Under normal circumstances, Simon Kgomane Tladi’s funeral and that of Mochele Pheto should have attracted thousands of mourners from all walks of life. But because of the lockdown rules brought about by the impact of COVID-19 pandemic or corona virus as it is also known, only a handful of mourners attended the two separate funerals, one at Morwa and the other in Mochudi during the last week of April. On the day Pheto’s remains arrived home for the following day’s funeral, family’s representatives managed the attendance to ensure that the rules of the lockdown in respect to funerals were adhered to. People were advised not to stay long at the deceased’s home to avoid overcrowding the yard. Di ne di nwa di tlhatloga.
At Tladi’s funeral at Morwa, mourners went to the cemetery expecting to return to the deceased’s home to disperse in accordance with custom. That was not to be. They washed their hands while still at the graveyard and told to proceed straight to their respective homes instead of to the deceased’s home. They were thanked for coming to the funeral to bury the deceased. In accordance with the rules governing funerals since the lockdown came into effect, no food was served. The funeral lasted strictly two hours.
Admittedly, this is an abnormal situation. It can be argued that it denies the deceased an opportunity to get a decent farewell so that their spirit would rest peacefully. But what else could be done when the world is faced with the task of containing the spread of the COVID-19? What the families of the two veteran politicians did is commendable. This shows the level of commitment by the nation on adhering to the regulations of the state of emergency. It would appear that generally people have given a nod to calls for them to stay home, limit the number of attendance at funerals to not more than fifty, provide no food at funerals and maintain social distancing at all costs. Otherwise there is no other reason why the two veteran politicians’ funerals would be attended by a handful of people while their political track record is well known to many.
In this article, I intend dealing with the political life of Simon Tladi at length. His son, Marshall Tladi says his father was passionate about politics. The facts will prove him right and show why it is necessary to devote much space to him. Simon Tladi and Pheto were former opposition councillors in the Kgatleng District at some stage. Pheto’s political activity started in 1974 as a BPP councillor for Boseja but lost in the following elections. He made a comeback to the council in 1984, the year the district council became a BNF controlled body. That election saw Simon Tladi becoming councillor for Morwa Village. That council was the most radical ever to be seen in the district. Other radical members of the council were Lerei Moje and Thomas Lekoko. Lekoko was extremely rough and cared very little about the law. He did not mind his language.
Perhaps it was his stay in Soweto, South Africa that radicalized him. In the end, he paid dearly for it when the late Isaac Davis successfully sued him at the High Court for defamation of character. He uttered defamatory statements about Davis twice at political rallies following the Segametsi Mogomotsi riots in Mochudi. Davis was represented by attorney Kgafela Kgafela, son of Kgosi Linchwe II. The likes of Jerry More, Anderson Mogomotsi, Phillip Lebotse and Mosekiemang Mosekiemang were moderate. All those councillors defected from the BNF to form the BCP. That move marked the end of their political careers because after forming a new party, BNF leader, Dr Kenneth Koma toured the country skillfully destroying most of them politically. He was an orator. He spoke almost like Mark Antony at the funeral of Julius Ceasar. He went around asking the people only two questions. Those were the questions which were aimed at arousing people’s emotions against the defectors and inducing them to turn their backs against the people they had voted for under the BNF ticket. The questions were “a lo ne lo rometse botlhe ba ba duleng mo pathing ya BNF go ya kwa Palapye go ya go nthoga?” When the people responded with a big “no”, he posed a second question, “a mme bone batho ba, le santse le ba tsaya e le baemedi ba lona?” Again the answer was a big no. From there most if not all those who defected from the BNF and formed the BCP, lost the election that followed. They had played into the hands of Dr Koma. Hate him or love him, Dr Koma was a seasoned politician. I would rate him as the number one politician this country ever produced.
Of all those councillors, Simon Tladi was the most experienced politician. His political life started at an area called Nyanga in Cape Town, South Africa in 1955 when he joined the African National Congress (ANC). He became actively involved in the ANC’s political education. He rubbed shoulders with the likes of Nelson Mandela and other high profile members of the organization. In 1959, several ANC members led by Mangaliso Sobukwe broke away from the ANC to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). Simon Tladi was among them. He became an organizer in the new movement distributing its pamphlets and holding meetings with party structures at Nyanga location.
In 1960, Simon Tladi was involved in what is referred to in the PAC literature as the “earth-shaking Sharpeville-Langa anti-pass positive action campaign”. He was one of those being sought for by the brutal Boer police after the massacre of 60 or so black people. Tladi went underground for a week, successfully evading arrest. During the week when he was underground, police extended their search on train booking lists in case his name was among them. But the PAC smuggled him out of South Africa by booking him in the train under a false name which enabled him to reach Bechuanaland now Botswana.
He arrived in Lobatse and linked up with Fish Keitseng. It turned out that in Lobatse, Simon Tladi was the only one with a driver’s license among them. As a result, Tladi’s main political duties was extended to include transporting South African refugees to the northern part of the country to cross the border to Zambia, Tanzania and other countries to further their education and for military training. Ultimately, Tladi moved to Morwa where he joined other veteran politicians to form the Botswana People’s Party (BPP). Together with Phillip Matante, Thari Motlhagodi, Carr Ratseko and others, Tladi launched a spirited campaign which led to Motlhagodi becoming the first Member of Parliament for Mochudi in 1965. When the BPP faded away, he joined the BNF and became one of its campaigners. He spoke at every rally the party addressed in Kgatleng. He even accompanied party leaders to address political rallies outside his district.
When I was in the middle of this article, my attention was drawn to the death of another Tladi man in Mochudi. Unlike both Simon Tladi and Mochele Pheto, he was not a politician. Mpyayagae Tladi aged 83 was a former footballer. He was a founder member of Township Rollers. In fact he is said to be the one who came out with that name when the club was established in 1965. Legends say three names had been proposed for the new club and the one proposed by him was adopted as it coincided with the emergence of Gaborone as a new town for independent Botswana. Earlier he had been playing for a training institution where he was a mechanic trainee. The other team in Gaborone was Mighty Tigers which was a Bechuanaland Public Works department (PWD) whose colours were the current Township Rollers’.
Mpyayagae Tladi’s funeral was also attended by a handful of mourners in accordance with the current prevailing circumstances. A relative counted 47 people were at his funeral. It may even be that Rollers were not represented at his funeral. It may also be that they did not even know that such an important personality was being buried. At the worst it may be that Township Rollers did not even know who suggested their name. Google does not appear to know who suggested the name Township Rollers. A search in that aspect produced negative results. Even the other names which were put on the table appear to have been lost. Throughout his life following his retirement, Mpyayagae boasted of having suggested the name for the country’s most decorated team. Let us hope that one day,COVID-19 will be history just like other pandemics such as Influenza, Small Pox, Plague and Cholera. In the meantime, adhere to the rules aimed at containing the pandemic. Remember the wearing of masks has become compulsory.