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Sandy Grant's six decades of devoted service

Sandy Grant holding Gaberones map PIC. THALEFANG CHARLES
The late Sandy Ludovic Hamlyn Grant (1937-2021) was an energetic, good-humoured, and multi-talented man whose many contributions over the last six decades have left an indelible mark on our society. 

While he distinguished himself as a pioneering community activist, social commentator, and non-politician politician, he may be best remembered for his passionate championing of the value of local heritage through his many writings, museum work, photography, information sharing, and encouragement of others.

British-born, after earning an MA in History at the prestigious Cambridge University, Sandy Grant found comfortable employment working for a publishing house. But his life changed forever at the end of 1963 when he was approached by two prominent figures from the Anti-Apartheid Movement, namely Martin Ennals who was then the secretary-general of the UK’s Council for Civil Liberties (he would go on to lead Amnesty International) and Nana Mahomo, the Pan African Congress’ representative in London.

Together the pair recruited Grant to spearhead the establishment of a refugee transit centre in what was then still the British ruled Bechuanaland Protectorate. The refugee assistance scheme was quietly approved by the Protectorate’s authorities after the newly installed Kgosi of the Bakgatla bagaKgafela, Linchwe II, offered a site for the project in Mochudi with the understanding that it would also serve as a community centre for the benefit of his morafe.

With initial funding from the Church World Service, the Mochudi Community Centre opened its doors under Grant’s leadership in 1964. As the country was by then facing prolonged drought, at its inception much of the Centre’s activities initially involved administering community feeding and food-for-work programmes. Once the threat of famine had subsided, Grant had the Centre focus its efforts on poverty alleviation and job creation initiatives in such areas as horticulture, leatherwork, and printing, which were further supported by the formation of a marketing cooperative. A night school was also established to help adults pass Standard 7. The Centre also built a community hall for housing meetings, talks, and popular events, while further supporting local sports clubs.

During the 1960s, Grant also taught a civics course at Molefi Secondary School. This experience convinced him of the need to replace the South African history books that were then being used with localised texts. He also joined others in establishing a Botswana History Society. He would subsequently be an active member of the Botswana Society, serving on its board. In 2009 he returned to the classroom as a lecturer on the History of Building at Limkokwing University.

On the recommendation of the Director of the Church World Service, Jan van Hoogstraten, from 1968 to 1974 Grant served as the Development Programme Organiser for the Christian Council of Botswana. During this period, he worked with the various denominations on a number of social and economic development projects, including the Botswelelo Pottery Craft Centre and Oodi Weavers, while sourcing funding for measles vaccination and rolling out a village water supply programme.

After leaving the council, Grant devoted himself to heritage research and conservation, in the process earning an MSc in conservation from Herriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

His 1975 thesis was entitled ‘The Traditional Built Environment in Botswana, a Preliminary Examination’.Encouraged by Kgosi Linchwe II, in 1975 he also joined others in forming an ad hoc committee to work towards the establishment of Botswana’s first District Museum in Mochudi as a Community Trust. At the end of the year, Kgatleng District Council adopted Grant’s proposal that the abandoned National School be restored to house the museum.

With Grant serving as its first director, the Phuthadikobo Museum opened its doors in

1977 and has since served as a focal point for cultural activities as well as display. To help meet its running costs, a production unit was set up as part of the museum, which specialised in silk screen printing. In 1998 Sandy’s wife Elinah took over as director with the couple continuing to be active in the Museum’s affairs until 2007.

During the 1990s Grant was also instrumental in helping to establish the Botswana Museums Association, which joined hands with the government in promoting and sustaining local museums across the country. Spearheaded by Grant, in 1995 to mark the 50th Anniversary of the end of World War II the community museums in Molepolole and Francistown, as well as Mochudi, took the lead in reminding Batswana of the sacrifices of their own veterans of the war, who would subsequently become eligible for government pensions in recognition of their service.

Having established himself as an independent public policy advocate, in 1984 Grant unsuccessfully ran as an independent candidate for Parliament in Mochudi, joining Welly Seboni and other ‘mekoko’ during the campaign. After his proposal to use the monkey (kgabo) as his campaign symbol was blocked, he adopted an eye, which when painted on the roof of his elevated Mochudi home was visible to much of the village. While he did not subsequently run for office, in 1996 Grant became involved in elections as one of the founding members of the Independent Electoral Commission.

The emergence of the private press in Botswana during the 1980s provided Grant with greater vocational opportunities as a professional photographer as well as writer. In addition to innumerable freelance articles, he contributed weekly newspaper columns to the Midweek Sun from 1991 to 1997 and Mmegi from 2000 to 2018, as well as innumerable articles.

Along with Brian Egner, he also formed the Press Trust of Botswana to support the development of independent journalism (a mission partially reflected in the pair’s influential co-authored article ‘The Private Press and Democracy’ in the publication Democracy in Botswana). In the mid-1990s the activities of the Press Trust were largely superseded by the formation of MISA Botswana.

In his later years, Grant was a notably prolific author. In addition to numerous periodical articles, his books include Decorated Homes in Botswana (1996) with Elinah Grant; Etcetera: A Wide-Ranging Selection of Perspective, Critical Essays Which Appeared in the Botswana Press, 1991-1997 (1998); Sheila Bagnall’s Letters from Botswana, 1966-1974, as editor (2001); Mochudi at the Time of Independence (2002); Botswana and Its National Heritage (2012); and Botswana: An Historical Anthology (2012) with Elinah Grant; Botswana: Photographs of a Country in Transition; People and Their Places 1965-2016 (2020).

In his latest book, Botswana: Choice and Opportunity: A Memoir 1963 to 2018 (2020), whose local release was compromised by the COVID-19 crisis, Grant left us with a timely and comprehensive personal insight into his long and distinguished public career.

In 2003 Sandy Grant was awarded the Presidential Order of Honour by President Mogae in “recognition of his efficient and devoted service to Botswana”.

Sandy Grant is survived by his wife Elinah and two sons. To echo the sentiments voiced by many others this week in expressing their love and esteem along with kind memories of the man, may the grieving members of the Grant family be partially comforted in the knowledge of his enduring legacy. His was indeed a life well-lived.

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