Sunday, October 1, 2023

Two Good Men ÔÇô Alec Campbell and Motsamai Mpho

I was already contemplating a tribute to the late Alexander (Alec) Colin Campbell (1932-2012) when I received news of the death of Motsamai Keyecwe Mpho (1921-2012). Although their life stories and contributions to our country are distinct, besides being true builders of Botswana they shared a few personal traits.

If a truly great man (or women) begins as a good person, one can say that that the two fallen icons were good men who have left behind great legacies. Of course one does not need to be a historian to know that not every individual labelled great is necessarily good hearted. Some have been exceptionally nasty.

But, in the case of the two departed nation builders, one finds greatness embedded in the decency of their character. They were each generous, principled and dedicated servants of their society.

Alec Campbell, who is to be buried this morning, will be remembered for many accomplishments. As a scholar he was an archaeologist of world repute, being one of the world’s foremost authorities on rock art. His co-authored “History of Botswana” was a breakthrough that ensured that our country began to better know and debate its own history at a popular level. Alec was also the founder and first curator of the National Museum.

As significant as Alec’s own work is, his greatest contribution may, nonetheless, be judged to have been his role as a promoter and enabler of the work of others. For some four decades, virtually every scholar, both local and international, who researched here, was assisted by him through his personal generosity, as well as his leadership of the Botswana Society as well as National Museum.

An indefatigable opponent of all forms of oppression, Motsamai Mpho will be celebrated for his contributions to regional liberation, as a leading member of the ANC during the 1950s, which resulted in his pride of place among the movement’s treason trialists, as well as his being a founding figure of Botswana’s modern democracy. His generosity was reflected in his selfless commitment to community service as well as his seven decades principled political activism.
Both patriots also shared a restless spirit, which is perhaps why neither ever really retired.

Alec Campbell’s internationally best known work as an archaeologist, which became his scholarly forte, resulted from his collaboration in recent years with David Coulsen, e.g. African Rock Art, Paintings and Engravings on Stone (2001). Together the two did breakthrough research in remote areas of the Sahara as well as here and elsewhere to unlock evidence of the African origin of human genius.

In his ninth decade, Motsamai Mpho was as politically engaged as the young man who, back in the 1940s, made it against the odds to Tiger Kloof, while standing up for the liberation and dignity of his home community, the then oppressed Wayeyi.

During the 1960s Campbell and Mpho both played separate but important roles in Botswana’s transition to independence. Mpho’s part in launching the People’s Party (BPP), which emerged in 1961 as the country’s first mass based political movement, is widely acknowledged if not necessarily well understood.

Mpho was also a key, albeit frustrated, participant in 1963 Constitutional Conference at Lobatse, where the foundations of our Republic where negotiated on the basis of one person one vote self-rule. Frustrated at what he perceived to be the “passive” stance of the Dikgosi at the talks, he would later recall:

“The consequence of the chiefs’ silence was devastating for them as a force in the traditional culture; they were eliminated from the future political process. They and the country at large lost everything because the development of our nation needed chiefs as a link to the rural population. Even Chief Linchwe of Bakgatla, who sometimes contributed in discussions, was a quiet person at the talks.

“During adjournment Chief Linchwe told me that he had never been interested in anything I had to say before. He thought that he had been wrong all along and he admired me from then on. I believe a number of other chiefs did also. Today we find ourselves criticising some aspects of the constitution because we failed to exercise our power when it was formed.”

As a direct result of the Lobatse turning point, Alec Campbell was, in 1963-64, given the task of conducting the territory’s first house to house census as a basis, among other things, for establishing political constituencies as well as demographic profile for development planning.

As the then Queen’s Commissioner, Sir Peter Fawcus, would later recall:

“The Queen’s Commissioner was seriously concerned that he had no experienced officer to undertake the census operation. The solution unexpectedly presented itself in the shape of a District Officer at Ghanzi, that far flung outpost in the Kalahari. This young officer, Alec Campbell, serving in a post usually welcomed by junior administrators, giving the chance of early command at a convenient distance from headquarters, complained bitterly that he had not enough to do and had decided to resign. The Queen’s Commissioner simply could not afford to lose an administrative officer. He therefore decided to resolve both problems by appointing Alec Campbell, in spite of his being relatively inexperienced, to the formidable task of conducting the census, knowing that whatever complaints he might make would not be related to under-employment.

“The work involved travel throughout the length and breadth of the country bringing the census officer into the closest contact with the land and its people. It was the basis of a love affair between Campbell and the Kalahari which has continued to this day, to the great benefit of Botswana.” (To be continued)


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