Tuesday, September 22, 2020

T J Molefhe: an abridged life (Part II)

?A re rapeleng ? Let?s pray? was a good time for the boozers to take a snooze after a rough night on the mighty ?khadi?. Some of them lived at the teachers? quarters just a stone?s throw away from the church.
Even Makhulu?s pointed prayers did not take that long. I suspect that this is why my mother opted for the Catholic Church.

As my father moved up in the world, we were relocated to Serowe?s English Medium school where the children played cowboys and Indians at playtime. That was quiet a dramatic cultural deviation.

I did not have a gun so invariably I played the part of the Indians who always lost the war.

Playing dead was not only a humiliating affair at school but it also did not improve my friendship at home with Mama and Mme-MmaKeeditse who had to do the washing.
As if that was not enough, on one of my best attempts at composition on ?How I spent the holidays,? I wrote:

?My sister, Tebogo, and I visited our grandparents in Mafeking. We had very nice clothes and we were swanking?.

Mrs. Blackbeard, who taught us everything from arithmetic to nature study, read my work aloud and spent the rest of the morning, afternoon and the rest of her remaining life killing herself with laughter.

?Swanking! What is that?? she gasped. ?It is wearing nice clothes,? I replied.

That only made things worse. Her handkerchief was dripping wet with tears so she turned to her bottomless box of tissues. It was beyond me: ?What is so ticklish about swanking?? I wondered.
My father worked for some time at TTC in Lobatse, did a stint in Francistown, the Ministry of Education in Gaborone and then Private Secretary to Seretse Khama.

I missed my tennis ball matches at the Serowe TTC and Lontone. But at least Bruno and Mungo Mabuthoe, originally from Benoni and tricky on the ball, would also move to the capital.

Standards were to be kept, so I was compelled to spend one more year in an English medium school at Thornhill Primary. I believe we were the first of the Std 7 lot or the last of the Std 6 group around 1967/8.

Every other time we had been in Gaborone, it was to visit the old Moeng College bursar, Moutlakgola Nwako, one of the key founders of the Botswana Democratic Party which won the first general election in 1966.

Those were glorious times because Auntie Janet ? Mma Mompati or Mrs Nwako – had one of the best pop music record collections in the country including the pop music of Pat Boone, the teenage heartthrob Beatles and their arch competitors, the Rolling Stones.

There was no shortage of Umxashiyo, Msakazo or Mbaqanga as rendered by the legendary Mahotella Queens, Dark City Sisters, Intombi Ze Simanjemanje, Abafana Be Ntuthuko plus a good range of gospel and country music by Jim Reeves, Dolly Parton, and Kenny Rodgers and the King Messengers Quartet. The Rustenburg Boys, Abafana Be Mbazo and Ladysmith Black Mambazo took care of the Scathamiya.

Minister of Home Affairs, Amos Dambe, was down the street keeping a bevy of beautiful Kalanga girls. Agriculture minister Tsheko Tsheko was around the corner whilst Minister of Education, B.C. Thema was on the corner of Queen?s Rd and the Mall Rd.

Maleta Mogwe, Priscilla Nwako, Kgomotso Thema and the older Nonnie Pilane ? the star of the Radio Botswana continuity announcers – were the closest thing to Dolly Rathebe that Botswana had south of Dibete?at least in the eyes of a budding teenager!
When the Molefhes settled in Gaborone this time, it was across the traffic circle from Vice President Masire?s residence, behind state house which Seretse occupied after Sir Peter Fawcus and opposite Attorney General Tilbury?s home.

Police chief, Colonel Bailey was around the corner to the Mall. He owned a couple of Alsatian dogs which seemed to fascinate the police officers – now very senior people in the army, SSG, and police force – who often came to give the animals a good foam bath on Saturday mornings.

Mrs. Johnson had instructed me, then captain of the soccer team that the school premises were off bounds for folks who were not pupils at Thornhill. Three of the Townsend brothers arrived one afternoon to show off their three-speed bicycles and to reminisce about their experiences in South Africa where they were obviously attending segregated schools for whites.

I told them about the Thornhill rules. I had no chance when they jumped on me and gave me a good bruising before they took-off anticipating that Mrs. Johnson or some other authority would show up.

I was more interested in finishing off my football day.

My parents never got to know about the incident. I suspect that, subconsciously, I had grown used to the idea that this was expected behaviour from Boers who were congenitally uncultured, stupid and violent.

