Colonial officer challenges Matenge’s account of national anthem

12 May 2014

A British colonial officer who became the first Clerk to Cabinet in independent Botswana, George Winstanley, has challenged the quite elaborate account that former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Gobe Matenge, lays out in his biography about how “Fatshe Leno La Rona” came to be adopted as Botswana’s national anthem.

In “Unearthing the Hidden Treasure: The Untold Story of Gobe Matenge” which was written by Justice Key Dingake of the Gaborone High Court, Matenge tells an intriguing story of how he, Bernard Sesinyi, Peter Mmusi, Masukula Sinombe and Dingaan Mokaila led a campaign to have “Fatshe Leno La Rona” selected as the national anthem. During the Bechuanaland Protectorate years, the national anthem was “God save the King” but the coming into being of Botswana necessitated a home-grown replacement.

An invitation was sent out to local composers to submit entries and of the six subsequently shortlisted was “Fatshe Leno La Rona” by Kgalemang Motsete. In his book, Matenge says that he and others were shocked to learn from the grapevine that cabinet preferred and was about to decide in favour of “Morena Boloka Sechaba sa Etsho”, which had mysteriously and belatedly been added to the shortlist. When cabinet got to learn about Matenge’s lobby group and its preference, it decided that all seven songs be played on the radio and leave the choice to listeners.

Says the book: “[Matenge’s] group moved quickly and produced tapes of the seven songs and placed their favourite piece in position seven of the list since listeners tend to remember the music of the last song. The group went right around Gaborone, playing the tapes to prominent people, including spouses of cabinet ministers with the hope that they would whisper to their spouses for a change of heart. However, government arranged for a gathering in the hall at the Vocational Training Centre (VTC) where these seven songs were played to the audience by Radio Botswana staff.”

Members of the lobby group attended and strategically placed themselves randomly at different points within the gathering. When ‘Fatshe Leno La Rona’ finished playing, they would shout in unison: ‘Encore! Encore!’ The term is French for “again” and is typically shouted out by English audiences - not French ones - to demand the repetition of a song just heard. However, still unconvinced that the VTC audience was significant and representative enough, the government decided that members of the public should write in their votes through the Department of Information and Broadcasting. Around this time a majority of Batswana were illiterate and so very few were going to participate in this exercise. Matenge’s group also determined that those who were literate would not participate enthusiastically in the exercise.

“In the interest of progress, [Matenge’s] group prepared a standard letter in which people indicated their preference for “Fatshe Leno La Rona.” When the count was made from the responses, it was found that those in favour of ‘Fatshe Leno La Rona’ piece were overwhelmingly in the majority,” the book says.
Conversely, a research article by a University of Botswana scholar, Professor Christian Makgala, suggests that Matenge may have exaggerated his role in the adoption of “Fatshe Leno La Rona” as Botswana’s national anthem to a point of falsification.

“To say that its adoption was forced on the government by‘senior civil servants’ is completely untrue, as it is to describe Gobe Matenge and Peter Mmusi as such, since both men, whatever their later eminence, were at the time junior executive officers,” Makgala quotes Winstanley as saying. In email communication with Makgala, Winstanley says that his recollection of the adoption of the national anthem is “somewhat at odds with the description” provided in Dingake’s book. “Seretse initially would have liked to have simply adoptedKgosi Segofatsa Afrika [‘Morena boloka Sechaba sa Etsho’] but I urged him to choose one which would be unique to Botswana and he agreed. (At the time I was Clerk to the Cabinet.)

Notices were issued asking for contributions and two or three were received and performed for the cabinet by a choir under the leadership of a schoolteacher whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, who had in fact composed one of the rival entries. There was absolutely no doubt that Fatshe Leno La Rona was in a class of its own and there was absolutely no hesitation on the part of any members of the cabinet in favouring it. ... The cabinet’s choice was confirmed a few weeks later in a more public hearing to an invited audience which was attended by both Seretse and [his wife] Ruth Khama as well as Amos Dambe in his capacity as Minister for Home Affairs,” Winstanley says.