“Thank you Mr President!” These are my words exactly as I was being capped by the President on my graduation day at Botswana national stadium.
It was the year 1996 of our Lord! My day could not have been any better. The stadium was full of graduates from University of Botswana, Botswana Polytechnic and Botswana Agricultural College on the day of their joint graduation ceremony. All of us were very happy but I must have been the happiest of them all.
I was an engineering professional starting that moment on. But I had come from very far. I had completed my schooling with no dime, no penny or a thebe to pay for what I have become. Botswana was very poor when I started my schooling in 1975. My peasant parents were struggling to pay for my marginal school fees.
As if that was not enough I had lost my dad just when I completed my primary school. I was a straight “A” student with only a single “B” for my Setswana language which has always been a challenge for my Bakgatla tribe because we are being accused of borrowing too much from the Afrikaans people.
I missed starting high school in 1982 because my mother had to mourn my father for a whole year in keeping with the Setswana tradition. But because morals were still upright then all thanks to your pragmatic leadership, my lovely aunt came to the rescue and adopted me as one of her own sons.
A full bursary was sought for me, again thanks to the visionary educational policies that you enacted. So here I am starting form one: no money, no enough clothes but still again, thanks to your sterling leadership, Molefhi Secondary school supplied all its students with a full set of uniforms each year.
So no one could tell me apart from the rest of the students. There was a catch here though; I was to pay back all the money the government had expended on my schooling and it would be a hefty lot at the end of my education. I am a smart student in the class of smart students.
As I grow, my education grows too, so is the wealth of the country Botswana from the 20 poorest nations in the whole world to a middle income country. You were not done Mr. President.
Just as I was nearing completing my senior school, you scrapped all the school fees because by then Botswana could afford to school her children freely. The irony is even simpler here: the hefty loan I was to pay back to government fell off…..! Unbelievable?
It had to be! Now I am a free child, receiving free education in a free country! My English is not enough to express my gratitude to you Mr. President. If you could look at the heart, then you could get a better appreciation of just how much I feel indebted to you. Thank you Mr. President!
Soon after form five I landed a traineeship with CAPS of Zimbabwe. (Central African Pharmaceutical Services) of uncle Bob. I was taught to formulate clinical medicines; to heal the sick, the skill that I still carry to date. So when people call uncle Bob names I call him a better one.
It was during my two year stint at CAPS that Botswana’s best poets were commissioned by the Indian Association of Botswana to write and recite poetry on the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru on the occasion of the 40th Independence of India. I was not one of them but so many good things had happened to me already, so I threw my hat in the ring. Yes, you’ve guessed it right: my poem qualified to be short listed for competition.
Here I found myself in the same room with Mr. Barolomg Seboni for the first time, Mr Molefe whose book Meshomo I had done at high school as well as Radio Botswana’s Billy Mokgosi and a host others.
I was the youngest that night so was made the first one to take the stage. Though I didn’t know a standing ovation at the time, I got one and acquitted myself quite well in it. My paralysis helped because I appeared
I got position four out of the sixteen poets of that night. Thank you Mr. President! The Indian Ambassador then invited us to their independence party. I was served hard drinks by beautiful Indian ladies as they always are. I drank like a fish but I never felt a thing. Subsequent to all that there was a prize giving evening at Maruapula school where a top Indian band and dancers were flown in to come and entertain us.
It was at this event that the mother of the nation, the late Mme MmaGaone presented me with my prize, which was a pack of great books which I still hold on to this day. I then passed very tough aptitude tests into AECI of FW de Klek’s South Africa (African Explosives and Chemical Industries).
I was taught a lot of stuff including the coal-to-oil technology of Sasolburg. Through this adventure I was being prepared to come back home to help in the commissioning of Sua Pan chemical plant when it eventually started, which I did. During all this time I am getting weekly steep ends from the government of Botswana.
You could call me a very rich trainee. Thank you Mr President! You came in person to view the results of your efforts during the official opening of this plant. This is where you asked me questions as I put you through the operations process. Smart as you were, you were able to pick an error I had made in the computer earlier on the day.
Only then did your ministers realise it and they all burst into loud laughters. But I was already a professional making only professional mistakes. So even here: Thank you Mr. President! The only one who did not find it very amusing was my favourite, Mr Pik Botha whom you came along with on that day.
He said to me “well I must congratulate you very very much. Trust me you are going to go places” I believed him. It turned out to be somewhat prophetic for soon after the successful completion of this commissioning I was enrolled into Botswana Polytechnic for my engineering studies.
I was a student on the employ of my organisation. You could say that I was a very rich student. This naturally exempted me from the challenges of a student life. Again for this I say, Thank you Mr. President! Of course we did have our own fall outs along the way, but they pale in comparison to the things you helped me to summount.
Of particular note was the Segametsi saga that gripped Mochudi and Gaborone in the mid 90’s. We wanted to deliver a petition to your office but it was apparent that we were way past the minimum 7 days required to apply for the march. So we planned to subvert the system and we succeeded only because the parent in you allowed us to gain forced entry into your office, with full police escort of course.
The whole thing went fairly smoothly. However, that same afternoon UB went a one further and stormed parliament in session, resulting in scuffles and prompting army reinforcements to be called in. Eventually the dust settled and everything went back to normal. The result was the huge joint graduation of 1996. Amongst them was me. Someone who was supposed to have paid but was instead being paid all along the way.
To that I say Thank you Mr. President! More good things continued to happen in my career and United Nations took notice. I became one of only 100 professionals in the whole of Africa to be trained in Advanced Manufacturing Technology in India to help fast track industrialisation in Africa. Again here you could call me a rich trainee with a good UN steep ends while still employed by Chemserve, a subsidiary of Anglo American. Once again I say to this, Thank you Mr. President! May your soul rest in eternal peace.