The state funeral of the former Vice President Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe in Serowe was history in the making as it was the second of its kind to be held in Botswana after 34 years and in the same village. The first one was for founding President Sir Seretse Khama.
Arriving in Mahalapye at around three in the afternoon, one could sense that something was going on, as women with blankets jostled to board buses going to Serowe.
“Heelang nna re batla go goroga go bonala kana gape re batla go ya go gorosa serepa ko kerekeng (we want to arrive in Serowe early and attend the memorial service at church),” shouted a lady with heavy make up on her face clad in a red dress, as she pushed other passengers to board the bus.
It was now clear that most people at the Mahalapye bus rank were heading to Serowe for the burial of their former Member of Parliament.
The chat in the bus now concentrated on the funeral of General Merafhe and most of the talk centered around, “Ha re ka bona program nka itumela mo go maswe (if only we can find program I can be very happy),” said a well-built lady to her friend.
The conversation between the Mahalapye ladies made the rather boring trip more interesting as they spoke freely about the interactions with the former Vice President.
As we approached Palapye, it rained and some said it was a sign that they were going to bury a great man.
“Heeee I just spoke to a close friend in Serowe and he just told me that it is raining heavily there. This is a sign that Merafhe was a great man. The ncestors are happy!” said a lady with dreadlocks with a smile.
Interstingly as we approached Masame Farms, just 10 kilometres before Serowe, it was clear that there was no rain in Serowe and chances of it raining on Friday or Saturday during the funeral were very slim.
“Letsatsi la Serowe le tserema jang batho o kare Merafhe a tenegile (The heat in Serowe is unbearable. It is like Merafhe is angry),” joked a man who has been quiet all along. It was an apparent direct response to the lady who said that it was raining in Serowe. The ladies who were busy making noise just kept quiet while other passengers burst into laughter.
In Serowe it was business as usual and one could not even notice that there is a high profile funeral in the village except for government vehicles which caused traffic in the quiet Bangwato capital.
At Serowe bus rank people were just going about their daily businesses and taxi driver who transported me to the UCCSA church made a startling statement.
“I have heard that the funeral of Merafhe is by invite only and those who are not invited can watch it on national television,” he said shaking his head in utter disbelief.
I told him that it is not true and that he can attend the funeral and heasked to accompany me inside the church to check if it is true.
The memorial service at the UCCSA church was not well attended and my newly found friend, reasoned that it is due to the fact that people heard that it will be by invite only.
As we arrived at the late General Merafhe’s homestead it showed most people chose not to attend the memorial service at church and remained behind.
While President Ian Khama is usually referred as ‘Rraetsho’ a term coined by the late Merafhe, in Serowe they just call him by his first name which they pronounce ‘Iyene’.
“Ha o bona BTV ele fa jaana gatwe Iyene o etla kamoso (the reason BTV is here is because President Khama will be here),” said an old man to his wife as he walked with his hands folded behind his back and the lady responded, “eheee o rialo ijoo! (Okay that is why) as they entered the Merafhe yard.
The funeral service on Saturday morning started well on time and it showed that the Masters of Ceremony; Boyce Sebetlela and Montwedi Mphathi were going to be strict on time and they lived to that expectation.
General Merafhe who was known for good dressing especially pin stripped suits matched with tailor made boots must have smiled in his coffin as women came dressed with latest fashion hats matched with black dresses. One of the men he could have been happy with his sense of dress was the former president Festus Mogae who was putting on a black suit matched with black sunglass. One could have confused him with the American rapper, Jay Z.
President Khama together with his younger brother Tshekedi Khama could have given former President Mogae a run for his money.
As the one who appointed Merafhe as his deputy, President Khama told mourners that he worked very well with his former boss at BDF and that he was a dedicated man who did his work diligently.
He was a very spirited, humorous, meticulous and most importantly pursued a principled journey, said Khama.
The immediate former Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe had people eating from the palm of his hands as he paid tribute to his predecessor.
Kedikilwe, an orator of repute gave the mourners the lighter side of General Merafhe whom he said was good at playing with words.
According to Kedikilwe, the late Merafhe once told someone who delayed to finish the work he was assigned to do by telling at him: “Rraetsho I asked you to do the job not to boil the ocean. Metsi a lewatle a mantsi thata ne ke ka se go reye ke re o a bedise.”
Then came Odirile Merafhe, the well known son of the ‘general’.
Though he could not contain his emotions as he spoke about his father, Merafhe had people talking when he told President Khama that he is ready to continue his father’s legacy.
“We are ready to serve this country and if you want to assign us on any national duty we will gladly accept the honor,” said the young Merafhe and one man quipped, “wa ipatla OD! (He is campaign for himself)”.
While people were still murmuring about what Odirile Merafhe has just said, UCCSA priest- cum-singer Thuso Tiego stole the limelight when he told the gathering about his achievements.
He rubbed some people the wrong way when he compared himself to the retired Catholic church Bishop, Bishop Emeritus Boniface Setlalekgosi and that he is leading a church with a lot of high profile people.
Though he preached very well comparing the Late Merafhe to the street sweeper, people were still battling to understand why he praised himself at a funeral.
As we walked to the graveyard which was just behind the Merafhe homestead, some people especially from his ward of Botalaote started to share some gossip.
“Botalaote graveyard has long been closed and why bury Merafhe there not at Mosusuphane?” asked one man.
“This is a great man from our ward he needs to be buried there, why we can’t leave gossiping aside and celebrate Merafhe’s life,” said another one as he mocks his colleague.
By eleven in the morning the funeral proceedings were completed and after taking what is known as ‘metsinyana’ people dispersed to their places with others packing some food probably to eat at home as it is a norm where there is a ceremony of this nature.
This was indeed a fitting final farewell for a man who dedicated more than 50 years of life in public service.