Botswana has suffered another considerable loss this week, the man my sisters and I have known our entire lives as “Uncle Julian” has died. “Uncle Julian”, who was in fact one of Botswana’s most prominent jurists was in fact seventy-two year old former Chief Justice Julian Nganunu. Who passed away late Saturday evening at his cattle post in the North East District. While his loss is a personal tragedy for family and friends, his demise is also significant to the nation. For forty years Julian Nganunu played a leading role in the establishment, formulation and interpretation of this country’s legal strictures. His career, made remarkable by a number of legal ‘firsts’ was a distinguished one, deserving of both pause and mention.
Julian Mukwesu Nganunu was born to Moswewu and Nakama Nganunu on the 23rd of September 1941 in the village of Mapoka in the North-East District. The eldest of eight siblings his education commenced in 1948 at one of the oldest centers of basic education in Botswana, Mapoka Primary School. In 1958 he began his secondary education at St. Joseph’s College in Kgale, where he obtained his O’level School Certificate in 1963, qualifying with a first class pass. He then enrolled at Camden Town College in London, for two years, emerging with an A ‘Level school leaving qualification in 1965. Rre Nganunu went on to read law in 1966 at The London School of Economics and Political Science, a constituent college of the University of London, which conferred upon him his Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) in 1969. His legal pupilage was spent at The Honorable Society of Gray’s Inn, one of the four Inns of Court in London where-after he was called to the bar and deemed Barrister at Law in 1969.
It was during his legal studies and apprenticeship that Rre Nganunu was to meet the woman who was to become his long term partner and spouse, Ingrid Marianne Mellden (more commonly known as Marianne) from the town of Arvika in the Kingdom of Sweden. He returned to Botswana in August of 1969 to be followed shortly after by Marianne Mellden in December of the same year. They married on the 10th of January 1970, presently welcoming into the world their first born child and son Dzikamani Nganunu. The birth of their second child and daughter Johanna Nganunu-Macharia, followed soon after. After 40 years of marriage, Marianne Nganunu passed from the world on the 1st of November 2010, after a long battle with cancer. Rre Nganunu was by her side.
Professionally, former Chief Justice Nganunu’s career was a distinguished one. He served in Botswana’s newly established Attorney General’s Chambers from 1969, where he was appointed State Counsel, rising quickly through the ranks to culminate his tenure there in the post of Deputy Attorney General. His last year there was spent in an acting capacity, that of Attorney General, where he performed the function of principal legal adviser to the Government of Botswana. His departure from the Attorney General’s Chambers in 1976 heralded his commencement in the role of Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Water Affairs and Energy, where he most ably and capably assisted and facilitated in the establishment and administration of this relatively new organ of Government. Among his most impressive accomplishments and as part of the leadership of this Ministry and the time ÔÇô a time when the Government of Botswana was on the verge of entering into complex negotiations with De Beers regarding a long term partnership based on the exploration and mining of Botswana’s diamonds – he played a key role in the legal negotiations and the formulation of the official agreements that allowed for the development of Jwaneng and Letlhakane Mines, latterly incorporating Orapa Mine into the improved comprehensive agreements. He also initiated the first projects that would see rural villages supplied with potable water and electricity and served as the first Deputy Chairperson of Debswana and the first Chairman of the Botswana Diamond Valuing Company. He chose to enter private legal practice in 1978 in partnership with fellow attorney Richard Lyons. Subsequently going on to found Nganunu and Company as a solo venture, which he ran and operated until called to the bench in 1992.
Rre Nganunu was appointed a judge of the High Court on January 24 1992, one of two Batswana selected to begin the process of localizing Botswana’s High Court at the time. He was elevated to the post of Chief Justice in July of 1997, a role in which he served up until his retirement in February 2010. As Chief Justice, Rre Nganunu initiated a comprehensive expansion and strengthening of judicial services in Botswana, intended to parallel the country’s rapid economic and social development and finally he increased the pace and tempo of localization with regard to the judiciary. Former colleagues have described his leadership of the judiciary as bold, fair, intelligent and at times controversial.
During his tenure as Chief Justice he represented Botswana at a number of significant international, Commonwealth, regional and country legal conferences and symposia. Workshops dedicated to strengthening rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and improvements in the delivery of competent judicial services. In recognition of his outstanding service to the nation, as an attorney, former civil servant and member of the bench, Rre Nganunu was awarded the Presidential Order of Honor on September 30 2002.
Upon and well into retirement Rre Nganunu remained active. Turning his substantial attentions and talents to various commercial enterprises with which he was involved. In 2013, along with another Botswana businessman, he personally chaired the boards of two Botswana Stock Exchange listed companies, Sefalana Holdings Limited and Chobe Holdings Limited. He was also on the board of Stanbic Bank.
Julian and Marianne Nganunu shared a passion for wildlife and the Botswana bush and many a happy family holiday was spent in Kasane and the Okavango Delta. Rre Nganunu continued his visits to these areas well into retirement. He gave his other love, the cattle-post, the time and attention he’d been unable to offer it while serving on the bench. He took time out of his still busy schedule and a family that were constantly involved in one another’s lives to mentor young lawyers, provide legal opinions when asked and to baby-sit and spend quality time his grandchildren. Family featured prominently and pre-eminently in the life of Julian Nganunu.
He is survived by his mother, two children, five siblings, three grandchildren and an assortment of nieces, nephews, cousins and other relatives. He leaves behind close friends, associates and colleagues.