Sylvia Cooke: A tribute

Cooke was the Society's secretary in the 1970s
Cooke was the Society's secretary in the 1970s

The sad news has come that Sylvia died recently after a long stay in hospital. Sylvia was secretary of the Botswana Society during its glory years in the 1970s when she formed, with two heavyweights, Gobe Matenge and Alec Campbell, a remarkable trio.

Sylvia, theoretically the junior partner, was the perfect foil for the other two.  Alec was quiet and introspective; Gobe, particular and often pedantic. Sylvia was outspoken, direct and jolly, a tonic.

The Botswana Society office could very easily have become a sober and intimidating place, but Sylvia with her infectious laugh ensured that the office was always a pleasure to visit. Laughter is not something that is a normal ingredient in most offices. Indeed, it is usually regarded as inappropriate, offices being serious places where serious work is being done.

In that respect the Bots Soc office was no different. A great deal of serious work was carried out there, but it was all done with a smile, with obvious enjoyment. Sylvia had time for everyone. No one left the office doubting that a return visit was worth attempting or feeling that they had been given a brush off. All were welcome.

For perhaps 30 years, the Botswana Society, with generous Scandinavian support, was a big hitter organising 13 major seminars and conferences with invited speakers from all over the world.

These seminars and conferences were major affairs and a significant element in the democratic life of the country. They provided a voice for a significant cross section of the general public, which was not otherwise available.

But when Botswana was rated a middle-income country, Scandinavian financial support was withdrawn, and the Society was no longer able to pull off those major set piece occasions. The result was to become evident in the years that followed with a contracting of the democratic state and a lessening of the right and opportunity of self-expression.

When the Cookes left this country, they settled in a new home just inside the Welsh border with England where (my) Elinah and I once stayed.  I was dead keen to watch a rugger match between the British and Irish Lions and South Africa. Sylvia got permission from a local rugby club for us to come and watch the match.

The place was packed to the rafters and with several Welsh players being key members of the British side, the atmosphere was remarkable.

I much doubt that Sylvia knew one end of a rugby ball from the other, but she made it clear afterwards that even for her, it was a new found experience to be caught up in the Welsh fervour, especially when it was their boys who were winning the game.

The next day, we went shopping, Sylvia advising Elinah where she could get various bits of female this and that. John suggested that it would be better if Sylvia re-thought her planned programme, but was smartly told off by Sylvia.

He then plaintively commented that he was only trying to help but was promptly told that his help was not needed, thank you very much. A lovely couple.

John who survives Sylvia, will be remembered by many from the years when he was Professor of Environmental Science at UB.

Initially it might have seemed that the two were an unlikely couple, the academic and the non-academic, the forthright and the reserved. But married for no less than 62 years they were a perfect couple with a lovely family.

Sylvia was only one of several people who were secretaries of the Botswana Society. Each made their own contribution, but Sylvia was Sylvia, and special. Alec has gone, Gobe has gone, and now Sylvia, and we are left to remember and be thankful for a Botswana that was so different from today’s.

Editor's Comment
Seamless Business Environment Needed Post-COVID

The country was also classified as the least corrupt in the world with strong anti-graft checks and balances. With these assurances, investors were guaranteed safety on their investments and returns. That is no longer the case. Several countries like Namibia, South Africa and Mauritius have done well over the years and overtaken Botswana as attractive places to do business.Therefore, when countries that Botswana is competing with for a piece of...

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