Politicians across the political divide have expressed sadness following the passing of former Cabinet Minister and Member of Parliament (MP) for Molepolole North Gaotlhaetse Utlwang Sankoloba Matlhabaphiri after a sudden illness on Thursday. They unanimously hail the former diplomat as a fair player who related well with everyone despite their political affiliation. Below are comments on Matlhabaphiri’s life:
President Mokgweetsi Masisi
"I’m deeply saddened to come back home to the news of the untimely passing of my good friend, mentor and a great servant of this country. Sending my deepest condolences to his beloved family. He will be greatly missed. Robala ka Kagiso Kwena!
Mpho Balopi -BDP Secretary General
Balopi revered Matlhabaphiri as a long serving Botswana Democratic Party stalwart on whose life many could learn a lot. According to Balopi, Matlhabaphiri’s footprint in the party dates back to the era of the first president of Botswana, Seretse Khama when he (Matlhabaphiri) was among the first crop of young people to form the Youth wing of the party. His love for the party and his activism saw him forming the BDP, which served a pivotal role in the party’s mobilization process; the choir grew in leaps and bounds under Matlhabaphiri’s leadership to its current state.
Balopi also pointed out that the late Matlhabaphiri also served the party diligently in different committees where he always showed outstanding leadership qualities. His patience and peacefulness he said were some of the winner qualities that placed him above the rest. In 2015 Matlhabaphiri threw his hat in the ring for the coveted BDP Secretary General position and he lost. This according to Balopi however was quickly overshadowed by the fact that he was later elected the Chairperson of the BDP’s Political Education and Elections Committee (PEEC). His untimely passing came as his was in Gaborone executing PEEC business.
“He said to me just hours before his passing that PEEC business was overwhelming especially because it was Bulela Ditswe season, but however pointed out that he knew that if we work collectively we will manage,” said Balopi, adding that Matlhabaphiri’s compassionate nature saw him always willing to help people. “Like a brave soldier, Matlhabaphiri died serving the party and doing what he believed in. He truly was a good man,” he said.
Liakat Kablay, BDP Chief Whip
The MP for Letlhakeng-Lephepe who is also the BDP whip in Parliament was heartbroken at Matlhabaphiri’s passing. According to Kablay, Matlhabaphiri was a people’s person who related well with his colleagues in parliament despite political affiliation. This Kablay says is even reflected by the genuine hurt that most MPs expressed when his passing was announced. As a resident of Molepolole himself, Kablay said the late Matlhabaphiri was more than a colleague to him, and was more like a brother, who he confided in whenever he was at crossroads and knew his input will make a difference. He also credited Matlhabaphiri with assisting him to win in the 2009 general elections. “He personally came to Letlhakeng and assisted me with my campaign,” said Kablay. As a result he says Matlhabaphiri who was nevertheless well known in the Kgalagadi region endeared himself to the people of Kgalagadi who loved him and he loved them back. In party politics Kablay described Matlhabaphiri as a loyal party stalwart, who always put the interest of the party first by serving it even when he didn’t hold any political office. “That is why even after losing in the 2014 general elections, Matlhabaphiri continued to be active in all party structures and was as a result elected BDP Chairperson of PEEC, a position he died handling with dedication and excellence,” he said. Kablay said because of his dedication and love for the party and the people of Molepolole, the late Matlhabaphiri managed to win the party primary elections earlier this year and he has no doubt that he was going to win back the constituency in 2019.
Michael Dingake wrote on Facebook
"I am saddened by GUS Matlhabaphiri passing, my heartfelt condolences to his family and all who were close to him. In 1987 as Botswana High Commissioner in London he was kind enough to accommodate me at the embassy when I was in London to launch one of my books. He was aware then I was in opposition for His Honour VP P. Mmusi had informed him I had spurned his overtures to align with the red brigade! In 1994 he and I stood at opposite poles for the new Gaborone Constituency; when we met at Selemela ward on polling day, he noticed I was sealing the boxes before they were taken to counting station: we had been okayed to do that by Supervisor Mmono; GUS didn't know and curiously asked what I was doing that for? "To stop you cheating" I told him. He was amused and laughed heartily, me joining him. Though results were not in his favour our cordial relations were unaffected, we continued referring to each other as swaer (brother-in-law) because my wife is Mokwena! Two of us unspeakably agreed we were Batswana, immune from division induced by political affiliation! GUS was my man! Wish all Batswana were like GUS not antagonised by politics. Combative views, honestly held, will make us a great nation. GUS gone, we are poorer! MHSRI!"
Matlhabaphiri, who was the Member of Parliament for Molepolole North before the 2014 general elections, started his career as a bank clerk in 1971 and later became a teacher at Capital Continuation Classes in Gaborone. He then proceeded to work as a diamond sorter at the then Botswana Diamond Valuing Company (BDVC) from 1976-1979. He was appointed the general secretary of Botswana Diamond Sorter/Valuers Union.
In 1979, Matlhabaphiri, who was popularly known as GUS, was elected to Parliament for the first time and subsequently became the Assistant Minister of Agriculture. He also served as the governor of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) until 1985.
The late Matlhabaphiri also served as a High Commissioner and Ambassador based in London and Stockholm between 1985 and 1996. He was again elected MP in 1989 and served in various parliamentary committees from the public accounts committee, law reform committee, and parliamentary labour relations to the International Parliamentary Union (Botswana branch).
He also thereafter served as High Commissioner of Botswana to Namibia, Ghana and Angola respectively. Matlhabaphiri served as assistant minister of labour and home affairs, health and presidential affairs and public administration between 2008 and 2014.
He has served in several boards, clubs and church organisations. In 2015 he was awarded the Presidential Order of Honour. May His Soul Rest in Peace.