This week's edition coincides with the final laying too rest of the late Mompati Merafhe. Having written about the General last week, one had contemplated another topic. But, beyond the fact that that the passing of the former Vice President has to an extent overshadowed other issues, the national conversation on his long and distinguished career is a reminder not only of how far the son of Sebogodi came in life, but also how far this nation has travelled with him on his journey.
In an interview with one radio station this past week I was pressed about presumed swings in his relations with the media. It was suggested that he had been aloof from the press, before embracing it, only to pull back a bit in his later years. I had a different perspective.
It is undoubtedly true that Merafhe's relationship with the media, like that of virtually all public figures, evolved over time. When he served as first commander of BDF (1977-89) his professional role was different from that of the politician and Cabinet Minister he would subsequently become. But, perhaps more significantly so was the nature and intensity of the security challenges then facing our country.
Those who have come to maturity in the era since the freeing of South Africa can only have a historical, as opposed to experienced, understanding of the extreme pressure Botswana was under, of the tightrope Batswana walked, in the years when the nation was emerging in the shadow of the Apartheid regime.
Botswana's freedom before 1994 was real but not secure. Below the surface there was gnawing tension derived from the knowledge that violence from across the border could descend on our otherwise peaceful society at any time. And of course at times it did.
One person asked me this week how it was possible for Merafhe to have instantly become a General without the benefit of promotion through lower ranks. This shows a lack of understanding of the role he played in the police, ultimately heading its paramilitary forces before the formation of the BDF.
The seventeen years that Merafhe served in the police (1960-77) coincided with the period in which Botswana played a crucial role as a place of refuge and transit for those fleeing not only Apartheid in Namibia as well as South Africa, but also colonialism, racism and proxy conflict in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola and Lesotho. In the process the sovereignty of the country, even before independence was declared, was repeatedly challenged.
Through his competence, an emotional intelligence that drew from his qualities of discipline, diligence and ability to engage with all types of people, Merafhe had thus begun to emerge as a calm, strong man at the centre of the regional storm even before he became the BDF's founding commander.
One may also ponder the extent that environment shaped the man. Like many of his generation, Merafhe was already in his mid-teens when he finally had the opportunity to enrol in school back in 1952. Remembered as an outstanding pupil who quickly mastered written and spoken English, he progressed rapidly through what was then Sub A and B as well as Standards 1-6 before having to give up his studies in 1958 due to the untimely death of his father. As the only son it fell on his shoulders to look after the family.
Yet as limited as his initial schooling was by today's standards it nonetheless set him apart from most of his peers. It was in this context that he found vocational opportunity, including additional academic training, in the police. It also puts into perspective the late Vice President's subsequent tireless championing of education, we are told within his own family, as well as at community and national level.
When General Merafhe retired from the army in 1989 to be Specially Elected as a Member of Parliament and appointed as the Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration at least some may have been surprised at his ability to transform in both image and substance from the aloof, austere General to the gregarious politician. His military and police colleges, however, can testify that his people skills were already well refined only to be adapted to the different context of political life.
His political skills were confirmed 1994 when he won the Mahalapye parliamentary seat, where he was subsequently re-elected on three more occasions. After the 1994 election he also left the Presidential portfolio to begin his service as Botswana's heretofore longest serving Foreign Minister.
As the country's top diplomat he also made his mark as an international statesman, who was entrusted with an increasing number of international assignments. These included serving as a member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which he also came to chair (1998-2002); and President in the Office of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States (2003-04).
During Botswana's tenure as President of the Security Council in 1995, Merafhe notably presided over the Security Council Resolution 976, which paved the way for the deployment of the United Nations Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM III) that finally brought an end to the conflict in that country.
What was his motivation? Perhaps beyond his love of family and country, embracing citizens of all ages and walks of life, it was the fact that he was a man who loved life itself. May he rest in peace.
There is a saying in South Africa which avers that, “the White man has no kin: his kin is money”. The saying rings very true considering what Mayer Amschel Rothschild – he of the planet’s wealthiest family – once said, that, “Permit me to issue and control the money of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws!”
To the white man, the dollar sign looms so large in his optics that it was precisely the reason he appropriated Africa towards the end of the 19th century. The idea was to develop his continent, Europe, at the same rate as he underdeveloped Africa. Yet he was driven as much by economic imperatives as by sheer greed and prejudice.
A “pagan” King violates the Jewish Temple by setting up an idol in the Holy of Holies
Why, General Atiku, has the Judean setting (present-day Israel/Palestine) being the focus of so much geopolitical fervour over the ages when it is so resource-poor and is not even that agriculturally fecund being a virtual desert? Why have all the superpowers of history locked horns over it since days immemorial?
Just a ‘teaser’: we are all complaining of the ‘hot weather’ and ‘heat’ – but think about it, is this a reminder / warning from the Almighty that if we find this weather ‘hot’ can you imagine what the ‘fires of hell’ will be like should we get there?
