Even the usually punishing winter days of Kanye, with temperatures often dropping to freezing point, must have gotten the memo loud and clear that Thursday June 29, 2017 was a special day. The mild breeze at dawn was uncharacteristic of the village nestled between numerous hills. Motebejana ward was on the day playing host to heads of state, cabinet ministers, prominent businessmen, dikgosi from across the country, the moneyed and the poor, and even imbeciles. The occasion was the state funeral of a senior Mongwaketse tribesman, former President of Botswana Sir Ketumile Masire who died a week earlier due to a short illness at the age 91. Mourners, young and old, came dressed the nines in anticipation of a once in a lifetime opportunity to rub shoulders with the who's who of the world, who caused a spectacle and brought the sleepy village to a standstill when they landed near Kanye Showgrounds in at least eight helicopters. The VVIP had just been whisked in from Gaborone city where their private jets were waiting for a quick return back home. In a programme that lasted the whole day, speakers from near and far took turns to eulogise Quett Masire who endeared himself to many with his selfless service not only to Botswana but to the rest of the continent and the world.
President Ian Khama closed the programme in the afternoon calling on mourners to look back with pride and celebrate Sir Ketumile Masire's great achievements as a pioneer and founder of Botswana's journey to independence. He said Sir Ketumile played a pivotal role in the liberation struggles of the SADC region. "Sir Ketumile's legacy goes beyond Botswana's borders. Our leaders resisted pressure to stop allowing freedom fighters and pro-democracy activists from entering Botswana. We refused to give in then and we will not give in now. We will not be bullied by anyone into abandoning our democratic principles. We remember his humour and his passion for farming, politics and the BDP. If you were to ask me what he loved the most between politics and farming; I would say farming. Sir Ketumile was highly motivated, focused, modest, humurous, wise and a great partner to my father Sir Seretse. Mma Gaone was a formidable partner to her husband. She was such a wonderful and lovely person; the epitome of the saying behind every successful man is a strong woman (which I don't necessarily subscribe to)".
Mbeki on Masire
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who attended alongside current deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa was at his best displaying a wealth of wisdom and scholarly prowess. In a meticulously crafted speech, Mbeki said of Masire's passing; "With his departure we will miss his laughter which tinkled as clear as a bell. He was a humble sage, forever free of deceit. We can proclaim to all humanity that from this small acre of our continent was born Sir Ketumile, whose leadership made us proud to call ourselves African. As all of us know, he served in the presidency of the Republic of Botswana as vice president and president for just over three decades, from 1966 to 1998. This was a critical period for the development of Botswana. Sir Ketumile was an exemplary statesman who has set benchmarks which define the essence of exemplary leadership. Sir Ketumile will be remembered as one of the principal architects of the democratic Botswana which has extricated itself from the curse of being one of the poorest countries in the world, a Botswana of which all of us are proud,” said Mbeki. Mbeki applauded Ketumile Masire and Seretse Khama for supporting the anti-Apartheid struggle and for the role Botswana played in the struggle for liberation of Southern African states of South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. “It remains true that the full story about the invaluable contribution of Botswana to the victory of the struggle against apartheid tyranny and the other liberation struggles in our region has not as yet been told. I am certain that I speak for all the peoples of Southern Africa when I pay a heartfelt tribute to Sir Ketumile for the central role he and his colleagues played in ensuring that this Republic and its people remained steadfast in their principled support for the total liberation of Africa,” he said.Mbeki said he first came to Botswana in 1962 and immediately realised that the people of Botswana and South Africa were tied by an unbreakable bond. He remembered the late Motsamai Mpho and Fish Keitseng, Lawrence Lekalake and Mike Dingake who facilitated their passage through Botswana. He said it was inevitable that the apartheid regime would make Botswana pay. Yet, despite the pain they suffered the people of Botswana did not flinch or waver. "They stood firm until the apartheid regime was no more. I pay tribute to the man that we bury today, for if he and his fellow leaders had lost the will to resist, so would have the people of South Africa. Today we lay to rest an eminent son of Botswana and Africa, to whom many accolades are due. He set benchmarks which define the essence of true African leadership. We must seize this solemn occasion to celebrate a life well lived. To you all dear friends we say kindly that we too share your loss. Robala ka kagiso Mongwaketse, great son of Botswana and Africa," said Mbeki.
The frail looking Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, the only sitting visiting head of state at the funeral, mustered enough energy to pay tribute to his closest comrade in the whole SADC region. Either overcome with grief or due to old age, the 94-year-old Mugabe struggled to the podium to address the mourners but telling a touching eulogy of Sir Ketumile. "Today we come in tears because we feel robbed. We lost a leader who was an asset in many ways. We all bear witness to the depth of character of Sir Ketumile. He commanded respect without ever demanding it. His generosity of spirit was so much a part of his character. He often rolled out a welcome mat to us regardless of the matter at hand. The people of Zimbabwe will forever remember the sterling role that Masire played in the liberation struggle of our region. He took over as President of Botswana when the liberation struggle in South Africa and Namibia were at their peak. He would not be intimidated by the apartheid regime as he continued to render assistance to the liberation struggle of those countries. “I have fond memories of working with him in the early days of SADC. He fought for Botswana to host the SADC headquarters. Even after retirement Sir Ketumile continued to be a servant of his people and humanity, travelling the length and breadth of Africa in pursuit of peaceful co-existence and development. Even on this sombre occasion let us lift the veil that grief has placed on our faces and recognise the wonderful gift of this great man. Words are all we can summon today to help us cope with our grief. We cry to God to grant us solace; to put his balm upon our wounded hearts and help us soldier on as we follow in his footsteps. Why, why … why was he taken from us? A great friend he was. A hilarious laugh he had. President Masire was a great man who is lost to Botswana, southern Africa and the whole continent. Let us look at the road he has walked and perhaps walk it as well. I am glad you are giving him a state funeral and many of us who worked with him are here to bid him farewell. This is the last comradeship he could ever ask for. In Zimbabwe there is what we call a national hero. Sir Ketumile was one. May God rest him in perfect and eternal peace. I shall live forever with Masire in my heart. He was my closest friend in SADC. My wife and his wife were great friends. May he rest in peace," said Mugabe.