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Sir Ketumile, the Press on local and foreign trips

Sir Ketumile Masire
As a journalist who covered Sir Ketumile on his local and foreign trips, I feel obliged to share my experiences of some of his relationships with the press during his local and foreign trips, characterised by jokes, sense of humour and his impressive laughter.

On local trips, we can agree that Sir Ketumile had an edge in traversing the unforgiving terrain of the country by road to address kgotla meetings on government policies and issues of national concern as per his itineraries announced over Radio Botswana at least a week before his departure.

After every Kgotla meeting, Sir Ketumile would avail himself to his press team to provide clarity on policy issues raised during his meetings. Question time was the most challenging and interesting part of his meetings as he would handle issues directed to him with sharp intellect, sometimes using idioms and proverbs to illustrate his point.

Unfortunately, his attributes were hardly reflected in his coverage including his urge on the promotion of the Kgotla institution, a culture envied by many countries.  His Kgotla meetings had a standard programme, as a community leader (Kgosi) would welcome guests while the local district commissioner would introduce them, followed by a report by VDC chairperson on development projects, which would invariably illicit a sharp response from Sir Ketumile.

Sir Ketumile would prefer to be covered by a reporter and a photographer from the Botswana Press Agency (BOPA), and another from Radio Botswana as he apparently considered this to be a full coverage. But he was always concerned about the time his press team took to publish his speeches as a result of lack of communication infrastructure.

 In 1985 for example, he advised Desmond Montshiwa and Meshach Ncube (nickname Dobla) both from BOPA as well as myself from Radio Botswana to use a BDF plane to send tapes, films and stories from Hukuntsi and Nojane to Gaborone for publication as both villages are in the far reaches of the Kgalagadi. Other villages included in his itinerary were Kole, Makunda, Charleshill and Karakubis.

At Charleshill, Sir Ketumile held the attention of his delegation when he unexpectedly sent Dobla to bring him tea at lunchtime. Dobla was was quick to respond, but when he reached Sir Ketumile, the cup was almost empty because of his flexing hands. Sir Ketumile joked with him saying, “Kopi ya gago ga e na sepe Dobla, tsamaya o ye go e tlatsa gape” There is nothing in your cup Dobla, go back and fill it again. When Dobla came for the second time with an empty cup, Sir Ketumile and his delegation burst into laughter and this spiced the trip.

Sadly, the mood at Karakubis changed to extreme grief and a state of shock as a result of the Gaborone raid by the South African troops. The

delegation heard the news from Radio Botswana before Sir Ketumile informed them about the carnage and cancelled the meeting which was about to start.

Even on foreign trips, Sir Ketumile used his sense of humor to interact with the press and this is what used to make his coverage the most exciting. In 1998 for example in Chile, after the earthquake that struck that country, he said to me, “You’ve got a scoop to send home,” apparently trying to dull the panic of the quake amongst his delegation. Other members of his press team on this trip were Itumeleng Sabone and Yobe Shonga who had gone to Trinidad and Tobago to cover his arrival.

From Trinidad and Tobago Sir Ketumile proceeded to Cuba where I was to cover him on arrival, but could not because I was detained in a prison cell in Mexico for not having a visa. I had to go through Mexico because that was the only route that had connection with Cuba at that time. On my arrival in Havana a day later, Sir Ketumile welcomed me with an impressive laughter and said, “Jaanong re na le legolegwa mo lekokong la rona,” Now we have a prisoner in our delegation. 

His foreign trips before the acquisition of OKI, were a subject of debate because he would hardly be recognised in the plane as a form of protocol and this was compounded by the unprecedented delays he sometimes experienced on commercial flights. In 1988, Sir Ketumile’s trip from London to Gaborone was delayed by about 19 hours after his plane developed a technical fault and returned to Heathrow airport.

It was a moment of despair for him and his delegation as they remained at their hotels from 9pm to 4pm the next day. On one or two occasions, the disgruntled passengers, including Sir Ketumile and his delegation were called to embark and disembark the plane before it finally departed for Gaborone via Lusaka. Before the plane landed at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, Sir Ketumile went to members of his delegation to greet and share jokes with them as he would always do in every commercial flight that he used.

 The jokes were about the delay and to me he said, “A ba setse ba itse ka mathata a rona kwa gae, Mokwena?” Have you already filed the story home about our problem Mokwena? This by any stretch of imagination shows that Sir Ketumile always had an instinctive professional reaction to incidents that made headline news.


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