Saturday, September 26, 2020

Tribute to a Great Man: Ndaba Gaolathe pays tribute to a great man that was his father, Baledzi Gaolathe

At this moment
In this still body that lies here, lived the spirit of a child of God whose example is an eternal guiding beacon. Consistently so during his lifetime, Baledzi represented the finest of the human race.

He was humble
His genuine and deep humility touched those who came into contact with him. This tall and slender man refused favours, no matter how much others believed he may have deserved them. He queued at the bank and at the bus rank. He refused to use the Government fax machine for private letters and private business. He used his Government car to which he was entitled sparingly and only when his children were not available to travel with him. On one late night, when our mother’s arthritic attack was so severe we had to rush her to hospital, we experienced a delay on account of my debate with him about his request to sit at the back of the van.

Pleasant humour
Despite his serious demeanour, he possessed an exquisite sense of humour. Much of his humour was lived out behind closed doors and in confidence. He imitated our mother often, and described her with fond humour. A story he related often was about his first visit to mother’s family in East London. Apparently then, meat was a revered delicacy and there was a whole ritual to the dinner moment. When the moment came, the honour to cut the meat up went to him, the groom. In the xhosa tradition, a man who does not carry is own knife is a sissy and a “no no”. When it became clear our father had no knife, our mother’s eight brothers looked at each other, puzzled that their sister could be married to such a man. Then suddenly, he had eight knives. According to the story Baledzi then had to contend with a new problem: which knife to use. He said he used all eight, and emerged as a hero.

Our old man’s diplomacy was flawless, in all circumstances. It was the tool by which he invigorated sceptics and won the favour of negative forces. Throughout our upbringing up until end of high school I shared a room with my brother. I don’t know if my brother and I were untidy, but our room was rarely tidy. This of course invited our mother’s wrath. On one particular occasion Papa noticed how untidy our room was, and then he came by to sit on my bed. He then said to me “your mom is about to come home now, and you know if we don’t do something about this room we are all going to have problems, all of us. Should I bring a broom to help?”

A good wife by his side
If this magnificent man could afford this grade of diplomacy, it was because his wife was a strong woman, willing to implement the unpopular decisions of the household. Even as mother implemented decisions which may have been unpopular, father supported her and protected her with the discipline of a Spartan soldier.

Stamina and endurance
He possessed an insatiable appetite to serve, to work for his people and his family. His endurance inspired him, upon return from a trip abroad, to drive directly from the airport to work or meetings until night. And on the same night, we would drive to the farm, well over four hundred kilometres away. And inspection of the kraal started well before the crack of dawn. He was not one to procrastinate, and if need be, we stayed in the kraals to perform the de-horning, the vaccination, the greasing of the wound or anything he considered overdue.

Love for the country-side
Yes, he may have exhibited a passion for livestock and the countryside, but it was the company of the herdsmen that he truly cherished. He giggled at their stories and appreciated their wisdom; he admired their loyalty and simplicity. The story that the herders, if they should tell it to you one day, is that “once lived a man who was one of us. A great man.”

A beautiful mind
The old man possessed a mind that processed issues and concepts beautifully and systematically. Reasons trumped biasedness, favouritism and sentiment. We learned from an early age to give reasons for our choices, and we practiced our presentations to him among each other. He grasped detail in all disciplines, in the arts and in the sciences, in economics, in finance, in philosophy, in geography, theology and history.

Exquisite negotiator
In many circles abroad, the old man carved a reputation as an able and effective negotiator. We travelled often together in search of bulls to purchase for the farm. in the end, we always came out with the bulls we wanted, and at the prices we wanted. The process was always gruelling, subtle, demanding of patience and forward vision.

Great achiever
Early on in life, his humble beginnings did not allow him to aspire for a university education despite his towering intellectual talents. Upon completion at Moeng, he seemed destined to go to typing school in Zambia, and possibly a part-time job as a clerk. Consequently, he embraced each achievement in his life as beyond his expectation, a bonus. That is how he never lobbied for any position, or expected any position in Government, for he always thought what he had received more from God than he had asked for. Yet he kept rising. Rising and rising, in his remarkable stature and in his good deeds.

The old man appeared na├»ve or unaware of innuendos peddled around and about him. Therein lay his strength and courage, for he was remarkably aware of the world around him. He made a choice early on in his life, to build a capacity to let things that don’t matter to go past unattended.

Phyisically fit
His slim and tall frame seemed to have been designed for an athlete. Indeed he was an endurance-distance walker. Although he was in perfect life all his life (until 2008), we doubted his claim that he had been an accomplished long-distance runner, let alone the idea that his feet at one point had been deft in their touch of the football. This was before, on one occasion, he took the entire family to an open field in Gaborone North where he took his shoes off, before he invited Tawana and I for a hundred meter sprint. From the time he left us gasping for air behind him, we learnt to believe even his most unlikely stories.

Proud of his origins
Papa was always nostalgic and sentimental about his roots. He loved his origins, our origin, his language, our language and his and our Kalanga culture. His deep Kalanga extended to names of almost every tree found in Botswana, the grasses, the birds, wild berries and animal colours. Few people knew how meticulous he was with setting animal traps, felling trees, animal prints and his survival skills in the wild.

