Doreen Nteta and the Botswana society

Something must have gone badly wrong because it was obvious that Gobe Matenge should have spoken on behalf of the Botswana Society at Doreen’s combined requiem mass and memorial service.

Instead it fell to me to say a few words, and they had to be so few that I was unable to do justice to her years of involvement with the Society. There is a strange ritual which is routinely played out at funerals whereby the MC exhorts the speakers to be brief and to stick to time and they, to a man and woman, as routinely, ignore the injunction. The rare individual who does recognise that call and is brief takes the risk that those present will interpret brevity as a lack of appreciation, at best , or as outright dismissal at worst.  Cross fingers that this was not the case but I now intend taking this further chance to add another word or two about that lady. Firstly, I suggest that Doreen was extraordinarily fortunate.  She came here from South Africa in 1964 when this country was a nothing sort of place. She experienced the achieving of independence, the first 10-15 tough years and then the advent of diamond wealth. During those mid-way years there was a need, quickly recognised by the Scandinavian aid agencies for public debate about many of the key issues facing the country. They decided to provide the necessary funding so that the Botswana Society could organise and stage. The initial suggestion for establishing the Botswana Society (and Botswana Notes and Records) had been made by Pierre Landell-Mills, the Chief Economist in the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to Alec Campbell, Director of the National Museum. He agreed and the first issue of BNR (1968) was published in the name of the museum having been printed by the Government Printer. Volume 2, the following year (1969) was published by the new Society, and with the names of its officer holders prominently recorded for the first time. The patron was Seretse and the President was Masire.  The Chairman was Richard Mannathoko whose deputy was Frieda Matthews, the Secretary was Landell-Mills, the Treasurer was R. Whyte, the meetings secretary was Baledzi Gaolathe, and the members were Alec Campbell and Bathoen Gaseitsiwe - both representing the Museum – and J. Pike and A.  Sikwambane. 1970 saw what must have been the Society’s first major conferences – on Sustained Production in the Kalahari which gave it invaluable experience about running a major set piece conference but was otherwise a miscue.  Jump to 1972 and the Bots Soc Committee is re-shaped.

The Chairman is now Gaolathe, the deputy, Alec Campbell, and members are D. Crowley, R. Whyte, H. Fosbrook,  Landell-Mills, Doreen Nteta , K. Mathambo, and G. Rennie.  Come to 1973 and new names appear – David Magang, Janet Hermans, Paul Hinchey, Dr Setidisho with Lebang Mpotokwane joining the editorial Board together with, not least, Doreen and Janet - and the shape of the Society for the next few key years is now taking shape. Enter around that time, Gobe Matenge who was not only to take over the Chair but to preside, with rare panache, over the seven or eight major Symposia which brought key people from all over the world to Gaborone to bash out, with local illuminae of all sorts and sizes, aspects of Settlement, Democracy, Tourism, Economic Development, the Okavango, the State of Research and Poverty. Doreen was involved, in one way or another, in all those remarkable and massively important occasions.

Looking back, many of us now regard those 30 or so post independence years as a golden period.  We may not have fully known it at the time but everyone then involved at those huge conferences, as lead speakers, occasional contributors from the floor or as non contributing listeners-in, would have relished that buzz, that liberating, exciting feeling of involvement – of being a participant in such a  process of exchange.


Those were the relatively short few years when a new country and a new government was finding its feet, was working out so much from scratch, was trying to securely implant the basic values that it espoused, and to achieve a decent future for all its citizens. Those days are now gone. The funding has been taken elsewhere and the Society lacks the capacity to play such a massive role. Doreen, therefore, was extraordinarily fortunate to have been involved in all those symposia bearing in mind that, at the time, such large-scale conferences were occurring nowhere else in Southern Africa. We are bound to miss her but we would be undiscerning if we failed to recognise how luck had given her the opportunity of involvement and the means of associating via the conferences and the journal, with so many distinguished academics from around the world numbers of whom were to become close friends.

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