Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Ramaloko – Remembered (1950-2009)

Three words come to mind as the most appropriate to describe the late Paul Ramaloko, who recently died aged 59.
One is ‘generosity’.

It did not require much labour for Paul Ramaloko to invite a friend who was out of employment in Gaborone to Francistown for a weekend.

He had access to the duty free facility at the airport when he was an officer with Air Botswana. So there would be no lack of whiskey, and other items to accompany the juice, such as steak, which was also available in abundance at the local butcher across from the railway line.

I was the trusted cook, and had cultivated and nursed a reputation from Francistown to Kasane where I had made a delicacy of a calf that had been mauled to death by a wild cat.

A lady appeared at the tiny Minestone house that was our mansion in Francistown. She wanted work. Paul reported to me that he had given the woman two Pula with which to purchase ‘seshabo’, which would have meant onion, tomato and meat. At lunch, Ramaloko whispered in my ear that the woman was not fully aware of what he had been up to. He had not replied ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to her application. Instead he offered the two Pula.

“Die sister, o kare ga a ntshware sentle. Ga a lemoge gore two Pula yo ke interview klaar. Ke ne ke batla gore ke bone gore a selo sa ntlha, o tlaa reka. Labobedi, ek wil gachek’het gore a o tlhaloganya dishebo. Kene ke batla go bona gore a o ka apeela baeng,” Paul revealed.

Paul, understood the plight of his interviewee, who was badly in need of a job, just as his guest from Gaborone was. But he was willing to risk his two Pula, than a commodity of quiet some size, to explore her culinary skills. She could have simply taken off. But that was worth the experiment anyway.

Later, he would appear with the goods from the duty free shop, and we would drive around in his brother, John Ramaloko’s van, to the popular joint of the times at Mophane where the drinks were cheap and the ladies were expensive. We were expensive too, so it was no big deal, besides, we had a straight of White Horse as back up in the Ranchero. “The White Horse that never kicks unless the rider is careless,” Paul would boast.

Never throughout these meanderings would Paul demand financial assistance of his guests or other company. To Kasane, I drove almost all the way, and he supplied the Lion beer, and the accommodation when we arrived; a few days accommodation at one of the more prestigious lodges in the tourists’ haven.

Paul was also enterprising. Yes, that is the second word; enterprising. He had made contact with a villager in Kasane who knew of a herb that the Brazilians knew to possess some aphrodisiac qualities.

That, I learnt along the trip, was the reason for our journey ÔÇô Gwangwa, Paul and I ÔÇô across the vast Kgalagadi and the salt pans to Kasane to find an expensive aphrodisiac that would fetch millions in Brazil. That failing, Paul’s friend would find and kill a tiger or leopard which was equally valuable in any part of the world, especially the United States where Gwangwa was then domicile, not as a salesman of tiger skins, but rather, as the leading trombone voice in the music group, ‘Union of South Africa’.

Gwangwa would be travelling back to the US for the last time. He was determined to return to southern Africa where we collaborated at Shakawe, and Dashiki before that. So, Ramaloko’s enterprise was not for naught.

He had also assisted South Africans in exile to travel to Zambia on flights that had not been properly booked, in search of freedom for their country. Very few people knew about that. Everybody in the ANC and at the PAC knew where to get help when they were desperate for transport to travel to Lusaka, Dar Es Salaam, China and the Soviet Union: Paul Ramaloko, or his helper whom I knew only as AB. They manned the Air Botswana office in Francistown.

‘Scara’, as his age mates knew him, was also loads of ‘fun’. Some disparagingly commented that his love for fun undermined his insatiable zest for business, as did his generosity. But you see, the difference is that Paul did not have fun at your expense. He found his own ingredients for making fun, and he had it. Once in a while he would get into trouble, but it was usually at his own expense.

Paul treated me like a younger brother, perhaps even more so than Padima ÔÇô who died a tragic death at Mogoditshane, and Peter, the former primary school principal who did himself a mortal disservice by his vulnerability to the bottle.

When he did get himself in a tangle, we both made an effort to keep me out of it. I was never very good at tangling with the law, or any other like things.
Bright moments: our trips to and from Francistown which always involved a stop over at Mookane where Mme-mma Ramaloko ran a primary school forever. He drove any kind of vehicle at 100 kilometres an hour on the sandy winding road, even at 10 o’clock at night.

I was never forewarned about the turnoff to Mookane just after Dibete. It was something that happened as a matter of course. And if it was day time, we might leave the place with a real live ‘koko ya Setswana’ upon which I would visit my culinary skills when we arrived in Francistown.

There was nothing like having Johnny Walker, ‘koko ya Setswana’ and a night out at Mophane Club with ‘Scara’ in Francistown.

If his family ÔÇô from Mme-mma Ramaloko to the grandchildren – enjoys his enterprise, generosity and fun to only half the extent that he did, they will live very, very long. Bye, Scara.


Read this week's paper

The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.