Sunday, June 16, 2024

Tribute to Chilaza; showbiz magnate, family mentor and a resilient man

This tribute refers to Samuel Tebogo Sekgoma as Chilaza, a familiar nickname out of the many options which include among others Chilies, 24/7, 585, Tiger. Chilaza passed away on the 14th July 2023, two months short of his 69th birthday. I attended his funeral service on 22nd July 2023 at Serowe. The eve of the funeral was cold, damp and gloomy but by Saturday morning the rain had stopped. The adverse elements we faced were the cold and mild windy conditions. To use the showbiz cliché, the show had to go on, and it did. Mr. Toro “The Boy” Motiki, one of Chilaza’s close friends who has been the MC at most of their music events, was privileged to direct the final show. His co-director was Mr. Andrew Seeletso. The Anglican Church presided over the ceremony.

Mr. Forster Seretse, was first on the podium. He told the mourners that Chilaza suffered a heart attack, alone in the house. In my mind a picture of a desolate end to someone who always had family, relatives, friends and acquaintances around him was formed. I imagined a searing loneliness that Chilaza must have encountered. The audience’s silence during Forster’s speech was eerie. That was my saddest eulogy at the funeral service. I thought, I know how Chilaza’s life ended but I do not know how mine will end.

Several speakers related their different accounts of Chilaza’s life. His sister, Nozipho, told us he had high blood pressure in December 2022, which she ensured was taken care of medically. Chilaza was apparently reluctant to get medical assistance except the post COVID vaccinations, which he reportedly was very keen on. His other sister, Sethunya, currently in the USA, sent a message that was dramatically read by Lesang Kgamane. The message narrated how Chilaza had housed several South Africans at one time or the other, I assume they were refugees. It also gave a hilarious account of how he had a whirlwind romantic trip with a Botswana girlfriend in South Africa. At the end of which, the girlfriend thanked her guy, and said she looked forward to the next trip only to be told “if we will still be together!” The audience loud laughter to that story was something I still have to understand. Sethunya revealed that Chilaza never registered for the old age pension citing that it was a pittance.

Chilaza was a stuntman from his youthful days, his elder brother, Mr. Gabriel Seeletso, told the audience. His repertoire of stunts included attempting motorcycle stunts which he had seen at the movies, using a bicycle. During one such, which went horribly wrong, he fractured both a leg and an arm. Mr. Seeletso told us that several failed bicycle stunts followed with similar consequences. Despite these bicycle accidents, Kgosi Kebinatshwene Mosielele related how during the early days of Gaborone, Chilaza and Naughty Phiri used to perform bicycle stunts at the Mall on Saturday mornings to the delight of the spectators.

I thought that was Chilaza’s showbiz personality forming from the bicycle stunts. The seemingly disastrous but repeated stunts were also part of Chilaza’s daring, persistent and resilient character.  Chilaza reportedly had numerous vehicle accidents. The last, which most likely had the worst effect on his already scarred body, occurred when his car collided with an articulated vehicle. Collision might be a kind word because, most probably, his car veered under the trailer of an oncoming articulated vehicle when Chilaza dozed off at the wheel. Chilaza told me that after he knocked off from his then Serowe business, Maphatswa Club, in the early hours of the fateful morning, he decided to drive to Gaborone to pursue an urgent showbiz matter. I suspect he had gotten very little, if any, sleep that day. Being in the showbiz, bottle store and bar businesses, he worked most of the night, and used the day to prepare for the night shift. The lifestyle led to Chilaza calling himself 24/7. In all accounts Chilaza was a hard worker. I was always intrigued by how he managed the showbiz, bottle stores and bar businesses while he was drunk. During the funeral my myth of him being drunk at work was debunked. From several speakers I learnt that Chilaza took very little alcohol at all times. He was always alert because he had to understand everything that was happening around him anytime.

Mr. Seeletso humorously told the mourners that he often advised Chilaza to avoid being next to magnets as the several metal insertions in his body could lead to him being attached to the magnets. But he also said Chilaza frequently had several painkiller medications. One of his nephews, Kweku Seeletso, who was housed by Chilaza for many years, attested to his business resilience. In his tribute, Kweku used the word resilience about ten times, sometimes emotionally, as he recalled how even he, then a secondary school student, could feel when his uncle was down, but never out.  Chilaza often said with a lisp, “ga ke a wa, ke sekame” loosely translated “I am not bust, my business is just going through a bad patch.” I was excited to hear such a testimony. Many successful business people publicly conceal their lows, leading to some prospective business persons’ illusion that business is all about a continuously upward trajectory. In business studies, stories of the daring, persistent and resilient are essential. Dr Bonny Matshediso talked about discussing business deals with Chilaza a few times at Palapye. The local councilor lamented that Chilaza’s business ideas that could have benefitted his constituency, may never materialise. 

