Saturday, December 3, 2022

Mpho ÔÇô a servant who died a slave

In his political life, Motsamai Keyecwe Mpho fought discrimination of all forms
Betrayed by his own people, Motsamai Keyecwe Mpho died a slave. A pioneer of opposition politics, he spent more than 60 years of his life in the trenches. Despite his advanced age, he died clinging to the vocation and passion he so much lived and loved. In a premonition before his death, Mpho, who died at the age 91, did not hide his disappointment as he on April 8, 2012 told Wayeyi how much it pained him that he was going to die a slave.

He is quoted in his obituary saying, “it pains me to realize that I am 91 years old, and about to pass on, but I will die a slave, because you the Wayeyi, refused to listen to me”, before he sat down and wept.

This clearly demonstrated his undying love for his people. In his political life, Mpho fought discrimination of all forms and that is why in 1952 he joined the African Congress in South Africa where he became one of the 156 treason trialists with the likes of Chief Albert Lithuli and former South African President Nelson Mandela among others. He was among the group that founded the Freedom Charter document.

Upon his release from prison in South Africa in August 1960, Mpho was deported back to Botswana.

Narrating Mpho’s arrival in Palapye, another political stalwart who is now a Kgosi in Palapye, Klaas Motshidisi said as the veteran Mpho was unpacking his bags, a policeman from the colonial police arrived and told Mpho that he was unwelcome and as such he had to proceed to Ghana.

Motshidisi, who described himself as Mpho’s first political son told mourners at his funeral in Maun that┬á Sebeso, the Bangwato tribal regent responsible for Palapye had also been instructed to refuse to allocate Mpho a residential plot in the village.

He said the British colonial rulers had also sworn seeds of discord against Mpho among the people of Palapye as they viewed him as a communist who was coming to upset the peace and tranquility that prevailed in the village.

In Palapye, Mpho initiated the formation of the Bechuanaland Peoples Party alongside Motshidisi, Philip Matante, Dr Kgalemang Motsete and Blackie Selolwane.

“Mpho drafted the constitution of the party and then invited Dr Motsete to edit it. Mpho formed BPP because he shunned the discrimination that the whites perpetrated against the blacks in Botswana and with his revolutionary mind, that was unacceptable”, said Motshidisi. BPP later┬ásplit and Mpho formed the Botswana Independence Party.

He added that Mpho influenced the boycott of all things that were discriminatory against indigenous Batswana who were mostly employees of the whites in Palapye.

Mpho was however endeared to the people of Palapye and was elected into the Bangwato Tribal Council to the displeasure of the British colonial rulers. According to Motshidisi, a plan was hatched to lock Mpho out of the tribal council on the basis that he was a Moyeyi from Maun and not a Mogwato.

The plan culminated into the enactment of a by-law which barred anybody who had not been a resident in the Bangwato tribal territory for two consecutive years from co-option into the Bangwato Tribal Council, and according to Motshidisi, the by-law was directed at Mpho whom the British colonialists were not comfortable with.

Another kgosi who from palapye, Raditanka Ntebele told mourners at the funeral that Mpho initiated the sending to school of a number of Batswana among them Dr Kenneth Koma who later founded the opposition Botswana National Front.

He said the humble Mpho, whose moral conduct was beyond reproach protested aggressively to the British government┬áwhen the late Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya was sentenced to death. “Mpho sent a telegram to Britain appealing that Kenyatta should not be executed,” said Ntebele adding that it was desirable that a replacement be found in the Mpho family to emulate his good deeds.

Speaker after speaker at the funeral told of how humble the late Mpho was and the pivotal role he played in the growth in Botswana opposition politics.

Apart from politics, Mpho also played a subtantial role in the emancipation of the Wayeyi from the Batawana of Ngamiland. According to Professor Lydia Saleshando, Mpho advocated for equality of ethnic groups in Botswana until his death.

She said when the Kamanakao Association was formed in 1995, Mpho became one of its active members.

“After the installation Shikati Kamanakao he had to travel around the regions ÔÇô Okavango, Ngami and Boteti publicizing the purpose of the association and its activities. MK was part of the many travels, no matter how far the trip. Whenever I suggested to him to stay home, he would say, ‘nna ke nnxara, le ha o ka rema ka selepe ÔÇô ke ke qharangara hela’ lelata ga le ikhutse”, something that later earned him the nickname Nnxara which means a dead motswiri tree which is hard to extract firewood from.

She added that Mpho, a devout Christian, enjoyed the Wayeyi song and dance and took pride in seeing his culture being revived adding that the old man liked the kharakhara dance.

Mpho’s funeral was attended by people from all over Botswana and across the political divide. The Botswana Congress Party, of which he died a member led the proceedings.

The late Mpho was also instrumental in assisting the University of Botswana’s Okavango Research Institute Campus in Maun which he helped acquire 17 hectares piece of land from where it is currently located.

His personal interests included a passion for human rights, environmental issues and politics. He placed peace at the centre of his decisions and actions, and would not sacrifice anything for it. He fought for justice to his last day.

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