How strange it has been that the country’s second President should have been buried so close to the day that is annually set aside to celebrate the life of the first President?
First came the range of photos of ex-President Masire taken during his long career which appeared during the week and then towards its end, another set of photos of Seretse Khama.
Taken together, they comprised an historical gallery of much interest and value. But yet again, I wondered why this annual short-term gallery has not been converted long ago into something of a permanent nature.
Because they became so world famous, during their marriage imbroglio there still exists a gallery of photos of Seretse and Ruth taken by many of the most famous photographers of the day.
I opened one newspaper during the week and there was a large-scale reproduction of Margaret Bourke-White’s famous photo of Seretse and Ruth sitting on the rocks overlooking Serowe.
It is now 37 years since Seretse died and many more years ago that his marriage was making world wide headlines.
Inevitably both he and the marriage are lost in the mists of time. I have long suggested that an archival gallery of those photos should be created in Gaborone so that the young might gain a better grasp of their own history. Seemingly, the idea has appealed to no one which does continue to astonish me.
Gaborone is desperately lacking in historical appeal. It is totally indifferent to its own history as a town but also, of even greater seriousness, of its role as the newly-created capital of a newly independent state. There is a certain incongruity about this. We create the three dikgosi monument even though nothing is popularly known about Bathoen and Sebele after they had returned from their UK trip.
We create a national museum which has nothing to say about the achievement of Independence and nothing about the country’s founding fathers. It has, or perhaps had, no photos of Khama III, of Tshekedi, Seretse or Masire or of Isang, Bathoen or, most pertinently, of old Kgosi Gaborone after whom, the place is, after all, named. In a way this is not at all surprising.
All the country’s museums have reflected the personal interests of their founders so that the chosen theme of the new national museum was ‘man and his environment’.
It may be that this theme was pertinent in the museum’s early days, but no longer relates to what it has been doing for the last 20 or 30 years. Perhaps that theme should have
The problem has been however that the museum has never had a Board, so that there was no one from the community who could press for change and argue the need to meet new and different needs. In addition, of course, change would have meant the painful destruction of those often very beautiful dioramas and who in a decision making position (the Permanent Secretary and the Director) would have had either the heart or the cash to do so. The result is that the museum is increasingly sidelined and increasingly irrelevant.
The upshot is that visitors, I am told, are routinely taken by proud resident friends to see the new shopping malls as evidence of the progress that has been made since 1966. Perhaps this is because there is nowhere to take them, apart from the Dikgosi monument and the Pula Arch.
I find this infinitely depressing. But I do suggest that Kanye now has the same sort of opportunity that has been scorned by Gaborone all these years. Kanye is without question a marvelous place, but for visitors it lacks a focus which it does very much need because the modest museum is not an obvious first port of call.
What is now needed is a sensibly located purpose-designed building which would be a gallery of Masire archival photos bearing in mind that these provide a pictorial record not just of the man, but of the events in which he participated and the people with whom he was involved. If it is ever to be done, it should be right now when memories are sharp and there is such a raft of goodwill.
For one, text that could go with those photos, try the comment emailed to me by Mike Stevens who was Director of Economic Affairs in the later 1970s. “It was a privilege to work for him.We would go in and brief him on some topic.
He was always sharp, understood what we were talking about, invariably had a perspective we hadn’t considered, funny and always loyal to his staff.
There was a lot of trust between him and his officials, Batswana and expats evenly, and it flowed both ways. Setting the path for development is usually depicted as a Seretse narrative. But how much was due to him?!”