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A personal tribute to Archie Sekao Makgothi

CORRESPONDENT
Well remembered: Makgothi had a love of travel
The curtain was drawn on one of Botswana’s illustrious lives on October 8, 2020 when Archie Makgothi bowed out.

I shared with Makgothi at least two characteristics; we were smitten by spinsters of Rhodesian descent, whom we later married. Rhodesia was flowing with the proverbial milk and honey then. Secondly, we once owned Peugeot sedans and are currently on our second generation of Isuzu.

Peugeot was Africa’s toughest sedan for the middle class in the 1970s and early 1980s. The sedan earned us respect from our in-laws where it was recognised. Makgothi named his Peugeot, Macpherson, after learning that its front shocks were Macpherson struts.

The online memorial services, thanks to the coronavirus (COVID-19), revealed the rich tapestry of this humble man’s life. His legacy as an administrator and adventure lover, a family man and socialite, is notable. I did not hear any tribute for his classroom teaching. He was a trained science teacher. One tribute by a former student caught my attention. She said Makgothi once said “seeing former students succeed in life is always a pleasure to a teacher”.

That summarised the uniqueness of the teaching profession. It is a selfless dedication to enable others to do well in life, often better than you, the teacher. I am not sure which other professions offer the same ethos.

He is most fondly remembered as an education administrator at Madiba and Gaborone Senior Secondary (GSS) schools and the Ministry of Education (MoE).  During part of his Madiba days, I was teaching at Swaneng Hill School. Madiba were our zonal sports archrivals that gave us a tough time. They always seemed to attract the best sports students. They also had several good sports coaching staff.

I particularly remember Modise Maphanyane and Peter Appiah, as dedicated sports coaches who enjoyed turning their students into top athletes. Makgothi was Madiba’s sports fan. He enjoyed seeing Madiba trounce rival school teams. GSS also did well in sports during Makgothi’s time. I doubt it was coincidental that both schools he headed had similar traits. He was able to get the best out of staff and students. I also learnt during his memorial tributes, that one of his administrative styles was to consult staff and students. The style was effective.

My wife was a GSS staff member during Makgothi’s time. That earned me several invitations to fun-filled staff parties. The headmaster would invariably be part of the fun at the party. I often wondered how he combined being fun loving with being a taskmaster. He was a respected, not feared, headmaster.

I now understand that this apparent paradox was because Makgothi’s administration had clearly defined goals that were internalised by his colleagues. The staff knew what was to be delivered and how. I also believe that he was an honest headmaster, without undue favourites. Many staff were his friends but never, clandestinely or openly, his favourites. In my view, fairness is now often an endangered administrative quality.

As many paid tribute to Makgothi’s administrative prowess, I solemnly observed it as an undeclared farewell to one of the champions of fair administration. I hope that my observation was influenced by my grief for Archie (Makgothi) and therefore completely wrong. I, however, fear it is most likely true.

His MoE days, with minister Jacob Nkate, were when the country was feeling the after effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The MoE had to continue to deliver during what was a challenging time.  This was also at a time when the education sector was expanding. HIV/AIDS became part of the public sector’s major agenda. Public education was one of the ways to effectively handle the epidemic.

The school curriculum mainstreamed HIV/AIDS issues. Many teachers were inadequately prepared and often uncomfortable with the subject material. It was uncharted territory with potentially choppy waters. He often passionately talked about the MoE’s innovations, the hardships and the successes with HIV/AIDS. All of a sudden Makgothi showed an ability to deliver within complicated administration environments.

He relished and embraced the challenges. The many years as an honest headmaster earned him the guile, armour-plating and manoeuvrability to deal with the HIV/AIDS challenges. In his tribute, the former MoE permanent secretary Philemon Ramatsui, confirmed that Makgothi was a capable deputy PS and Head of the Planning and Statistics Unit in the ministry.

The funeral programme revealed that several schools were constructed during Makgothi’s time. My wild mind instinctively thought, did Makgothi make any illicit gain from the projects? My unapologetically biased response is that I am confident he did not. Were tributes to Makgothi’s good administration a farewell to one of our endangered breed of honest administrators?

Makgothi was a father figure to many because of his job but he also fathered other people’s children. His home often had children from relatives, friends and acquaintances. My children once stayed with his family for a few months when my wife and I were both out of the country in the late 1990s.

