Yester-years’ politicians may remember Tshire Pilane, elder daughter of Kgosi Molefi and sister to Kgosi Linchwe II. She was buried on Monday September 14 which was also her birthday. She had been ill for some time until she died at her home in Mochudi last week. Readers may want to know why she should be remembered specifically by politicians. The answer is yes, it was she who campaigned for the Botswana People’s Party (BPP) in Mochudi during the 1965 general election. The BPP’s parliamentary candidate, Thari Washington Motlhagodi affectionately known as “TW” went on to win that election.
Tshire’s involvement in politics did not stop there. She played a pivotal role on the behind-the-scenes role while working as nursing sister in Lusaka, Zambia in the late sixties. She was employed at the University Teaching Hospital and later at Choma Hospital. This was around the time of an influx of Batswana leaving the country to further their education abroad especially in the eastern Block. The majority left through the Kazugula bridge enroute to Lusaka where air transport was availed for them to proceed further. Tshire’s home was the transit stop-over for many of them. Some stayed at her home for a few days, a week or more awaiting either scholarship confirmation or air ticket.
Among those who stayed for a while at Tshire’s home was John Kalane of Moshupa. He was on his way to Moscow, Russia to study trade unionism when he spent some time at the home of Tshire Pilane in 1966. He had been in Lusaka also to assist some Batswana who appeared stranded in Zambia due to documentation difficulties. Kalane recalls, Allen Compton, Bashi Sekgoma and Seleko Pilane as among those who were having problems in Lusaka. Other Batswana who had a stop-over at Tshire Pilane’s home were James Pilane and Mareledi Giddie. Giddie had additional assignment in the Eastern Block. He was to study as well as sell the Botswana National Front (BNF) to the Soviet Union. Kalane described Tshire Pilane as a true ambassador of everybody who came from the South during her stay in Lusaka. She did not distinguish between Batswana, South Africans or Namibians. She treated them alike. Kalane mentions members of organizations such as South West Africa People’s Organization and South African liberation movements as among non-Batswana who used to stay for a while at Tshire Pilane’s residence.
This is the first part of Tshire Pilane’s life. The second part covers her life in exile. Indeed she lived in exile at some stage. It can be seen from the archives that her father was expelled from Mochudi by the Protectorate Government on 10th June 1937 to a place called Segeng in the Southern District. Tshire Pilane was just four years then and her younger brother Linchwe was two. Therefore, her father’s expulsion from Mochudi was by extension her expulsion. Three days before the departure, the district commissioner wrote to his supervisors in Mafikeng recommending that Molefi”s subsistence on expulsion be fifteen pounds a month to enable him to “support his wife and two small children dependent on him”. Tshire stayed at Segeng for some time and would occasionally be taken away by Kgosi Molefi’s mother, Seingwaeng and her uncle, Bakgatle to Mochudi and on one occasion to the Zion Christian Church headquarters in Moria, South Africa. She returned to Mochudi permanently during the World War II because her father had enlisted in the war.
Now I deal with her third life. The third life of Tshire Pilane covers the period 1951 to 1960 when she was a student and an employee in South Africa. After matriculating in 1953, she trained in general nursing and later in midwifery. At that time, apartheid in South Africa was at its peak. Tshire Pilane was staying at Sophia town with Letsebe Pilane whom she later married. It appears to me that they were part of the Black community which was forcibly removed from Sophia town to Meadowlands. My parents were staying in Roodepoort West. They too were part of the Blacks who were also forcibly removed in that town to an area called Dobsonville. Roodepoort West was renamed Horizon by the while settlers. Meadowlands and Dobsonville are adjacent to each other in Soweto. She and Letsebe Pilane were regular visitors to my parents’ residence at house number 1448 Mogorosi Street, Dobsonville.
