After almost 16 years of occupying the office perched at the second floor of the Ngilichi House or Meriting, Dikgang Publishing Company, the publishers of both Mmegi and The Monitor titles finally relocated to the other side of town. In this article, Mmegi Staff Writer RYDER GABATHUSE reminisces a nostalgic journey that commenced in 2003, the year the Ngilichi House doors were opened to us before they closed this week
FRANCISTOWN: It was in the spring of 2003 that a deal was finally sealed to occupy a single unit at the Ngilichi House. An agent from Knight Frank estate agents and property consultants whom we remember only as Khathidja had sealed the deal after Dikgang Publishing Company managing director Titus Mbuya gave the place a nod.
Yours Truly and the then DPC driver now businessman, Cuthbert Ratlhogo, accompanied him.
This was after serious searching for a suitable place for the media type of business.
Preference according to Mbuya was to get retail space, which proved almost impossible. Other media houses of Botswana Guardian/The Mid Week Sun and Sunday Standard/Telegraph would later follow suit bringing three media houses under one roof at Ngilichi House.
The search for the office space was preceded by the purchase of a distribution van at Francistown Toyota where a Hilux single cab (B 588 AIX) was bought to take the newspapers to various destinations within the north.
The van, which was branded with the company’s titles, would become a common sight in the north as it delivered newspapers and transported reporters on various assignments with Ratlhogo behind the steering wheel.
As business opportunities grew, the business scope of the office, which started off with two officers grew as well, reaching a fully-fledged status of a news bureau for the north with an increased number of staff. Growth in business would further necessitate the occupation of a second unit.
The initial staffers in the office were only two (Gabathuse and Ratlhogo) before the arrival of Serwalo Kereeditse who manned the front office desk and later adding advertising to the load of work she did on a daily basis.
The office doors at Ngilichi House were opened the very day the Mmegi title went daily, about 16 years ago.
There was something very peculiar about Ngilichi House in that around 2003, there was Meriting Spar operated by the landlord Austin Mbakile, which made life easier as we did not travel long to purchase our needs.
Even now after the Choppies retail shop took over and occupied the premises, a similar atmosphere prevailed.
Ngilichi House is where some reputable journalists actually cut their teeth before considering other opportunities.
Tomeletso Sereetsi, Joel Konopo, Ephraim Keoreng and Peter Madiya came to the northern office from the University of Botswana (UB) where they had graduated and were given an opportunity to blossom in their careers.
After a stint at Mmegi (news editor), Keoreng pioneered at The Patriot on Sunday (editor) before joining the US Embassy in Botswana as a communications specialist.
Sereetsi’s first posting at DPC was to the Selebi-Phikwe town where he launched the DPC office before he left for greener pastures and joined the Echo newspaper which he even edited at some stage.
He would later re-appear in the capacity of a sub editor at Mmegi before he further departed. Konopo, now a partner at INK Centre for Investigative Journalism had a stint at both Mmegi (business reporter) and Botswana Guardian (editor) before pursuing other interests including pioneering at The Weekend Post.
The Konopo, Keoreng and Sereetsi group was amongst the best at Ngilichi House as it was during their tenure that the editorial team in the north had branded Mmegi newspaper of those days, “made in Francistown and published in Gaborone”. This was because they dominated the pages.
There was a day Konopo came to my office gripped by fear that veteran opposition activist, Vain Mamela had threatened to teach him a lesson over the telephone after a complaint that his (Konopo’s) story did not represent what he had said at a rally.
But, the threat would later turn empty as nothing ever happened to Konopo.
The Selebi-Phikwe office was born ahead of its Palapye counterpart further growing the boundaries of the northern bureau. The departure of Sereetsi left the prolific Onalenna Modikwa-Kelebeile plying the trade there before the office was closed recently.
At some stage, Mmegi sports editor Mqondisi Dube and later sports reporter Calistus Kolantsho who at the time were freelancers at the office before the advent of greener pastures in Gaborone at the head office, joined Modikwa-Kelebeile.
Ofe Motiki, Chandapiwa Baputaki and Tuduetso Kelapile nee Setsiba were called in to fill the void at the Ngilichi House office after the departure of Konopo and Sereetsi as their appointments were to go outside of Francistown. Keoreng returned to the UB.
The trio of Motiki, Kelapile and Baputaki would later be joined by the prolific court reporter then, Oarabile Mosikare. This was a group that had met at the then Port Elizabeth Technikon and now Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
At the time, these were very ambitious and prolific young writers who wanted to prove their mettle with every passing assignment.
Whilst the former trio is into public relations, Mosikare is stuck with Mmegi where he is now the helmsman. Amongst others there were Mogomotsi Moloi and Kopano Olesitse who had a stint at Ngilichi House and have since gone out for greener pastures.
Former senior reporter Patricia Edwin would come handy to fill the void left by Motiki and company before her departure as well. Pini Bothoko also cut her teeth as a reporter at Ngilichi House where she started off as a intern and her career also blossomed to today’s heights.
It was at Ngilichi House that veteran journalist Gale Ngakane resurfaced and played a crucial role in growing talent in the newsroom before relocating to the DPC head office where he has since changed roles to gate-keeping in the news section.
Political writer Edward Bule had a stint at Ngilichi House where he churned out stories for Mmegi before moving on with his life.
Generally, the Ngilichi House has produced a good number of reporters, some spotted through internship and others poached from our competition.
Chakalisa Dube and Lebogang Mosikare were formerly stringers at Botswana Guardian and it was at the DPC stable that their talents were refined.
Just like photographer-cum- graphic designer Keoagile Bonang after his tertiary graduation eked a living by taking pictures at weddings and other private events.
He started enjoying his profession whilst at Ngilichi House. His talent became even more magnified as he churned out pictures for news and other sections.
After vacating the Ngilichi House, it is apparent that starting all over again is not going to be an easy feat.
Sixteen years of climbing the stairs up and down at the Ngilichi House have actually cemented a very strong bond with the building despite other notable disadvantages in the business sense.
It’s not easy to simply wish Ngilichi House was never part of our professional lives as this is where we spent over eight hours a day.
Even former DPC employees, Janet Maakwe, Letlotlwa Ramanankane, Michael Mokgwane, Kereeditse, Tefo, Oganeditse Kootswetse, Ramatodi Mosarwa and others will not believe our exit.
Beauty Mlambo, Tsogo Olefile and Ogone Mondiya in the administration section have this week taken up their positions at the new office.
As we bid Ngilichi House bye-bye this week, abundant memories of yore trickled in, making the whole affair nostalgic.