Following the 2003 Botswana Democratic Party national congress in Gantsi, the story of the week was that vice president Ian Khama had toppled Ponatshego Kedikilwe as party chairman but there really was a story more deserving of the front page. At great inconvenience to both himself and others in his entourage, President Festus Mogae had, on the journey back, given a plane ride to a critically ill woman so that she could be rushed to Gaborone to receive urgent medical attention.
This heart-warming tale comes out as Dr Jeff Ramsay, Mogae’s press secretary is asked to recount his fondest memory of his former boss. For starters, Ramsay himself prefers “a deeply respectful memory” as language that better describes an episode that best exemplifies Mogae’s kind-heartedness.
The political battle was over and Mogae and his entourage, which included the First Lady, Ramsay, party secretary general Daniel Kwelagobe and special advisor to the president, Sidney Pilane, were at the Gantsi airstrip preparing to fly back to Gaborone. Ramsay could surmise “a natural desire on the part of H.E. ÔÇô and indeed the rest of us ÔÇô to get back to the State House and get the much-needed rest ASAP.”
The party was not flying in OK 1, the presidential plane, but a small, six-seater aircraft which Ramsay says was already filled beyond comfort.
“Having been to Bobirwa for President’s Day as well as attended all night party meetings, H.E. was not surprisingly quite exhausted and indeed appeared to be coming down with flu,” Ramsay recalls.
Just when the plane was about to take off, the party received word that a woman from Gaborone had fallen off a roof and was recommended for referral to Princess Marina hospital in Gaborone.
“We knew nothing more about the lady or her condition other than that she needed help and no one around seemed to know her. She may have been drunk when she had her accident, or unbalanced. Despite the inconvenience, the Mogaes decided to take her with them, as there was no other airplane going from Ghanzi to Gaborone at that point,” Ramsay says.
Giving the lady a ride meant that takeoff had to be delayed while the township’s hospital made arrangements to transport her to the airstrip and it was only just under an hour later that she arrived. She was in a stretcher, had been sedated and was being kept in a horizontal position
Says Ramsay: “As such she had to be laid out across two seats. She was thus squeezed in between H.E. and DK Kwelagobe with MmaNametso cradling her. This, of course, did not add to their comfort or anyone else on board the small craft (as I recall a security guard made do in the cargo section while Pilane and I tried to share a semi-seat behind the cockpit). I suppose the whole circumstance would probably have been regarded as some sort of unacceptable security risk in most countries. Any way we managed. On arrival MmaNametso took charge of getting the poor lady to the hospital, personally accompanying her.”
Ramsay says that to this day he doubts another First Couple “would have troubled themselves in such a way to help a stranger, or even that such a thing would have been considered or allowed. I think it speaks volumes of RraNametso and MmaNametso’s character and indeed the character of our country.”