While in Meadowlands, her father died in a road accident in 1958. That event was followed by Kgosi Linchwe’s departure for the United Kingdom to further his study. Kgosi Mmusi Pilane was regent of Bakgatla. It is said the regent performed below expectations resulting with the formation of a group called Mphetsebe. The group was opposed to the regent’s continuous absenteeism from work and wanted him replaced. Among the uncles present at the time were Ramono Linchwe, Mmamogale and his twin brother Mokgatle Linchwe and Bogatsu Pilane. But the Mphetsebe suggested Tshire as the rightful person to replace Mmusi Pilane. It would seem that, the Mphetsebe consisted of men with progressive ideas when one take into account that their suggestion to engage Tshire as regent was made despite the fact that during those days, women were discriminated against and the fact that Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela were founded on the grounds that they did not want to be led by a kgosigadi. Tshire had confided to my mother with who she was related by blood that she would accept the position only if Linchwe supported the idea.
In the meantime, there was another group which was described by the protectorate government as the “Powerful Johannesburg Group led by Letsebe Pilane who is soon to marry Tshire Pilane”. Letsebe Pilane was Kgosi Molefi’s eyes and ears in Johannesburg. He had been tasked with duty of ensuring the unity of Bakgatla of Mochudi and Moruleng in Johannesburg. Whenever Molefi was in Johannesburg, Letsebe was the host. Linchwe was to come home for vacation and the Protectorate was worried that he was going to arrive in Johannesburg and meet that group first before meeting uncles in Mochudi. They were concerned that the Johannesburg group was so powerful that it would influence him against his Mochudi based uncles. But there was nothing the Protectorate could do because there was no direct air route from the UK to Botswana. However, the idea of Tshire becoming regent was shelved because Mmusi Pilane did not resist when his shortcomings were pointed out to him by Linchwe and the rest of the royal uncles. It became a closed chapter because Mmusi Pilane completely made amends.
The fourth aspect of Tshire Pilane’s life covers generalized matters. Those who knew her may attest that she was a straight talker who hardly minced her words. They knew her as somebody who was friendly. However, she could display vicious behavior if she was provoked. She told me the other day that she did not think she would be as angry as she was the day Linchwe boarded the plane to study in England. She believed that one of her uncles wanted Linchwe to miss the plane and possibly to miss the chance of ever going to further his education in the UK. Linchwe had been assigned a Major Dick in the Resident Commissioner’s office to escort him to Jan Smarts Airport. Somehow, one of the uncles offered to join them and Major Dick left Linchwe in the hands of the uncle on the understanding that he would meet them at Jan Smarts. Hundreds of Bakgatla of Johannesburg waited at the airport to bid the kgosi-designate farewell.
After a long wait without Linchwe on sight and boarding time approaching, Tshire Pilane phoned Kgosi Lebone in Phokeng asking him to go to MmaKgamanyane’s place to find out if the two, Linchwe and the uncle were not there. MmaKgamanyane was a well-known woman who operated a popular shebeen in Phokeng. She was a royal relative. Kgosi Linchwe, MmaSeingwaeng, I and Dichabe Molefe spent overnight there in September 1977 on our way back from the King’s daughter’s wedding in Swaziland. Indeed he found them there. The uncle was busy drinking. Kgosi Lebone rushed them to Johannesburg for Linchwe to catch the plane. Tshire Pilane was so angry that she almost went berserk accusing the uncle of trying to sabotage Linchwe’s future plans. Tshire’s parents got married in May 1933. On September 29 that year, an officer named as H. Neal in the Resident Commissioner’s office in Mafikeng wrote to the following sentence to the Government Secretary: “I have the honour to report that a daughter has been born to the wife of Chief Molefi Pilane of the Bakgatla Tribe. As previously reported to Your Excellency the Chief’s wedding took place on the 25th May”.
The funeral complied fully with Covid-19 regulations. Strictly two hours and strictly no food served and strictly not too many speakers. There was no slot for kgosi or mothusa kgosi. Not even a slot for a councillor or MP. Dominating the scene were Kgosi Mothibe Linchwe, Kgosi Segale Linchwe and Kgosi Nyakale Linchwe as well as Thari Linchwe. Mmusi Kgafela who is a Cabinet Minister and MP for Mochudi West and his elder brother, Bakgatle Kgafela were among pallbearers. The deceased’s elder daughter, Kgosi Nkibe of Tlhatlaganyane in South Africa missed the funeral because of Covid-19 protocols.