Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Death of the Queen Mother

My deepest condolences go out to the King Himself Leruo Molotlegi and the Royal family in Phokeng and Botswana. For some odd reason, I feel like Mme Semane Bonolo Molotlegi left us way too early!!” Stylemystyle via tweeter.

The passing of the Queen Mother of Bafokeng is not only a loss to South Africa but it is equally a loss to Botswana. This country is where her roots are as she is Tshekedi Khama’s daughter. She was born into a royal family and was also married into another royal family. It seems royalty was something she could not evade.

My first encounter with this woman of steel was in the year 2016 in Pilikwe at the commemoration of her father’s legacy. Tshekedi Khama is a man who has been immortalized in the history of this nation. She gave a sterling speech and it was from that moment that I kept the Queen Mother on my sights.

Her double royalty credentials may become some sort of deception that she has lived a life of privilege all her life, but that has not been the case. In fact she is an individual who was born in the midst of turmoil which had encompassed the Ngwato capital in 1943. It was at the time when some elements of royalty were trying their best to wrestle the throne from her father who was the regent of the tribe.

This woman became a sojourner as her life became characterised by their nomadic way of life. Tshekedi and his followers moved from Serowe to Rametsana in 1948 when the Queen Mother was a toddler. Within no time, they moved on to Pilikwe in Tswapong Hills where Tshekedi and his family built their modest European style house.

She lost her father when she was still very young and as a teenager, this was taxing and it was not easy to overcome such a loss. In her speech at Tshekedi’s commemoration in 2016, Semane narrated how she came to know about the death of her father. She was in boarding school in South Africa and she recalls a lot of her white school mates asking why her father’s death was such an event to even be broadcast on radio.

But in many ways she had the character of her father, those nerves of steel. She proved this when she led the Bafokeng tribe on behalf of her husband King Lebone Molotlegi in his days of self-exile to Botswana. King Lebone Molotlegi who was husband to Semane had a tumultuous rule from 1956 to 1994. In fact the turmoil came in the 1980s.

In 1988 the king had a serious altercation with Lucas Mangope who was the president of Bophuthatswana, a Bantustan which was to rule all Setswana speaking tribes in South Africa. Molotlegi and Mangope were both royalty and in this case Mangope was trying to express his seniority which he acquired through being installed as president of a banana republic by the National Party government.

The misunderstanding grew and the only way out for the king was to seek asylum in Botswana. While in Botswana he broke history records by staying as the longest hotel guest at Gaborone Sun as he stayed there for six continuous years. The platinum wealth of the Bafokeng people that was at the centre of the feud was able to sustain and support the king for all those years. Of course the government of Botswana was responsible for his security but it was the tribe that foot the bills on lodging and other expenses.

During the king’s days in exile, he had his family back in Phokeng and it was her wife that was running the affairs of the tribe. Like her father, she was tested against the wrath of the white overlords. Tshekedi spent his entire life in opposition of the colonial masters and the South African government who wanted to make Botswana an extension of their Boer republic.

Semane made history as the only Motswana woman to rule a tribe in another country. True to her roots, she has held her Botswana passport until her death. It was for this reason that the South African government was limited in bullying her during the years of her husband’s years in exile.

Semane whose name literally means a beehive has been seen in history as a woman who can sting badly and at the same time produce the sweetest of things. The stings were only delivered in self-defence like it happens with a beehive. She has left an indelible mark on the history of South Africa as a freedom fighter. She was particularly advancing other women in all fields, particularly education which was her father’s passion.

Among all of Tshekedi Khama’s children, Semane has been at the centre of keeping her father’s legacy. The current king of Bafokeng is named after Semane’s father, Tshekedi. Leruo Tshekedi Molotlegi is now at the helm of the tribe and he has proven to be the real Tshekedi.

Leruo Tshekedi Molotlegi presides over the tribe’s wealth which is derived from platinum. It is the arrangement of the royal kraal that every member of the tribe must derive personal benefit from this commonwealth. Bursaries are disbursed annually for the benefit of all and the youth of Phokeng are increasingly becoming the cream of the educated crop of South Africa.

I want to believe that it was through Tshekedi Khama’s influence that the Bafokeng tribe bought several farms in the 1950s and consolidated them into being their tribal territory. The land has been found to be rich in platinum and the royalties are paid into the tribal treasury.

Tshekedi Khama had Seretse’s son named after him as well. But this was just a cosmetic exercise that has become meaningless to Botswana’s economy. Tshekedi, the son of Seretse has been one of the key people at the economic feeding trough in Botswana and this has come at the expense of the ordinary people. Bafokeng are the richest tribe in Africa with their platinum wealth. And ask Tshekedi the son of Seretse why Botswana is not the richest nation in Africa out of our diamond wealth.


Read this week's paper