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Waiting for Independence

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Come September, every year, Rre Molemi reversed into the past to have a conversation with Botswana.

The process was the same every year. First he retrieved his black A4hardcover from the topmost shelf of his stack of notebooks and read all the notes he had made in the last 12 months: had it rained? words he had read or heard, dialogue from films he had watched, a near accident on a drive, a shopping list, a change in the price of chicken wings, a cartoon that had tickled him, lyrics, notes from a piece of music…

Days of feverish writing followed. He wrote out the entire essay out by hand. Waking from sleep to scribble more words or delete them, or shift paragraphs around.

Then he let it sit for a day. Returned to it to prune it. Ruthlessly. One week after completing the final draft, he typed it out on his old Olivetti typewriter.

Since Boikhutso presented him with a photocopier, he no longer had to fiddle with carbon paper to make copies. He punched holes in the final copy and filed it.

The 2020 essay was the 54th in the series.

He always reread the first essay. He had been so full of hope and faith then. And so completely in love with his wife, Noxolo…

*
“The lighting at the national stadium brought daylight upon the central stand where the state guests, dignitaries and senior civil servants sat. From the ground, the drizzle borrowed its glitter from the lights, which also illuminated the Union Jack at the top of the mast whilst the new Blue White and Black awaited its turn to ascend.”

“Uniformed officers paced up and down in rehearsed formations, carrying bibles and the legal paraphernalia upon which Seretse Khama would swear his allegiance to the nation and its constitution. His dignified image sat next to his wife, Ruth Khama, behind the rail that created a safe space to ensure that the occupants of the seats immediately behind it would not fall to the ground.”

“The police, khaki shorts pressed to an axe-blade-sharp crease at the front, pulled up the Blue, White and Black as the Union Jack descended into the waiting arms of Royal Air Force men. The flag was retrieved at the national stadium the day after the Independence Day ceremony the previous evening. Someone thought to keep it safe in case it was needed in the future.”

In 1972, he was invited to present his writings to a group of scholars at the National Stadium. A lively discussion ensued. And so the custom was established.

Every evening on the 29th of September he would present his year in review essay: Botswana Today.

The discussions of ’76 were fiery. Much went on that year. The celebration of ten years of independence, the introduction of Botswana Pula, Soweto Uprising, the launch of BUCA, Prinz Brau started brewing.

Every year he witnessed the president addressing Batswana—reminding them of what the democracy would do for them. ‘Roads, hospitals, schools, even a university—none of these things were here when the British left in ‘66.’

*
And then came 2008. Rre Molemi was shaving when the telephone rang. His wife answered and although she knew he preferred complete silence when he was preparing to give his independence talk, she insisted he take the call. With her hand covering the mouthpiece she said, ‘It’s about the conference. It sounds very very urgent.” she whispered.

It took him a few minutes to understand the garbled call from the convener of the forum. “Apparently, it has been decided that it might be better, it would be better for us to postpone the symposium…circumstances beyond my…or shall I say beyond our control…Please accept my sincerest…”
The phone line went dead then.

A few days after this announcement, the proverbial closet opened, skeletons tumbled out. The bones would reveal that the symposium convener had been summoned to an office in an undisclosed location.

There, he was shown pictures of himself in a compromising position. Literally. Upon his release, he had raced to his own office to issue apologies to all invited guests.

Barely comprehensible due to the number of typos the message contained, he explained that he was informing all recipients that there would be no symposium. Effective immediately! Forthwith! By order!

*
Rre Molemi was not deterred. Every year, come September, he continued as always. He reversed into the past to converse with history, to craft his essay: Botswana Today.

He read through his notes. Wrote his essay. Distilled it. After all, the words he put down represented his belief in the freedom of thought, of expression.

And in 2020, what was uppermost in his mind was The Media Practitioners (Repeal) Bill, 2019… The conclusion of his essay came to him long before Independence Day.

He chose to echo words Rre Motsamai Mpho had once spoken:

“Someone may become angry at your presentation because they do not want to hear the truth, but their attitude should not arise from the fact that the speaker didn’t choose [his] words carefully. Leave them alone and annoyed but speak the truth.’

Amen

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