We are gathered here to bid farewell to a great man, a special individual, a man who spoke his mind, a man of conviction. One writer once wrote:
"Every once in a while special people are put on this Earth; people with deep passion for whatever they do and live for. People with hearts much greater than average. Today we are gathered here to bid farewell to one such a person.
I have known and worked with His Honour Lt. Gen. Mompati Sebogodi Merafhe for over twenty years. He has always, over the period of time I have known him, exhibited unquestionable commitment to work, had tremendous ability to listen, shown commitment in executing his responsibilities with admirable agility and promptness. He was a born leader. He was self- taught.
All these attributes were driven by his desire to see this country grow to greater heights. He was steadfast and "meticulous". He consistently showed dedication to national service coupled with an abiding passion for development and progress.
Rising through the ranks, over the years, from a Police Constable to Deputy Commissioner of Police, becoming the founding Commander of the Botswana Defence Force, where he moulded what others beyond our boarders described the BDF as one of the developing world's most disciplined and professional armies, to becoming a politician and becoming one of the longest serving Ministers of Foreign Affairs in the world, is in itself a mark of excellence. I must hasten to say "longest serving" on its own does not describe Rre Merafhe's abilities.
It will be remembered that as the Minister of Foreign Affairs he was given one international assignment after another and indeed rose to the occasion to show the staff he was made of. Most notable was when he served with distinction as member and Chairman of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) for almost a decade, where he handled some of the most difficult and sensitive assignments like Fiji, Pakistan and Zimbabwe.
His Excellency the President always asks his Cabinet to think and imagine what legacy they will leave behind once their tour of duty is over. With Rre Merafhe you do not have to look far. Undoubtedly he has left a legacy - from within the country and on the international scene as well. He had that ever present quest for continuous improvement in whatever that he did. He was not afraid of change, for as long as that change was justifiable and necessary. He was quick to provide guidance and leadership without hesitation. He was a man who believed in consultation much as that, if he was convinced he is right, it was a mammoth task to sway him away from that view point. He would, with that special laughter, that even now I can hear, say "my brother, we all have a dog in this fight", in recognition of the fact that no man is an island.
For us to carry through to the next generations the legacy and good that Rre Merafhe and some of our forebearers left for us, we have to be innovative, whilst remembering that " Letlhaku le le sha, le agelwa mo go le le gologolo". We must find ways of becoming more productive, achieve more with less, particularly during these trying times. We must not take our peace and tranquility for granted. We must fight hard to preserve them. That is what Rre Merafhe lived for - he lived for to, and for a purpose. A French Philosopher, Michel de Montague once wrote "The great and glorious masterpiece of man is to know how to live to purpose" This couldn't have been more relevant to this great man we have come to mourn.
Despite all these achievements, there were some, mostly amongst the younger generation who would call for his retirement, saying he was past his due date. That is politics, that I have, of late, come to experience. But being who he was, the General always had a complement or two for them. This is just one of them: "Some of these boys speak as it if it is an honour to die young".
In Cabinet Rre Merafhe was a stabilizer, much as he was a straight talker. When he realized that some discussion was getting heated, he would humbly request that it be taken "off-line", where he noticed that common sense was being over-ridden by "majority view", he would make his point understood by simply retorting "wisdom is not the preclude of the majority".
But much as he was humble and a stabilizer, the General could also display some temper which would be accompanied by not very "diplomatic" utterances, despite being the seasoned diplomat that he was.
But there were instances when you thought that temper would be displayed, he would respond in a very humble way which would leave you confused as to what character Rre Merafhe was. I remember one day in Cabinet when His Excellency announced that he had assigned Rre Merafhe to lead Cabinet in some exercise that had to with Productivity Improvement in Government, one lady Minister made some instantaneous remark which was not at all kind to the Vice President. There was silence. You could hear a pin drop. Everybody was tense and expecting a bombshell in response. But to everybody's surprise and disbelief he said: "my Sister you are very brave. As a soldier I adore bravery". It was then that everybody burst out laughing.
When a work colleague came to him in tears over an issue which had caused them a lot of consternation, he gave the colleague some tissue paper and said: "motogolo compose yourself, this job is not for the faint hearted! Ba toga ba go twaela".
Years later, when we were very good friends, I reminded him of some comments he had directed at me when we were at the UN General Assembly in New York. In response, and with his trademark laughter, he said to me: "Batho ba Modimo, did I really say that to you? My brother, that was very unkind of me".
In life, Rre Merafhe liked a few things - cattle, watches, good clothes and good wine. When not at work we would talk endlessly about agriculture, more especially cattle farming. He loved that. In a modest way he would indicate his endowment in that area by simply saying: "morakana wame fa Mmamabula wa marole a 200nyana fela" And when in response I say 200 is not a small number - he would simply say - "I know my brother"!
As you can see from this programme, the General was a good dresser, gape a tshwanelwa - good suits with matching ties, shirts and boots. When one day the learned Attorney General complimented him on his impeccable sense of dress, he said: "my little sister, you are too kind, ke gore o nthata hela ka o le setogolo same". To put the cherry on the icing, he would then complete it with a matching watch. He actually made me like watches, and as a result of this I have a small collection. Four years ago thieves broke into my house and stole all the collection. When I told him about this he simply said: "Oh my brother, you suffered the same fate!" I was left wondering. I am however re-building the collection. I cannot say anything about his liking for good wine, because that would open a whole new chapter on the discussions we had whilst enjoying it. We don't have time for that.
I could say a lot about this man, but I have to conclude my remarks. The likes of Rre Merafhe have worked hard for this country. He is counted among the founding fathers of this Republic. Theirs was to work to take Botswana into a future, a bright one, where she would be counted amongst the best. It has happened that Botswana is a respected and key international player. Botswana is listened to in the community of Nations. Thanks among others, to Rre Merafhe.
These founding fathers, did it, not for their personal gain. These veterans were not blinded by the desire for self-enrichment, by taking advantage of the influential positions they held. It was always "COUNTRY FIRST". They worked hard to grow this country whilst also working hard to eke a living for their families. Sacrifice is the appropriate word.
Rre Merafhe passes on, not as a rich man but as a man with a conscience, that always guided him to do what is good for this country and NOT FOR HIMSELF. The old fable of that lady who was hungry, but could not help herself to the food that she had not been permitted to eat LEINA WEE. This conscience will always be a reminder to those who do good. It is for those who come after the likes of Rre Merafhe to make that compelling decision of whether to choose good, do good for this country and preserve their name or go the other way. This challenge remains with us. Rre Merafhe tiro ya gago o e dirile, o e weditse.
To Mme Mma Reobonye, I feel a bit guilty in that when we met just before Christmas you did say to me "o re latlhile, ga o tlhole tsala ya gago" to which, if you recall, I did say I would check him in the new year. Gosego also said the same when we met. Little did I know that I would not see my friend in the new year.
Indeed God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform. He has so directed that the General leaves this world before I see him in this New Year.
Mmaetsho, you should not despair, the everlasting comfort will come from the Omnipotent. To the guys and girls, Mmaalona needs you most at this hour. Live up to that. The Boss has set a benchmark for you to follow. Everybody will be watching every step you take and if you falter, it will be a newsworthy item. You all know what I mean. For you to keep the benchmark, you have to walk tightly on that thin cutline of life as taught to you by the Boss. FARE THEE WELL MOTALAOTE, MAY YOUR SOUL REST IN PEACE.
*Molale is the Minister of Public Administration and Presidential Affairs Minister. He gave this speech at the memorial service of the late former Vice-President Mompati Merafhe on Tuesday at the National Stadium in Gaborone.