Just over two years ago, I received a call from Comrade Gobe 'GW' Matenge who conveyed a simple request. He wanted to know if I would be prepared to speak at his funeral, as his party leader, in the event he passed on before I did.
The request, in my view, was abnormal. Abnormal because his funeral programme, in my judgement, was not his issue, but a matter for his family. However, I confirmed that I would be willing to be one of the speakers. After accepting the request, he then issued an instruction. “My boy, your address should not last more than 3 minutes,” an instruction I promised to uphold and have no intention of disregarding today. I first got to know Comrade GW when I was a member of the Botswana National Front Youth League (BNFYL) in the early 1990s. At the time, he was a respected party elder who attended all key party meetings. I knew he resided in “Tshaba Ntsa” amongst the BDP loyalists and like some of my comrades, I did not understand how he justified his loyalty to the BNF, a leftist organisation led by a hard-core Communist.
I got to work closely with GW in 1998 after the formation of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP). One of the first assignments that we worked on together was the BCP report to the Ombudsman about the then vice president, piloting of Botswana Defence Force (BDF) planes. Together with some party members, we presented the final draft letter to the Ombudsman for GW and some elders to edit. When the draft had been approved, GW quipped lightly, “Kana bana baga Seretse, bana le go akanya gore dilo tse ke tsa bone.”
He then narrated a story that I was later to read about in a news article under the heading “Portrait of a Self-Made Radical,” written by Mesh Moeti and appeared on the Sunday Standard of June 5, 2006, seven years after our report to the Ombudsman. The article referred to an incident witnessed by GW in the presence of one of the President’s aides. The President’s daughter, named Jacqueline, who did not have a driving licence, was seen driving a government car. GW, then an officer at the Department of Immigration, spoke out in objection that this was abuse of government property. He reportedly remarked that: “If the President wanted his daughter to drive, he ought to buy her a car”.
The following morning, GW was summoned to appear before the Home Affairs Minister, Amos Dambe and the Permanent Secretary, Major Alan Donald. The conversation amongst the three is reported by Richard Werbner in his book entitled “Reasonable Radicals and Citizenship in Botswana” to have been as follows;
Minister Dambe: I have been asked by the President to tell you, that you must mind your business, and not concern yourself with State business. He does not expect that you teach him how to run the affairs of this country. He says that he has heard that you have been critical about the use of State cars, because his daughter was seen driving a government vehicle.
PS Donald: It would be discourteous if you didn’t acknowledge in writing to the President that you received this complaint and that you apologise.
Gobe Matenge: Before I apologise,
Minister Dambe: I am telling you what I was told, and I can’t expand.
Gobe Matenge: I can’t offer an apology without knowing the full facts.
How many in this congregation would have stood firm like GW for what they believed was the correct position, against the advice of higher authority. Very few...
Gobe insisted on a meeting with the President at which he presented his views. The President responded by stating that he was misled, and accepted that he will have to purchase a vehicle for his daughter.
Gobe reasoned that the context then was totally different to the situation in 1999. When he had the above discussion, it was just after Independence. Batswana did not know any better. It was justifiable for some to think that the first family can break the rules and do as it wished.
He did not understand why about three decades later, we have to move mountains to make the point that Jacqueline’s brother should not freely pilot BDF planes after quitting the army.
Fast forward to 2018, four decades after the Gobe Matenge meeting with Seretse. Have we become any wiser or more assertive as a people? A more enlightened nation with all the exposure and experience we have gathered. Do we know any better than the GW generation? Possibly not.
I maintain so because not long ago, while driving my children to school along the new Phakalane back road, I realised that a vehicle with flashing blue lights was following me. In Botswana, blue lights are used by the security forces that escort the president and vice president.
I hastily pulled to the side of the road, thinking of the Zambian opposition leader who spent time in jail for not making way for the head of State.
I quickly realised that the vehicle with the flashing blue lights, was transporting the Minister of Wildlife and Tourism. Later in the day, I asked one of the Ministers if they are now entitled to use of “Blue Lights” and he answered in the negative. I narrated my experience to him and his response was that, “But that one is important and special, he also has a jet for his use.”
I realised that we will possibly never get another Gobe Matenge to face higher authority and tell them the truth as they see it when given the opportunity within the government system.
Rest in peace Comrade GW, there shall never be another like you. You have played your part; let those who shared your values stand up to be counted. Those willing to learn from your journey, will tell higher authority that BOLOPE is not a virtue, tell the truth as you see it. Until we meet again, rest in peace my loyal and trustworthy Comrade. Amen...
*Dumelang Saleshando is the BCP leader