Ray Molomo: Academic, politician and founding BNF president

22 May 2015

It’s a balmy Wednesday morning as I knock on the front door of Rre Molomo’s double storey mansion in Mochudi.

“Ware o moshimane wa go’o Rra mang monna?” he asks in his trademark hoarse voice as he opens the door for me. I introduce myself and explain the purpose of my visit.

“Oh I read your interview with Mogwe. So Mogwe can still drive at 94? I wonder if I’ll get there. He is nine years older than me,” he replies.

I was taken aback because I expected to be met by a frail old man. But, at 85 years, the octogenarian was still very active, his usual bubbly self and in full control of his faculties. But how has he managed to stay fit for so long? He avoided alcohol and smoking at all costs.

“Bojalwa le go rata basadi ba bantsi ke tsone di koahatsang batho,” he says.

He also says he has never smoked marijuana, which is popular in Kgatleng. Matlapeng Ray Molomo was born in Mochudi in 1930 and he boasts of a rich and enviable curriculum vitae. He has been a cabinet minister, Member of Parliament, Permanent Secretary, Under Secretary, Educational Planner, College Principal, Researcher, University Lecturer, Author and BFA President. The story of his upbringing is no different from that of a typical Motswana boy of yester-year. He grew up among older boys at the cattle post looking after his father’s cattle.
Fortunately, Molomo’s father appreciated education. He set up a night school for herd boys called Tlhagale Primary, where they attended classes during the night. Molomo later came to Mochudi to finish his primary education before heading for Natal to study for his Junior Certificate. He thereafter matriculated at Ohlange High School in Durban and went to Tigerkloof. After Tigerkloof he taught at Bakgatla National School and later Kgari Sechele until he became Principal of Isang Secondary School.

He also had some teaching stints in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Lesotho. His insatiable appetite for education saw him enrolling with the University of South Africa (UNISA) where he majored in Philosophy and History. He also has a Post Graduate Diploma in Education from Rhodes University. In 1962, he enrolled for his Masters in Educational Psychology at University of Ottawa in Canada. He came back in 1964 and was appointed deputy principal at Serowe Teacher Training College and later acting principal at Lobatse Teacher Training College. In 1968 became Educational Planner in the Ministry of Education and later worked as undersecretary at the Ministry of Works and Transport before becoming Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education. He resigned from government in 1975 after a fall-out with a minister who accused him of not serving the interests of the BDP.

“I had not reached 45 and therefore was not entitled to gratuity but President Sir Seretse Khama in his magnanimity allowed for me to paid gratuity,” he said. Molomo is also the author of the much acclaimed novel Sebaga sa Lorato which was used in schools in the 1990’s. Unbeknown to many, Molomo founded the Botswana National Front (BNF) with Kenneth Koma in 1965 and was elected its first president, in absentia. However, he humbly turned down that vote of confidence and paved the way for Dr Kenneth Koma to become BNF president.
In 1978 Molomo was persuaded to join the BDP by his friend the late Peter Mmusi. In 1977, Molomo went to teach at the University of Botswana where he was senior lecturer and head of department until he resigned and joined active politics in 1984, becoming Member of Parliament for Mochudi in 1989.

What are his views on democracy in Botswana?

Though he admits a perfect democracy is not possible to attain, Molomo had this to say about Botswana; “We have regressed as a country. The current regime rules through decree and presidential directives”. He continues with sadness written on his face, “If there is no democracy within the BDP, how can there be democracy in the country?” He further says unlike in South Africa, the president doesn’t account to parliament.

“The current regime doesn’t show democracy. Even the party has become very weak. It has been adulterated,” he frowns.

Molomo lost his parliamentary seat to the opposition in 1994. He would later return to parliament in 1999 now as Speaker of the National Assembly, a position he held until he retired on his own volition in 2004. He still stands by what he wrote in his 2012 book ‘Democratic Deficit in Parliament of Botswana’. In the book, Molomo expressed serious misgivings about the manner in which the executive manipulated and undermined parliament. He is of the view oversight institutions such as the IEC, DCEC, DISS and Ombudsman must be accountable to parliament and not “the all-powerful Office of the President”.

Molomo gets animated when he speaks about his tenure as President of Botswana Football Association (BFA). He recalls how in 1972 the BFA had a fall-out with government after a favoring Township Rollers in its dispute with Gaborone United. At the time, BFA comprised of men like Peter Mmusi, Peter Tlhophane, Motsepe and Washington Meswele. The decision did not go down well with high ranking government officials who were sympathetic to Gaborone United. The club sought the support of Notwane, which had influential supporters such as Archie Mogwe, Daniel Kwelagobe, Gobe Matenge, Richard Mannathoko and Lawrence Lekalake. A commission led by Dupleix Pilane found that Molomo’s committee had done nothing wrong.

“Minister Moutlakgolo Ngwako who then purported to be responsible for sports tried to expel me but failed because there were no laws governing sports at the time,” Molomo reminisces. He said out of Ngwako’s frustrations, the Botswana National Sports Council (BNSC) was then established so that the minister could have powers to sack and appoint BFA presidents. He later resigned to evade expulsion.

Molomo on Kgosi Kgafela II

“Mokgatla has not done anything wrong that warrants this dark cloud that is hovering over his head,” he says. Molomo blames Bakgatla for the continued rift between Kgosi Kgafela and government.

“Our attitude towards government was not depictive of people who wanted to smoke the peace pipe. How can we insult government and claim to want to broker peace?” he asks rhetorically.

Molomo is a recipient of the Presidential Order of Honor in recognition of his efficient and devoted service to Botswana. In 2003, the French President also bestowed him the ‘Ordre national du Mérite’ (National Order of Merit). Molomo is now a full-time farmer and businessman. He is currently setting up a game farm in Kgalagadi and has finished writing a Setswana book titled ‘Maoma a Bakgatla’ which studies the history, customs and practices of Bakgatla. After two hours with Molomo, I bid him farewell as he prepares for a meeting with his business consultants.