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Remembering Sandy Grant

Sandy Grant at Swaneng Hill School anniversary in 2014
Sandy Grant died over the weekend. You may not have heard of him: he was 83 when he died.

He had two points of contact with Maru-a-Pula (MaP): his son, Alex, did A levels here in 2009 and in 1969 Sandy Grant waged a vigorous and principled battle to stop MaP from being set up. Maybe those two actions appear contradictory: the fact is that Grant mellowed towards MaP over the years. He was much impressed with the part that Maitisong played in opening MaP to the community and this may have made him happy to send Alex here.

Grant’s objection to MaP in the late 1960s came from his distaste for the idea of an exclusive school in one of the world’s 10 poorest countries that would cater for the privileged few who could afford the fees. He was a typical member of the powerful socialist or communist movement of those times and hoped that the new country, Botswana, would, after independence, not entrench the elitist system of Britain or neighbouring apartheid South Africa but work for a more equal, socialist society.

He was powerfully positioned to carry on his battle against MaP: he was the Development Officer of the Botswana Christian Council (BCC). All applications for funding that were made to church organisations worldwide, like Church Aid, had to be approved by Grant’s committee and whenever MaP applied for money from these very wealthy organisations, the BCC gave the application a zero-rating. MaP never received funding from any overseas church organisation. This was at a critical time in MaP’s life when the school desperately needed money to get going.

The founding schoolhead of MaP, Deane Yates never forgave Grant for this. In the event, MaP managed to link into American philanthropy through Ned Hall’s AFMAP. This saw significant amounts of money crossing the Atlantic and MaP survived and prospered.

If Yates did not like Grant, the feeling was reciprocated in full measure. Grant

did not like  Yates at all. They met for the first time in 1972 shortly after the school opened, but they found no common ground. Grant was more than an equal for Yates: intelligent, a brilliant letter writer, pugnacious and a ‘contrarian’, someone who delighted in shooting down careless or half-baked ideas. You could get away with nothing with him.

Apart from trying to stop MaP, though, Grant’s contribution to Botswana has been profound. He started work as a young 25-year-old idealist at the Mochudi Community Centre in 1963 and became a very close friend of Kgosi Linchwe and the Bakgatla. From there he joined the BCC and pursued his idea that the poor people of Botswana didn’t need spiritual uplift: they needed their everyday lives to be improved: they needed wells for water, sanitation, dams, centres to help children with education and production and many other things to raise their standard of living. He was a strong supporter of Swaneng Hill School that embodied many of these ideals.

When he left the BCC he started the Phuthadikobo Museum in the old school buildings on the hill in Mochudi, the country’s only community museum at the time. His love of Botswana culture and his concern with its preservation, produced books on topics like the decorated homes of Botswana, the country’s history, his wonderful memoirs and his last book of photographs of Botswana’s people, great and small, right from 1963 till more recently.

In writing the history of MaP I have often consulted Grant and spent delightful hours with him at their pretty home in Oodi gathering what insights I could into the school’s background and his reaction to it.

An amazing man who leaves an amazing legacy. If you had not heard of Grant, remember that name and what he did for Botswana.


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