Lady Masire: Goodbye dear Lady!

24 May 2013

The Lady is gone. The wife of a knight rests in peace. The nation weeps as she lies in silence. What shall we say? Words cannot express the deep darkness that envelopes the nation at such an unexpected loss. I weep with Sir Ketumile Masire, but more than that, I weep for him; for what is a knight without his lady. Sir Ketumile hasn’t been too well for some time now and the passing of MmaGaone is a considerable blow to his spirit and health. Yes, MmaGaone, is how we have come to know and love her. Very few people know her by her name, Lady Gladys Olebile Masire. Many just know her ka leina la ngwana, MmaGaone, which celebrates her Tswana motherhood status. And it is her role as a mother that is often forgotten and even downplayed. However one of the most impressive matters about the Masire family is their commitment to family – a quality which is sadly vanishing amongst some of our leaders. The Masires have six children: three sons and three daughters. MmaGaone has raised her children exceptionally well with national duty and party politics competing for Sir Ketumile’s time. In public it has been rare to see Sir Ketumile without Lady Masire.

The solid bond between the two was unmissable. And yet Lady Masire was just MmaGaone – just one of us: not pretentious and self-assuming. She was not loud and self-seeking. But she was there in support of her husband; almost shy, speaking in a low voice; a sa epetlege. She was a Lady. Lady Masire bears the title Lady not just because she was a woman of superior character and tastes; but precisely because she married a knight, Sir Ketumile Masire in 1958. Sir Ketumile Masire is a 1991 recipient of an Honorary Knighthood of the Grand Cross of Saint Michael and Saint George from the United Kingdom. These two have remained a national tower of strength for they portray the bdest ideals of our nation.

And therefore we look back with gratitude, because though she never ruled a nation, Lady Masire will be remembered warmly for supporting and ruling over the man who ruled a nation. From 13th July 1980 until 31 March 1998 Mma Gaone served the nation of Botswana exceptionally as the nation’s First Lady. More than anything else, in the style of another knight, Sir Seretse Khama, and Lady Ruth Williams Khama, the two were inseparable. They were a perfect national example of how a family should look like. We grew up looking up to them with supreme pride and admiration. Nations are strange entities. In many ways they are like families.

Citizens look up to their leaders as an example, even if such leaders did not intend to set themselves on a pedestal as national models. For instance the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Barak Obama of the USA, are brilliant examples of leaders who are outstanding family men. Leadership always flows from the top down to the people.

And so the Office of the President did release a statement written with a southern African English headline. It read: Lady Olebile Masire is late. And so I pondered that in British English that we teach our children, the headline would mean that Lady Olebile is delayed, and never that she has passed on. In British English if you wish to express the point that someone is deceased using late you can only say the late so-and-so with late appearing before a person’s name and never after. When late appears after someone’s name, it suggests that someone has been delayed. The late appearing after someone’s name to express the loss of human life is a peculiar flavour of the Queen’s tongue amongst the southern Africans.

Though she lived a very respectable quiet life, Lady Masire will be remembered by many for a life well lived. She has been recognized by the University of Botswana by naming one of its prizes after her. The Lady Olebile Masire Prize is a prize that is awarded to the best final year degree student in the Faculty of Engineering and Technology. Such an honour is insufficient to recognize the contribution that MmaGaone has made to Botswana. The obvious danger is that the true story of her contribution to this nation may never be fully known and fully appreciated. But her work on this earth has been done. She lived her life to the fullest. Perhaps Sachs is right that ‘death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives’ for few indeed will ever have a life as exciting, as rich and as enlightened as the one Lady Masire has lived. All that is left is for us to console ourselves that she has gone to a better place. Perhaps the scriptures are right that ‘the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.’

Ours is a brave new world. To Lady Masire I say: “Goodbye dear lady”. To Sir Ketumile Masire I say: God be with you which really means the same thing as Goodbye! a word derived from godbwye (1570s), which itself is a contraction of God be with ye (late 14th century).