The mortal remains of Bishop Emeritus Boniface Tshosa Setlalekgosi, the first Motswana to become Catholic Bishop, were laid to rest at the Christ the King Cathedral ground next to his predecessor – the late Bishop Urban Murphy – on Friday.
Bishop Setlalekgosi, who was battling old-age related illness since the past few months, passed away at Gaborone Private Hospital due to heart failure last week Friday.
His mortal remains were laid to rest on Friday afternoon after a fittingly solemn Funeral Service at the National Stadium in the presence of about 10 Catholic Bishops, around 150 Priests, countless sisters and around 2000 people from across Botswana.
Giving a homily at the High Requiem mass, archbishop of Johannesburg, South Africa Buti Tlhagale remembered fondly of the gentle and humble nature of the first Motswana Catholic bishop that he was very close to.
He said that the church has lost an intelligent and a great leader who was also a father figure not only to the people of Botswana but beyond.
Clergymen and government leaders eulogised him as a man who never worshipped material wealth but one who devoted his life to helping the poor.
His only remaining sister Lenah Gabatshwane described him as a humble man who even when growing up always wanted to help the underprivileged.
"He didn’t do the things that would benefit him but he did things that benefited others," she said.
Gabatshwane said that as members of the Ngwato royal family, Bishop Emeritus Setlalekgosi didn’t use his royalty to undermine others but rather remained humble.
Bishop Kevin Dowling of the Rustenburg Diocese said the former bishop of Gaborone was a selfless man who though they were younger than him treated them as equal brothers.
“I believe this is the essence of being a human being – to be able to care, to be able to love and to be able to commit yourself and your life to the service of your fellow man," he said.
In 1927 when Anne and Zachariah Setlalekgosi gave birth to a bubbling young boy and named him Boniface, little did they know that one day he will be a leader of the world’s leading church, Catholic Church.
The late Bishop Emeritus Setlalekgosi grew up in a strict Catholic family under the spiritual guidance of Father Victor who was based in Mahalapye and frequently visited Mookane village.
The late Setlalekgosi would later start his primary and secondary school at St Joseph’s college in Gaborone.
The soft spoken Mookane native is said to have been attracted to priesthood since he was still young and his schooling at the Catholic school ignited the priesthood fire within him.
After finishing his secondary education he started formal work in the Church where he was appointed a Catechist at Our Lady of the Desert in Francistown in December 1953 at the age of 26 under Father Urban Murphy who was the priest in charge.
On the 22 January 1957 he started his priesthood training at St Joseph’s Seminary at Chishawasha in the then Salisbury, Rhodesia.
On the windy Sunday on the 21st of July 1963, Batswana Catholics experienced the ordination of their second Motswana to become a priest during an ordination in Francistown. He was stationed there working with Father Urban Murphy.
In 1966 when Botswana attained independence the Vatican also declared Botswana a full Diocese and Monsignor Murphy was appointed the first Bishop of Gaborone. The Episcopal throne is the chair of the Bishop in the Cathedral which also bears his emblem.
On Friday 27th of February 1981 the Catholic Church in Botswana received the most devastating news that Bishop Urban Murphy was in hospital in Johannesburg. He was laid to rest on the 7th of March 1981 at the Cathedral grounds. It was during the funeral that the then Botswana President, the late Sir Ketumile Masire appealed to the Catholic Church to localise the leadership of the church.
On the 30th of November 1982, history was made when Setlalekgosi became the first Motswana in the history of the Catholic Church to become a bishop. The glittering ceremony was held at the National Stadium and multitudes of Batswana attended the history event.
It was during his tenure that the Catholic Church in Botswana grew in leaps and bounds, leading to the establishment of the Vicariate of Francistown in 1998. In 2009, Setlalekgosi retired as the bishop of Gaborone becoming Bishop Emeritus but continuing to serve the church at the pleasure of the bishop. He was succeeded by Bishop Valentine Seane.
He co-founded what was then a study group in Francistown and when it came to naming the institution; his fellow founders unanimously agreed that the school must be named after him as an honour to his selfless contribution to the education sector. The school was named Setlalekgosi JSS and is currently one of the best performing schools in the country.
After his ordination as the bishop of Gaborone, the country was hit with severe drought and most kids especially in rural areas were not performing well as some were forced to come to school hungry.
Liaising with the Ministry of Education, the church started feeding in schools and government later adopted the system which is currently still in place.
Bishop Emeritus Setlalekgosi clashed on many occasions with government regarding some of their decisions.
In 1992 government wanted to amend the Penal Code to legalise abortion with consultations led by the then Minister of Presidential affairs and Public Administration Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe.
Setlalekgosi delegated two fierce priests – the late Johannes Seane and Kenneth Mokgothu – to lead the church position against the bill. The two frequently clashed with General Merafhe, one of the staunchest debaters of his generation.
In 1993 the main opposition party, Botswana National Front (BNF), wanted to boycott the 1994 elections unless government came up with electoral reforms including reducing voting age to 18 and establishment of the Independent Electoral Commission. Bishop Setlalekgosi called for the commission of inquiry on the fairness of the elections in Botswana.
He then assigned father Mokgothu to lead discussions with BNF and convince them not to boycott the elections. Setlalekgosi held talks with the then BNF leader Kenneth Koma, who interestingly was his cousin, and convinced him not to boycott the elections.
“I foresee your party performing better than it has done in the past elections,” he advised.
In 1994 elections BNF changed the political landscape of the country by trebling its number of MPs, winning all seats in Gaborone.
It was during his tenure as the Bishop of Gaborone that the church in partnership with property developers saw the booming of Gaborone International Commerce Park, Game City Mall and the Finance Park.
Masisi pays tribute to Setlalekgosi
President Mokgweetsi Masisi paid his tribute to Bishop Emeritus Boniface Setlalekgosi, by being part of the procession of locals and international guests that paid their last respect at the Christ the King Cathedral where Bishop Emeritus Setlalekgosi was laying state on Thursday.
He hailed him as the embodiment of integrity and righteousness. “Bishop Setlakgosi was instrumental in the growth of Gaborone and the growth Botswana in general,” he said.
President Masisi said that most of the national leaders and executives in Botswana schooled in Catholic school, something that showed the role of Bishop Setlalekgosi in the human development of Botswana.
Masisi said Setlalekgosi was the embodiment of Catholicism and hoped that one day he will be canonised.