The tiny village of Gulubane is situated about 10 kilometres off the A3 road. From Francistown, pass Mathangwane until a board signalling a right turn appears. The road ahead is gravel.
I stop to ask a woman selling sweets and airtime by the roadside how far Gulubane is and whether my car would be able to withstand the gravel road.
I arrive in Gulubane quicker than I had anticipated and ask for directions to Rre Nkhwa’s home. The man points to a home just two yards ahead of me. Knock! Knock! and a voice shouts from inside the house, “Ngina”.
I enter. An elderly woman emerges from the passage and gives out a welcoming smile. She is expecting me. She is the Matriarch of the house. When I phoned earlier to secure the interview, she is the one who had picked up the landline. The King of the castle was out at the time, but to my relief, she set up the appointment on his behalf.
I scan the house. The wall is decorated with a certificate of Presidential Order of Honour signed by former president Festus Mogae in 2002 in ‘recognition of efficient and devoted service to Botswana’.
There is another certificate of Presidential Order of Meritorious Service signed by former president Sir Ketumile Masire in 1990 in ‘recognition of exceptional service to Botswana’.
On the room divider/display unit, a framed photo with the inscription ‘special dad’ sits prominently. Finally the recipient of these presidential honours walks into the living room. I see why he took so long to show up from the bedroom: for someone who was said to be sleeping, I did not expect him to emerge dressed so immaculately with his shirt neatly tucked in. He looks tired, but quickly explains he is on medication that makes him feel sleepy. I am nonetheless happy he managed to wake up. After all, I am now used to interviewing elderly people who nap in the middle of conversations. Rre Chilume had asked me to pass his regards and this gesture seems to inject some life into Nkhwa who now beams with a smile.
Kenneth Moesi Nkhwa was born in Gulubane in 1927. He grew up herding cattle and goats.
“During that time cattle were our livelihood,” he says. After completing his junior certificate, he went to the then most sought-after institution, Tigerkloof, in the North West Province of South Africa in a town called Kuruman.
Nkhwa is a World War II veteran who served in Egypt as a corporal. I ask him how he ended up fighting battles that were insignificant to his country and he responds amidst fits of laughter, “I started volunteering my services when some of my contemporaries hid under the beds when we were called to go to war”. From Egypt he went and settled in Cape Town, in search of employment. “I worked in factories,” he says about his Cape Town sojourn. It was while living in Cape Town that he met the love of his life whom he married in February 2, 1958. They exchanged their vows in Bloemfontein where his wife’s father, Timothy Chabangu, was a priest. They have been ‘sweethearts’ ever since. It is at this juncture that I ask how come Mma Nkhwa is so fluent in Kalanga yet she is South African. She takes over and explains, “When I arrived here, local women used to gossip about me so I was determined to
Born in Gauteng, learning the Setswana was not a big challenge because she spoke Pedi. In fact, when her husband joined South African politics through the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), the newly married Mma Nkhwa left her husband in South Africa to settle in her matrimonial country.
The apartheid regime, however, kicked Nkhwa out of South Africa in 1960 or thereabout and the reason he got was, “your presence here is a security threat to the state”. He was already politically charged and did not waste time joining local politics. The Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) struck him as one that had birds of the same feather as his.
He flocked with them and stood for parliamentary elections during the first ever general elections in 1965. He won the election becoming the first Member of Parliament for the then North East constituency. He still remembers how, even as they were only three on the opposition side, they kept the majority BDP members on their toes.
Philip Matante represented Francistown while T.W. Motlhagodi represented Kgatleng.
“During our time, opposition MP’s were called dinganga (renegades),” he says.
He is, however, quick to explain that there was mutual respect across the political divide in Parliament. “The respect amongst MP’s was extremely high,” Nkhwa notes.
His wife quips, “They were very friendly to each other. I interacted with the wives of the ruling party MPs during parliamentary sessions and we related very well”.
She also recalls how they, as parliamentary wives, used to dress up and show off during special occasions such as the opening of Parliament and State of the Nation Address.
Mma Nkhwa continues to explain how their personal vehicle was used as the village ambulance and hearse.
They also raised children they had no blood relations with. In fact, there is a child playing around in the house and Mma Nkhwa tells me she is their grandchild whose late mother they had adopted and raised as their own.
Rre Nkhwa informs me that during their time, MP’s earned 49 Rands, which they shared with the community.“We supplemented it with rearing cattle and growing crops,” he says. He telephatically repeats what Rre Chilume had told me earlier. “Ours was just a sacrifice to the country with no monetary gratification”.
He says back in the day political leaders helped their communities regardless of political affiliation.
Nkhwa served in Parliament for 21 years, but was never lost to serving in politics even after his retirement as he later became a specially nominated councillor in the North East council.
He was elected council chairman. He has since retired from politics and now serves as Kgosana for Nkhwa ward in Gulubane. At 90 years of age, it is amazing that Rre Nkhwa still drives himself. I ask how he relaxes at home and it is his wife who answers,
“He is a bookworm. He reads a lot”. He reads with only both his eyes and no aid from spectacles. On Sundays, Rre Nkhwa tags along his 80-year-old wife to the UCCSA for worship and praise to God. They have adult children, Humphrey and Taboka.