Actually, I was more concerned that Kevin Immelman, whose mother was the mathematics teacher for our class, continually came first out of the class of six precisely because his mother taught the subject he beat me at.

I do not know how Mr. Tinion, a Canadian, found out but he comforted me that Immelman beat me by only one or two points in our Std 7 exams because of his advantage in mathematics. We were in the same First Class grouping anyway so I could live with it.

The one I could not stand was when Lady Ruth Khama stopped my father at the corner where the Barclays Mall Branch now stands for what seemed like a friendly chat with her husband?s private secretary.

After the usual preliminaries, she made the revelation that I was bullying ?the twins? ? Anthony and Tshekedi Khama ? and that I should stop it.
I could offer no defense on my own behalf because this was an adults? conversation that left no room for recognition of the child?s right to a hearing. My father shrunk from the invincible giant that I always made him out to be when he threatened me with a disciplinary beating to just another David facing the indomitable Goliath; except that he had no slingshot.

We were defeated without putting up a fight. I knew that something was horribly wrong.
The twins were several classes behind me. The last time I was anywhere near them was in Mrs. Blackbeard?s only classroom at the Serowe English Medium School in which she taught every level from Sub A to Standard Four.

Many years later, I understood why the American politician and pseudo- academic, ?Somebody? Moiynahan, caught so much flack from the Afro-American community for his assertion that the Black family was falling apart because of the emasculation of the Black man.

When this assertion moves a few steps further, it must conclude that the ?emasculation? of the black man was responsible for the moral decay and erosion of proper Anglo Saxon and Jewish American values, causing undue embarrassment to the white man and the American establishment.

Sexual relations on the cotton plantations of the American South or apartheid South Africa effectively entitled white men to rape black women whilst denying the Black man even the casting of an eye in the direction of the white woman.

It seemed as if that set of gender, race and class relations suddenly took root on the corner where Lady Ruth confronted my father, leaving him, for lack of a more gentle expression, bereft of his manhood before my eyes, and worse still, his own.
I now understand that this occurrence represents a small representation of the complex racial relations between black and white that compelled my father to warn Rre Modisenyane at Knightsbridge in London: ?Hee monna Mod, kana o tla re bolaisa makgoa?.

My father?s groom at his 1955 marriage of Nompunzi wanted to show his friend around London, leading him to places where ?whites? were the dominant population.

My father visited the Royal Albert Hall.
He saw many a classical performance and listened to his namesake, the late Jimmy Smith, doing one of the longest and original renditions of ?The Sermon? on the Hammond organ that I lusted for when he moved us to New York, U.S.A in 1968.
My grandfather died of a liver complication earlier that year at the age of 85 shortly before his birthday on December 25.

Until then, he lived in Mafikeng.
He had done the honourable thing before his death; voting for Seretse at the independent Botswana?s first elections.

Sandy Raditladi reports that he forgot his voting card in Mafikeng the first time and had to return to Mafeking to get it so that he could vote.

It was the first time that I would see a dead man. There were no dramatics. I was fetched from St Joseph?s, Khale, and placed in the custody of Rakgadi Miriam Lesolle who shared her first name with Nkuku. That woman, large in body and heart, connects the Molefhe?s to the Mogami?s in Tswapong.

The service was held at Moeding College, which had the closest association with Tigerkloof where he served, among other roles, as bandmaster. He is buried at Lobatse where I should visit his grave soon.

Before my mother died, a few months after Makhulu, she and her second sister Nomvula ? she who comes with rain ? and I, searched for Mama?s father?s grave not far from the Tshengiwe and the Sqongana households in Mafikeng.
He had been a clinician who travelled on the train from South Africa to Rhodesia, often stopping over at Mahalapye, accompanied by young Mama and her first sister, Nontutuzelo and Nomvula.

My mother was terrified by the sound of croaking frogs at the clinic near the traffic circle across the railing on the way to Chase Me Inn, she confessed. I will revisit my grandfather?s grave, which I did find. Perhaps I will pray there again, although I am essentially atheist by philosophical persuasion.
Soon after I returned to Khale after Rampholo Sr?s funeral, I received the good news that my father was appointed Representative to the United Nations when the post of Z.K. Matthews was split into two after he retired in 1968.


Read this week's paper

The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.