When I read Mr. David Magang’s comments about the late Mr. MPK Ngwako, I could not resist the urge to also write something about the man who was my Hon. Minister when I was Director of Commerce and Consumer Affairs in the then Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MCI), the man who was my “brother” and the man who was my friend.
After the official hours, we talked about agriculture, we talked about our tractors and so on.
To those who were close to him outside his political “boxing ring”, MPK, as I always affectionately called him, was a very warm person who related very well with those closer to him.
I cannot comment on how he related with his political colleagues because I am not a politician but only an interested observer.
I was closer to MPK not as his boot licker.
I related to him on the basis of man to man outside our official duties.
When the late vice president, Peter Mmusi, was appointed vice president, we were on an official trip to Lesotho to attend a SACU Conference.
The news reached our delegation, which included Minister Moutlakgola Ngwako and the late Minister Washington Meswele when we were already in Lesotho.
Mr Mmusi, who was also the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, joined us later in Maseru.
When newly appointed vice president Mmusi arrived in Maseru, there was open jubilation by officials of the Botswana delegation.
An impromptu small celebration was held in the Maseru Sun Hotel lobby.
I went down to join the others in the lobby.
MPK remained in his room. One of the top officials in our delegation said to me ‘Dewah, where is your Minister?’
My reply was, ‘He is in his room, and I will go and call him to join us.’
I went to MPK’s room. I found him well composed but naturally with a heavy heart because he had ambitions for the second top job in the nation. When I invited him to come down to join the others, including the newly appointed VP, in the lobby, he said to me, “Okay I will come down with you. You see, Elias, I am a fighter but if I lose a fight, I accept defeat.”
I knew what he meant.
These were the words of a great fighter. We went down and joined the others in the lobby, to say congratulations to the new VP.
I also remember MPK and the case of a major retail chain store vs. a Supermarket run by a group of top civil servants in Gaborone.
There was stiff opposition by the citizen group against the foreign-owned chain store getting a trading license. The complexity of the matter was that the foreign chain supermarket was leasing a building owned by a citizen. The Trade Act stated that the Minister could authorise the issuance of a trading license to a foreigner if, in the Minister’s opinion, such issuance was in public interest. The Act went further to say that the Minister’s decision was final. MPK weighed against the influential citizen group. I was Director of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and, therefore, I was deeply involved in this case. My supervisor was sympathetic to the citizens group, which did not want competition from a foreign chain supermarket.
MPK and I understood the fears of the citizens group but we were also sympathetic to the citizen who was desperate for a blue chip tenant.
The dispute between the citizen group and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry reached the top office.
The then Attorney General, the late Moleleki Mokama, was sent to come and meet with the Minister of Commerce & Industry in an attempt to resolve the dispute. I attended the Meeting between MPK and the AG. The AG came armed with all the diplomacy a super lawyer could command. I think the AG new the stubbornness of MPK very well. I remember that when the AG stated that the matter had become a political issue, MPK reached the roof, and said: “Monna Moleleki, don’t tell me about politics. I am a politician.”
The AG could not convince MPK not to authorise the issuance of a trading licence to the foreign chain supermarket. The License was issued. The dispute went to Court and the Minister’s action was upheld by the Court.
The citizen-owned chain supermarket later “died” but whether its death could be attributed to the issuance of a trading licence to the foreign owned supermarket, I will never be sure.
As time passed, the relationship between the citizen group and the Ministry of Trade & Industry was normalised; I was made to understand that the intervention by one of the brilliant young persons who was closer to the citizen group, (now a very successful business man), healed the rift between the Ministry and the group. I was informed that the young man convinced the citizen group that there would actually be no competition between the citizen group business and the foreign chain store because their clientele would be very different. While the citizen group supermarket was for simpler and more basic average to low income household supplies, the foreign owned supermarket was for the more sophisticated high end household supplies.
This was the truth and continues to be true to this day.
When MPK could not get the appointment as Speaker of the National Assembly, he said to me, “Elias I have just become jobless.” I felt for him like anybody would feel for someone close to them.
A man once said, “It is not a sin to be ambitious”.
May his soul rest in everlasting peace!