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Mma Matante: The Matriarch Falls

Mma Matante
It’s never easy to write about a public figure you have a personal relationship with, for what you know of them may not necessarily be what the world saw.

But it will be amiss of me not to try.

To the world beyond, Mma Matante was a powerhouse of sorts but to us, she was a loving ever-present mother to the neighbourhood children, as she was to her own.

So here I am, writing an obituary of one that I knew and regret that I write of her in the past tense today when I should have long shared the story of this matriarch.

On Thursday, March 18, 2021, Mary Gladys Matante took her final breath, rested. I say rested because the woman whom I have known for more than half of my life, had not been well for a while now. Her family watched in pain as her fragile body took a beating from old age and sickness. MmaMaT, spouse to Francistown’s first Member of Parliament and first leader of the opposition, the late Phillip Matante has joined her better half and first daughter, Ausi Rere to the other world.

All that is left is for her remaining children, Peter, Pro and Mondo, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren to ponder and make sense of it all. But then, it’s not just them, for MmaMatante was a mother to many, of the hood of White City location in Francistown. Here stood a silent, but ever-present mother to all.

Born in Alexander, a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa, on September, 19, 1934, MmaMatante made Francistown home in the 1960s when she came to the land of her legendary Pan Africanist husband. But attempts by the political animal in me to engage MmaMaT on politics never bore fruit. In fact, for as long as I can remember, she would always brush aside politics of the Botswana People’s Party, which her late husband formed, so much so that she would hardly be found at political party activities.

If you needed MmaMatante, you would always find her at her house in White City. Yes, in the earlier days, when she was still physically able, she eked a living out away from all the lush life associated with the Matante name at TC Stores, across the road, in Kgaphamadi.

I admired this from a distance that here was a woman who could easily bask in the glory of the Matante name, and still chose to work.

Something amazing of this mother of all is that she was never too far from lending a hand in home activities of neighbours or friends. I recall when

growing up in the late 1980s, whenever we gave my late mother a headache, she would get mad as hell. It was always MmaMaT who would come in to calm the storm. Her quiet demeanour and engagement always made my no-nonsense mother melt. So much involved that it was she, when I got married to the ‘foreign’ south, was who my mother called up; firstly to act as one of the mothers, but also to lead a delegation to take me to my new home in Thamaga. She was advanced in age by then, but she made the long journey regardless.

It is these acts that one cannot fail to honour this matriarch. When mothers of White City started leaving this earth, we knew we were not so lost, we were not orphans, for MmaMaT was never too far with an ear to listen or give word of advice. The last I visited her, just before the 2019 General Election, when all were fussing over the impeding announcement by President Mokgweetsi Masisi to name the ‘spaghetti road’ after PG, as her late husband was known, she was just sitting at home seemingly oblivious. I was with my little sister Lesego, her favourite of my siblings.  I tried to enquire about the upcoming event, but she brushed it aside, instead interested in our lives. She was then struggling with advanced arthritis, and with a wheel-chair hidden behind the door. Her focus was on my state of health. There she was giving tips on home remedies. Such love! Also on her concern list, was her other ailing friend, Mma Jabulani, as Mma Ndlovu was called. Sadly, I hear Mma Matante couldn’t bury her friend two weeks ago because of her failing health.

As I write, my mind is back at White City as I am hit by the realisation that the coronavirus (COVID-19) has stolen our chance – those away from The Ghetto – to bid her well this coming Saturday.

It is with this little write-up that I bid, Mma Matante, the matriarch off and want to believe up there in the world of rest and peace, she will reconnect with all other mothers of White City who left before her.

Go well mother. Yours was a silent, impactful life that the world of politics knew little of. For it was in the homes where you led. Gomotsegang bana ba ga MmaMaT. O itheeditse kgarebe ya Alex.


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