Growing up I always knew that soldiers were very brave men from the books that I read at school especially a certain Tswana poem titled, Androklase wa bolela, that we read at primary school. Then there was a story we were told about our paramount chief, Brigadier Ian Khama, that he once turned himself into a bee and single handedly attacked and defeated Ian Smith of Rhodesia.
New recruits would come home during holidays with jeans pulled up to the belly level with cowboy belts and their caps almost covering their faces. They called themselves ‘Bosekwata’ which literally means squad. Girls flocked to them like bees whenever they came home because they were generous with their money.
To army people the term ‘sekwata’ referred to one’s training mates or collegiality, but to us civilians it was another nickname for soldiers.
We knew that with their training at Pandamatenga and Paje, soldiers were very combative and no one dared take chances with them. They were easily identifiable by the way they walked with their hands shying away from the rest of the body as if they are about to fly.
In 1989, a former Botswana Defence Force (BDF) founding commander Lieutenant General, Mompati Merafhe joined the civilian society as a politician and now we got to realise and appreciate what a real ‘sekwata’ is.
While we feared bosekwata because they were physically fit, General Merafhe brought another side of fitness, verbal prowess especially in the Queen’s language.
He was also fashionista extraordinaire with pin stripped suits and tailor made boots- always on top of his game when it came to dressing, something that was synonymous with soldiers when they visited their home villages.
In Serowe he was well respected especially at Serowe Hotel where he used to chill out with other cattle barons and some of his friends and ladies will throng the hotel to get a glimpse of a gentleman, who also knew that they must be treated well.
Treating women well, seemed to be something that every army officer was taught at training and ladies enjoyed their attention and as the former commander, The General was the epitome of that.
The former BDF commander and its founder was not a pushover. He was not afraid to take on his opponents or anyone who dared challenge him head on.
Hate or abhor him, the General was brutal when it came to putting across his point.
One time he was officiating at the opening of the BHC houses in Mahalapye.
He literally lambasted people at the top table that included the BHC Chief Executive Officer Reginald Motswaiso, Mahalapye tribal authorities for not inviting ordinary people at the event. The Botswana television cameramen were not spared either.
He literally told BHC CEO that he was being economical with the truth when he said the houses were built by a citizen owned company, “I always passed here during construction and only saw light skinned people, who were vertically challenged with small eyes, and to me they did not pass as Batswana. I wonder which citizens you are talking about.”
It was clear that he was in his sekwata element as he brutally told Mahalapye chief Duncan Segotsi that he is not going to call him ‘My Lord’ as it is a custom in Tswana culture, “ Because you chiefs if someone addresses you in that manner as a sign of respect, now you think you own us. I am sorry you’re just chief Segotsi. Finish and klaar.”
He shocked many when he revealed that he knows that there is too much jealousy as the state run television and its leaders are hell bent on destroying careers of other people. This was in reference to a Btv journalist whom he accused of only focusing his camera on him instead of shooting other people.
People realised that General Merafhe has launched a verbal war and everyone was now uncomfortable in their seats as he took them one by one.
It became clear that this man does not fake his emotions as some political leaders tend to do and only attack people in secret.
He was not your typical politician. You could believe what he is telling you because lying seemed to be one gift he did not acquire when he joined politics.
In Parliament he liked to pick up fights with opposition parliamentarians and would use colorful words to attack them.
He once told former Gaborone Central MP Dumelang Saleshando that, “you’re like a man whistling under the grave, we do not hear you, and we will never hear you.”
General Merafhe once engaged in a verbal war with Francistown South MP Wynter Mmolotsi when he told the former that, “You must go back to your village. You deprived your community the benefits of a local clown. You are a village clown.”
To which Mmolotsi told him to retire and go and drink traditional beer with other old men in Serowe “O ye go nwa mokuru le bannabagolo ba bangwe ko Serowe!”
Not to be outdone, Merafhe told Mmolotsi that he was the son of a destitute and the latter would later admit in his condolence message that he realised that the General was not about to give up in his fight thus he surrendered.
The two according to Mmolotsi would later become very close and gave him some neck ties.
After former Kanye North MP, Kentse Rammidi left BDP and joined Botswana National Front (BNF) the General took the war to the then youthful MP who was once BDP secretary general.
“Madam Speaker, Honourable Rammidi is a lost young man. He is confused. In one month he moved from one political party to the other. He now says he is a member of the BNF. I have never seen a man a gaisiwa ke peba ka botlhale, you can never see a rat running towards a sinking ship.”
Retired Brigadier Iphemeleng Kgokgothwane who worked under Lt. General Merafhe at BDF said that the former BDF leader was a disciplinarian who instilled professionalism in the army.
“Remember that he built BDF from nothing to where it is now and guarded us very well allowing us to implement what we learnt from other military institutions,” said Kgokgothwane.
One incident that really showed that Merafhe was a good leader according to Kgokgothwane was when he took the blame after some soldiers shot and killed a suspected poacher in Kasane.
“The case was similar to that of those officers who shot and killed John Kalafatis. But instead of allowing his men to be charged with murder he took the blame because he was the one who ordered the mission,” said Kgokgothwane adding that this was a sign of a good commander.
Even at the army, Merafhe was a straight talker who never beat around the bush, and will smile at you afterwards, said retired brigadier Kgokgothwane.
General Merafhe who succumbed to an illness on the 7th of January 2015 will be buried in Serowe next weekend and the funeral will be broadcast live on Botswana television and Radio Botswana.