Able leader
Shortly after we finished school, I recall one night, after lighting struck and set the farm ablaze with a raging fire. We ran with a large team of people, equipped with axes, spades and other instruments. The wind was blowing, in somewhat unpredictable direction. As the fire thundered, and the wind bellowed, and herdsmen ran in all directions, we knew decisions had to be made quickly about how to tackle the fire. There was an old man in our midst then, Rre Ramaeta, wise old man. He offered a solution ÔÇô there were many other suggestions. As my father embraced Ramaeta’s suggestion to create a new and controlled fire, we drew coordinates on how to set the fire and the extinguish it. The whole episode of fighting fire with fire revealed the leader and commander in my father, the listener and thinker in him.

A Strory-teller
For a man known for his few and cautiously chosen remarks when with colleagues and friends, he mastered the art of story-telling. He stirred a story until you felt you must have also been there when the story unfolded. When Rre Mogae the PSP had been away on one occasion he filled in for him. I am sorry to say this Rre Mogae sir, but he said your office was so upside-down that he arranged your books and files beyond your recognition.

Although a man of peace, one of his favourite stories was about a fist-fight: our family was once held hostage, at gun-point, in apartheid South Africa. As the discussions and altercations ensued one policeman threatened to assault my mother. Uncle Jackson folded his fists and started bouncing up, down and sideways like a boxer. This fascinated my father, and I realized that what really fascinated him was that the fight never materialised.

Despite his good nature and impeccable integrity, somehow there were times when he was vilified. I remember a newspaper report many years ago that alleged that he had deliberately decided not to pay an amount he owed the Water Affairs Department ÔÇô One Thousand four hundred and sixty-nine Pula ÔÇô I called him immediately. And when he checked with the Water Affairs Department, we found out that this was the amount the Department owed him. Still, he accepted this and did not find it necessary to officially put the record right. He graciously embraced even those who generated false rumours about him.

A transformative figure
The old man was at one point a teacher. Significantly, his life was always a classroom. In many ways he stands out as a transformative figure. It was him that groomed many of Botswana’s leading figures in the public and private sectors. He came from an especially able and dedicated generation of public servants that helped lift the welfare of the people of Botswana.

Although he was our father, we saw him evolve to become a friend and colleague with whom we shared life’s journey. We remember how we used to do our school homeworks from under his office table, while he worked. He spoke fondly of those around him. His partnership with and love for my mom remains an inspiration. My mom cared for him like a mother does to a young baby. He said he was proud of how my brother, Tawana, and my sister Tendani had turned out. They too admired him immensely.

Gratitude to all who loved him
We thank those who shared their lives with him, nkuku, bo-rakgadi Mmadomi, MmaBoipuso, Mma Collet, uncle Meshack. We are grateful for the love his grandchildren gave him ÔÇô Keneilwe, Boikanyo, Oarabile, Thobo, Noma and great grandchild, Nomabandla. Thank you to our many cousins, many of whom are here today.

He always appreciated his ministers while he was a permanent secretary ÔÇô Rre Masire, Rre Mmusi and Rre Mogae. He was proud of his students, Ken Matambo, Taufila Nyamadzabo, Connie Moremi, Mma Molosiwa, Serwalo Tumelo. My father did pay homage to all those older than him, Gobe Matenge and others, whom he referred to as “hwola”.

Of course he lived for his constituency, Tonota North and the people within it. Papa was proud of the team of volunteers that had assembled around him to help develop the constituency. Through Rre Mokobela, they have been kind to send us a long note of the old man’s achievements in the constituency.

Thank you to his secretaries, aus’Nancy and aunt Getrude. Thank you Rre Mopati, the gentleman that drove the government car he rode in. Rre Ramaeta, a foreman at our cattle-posts is here today, and we thank him.

Sad moments
In the rare occasions in which he was visibly shaken, we knew it was because a special individual had fallen. No one forgets when his cattle-post herdman, Kogomoentsho passed away, or when our sister Zingisa lost her life in a tragic car accident or when Dr Mazile, Mma Tebelelo Seretse’s sister passed away. His faith, resilience and will of still, were biblical. Always fair-minded, he listened to you even if you were on the wrong, and always made you feel comfortable.

Transformative figure
What made him even more transformative is that he showed the world that it was possible for men and woman of integrity to be in politics. He demonstrated that it was possible to import vision, genuine service, genuine discipline, selflessness, diligence and fairness into politics. By his life, we know it is possible to make a difference in the life of nation. A whole new generation of youngsters who I have never met are writing to me and sending messages to say that the old man’s ways are what attracted them to politics. He was the exception to the notion that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts completely”, for here before our eyes, we see his life, a life during which he rose and rose to power, but he blossomed and blossomed in integrity.

A contagious love
His love radiated. When he entered a room, he lit it up with an energizing air; A man of enduring consistency, through his illness and in the most difficult circumstances. Gracious to the very end ÔÇô even on his hospital bed, he never omitted to offer some of the meat on his plate, never forgot to welcome us on each visit or to thank us in the night, “you are always welcome basimane, thank you basimane for your goodwill”.

We thank God
Most of all, we are deeply thankful to the God that created him and gave him the type of life he led. I pray that God opens his heavenly gates to receive this servant of his people.

Gaolathe the Humble, Gaolathe the Great
I can say to all people gathered here, to all of Botswana, from the Mophane Trees of Tsesebe to the flat-plains of the Makgadikgadi, right from the savannalands of the Tsodilo Hills to the sandveld of New Xanagas ÔÇô that this was Gaolathe the humble, this was Gaolathe the Great.

Thank you Papa. You were the ultimate role-model. You were the ultimate father and friend.


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