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Old As The Hills

Mokgadi Tolwane
SELEBI-PHIKWE: At 116 years old, Tsetsebjweĺs oldest woman, Mokgadi Tolwane aka Moghiba, was probably the oldest person alive in Botswana. She was laid to rest in her home village over the weekend after passing away eight days ago.

Tolwane had lived to experience it all. She was 23 when President Ian Khama’s great grandfather Khama III died.  She was 25 when Sir Seretse Khama’s father Sekgoma II died. She was there when Tshekedi Khama ascended to the throne in 1926, and she was already an old woman of 66 years when Seretse Khama founded the Republic of Botswana, and was 76-years-old when Botswana introduced its own currency, the Pula and Thebe, in 1976.

Tolwane lived to see her four offsprings’ hair turning grey from old age. Two of them have already died of old age while the remaining two, at 85 and 82 years are also aged.

The woman who was married to the village kgosi finally died peacefully at night after requesting her first-born daughter, 85-year-old Elizabeth Keipidile, to bring her snuff. Tolwane then told Keipidile that her time had come and said her last goodbyes. When Keipidile returned with the snuff she found her mother gone.

Tolwane was the oldest surviving person ever seen in the village of Tsetsebjwe where the elderly hardly reach 90. She was married to Kgosi Tolwane Mmolawa and they were blessed with four girls. In 1930 she had her first born. Her second child came in 1933. The third born and last born arrived in 1939 and 1947 but they are both no more.

Moghiba’s long life is a puzzle since she was born and raised during the time when Botswana was among the poorest countries in the world. In fact at independence, Moghiba had already reached old age, she was 66-years-old.

She had no educational background either, although

they say she knew how to count her money. During her young age the only schools that were common were initiation schools.

The old woman relied on farming and selling phane to sustain her family. Her first-born, Keipidile, describes her mother as an intelligent woman who worked hard to put food on the table for her family. Keipidile also describes her mother as a disciplinarian and a cheerful person whose company was enjoyed by all.

She also described her as a reservoir of story telling. After telling a very good story that made all laugh, she would laugh and say “Ke Moghibagatshe ntwana ya Masarwa.” That is how she got her nickname, Moghiba.

Keipidile has a theory to explain her 116-years-old mother’s long life…. traditional food and more traditional food. She says her mother did not like modern food stuffs at all. 

Interestingly Moghiba had never suffered from any of the diseases that are mostly associated with the old such as high blood pressure and sugar diabetes. “She only had sight problems in 2000 but then she went through a successful surgery in Francistown,” she said.

“She hated going to the hospital when she was not feeling well. If you forced her to go there she would not take the medications, Moghiba would rather have traditional herbs from the bush,” explained Keipidile.

Keipidile adds that her mother was different because she hardly forgot things; she would instead remind people of the things they had forgotten. Her niece Gaolefufa Ditshego who happened to be the most loved one, described her aunt as a loving and cheerful person.


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