encounters which served to strengthen our bond of friendship over the years. Furthermore, our relationship evolved to greater heights as we continued to engage more with each other and even got to know and understand each other much better.
Our maiden encounter centred on a story we ran in Mmegi around 1999, just after the general elections.
The object of the story was that a high-powered delegation representing GUS had been dispatched to meet then President, Festus Mogae.
And the brief of the delegation was to plead with Mogae to appoint GUS as Botswana’s High Commissioner to Namibia.
After the story was published, GUS called the newsroom asking to speak to me. Firstly, he softly introduced himself, telling me who he was but his main point came out when he asked me if I knew him and yet I wrote stuff about him.
I in turn took the opportunity to explain to him that we thought it was newsworthy
To him that amounted to negative publicity or fake news in modern Trump-speak! He got over that as time went on.
Well, he finally got the nod from Mogae and later became Botswana’s High Commissioner to Namibia.
That was not our last encounter. We were at it again around 2007 if I am not mistaken. At issue here was that GUS’s musical outfit, GABORONE INTERNATIONAL CHOIR had been invited to a SADC event. However, in reality this was a BDP choir whose conductor was GUS and was passing itself as an ‘international choir’.
As fate would have it, I wrote the story about the somewhat strange arrangement under which the party outfit had miraculously transformed itself into an apolitical international one.
Being the one not to tire easily, GUS once more called the newsroom. On the phone he wanted to know who wrote the mischievous story about his choir. Well, I referred him to the editor after I had told him I did not write the story and he was convinced that if it were me I would have told! The story did not carry my by-line.
The whole afternoon, the newsroom was bubbling with laughter about this ‘great betrayal’! For colleagues, particularly Keto Segwai, knew about my relationship with GUS.
These episodes notwithstanding, GUS was a treasure trove in his knowledge and understanding of the inner workings of the BDP. And would not hesitate to dig deep into his rich knowledge and shed light into the BDP factional fights. And indeed he was ready and willing to do so. He was my point-man in reporting about the BDP at the height of the Barataphathi and the A Team fights.
But GUS down-played his power and influence in the BDP. According to him, he had a solid mentor to whom he deferred and that was none other than long-time BDP Secretary General, Daniel Kwelagobe. He once emotively told me how DK was his brother who had undying love for the BDP. “Kwelagobe ke mogolole. One a tsena sekole le my elder brother, Legaenyana ko Kgale. O nale lerato lele ntsi mo phating”.
Meanwhile, over the years, we would become closer with GUS and he would share insights into the BDP with captivating grasp. More than he would have initially done.
GUS passed on a time when we were planning to meet in Gaborone. But his busy schedule in Molepolole made it impossible for us to meet.
First, it was preparations for President Ian Khama’s farewell on retirement and then bulela ditswe (BDP primaries). Given his love for the BDP, GUS is probably scaling the walls of heaven chanting the BDP slogan, Tsholetsa Domkrag! Rest in peace GUS!!!