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Tribute to Prof SSS Mogwe

Legacy remembered: Serara Selelo-Mogwe was Botswana’s first woman professor
Professor Serara SS Mogwe departed the life she lived with the equanimity she displayed throughout her sojourn on planet earth.

Two days before she breathed her last, she had called me from her sickbed in Bokamoso Hospital pleading with me to do her a favour, which unfortunately I was powerless to fulfill. Sad. She sounded incoherent, somewhat in a delirium as she battled to inform me how unwell she was. 

SSS and I were contemporaries and close throughout our lives, even when we were in different parts of the world as we were most of the time.

We were born and bred at Mosalakwane masimo some distance to the west of Bobonong village where Babirwa families converged after finishing the routine stint of harvesting, threshing corn and stuffing it in granaries. Serara and I attended the village school relatively early in our young lives as was the norm at the time where some children only arrived in their teens.

We read Standard IV together, which was the ceiling of the school at the time. Altogether we were six in class – four girls and two boys – taught by Teacher Oliphant from Kimberley in South Africa. Oliphant was a lively young man who taught us to sing a beautiful piece which he had apparently composed.

The song called upon Babirwa to move on, wake up and embrace education. We liked the song and sang it lustily with Serara in her squeaky voice leading the song: “Babirwa tswelelang pele, tsayang thuto..Bakalaka le Batalaote ba tswetse pele, tsogang Babirwa lo itireleng…”. At school concerts, the parents came and listened to this melodious and educative music and unbeknown to us, took the song’s message to heart. However, we hardly knew how it affected their parental instincts.

Serara and I, were the sparks in the class always competing for the class trophy in the monthly tests Teacher Oliphant set for us. My budding male pride didn’t take kindly to Serara’s competitive edge in class and once I told her: “Next time you relegate me to second position in a test I’ll beat you. You, try! And you must know, you are a youngster!”

Until the eve of her departure, she never ceased reminding me, I was a kid to her. I confirmed later that she was right. According to the elders I was a year or two younger than she. But my, the pants I wore, proved nothing to her. ‘Kitso [Dingake] learn to respect your elders’ I was forever reminded! In the small village of 40 or so families, villagers knew one another very well and discussed their broods, how they behaved and how they did at school.

The buzz was Serara and Kitso at the kgotla and the two shops which were the only places where villagers congregated to buy groceries and sell small live stock. Since Serara was a girl, she was bound to get more accolades than I, particularly because education even at the primary level where it was available, was for boys.

Our parents apparently took the message of Oliphant’s song seriously and smuggled us out of Bobs for further schooling.  I was dispatched to St Ansgar’s in Roodepoort near Johannesburg and Serara to Hope Fountain, near Bulawayo in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, to proceed with our learning. We met twice a year during school holidays and exchanged notes about our schools in foreign countries. When I finished high school and started working, we lost each other until I learnt she had completed her Nursing course and was working at McCord Hospital in Durban.

We were to meet in Durban when I attended a political conference there. SSS didn’t stop there, but soon obtained a degree in Nursing. She had answered Florence Nightingale’s call for a vocation in which she acquitted herself splendidly.

It could be said she was topmost of the Nightingale products in Botswana: Fiercely independent-minded, workaholic, studious and unwavering in the principles set by Florence Nightingale for the nursing profession, the country’s political independence found her ready to play her role in the health and education services of the fledgling republic.

My dad reminisced about her enviable status at the Princess Marina Hospital where he was admitted while I was away in the dungeons. The nursing staff under her at the hospital quaked and made a fuss over her all the days he lay there unwell. She had informed the staff that the old man was her dad and she wouldn’t brook any shoddy

treatment served him.

Old man was very impressed with her authority over the staff and how she cared for him. The old man was impressed and sounded like he wanted to exchange her for his quasi-dependable son.

The way he narrated her supervision over the nursing staff and the palpable attention she accorded him while he was a patient in the hospital, his life hanging on a thread, made me feel diminished. The royal attention the old man got of course happened while I was away serving penance for my political wayward adventures.

It felt like a dig: “You see what I hoped you’d become through the education I tried to afford you,” I thought was the insinuation.

A misinterpretation perhaps of the old man’s tale? But the extolling of my former classmate, could it be misconstrued? There was an underlying motive particularly that not only did dad sing praises of my classmate’s tender care to him, I knew the bulk of the village elders fantasised about her. Hardly any villager young or old Spoke ill of Serara.

She was a favourite of many village elders because of who she was. She loved her people with passion and dreamt of propelling them to the heights they deserved.

Nothing annoyed her more than the country’s constitution which recognised “major and minor tribes”.  It was the biggest quarrel she had with our politics during her lifetime. Major and minor tribes? If there was anything for her to look back in anger on, it was the Botswana Constitution! It compelled her to seek kindred Batswana she could share the puzzle with.

She found the likeminded in Reteng, the one association that advocates parity of ethnic groups in the country. She firmly believed the country could be better off, if it were not for the ugly mole in the Botswana Constitution.

The one other political blemish in society, generally was gender inequality with all the warts and pimples that accrue to it: rape, defilement, incest and murder (so-called passion killing)! She taught me in practical terms why discrimination against women was an ungodly aberration from normal human life.

I mention her in my unpublished MS on gender equality as firm evidence why discrimination against women is a mortal sin, for which humankind will be severely punished on some future date.

Everything SSS held precious is indeed precious to our mundane lives as an intelligent species, which though it claims to be made in the image of God, in deed demonstrates to be more in the image of the horned evil one.

Prof Mogwe has left a legacy where she was born: Last year I suggested we should celebrate the legacy before she departed. “What legacy are you talking about Kitso?” I pointed out to her whether she knew that at Mosalakwane masimo, where she was born, there are three more professors she can claim to have induced to see the light of day? By becoming the first professor she literally opened the floodgates for the academic class Teacher Oliphant could have never imagined when he taught us to sing that song calling upon Babirwa to embrace education. You have become a legend Professor, you are  legendary by virtue of your trailblazing in education!

 She leaves Mosalakwane’s dusty masimo counting three more professors: History (female) Enginering (male) and Law (male)! She didn’t sense the inspiration she has been, academically, in Mosalakwane.

According to me, it was a very good reason to celebrate, I insisted. It should make her proud and so that she departs this world of ‘major and minor tribes’ and gender-based violence consoled by the bit she had achieved by inspiring the generations after her! This verily, calls for celebration around you! She finally succumbed to my importunity.

Unfortunately, she departed before I could wrap it all up. Blame my dilatoriness for failing to deliver in good time. I know she’ll forgive me, but I will find it hard to forgive myself. She had tried to palm off the idea of celebrating her inspiration but had eventually given in, with a wry smile, adding that she hoped the next professor from Mosalakwane will be female.

She shouldn’t have worried because in her ward, in the village, not Mosalakwane, she has left Professor Sheila Dinotshe Tlou who straddles the world, continent by continent, like a colossus dispensing medi-care in word and deed.


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