When she talks about Momphati Merafhe and how passionate he is about life and success, it’s hard to keep Hilda Kandetu quiet. At the recent farewell kgotla meeting for Merafhe in Mahalapye, it had to take the will power of the master of ceremonies to stop her from gushing endlessly about the former vice president. Others could then take the chance to bid him farewell.
Gesturing to her in the audience, Merafhe remarked that Kandetu is his younger sister from the olden days “though at times you claim that you are older than me”.
A Botswana Democratic (BDP) member before independence in the 1960s, Kandetu narrates how Merafhe, passionate about his education, had always shown signs that he would become a person of substance in society. From the 1950s to the early 1960s, her family and Merafhe’s lived at their cattle posts in the southern part of Mahalapye. Her grandfather, Mark Mupe, was a friend of Merafhe’s grandfather, Digobo Nthanthele.
Kandetu says their families cooperated and helped each other on a number of things. She reveals that when it was time for the festive season, they would celebrate Christmas day at her home while the New Year would be observed at the Merafhe’s family home.
Recently turned 65, Kandetu recalls how Merafhe was like an older brother to her and her siblings. While she played mostly with Merafhe’s younger cousins, Maipelo and Mmanchadi, Merafhe mostly spent time with his older brothers, Selekae and Tanase, every time he came to the cattle post from school in Serowe.
She reveals that to them, Merafhe was known as ‘Rantsomanyana’ in the neighbourhood. “The name Mompati was his to use when he went back to school but at home he was known as Rantsomanyana,” she says, adding that Merafhe was ever helpful when their parents were not around as he would milk cows for them.
Merafhe’s grandfather was the neighbourhood tycoon, owning a dairy business and exporting some of his milk to South Africa. She says even though Merafhe’s grandfather suggested to her grandfather that he also ventures into the same business, “my grandfather was not too interested but concentrated more on feeding our family”.
Kandetu further recalls how hunting was a pastime of Merafhe. Often, he would be seen carrying a gun and heading for the bush in the company of one of his uncles. Her family and the Merafhe’s were so close to the extent that at times they thought they were relatives despite Merafhe’s family being Batalaote while they were Herero. She recalls how her family members would help at Merafhe’s family dairy business. Kandetu says her mother, Mbandini Kandetu, was a tailor who sewed clothes. She used to make cloth for the Merafhe business.
When Merafhe joined the then Bechuanaland Protectorate Police, he would at times bring his khaki police uniform to her mother to patch up the torn parts. Her aunt, who was a cousin to her father, would wash and iron Merafhe’s clothes when he came home from work.
Kandetu reveals that even at times when Merafhe was away for some time consumed by his Botswana Defence Force (BDF) duties, whenever he came, he was always grateful to tell people that their Herero family had raised him. She says this is why she supported him fervently when he sought endorsement to be the MP for Mahalapye.
Upon realisation that the incumbent MP for the area at the time, Gaolese Koma (older brother of the Botswana National Front founder Dr Kenneth Koma) was not in good health, the BDP started to cast around for a younger person, one who could represent the people of Mahalapye effectively. They searched but did not find anyone they deemed suitable, she says.
Soon there was a suggestion to take a trip to Serowe for Merafhe who they had seen him as a hard worker in party activities and the country. She said although it was not easy as some people in Serowe also wanted Merafhe, the delegation they sent to court him knew that they were going to be in trouble from the people of Mahalapye if they did not come with Merafhe. “They had to have smart tactics to take Merafhe from the people of Serowe who also wanted him badly,” says Kandetu. The delegation, she recalls, included among others Botlogile Tshireletso, Kemoreng Ntshosa, and Gaomotho Selato.
Why didn’t they consider BNF founder Dr Kenneth Shololo Koma as he was from Mahalapye and had done a lot for the area at the time like founding the Mahalapye Junior Secondary School, then known as Mahalapye Night School? The only problem they had with Dr Koma was that he was from the opposition, says Kandetu.
She affirms that Koma did a lot for the area as he used to go around taking the youth who were roaming the streets to his school; but he did not don the red colours. The other factor that made the pioneer of education an unsuitable candidate was that Koma spent most of the times in the city. Most people saw him as a ‘Gaborone boy’.
And so the work had begun, says Kandetu. They had to introduce Merafhe to the people of Mahalapye in all the kgotlas around the village. Kandetu says although the opposition used underhand tactics to denounce Merafhe before the people of Mahalapye as a ‘foreigner’, the people did not listen
to them as Merafhe’s work in the public service already spoke for him.
After the 1994 general elections, Merafhe became the MP for Mahalapye. Kandetu says before Merafhe, there were not many developments. But during his tenure he managed to have roads tarred, more schools and clinics built.
Kandetu speaks with passion of how Merafhe felt strongly about developing the Mahalapye area but she says most of his plans for the area were affected by his duties as the minister of Foreign affairs as he travelled around the world a lot.
Kandetu may speak in glowing terms about the former vice president. However there is one thing she remains dissatisfied with. After working for her party and the country for so many years, her life has still not improved much compared to people of her time.
She says she has served in a lot of the BDP’s committees, organised party events and exhibitions for so many years but her life has not changed much. “I have built this community,” she says, and adds that she continues to volunteer in the village’s initiatives.