No matter how deep our vocabulary, we will struggle to describe and define the life and character of this beautiful soul, this harbinger of peace, this oasis of wisdom, this heart of courage, this steely fortified spirit of endurance, this torch of foresight, this treasure of knowledge, this bottomless ocean of love, this humble and selfless servant of the people.
In life and in sleep, his life speaks to us. And it speaks to us most when it is silent. Its silence is loud and rich with words. Here is a life that has lit the lives of so many – across generations, and across so many man-made economic, social, religious, ethnic, gender, ideological and political barriers that divide us.
One of the first and most enduring memories I have of my late parents, Baledzi and Isabella Gaolathe, is that they possessed a heavenly ability that I could not put into words. Whenever I went to bed every night I would switch off the lights and wonder myself away to sleep. And if for any reason I had not seen them that night, and somehow they came to check on me, the minute anyone of them stepped into that dark room, my world would light up – even in that darkness, I would know its one of them. There was something in them that lit every room they walked into. This enduring personal experience has given me an inner peace, a magnificent contentment, a belief that everything under the sun is possible. It is a life experience that I want for every child in this country and for all of humanity.
Today we bid farewell to one who not only lit my life’s room, we bid farewell to a man whose mere existence lit the lives of so many. He lived for us, each pulse of his being, each heartbeat, was for his people. We will never know if he was designed that way or built himself to become that person.
The long sweep of his life alone is breathtaking – he was born not long after the first world war, and he was a baby when the pioneer, Charles Lindbergh, made the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic in 1927; he was already herding cattle when Hitler became chancellor in 1933; the prestigious Tigerkloof had already moulded him into a rare African intellectual not long after the second world-war ended; he was already a formidable farmer, teacher and leader by the time Martin Luther King led marches for equality in America or by the time President Mandela was sent to jail; he was already a Vice President and Minister of Finance when the first man landed on the moon in 1969; and in 1998 asked about what he most looks forward to, he said he looked forward to learning how to use a computer.
I mention this extraordinary span of life to dramatise the idea that he long started to meet with greats long before many of us were born, but he never advertised these facts. He was silent about the significant sweep of his life. It is this silence that pronounces with loud authority, his extraordinary humility.
Speaking at a funeral we both attended in 2010, Former President Mogae intimated that he knows of only two men that consistently exuded an extraordinary pulse of humility – the man we were burying that day, and Sir Ketumile. We were to reflect and converse, later, about this remark. He was deeply moved by this remark and gesture by Former President Mogae, and I cherish this was done while he lived. Like him I know of third humble man – it is Rre Mogae. It is tempting to remember him as a great statesman and politician with a knack for great exploits on the economy, justice, freedoms and pursuit of the happiness and the public good. It is tempting to place him on a pedestal as a great historical shaper and transformer of an agrarian society into a society with the foundations of a modern society. It is also tempting to point at his faults, or even the lapses over his extraordinarily long rule.
Yet his life was much more that this, much more than the portrait of a public figure implanted in our hearts. He was, above all else, an extraordinary soul, an extraordinary human being of the ages and a beacon of love that lit our lifetime.It was not the big things - It was actually the small things, the small gestures, the quips, the jokes, the words, the walk and the occasional tears that made him great. Through the small gestures, he emerged as the biblical Joseph, who unfailingly performed his missions, no matter how great or small, with diligence, faithfulness and sense of responsibility. Sir Ketumile, like Joseph, had a way of relating with those who despised him – with contentment, conviction, courage and a resolve.
He possessed boldness for the truth, a reverence for God and no fear of man. Like Joseph he was the perfect example of “a man’s skills will bring him before kings”. He was a man of excellence.
Rra Gaone, like the Great African King, Mansa Musa I of the Mali Empire (Emir of Melle, Lord of the mines of Wangara and Conqueror of Ghanat) was an inspired teacher and groomer of talent. It was Mansa Musa I that built The University of Timbuktu, the world’s first university.
It was Sir Ketumile that envisioned a Botswana where every citizen could learn and acquire skills that would allow them to till the soil, feed their families and their country. This is a dream that now rests on us, the people of Botswana, to achieve.
And despite his advanced age, there was something permanently youthful about Rra Gaone – young at heart and in spirit – the kind of youthfulness best described by President Kennedy:
“..youth, not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. The cruelties … of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to the obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. They cannot be moved by those who cling to a present that is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger that come with even the most peaceful progress.
It is a revolutionary world we live in, and this generation at home and around the world has had thrust upon it a greater burden of responsibility than any generation that has ever lived. Some believe there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills. Yet many of the world's great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation; a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth; a young woman reclaimed the territory of France; and it was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and the 32 year-old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that "all men are created equal."
He was an African, the kind of man who never forgot his people or his roots – he embraced the finest of the African tradition – everything about him, his Ubuntu, his pristine usage of Setswana language, the foods he loved (and the mageu he always asked for at home), the consultative posture, the compassion, the self-belief and may I say he spoke his mind, “not the words of one who begs”, but the words of one who lights up his people. And in President Thabo Mbeki’s words, he was truly one who says “I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land.”I wish to say to his immediate children, Gaone, Mmasekgoa, Mpho, Mmetla, Moabi and Matshidiso – your spouses – and your children. The way of love is both beautiful and painful.In his letter to the church in Corinth, St Paul writes: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Love never fails”.
This is an apt description of the man your father was.
I wish I had something better to say than to say to you, that the pain does not go away – in fact, sometimes the pain will grow, but God will lend you an overwhelming strength and a joy, much greater that any pain. So many people will never know the full extent of your father’s personal sacrifice, your mother’s and your own because many things rarely appear the way they really are. Your father was proud of you, each one of you, and this is not a guess- he loved you. My final conversation with him was a painful, taxing and even punishing, to both him and I. I felt he was negotiating a way out, an exit – and that is just how democratic he was – I tried everything I could to have this matter postponed. But you know there is this incredibly impeccable heavenly principle – that when a man or woman has lived out their purpose, done it well and finished it to perfection – there is no reason to keep him any longer. This is a painful truth. Painful. Painful, but it is true.
So thank you for the gift you were to him, and for sharing him with us, his people. Thank you to his wider family and friends for providing him with the support structure (he loved his brothers and their spouses, his relatives and his friends). Thank you to those who have worked with him and made him the success story that will light up our history. Thank you to those with whom he differed but learnt from - Dr Koma, Motsamai Mpho, K.T. Motsete, Phillip Matante and others. Thank you to the people of Botswana for the reverence and the love you showed and continue to show for him and your country. Thank you to friends who have crossed oceans and rivers to pay their respects - Your gesture is a source of both comfort and inspiration. Thank you to a man who throughout my entire life I have seen drive and protect Sir Ketumile, I am talking about Rre Malatsi, I wish to tell you this morning, that you are, in your own right, a great man.