Chilaza was loyal to his friends, family and tribe as a moNgwato. Most of the tributes confirmed his loyalty to his friends. From the four of his five children, who had a tribute to read, I discerned some happiness due to their giggles as they recounted some of their fathers’ way of doing things. His relatives described his loyalty to his family that was expressed through gifts, regular phone calls and messages, visits, support during tough times, grooming into business by allowing them to be part of his staff and housing some for extended periods. His nephew Mr. Leapetswe Sekgoma recalled how he was allowed to drive Chilaza’s vehicles when he was under age. Kweku described Chilaza’s life as an alternative lifestyle. The most outstanding alternative lifestyle story Kweku revealed was that Chilaza did not believe in banking his money. I subsequently learnt from another person, who knew Chilaza well, that he bought most things cash indeed.

One of Chilaza’s alternative lifestyle was that he enjoyed fast driving all over southern Africa. His BMWs were often seen overtaking along Botswana roads. I recall a story about his driving stunt when there was a convoy from Lobatse stadium after a Notwane FC game. There was always an unofficial race to be first back to the Notwane Club House. Chilaza squeezed his vehicle very close to an oncoming vehicle behind which was a long queue of oncoming traffic.  He told his terrified passengers “re dule dikgosi” which meant “we have squeezed through guys”. He did that to gain advantage over the chasing drivers’ vehicles who would be held back by the oncoming traffic. Chilaza’s funeral was graced by about twenty members of his Malwela Motse mophato, regiment. They wore hats similar to his, in the funeral programme front page picture. They told us he was a devoted chairman of the regiment, something which took me aback about his adaptability.  I did vaguely remember that when Kgosi Ian Khama Seretse Khama was sworn in, Chilaza did mention that they belonged to the same regiment. The mophato told the mourners that under Chilaza’s leadership they paved the kgotla. 

The social life Chilaza lived was the main theme of his friend Kgosi Kebinatshwene Mosielele’s eulogy. He explained that their social group, maScotch, drank Scotch whisky.  Kgosi set the scene by telling the audience that being one day older than Chilaza was something the latter doubted and even suggested that the former’s parents must have made a mistake about. It was the perfect appetizer for a story about their life of fun, females, fast cars and fabulous memories. Kgosi also confirmed that they did not drink too much alcohol. In his account they had to be sober to do somethings properly later on. What things, was everybody’s guess. He recalled that Chilaza hosted several prominent foreigners, mostly South Africans, such as Bantu Holomisa, a Transkei Bantustan retired army general and a South African politician. I am not sure for how long and for what mission he was hosted.  Kgosi Kebinatshwene tip-toed around the details of their intricate lifestyles with such dexterity that often sanitized what was being described to make it palatable for the audience mixed age groups.

He used rich Setswana and occasional idioms, that left me agape at his command of the language, to reveal but also conceal maScotch’s roller coaster lives. It appears after some stock taking, and not too pleased with their lives direction, maScotch decided to join the BDF at the peak of its recruitment drive. Kgosi and others joined but Chilaza changed his mind at the last minute. The patron of the Botswana Music Promoters Association Phillip Dikgang Makgalemele, mentioned that Chilaza brought many foreign artists to Botswana but ensured that Batswana always had a share in the programme. The list of foreign music groups Chilaza brought to Botswana include The Commodores, Shabba Ranks, Brenda Fassie, and many more.

Chilaza was a Notwane FC supporter and also part of its management for several years. Mothusi Lekalake outlined Chilaza’s key roles in the team management, when he recruited younger players into the ageing 1974 team. Through the assistance of Ishmael Bhamjee, he got Chicken Bhamjee from South Africa to coach Notwane. In 1986 Notwane, with Chilaza as Vice Manager, the team earned position two in all competitions. Often Chilaza, other committee members and some supporters, accommodated players at their homes. I recall an incident where a player borrowed one of Chilaza’s vehicle to do family business and dash back to a game. The vehicle rolled over and the player never made it back to the specific game. Chilaza always had Notwane FC in his heart. Even when in Serowe, Chilaza was actively involved in the club’s chat forum.

A neighbor Mma Topo said Chilaza’s love for Serowe was demonstrated by how he chose to spend many holidays there. Mma Topo said he always checked on his neighbours when he was in Serowe.

Chilaza’s life was described as a series of highs and lows. He had guts to try various business ideas, some quite unrelated. He worked nonstop in his youthful days. During his last days, Chilaza operated a quarry at Lose. He was an altar boy in the Anglican Church early in his life. His contribution to the Serowe Anglican church was recognized at his funeral.

A memorial service is to be held at the Molapo Piazza in Gaborone, on Thursday 3rd August 2023. The occasion will give an opportunity to Notwane FC, Botswana Music Promoters Association, and all who could not make it to Chilaza’s funeral, to celebrate his life.

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