Let us take this as a reminder and a ‘warning’ that we should change our lifestyles so that we follow in the path of righteousness and that which our Lord has directed. Failing this we will face the ‘fire of hell’ which undoubtedly will be many times worse than what we are facing on this earth.
Because as humans we have been favoured and bestowed with the power of intellect thus we enjoy greatness over other creation, coupled with a greater responsibility. Should that responsibility be misused then only on the Day of Reckoning will he know we will live in joy or in grief forever.
Since the dawn of creation Allah has sent down thousands of messengers, dozens of Divine Books but only ONE universal Message to humanity. That message of Divine Revelation and guidance is clear, unambiguous and eternal:
Allah is One, He is Master and Creator of the universe and of mankind and to Him is due all worship and obedience.
He has sent humanity Divine Revelation and guidance through His Messengers and His Books.
As death is inevitable in this world, equally is our resurrection in the Hereafter where everyone will face the consequences of their belief, unbelief and conduct in this temporal world.
This is the basic message, teaching and belief of every religion and without doubt we will all be called to account for our lives in this world and the manner in which we conducted ourselves, will be rewarded thereafter, the consequences of which may be joy forever for some or grief forever for others.
“It is He [Allah] Who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deeds and He is Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving.” (Qur’an: 67: 2)
In Islam the teachings of the Qur’an and the Last and Final Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) give clear guidance to the believer on how to live a life in this world so as to achieve success in the Hereafter.
‘If any do wish for the transitory things of this life, We readily grant them, such things as We will, to such persons as We will…… those who wish for the things of the Hereafter and strive for them with all due striving, and have faith, they are the ones whose striving is acceptable to Allah’ (Qur’an 17: 18-19)
In this world when a person sets out on a journey towards our Maker (Allah), he finds two paths, one leading to God and the other path to different destinations. A sincere and faithful believer will always try to find the right path and to live by the Divine injunctions, laws and code that his religion lays down. This requires us to live in harmony with the will of the Creator, in harmony with our own selves, and with the needs of the rest of creation. Unfortunately we have a tendency at times to toy with Divine Law and to surrender it to the laws of man and in the process to translate and interpret them into what fits in with our lifestyle of today.
If we are to use the intellect and the freedom of choice bestowed to us by God Almighty and follow His guidance, we will then live consciously in a state of “submission’ to Him, thus we will be virtuous. On the other hand when we ignore our Creators injunctions we work against the natural order, we tend to create discord, injustice and evil – and we become one without guidance. Therefore it is the intellect and the freedom of choice given to us that we are fully responsible for whatever we do.
However, it would be foolish for us to think of ourselves as totally independent and self-sufficient. If a person thinks in this manner, we become proud and. We will be inclined to become ungrateful for the bounties that we enjoy – the air that we breathe and the food we eat to sustain us, the eyes and ears we use to perceive the world around us, the tongue and lips we use to express our needs, wants and our inner most feelings and emotions. And being ungrateful, we will be inclined to forget or to reject the truth of the existence of God Almighty.
Unfortunately, people have varying views with regards to what the most important characteristic of a person is: for some it is the colour of his skin; for others, it is his economic situation – whether he is wealthy or poor; others think it is his , social or political standing, whether he is ruler or ruled; for others it is his social standing as an aristocrat, middle or working class; yet for some is his birth place and the language he speaks or the tribe he belongs to, etc..
‘Do men think that they will be left alone on saying “We believe”, and they will not be tested? We tested those before them, and Allah will certainly those who are true and those who are false’. (Quran 29: 2-3)
In Islam, these have no significance rather they are merely taken as signs of the creative power of God to enable people to recognise one another. The Almighty declares “O Mankind! Indeed we have created you as male and female, and have placed you in nations and tribes that you may have mutual recognition. However, the most honourable of you, in the sight of Allah is the one who is most God-conscious” (Qur’an: 49: 13)
Hence, the most important characteristic of a person is whether he is conscious of his Creator, believes in Him and through that consciousness submits to Him at all times and in all circumstances.
According to the Islamic view man is created by Allah in a pure state, free from sin. He also created us with the capacity or power to do both good and evil. He gave us the freedom to choose between doing good or evil. The good and evil therefore is connected with mankind’s freedom of choice and responsibility for their actions. “Good” may be whatever is pleasing to Allah and therefore beneficial to us. Whereas “Bad/evil” may be whatever incurs the anger of God and is therefore harmful to man.
‘By the soul, and the proportion and order given to it; And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right – truly he that succeeds that purifies it, and he fails that corrupts it….. (Quran 91: 7-10)
Therefore one of mankind’s main tasks is to keep away from and ward off evil. This is why Taqwa, piety and God consciousness is repeatedly mentioned in the Qur’an as the most important quality a person should develop in this regard. This means one must be conscious at all times not to over step the limits set by God. It works as a defence against evil and temptation by keeping a person within the boundaries of piety.