He was equally strict and fun-loving with our children as much as his. I noted a tribute by one of the former GSS students who revealed that Makgothi made time to attend former students’ celebrations of their former school. 

How and why did he manage that? There would be so many such events that may literally pull one

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apart. I think he created time to attend because to him they were part of his professional family, the school. The father figure in Makgothi sacrificed beyond the call of duty. Seven years after retiring he generated enough interest, energy and time to accept the invitation to work for Westwood International School for five years till May this year. The current head of Westwood’s tribute to Makgothi was that he solved several problems the school had.

The fun-loving side of Makgothi fiercely competed for space in his life as much as it did during his memorials. He loved travelling. During the early days of his love for travel, his signature was a rack sack on his back, a sun hat, and flat-soled Clarks shoes. These durable quality shoes are very comfortable and he almost always had a pair.

When he went to school in Scotland, I inherited his treasurer position at Botswana Institutions Sports Associations (BISA). The treasurer’s filing cabinet that was passed down to me was a khaki rag sack.

Makgothi’s love for travel had three components. He enjoyed motoring. I once listened to a detailed account of his early winter morning drive with a friend from Gaborone to Francistown. The narrative included pre-travel preparations, the drive, where they were at sunrise, how much fuel the vehicle used, his joyfully cosy early morning snooze as the vehicle was driven by the friend and how the vehicle engine sounded as he woke up.

He said when he woke up he complimented the driver for the good progress they had made. He loved driving off road. His Subaru AWD quenched his passion for soft off-road driving.

He also enjoyed sightseeing and photography. His house must be full of memorable pictures from over 40 years of travel. He travelled across southern Africa from Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland (now eSwatini), and different parts of South Africa, which he extensively knew. Makgothi loved camping. The love for camping evolved from using serviced campsites to setting up where nothing was provided. He was a regular at Mmantshwabise.  I doubt he cared much about the competing drivers, the different vehicles or even who won the race. All I ever heard was a detailed account of how quickly they set up camp, the bonfire, the food and the assorted beverages, the people he was with and how his vehicle behaved. He occasionally sent pictures of his different camp bonfires to friends. One tribute from a Birdlife Botswana member correctly noted that he was not as keen to identify the birds, as he was to tell a story and enjoy the company.

Makgothi was an avid storyteller. Like a good musician, who can spice up an old tune back to top the charts, he would revive the punch line of any old story. My favourite was his story of the man brought to court as a witness. He was asked how fast the vehicle he had been travelling in was, prior to an accident. According to Makgothi the witness, who had no clue of vehicle’s speeds, and also appeared to have no numeracy skills, said “maybe 1,000,” when the audience gasped at the figure, he said “Am I wrong? May be it was 300”, which also brought more gasps. 

The out of sorts witness proved his complete innumeracy when he said “Ooh yes, now I remember. It was 10,000.” To buttress his evidence, the desperate witness tried to use the sound the trees made as the vehicle passed by to prove the high speed. By the time Makgothi hit the punch line of that story, he would be laughing loudest. We, his audience, had no option but to follow suit.  

He often affectionately described himself as Mosimane yo mosesane wa Francistown, (The Francistown slender boy) to thunderous applause and laughter. The naughty chuckle after the utterance confirmed that he knew he was not, and was never, slender. I have considered why this expression almost always accompanied his 10 seconds jig at a party.  Was it an excellent cover up for his inability to dance? It was a very smart decoy.

 I never saw Makgothi sustain a dance beyond a few seconds despite being with him at several opportune events for dancing. I learnt he occasionally stepped in as a drummer for the then Francistown-based band The Shades, whose shows somehow I never attended.

He told me Dennis Alexander and John Gaetsewe were part of the band. Makgothi’s drumbeat must have been a hilarious cacophony. Ramatsui described Makgothi’s drumming as ‘furious’. I am almost confident that he would be very amused at his drumming, which would in turn entertain the audience.

Makgothi was an active member of the Roman Catholic Church where I learnt he once held an administration role. Administration was a way through which he best expressed and defined himself on earth. It is good to know that he created time to offer the best part of his God-given talent to serve in God’s house.

He survived by his wife, Susan (Makgothi), three children, five grandchildren, an elder brother, three brothers-in-law and their spouses, a sister-in-law and “many nieces and nephews across the world”.

MASEGO AYO MPOTOKWANE



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