At 90, retired Botswana second president Sir Ketumile Masire appears more energised than some of his peers. His trade mark beaming smile and loud laughter have not abandoned him over so many years. Sir Ketumile’s 90th birthday festivities rolled on from July 23rd – his birthday – to a family function in his honour at the GICC on Saturday and climaxed at the University of Botswana Stadium on Tuesday. He is the Chancellor of the university.
He appears healthy for his age and doesn’t look like he has his doctor number on a speed dial. He concedes to this in fact – pointing out that he recalls only two life-threatening incidents in his life. These took place many years ago. The first was early in his life when doctors gave him a 5 percent chance of survival after being poisoned. He married MmaGaone at the time on a hospital sick bed. The most recent one was in 1988 when he was shot by missiles from Angola when he was flying. “I just don’t know how I survived those,” he said. He added there have been other incidents where he escaped by a whisker which he said in Setswana (ke dule ka tshoba la mogodu). He said in all this he believes that God has a purpose for him and that it is still not his time to die.
He said after his wife’s departure he thought life would be even more miserable and unbearable, but the children stepped in and made up for their mother’s loss in a way he would have never imagined. He said they are the ones who take good care of him. He appreciated the party they organised for him at the GICC, saying he had no hand in organizing it. “I didn’t know that it was going to be arranged, they said ‘mdala’ (old man) keep out of it,” he laughed. He said they did this in recognition of the best education that he afforded them. They told him that with all that he has done for them it was time that they looked after him. He has always doubted that he will make it past 90, the same way he doubts that he will make it past 100. However, he is aware that everything is in God’s hands.
Ask him how he keeps fit and he will show you the direction to his cattle post. He said his main training is actively working at the cattle post. In Gaborone he does many sedentary duties and takes walks around the blocks. He has also solicited the help of physiotherapists who help him. Having started off as an arable farmer, farming is always closer to his heart. When he resigned from politics in 1998, he went back to his first love – his farm in Gantsi or the one that he has in Lobatse. He said on top of having cows and the like, he has gone into vegetable farming.
Sir Ketumile has also launched a Foundation. It is run by his daughter Matshidiso and primarily caters for the youth. They often run seminars on different sectors. He said they help them when they want to venture into projects like farming and also assist them with mentorship so that they can talk to them or find someone who can help them grow their business acumen. Masire says he is very proud of the achievements of his children and the contributions they are making to the nation. “Any parent who has children who has done what my children have will definitely be proud.” He added as parents they always look up to children to do better than them. He hailed his daughter Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba for her work with the Commonwealth.
With people always surrounding him, privacy is one thing that the former president get a little dose of, but he said it is something that he is used to because it all started so many years ago. He said he can’t run away from people because he knows that wherever he goes he is followed. He advised young people not to blindly pursue wealth schemes but rather to thank God that they are living in this age and in this nation that provides them with the opportunities to do better than their parents and uncles. He said opportunities are there but it is just up to people to tap into them.
Her daughter Masire-Mwamba said just like any other children they have always looked up to their parents for what life is about and the meaning of life. She said the lessons that they have learnt from their father and mother who are affectionately referred to as RraGaone and MmaGaone is that as children they had the privilege of being born in a Botswana that was in a development stage where they saw Botswana unfold in front of their very eyes. She said they saw this from the point of view of rural and urban Botswana as part of institutions like Thornhill School and also having been the first students of Maru-a-pula School. She said they enjoyed the privileges and perks as Botswana was developing but at the same time still spent time at the cattlepost and at the lands. “We had a very extensive family; so in a nutshell growing up like that has taught us about family, unity, service and making a contribution wherever you are and however you can,” she said. She said there has never been pressure on them when growing up because her parents lived life to the fullest and as such opening space for their children to live their life. She said they can’t look back and say they wish they had something else.
Masire did not have any pressure to live his life through his children as he allowed them as children to develop their own interests, passions and has been supportive to all of them. That empowered them to do the things that they wanted to do because they were never afraid of disappointing their parents. She said all he wanted for them was for them to do well in their lives and make full use of their gifts. She referred to their childhood as that of encouragement which helped them to build their self-confidences. She said that is the reason why they made a big deal out of his 90th birthday because they felt blessed to still be able to say thank you to him to his face as a celebration of who he has allowed them to be. She said the celebrations were very fantastic and that they were aware that they could have never been able to host everyone who would have loved to come.
The key thing that comes to mind when Masire-Mwamba thinks about his father is integrity as he has been true to himself and embodies who he is. She said the second word is courage, which he normally does not like to be associated with. She said she thinks he lived the word because he managed to step in places where others feared to tread, hence the title of his book ‘Very Brave or Very Foolish’. She said that exactly summarises who he is because out of integrity he would say I need this to be done, which is courage. She said after the passing of MmaGaone they made sure that they stayed true to them because they have been equipped to handle the challenges of life because in the hard situation they did not forget the core values that they were taught. She said only two words MmaGaone and RraGaone are what has made them to be humble because there was no how they can be proud, high handed, and pompous when they have such parents,. She said they hope their children learn from them because his parents were everyone’s friends and they related with everyone in the same way regardless of the background that they come from.
Masire was the Vice President of Botswana from 1966 to 1980 and President from 1980 until 1998 after succeeding Sir Seretse Khama. MmaGaone passed away in May 2013.