Saturday, September 23, 2023

BADGE-ICAL HISTORY TOUR from Koma to Merafe, a few leaders to be honored with street name plates?

If it will be any consolation to the Botswana National Front, a major road in Mahalapye could be named after veteran opposition leader, Dr. Kenneth Koma. However, pride of place could go to the former and now deceased vice president, Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe, who served as area MP from 1988 to 2012.

“Could” because at this point, nothing concrete has come out of a process that formally started at the Mahalapye kgotla on Tuesday morning when residents suggested names for (technically speaking) the highway, roads, avenues, closes and streets in the village. For the most obvious reason, the highest honour thus far has gone to Merafhe. It has been suggested that the section of the A1 Highway that passes through Mahalapye should be called Mompati Sebogodi Merafhe Highway. A suggestion that the University of Botswana should be renamed after Koma has met very fierce and in some cases vicious opposition. However, those in KK’s adopted home (he originated from Serowe) may be more appreciative of what he did for the country. Coming into Mahalapye from Gaborone, there is a tarred road that branches left, passes near the hospital and terminates at a traffic circle on the Mahalapye-Shoshong Road. Some people want it to be named after Dr. Kenneth Shololo Koma. Another Koma (Gaolese) is also on the list. Gaolese Koma was the village’s first MP, serving from 1966 to 1988 when he made way for Merafhe. The name of Gaolese Koma has been suggested for the road that branches westwards from the Cashbuild Hardware (the first circle from Gaborone) and goes up to the agricultural showgrounds.

Gaolese Koma is among what one can loosely call the founders’ list of people whom residents want honoured for their service to the village. Beyond immortalising those people, the exercise will yield an important historical record about what was once one of Botswana’s (some would say most) vibrant village. On that list are Kgosi Manyaphiri who was Mahalapye’s first Headman of Records; Mompati Segotsi, grandfather to Tsoebebe, the current Senior Chief’s Representative, was the Tshekedi Khama’s tax collector in Mahalapye, established Konyana ward and superintended the passage of mine labourers to South Africa; Reseapele Senai who was Tsoebebe Segotsi’s predecessor; Omphitlhetse Apadile, who was Senior Chief’s Representative; Obonetse Tshipe Kakabale, who was Chief’s Representative when he retired from the kgotla in 1996 and was the first chairperson of the Central District Council Crime Prevention Committee; Frederick Maharero, who settled in the village with his Herero people having fled a German-led pogrom in present-day Namibia; Sir Russell England who was the first principal of the Rural Training Centre, precursor to the Botswana College of Agriculture that is now called the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, sat on the European Advisory Council and chaired the pre-independence Joint Advisory Council; David Nchingane, the first headman of Xhosa 2 ward who was part of the first batch of Xhosa people from South Africa to settle in Mahalapye; Oduetse Molosi, the father of former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Lands, who literally made the road that be named after him; Leonard Tarr, a white trader who established Tarr & Turk Filling Station; Kgosi Bobonong who was the first headman of the first Mahalapye ward (Mokoswana) ward that would be uprooted to two separate locations in the early 1990s when the current bus terminal was built; and Sheleng Ositile, a folk singer who is famed for the eponymous classic, Sheleng Wee.

In its own category is a defunct concert-hall-become-nightclub whose story is entwined with that of Kgalemang Motsete, the man who composed Botswana’s national anthem. Lost forever at Dido would have been cultural values, innocence, lovers and (supposing the fistfights were intense enough) countless sets of front teeth. However, the place remains a huge part of Mahalapye’s cultural history. For that reason, it has been proposed that a short stretch of road in the mall area should be named after Dido.

Past the sentimentality, the street-naming exercise serves a practical purpose. According to Kgosi Tshipe Tshipe, the Mahalapye Chief’s Representative whose own father (Obonetse Kakabale) will be honoured, street names will dispense with need to use the traditional landmark-based direction- and location-giving system that makes service delivery extremely difficult.

“What currently happens is that a mokoba tree will be given as a reference point to an ambulance driver responding to an emergency medical call. The introduction of street names will make it easier for ambulance drivers and postal workers to locate places where their services are needed,” says Tshipe making reference to Botswana Post plans to deliver mail to the doorstep of its clients.

Whether the latter intent succeeds or turns out to be a chimerical pursuit remains to be seen. Even in Gaborone where street names have existed for decades, some people still cite landmarks, happenings, gossip and other irrelevant trivia to give directions. A pop-up airtime-vouchers-and-sweets vendor stall next to an unplastered house where a Township Rollers player who messed up a penalty kick in a Premier League final match seven years ago stays and where a particular kwaito hit song is played round the clock are likelier location details than the street name and house number. If no light bulb still goes on in the head, additional information could cascade in in the form of the name of an Afghan-Kgatla traffic-stopper who won Miss Ellerines in 2008, has twin children with that player and braids her hair in feeding cornrows.

Never having been unproblematic, the enterprise of street-naming is becoming more and more controversial. In enlightened circles, there has long been some consternation about Gaborone streets having been named after genocidal Third World dictators who, between them, have slaughtered tens (possibly hundreds) of thousands of their own citizens. Dissatisfied with a robust Setswana name that they feel impugns their faith, residents of a Gaborone residential district have launched a campaign to have “Ditimamodimo” (which can reasonably be translated as those who stint on worship) replaced with something more agreeable. In Francistown and largely as a result of complete ignorance of history, a street in Gerald Estates has been named after Mahatma Gandhi. While revered as an iconic social justice activist, the famed Indian man was in fact, an unreconstructed racist who made some crude statements about black people. Gandhi did this at a time that he was establishing his activist career in South Africa where he also fought on the side of the British in one of their wars against the Zulu.

Following the Tuesday meeting, the suggested names will, through a series of gradual successive stages, be submitted to the Mahalapye Sub-district Council, the Central District Council and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development for approval. In terms of government policy and practice, street names are suggested at kgotla names. Interestingly, those likely to complain about the resulting names are also the ones who (for both valid and invalid reasons) are less likely to attend such meetings. Tshipe says that vacant residential plots in Flowertown, Corn’s Field, Parwe and Mowana wards will be named after animals, birds and trees.


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