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 Magang unpacks Sir Seretse Khama's famous quote

Magang unpacks Sir Seretse Khama's famous quote

Dated : 18.08.2017


If anyone doubted the veracity of Botswana’s founding President, Sir Seretse Khama’s famous quote that “a nation without a past is a lost nation, and a people without a past is a people without a soul” then former Minister and businessman magnate, Mr David Magang’s paper on the subject may provide some insights into what kind of nation Seretse envisaged.
 
Mr Magang presented his paper at a lecture at the University of Botswana through the Department of History organised at the UB Conference Centre on August 17, 2017. The objective was to try and place the quote in better perspective, and elaborate on this appeal for Africans to break-away from the shackles of mental oppression, and become masters of their own destiny by writing their own history.
 
It was further to interrogate the quote, and how it was subsequently misread or misunderstood as well as to try to explain Sir Seretse’s vision of Botswana’s development with the country’s history as a cardinal aspect of nation-building.
 
Anchoring his presentation on the quote, Mr Magang said while Seretse underscored the imperative of Batswana being acutely cognizant of their past, without which they would forever be groping in the dark, “sadly, that’s the anonymity into which we’re headed, if we’re not there yet, as Seretse’s concern fell on stone-deaf ears”.
 
Mr Magang argued that there seemed to be a systematic and concerted effort “to plot into total oblivion the knowledge of our antecedents as if that smacks of treachery or perfidy of some sort”.
 
On the contrary, he noted that what Seretse envisioned was a history that must seek to answer questions such as: after more than 50 years of nationhood, where are we culturally, politically, macro-economically, socio-economically, educationally, inventively, innovatively, ethically, infrastructurally, and industrially in terms of our work ethic?
 
The former minister also argued that history must embrace and take stock of principal developments in a nation’s every field of human endeavour, including economics, science, and technology, particularly in the context of how they impacted the tone and tenor of national development, as its pace and magnitude.
 
Mr Magang described history as the ultimate frame of reference in the process of national development and that it was also a compass that helped a nation to avoid mistakes of the past.
 
“Once we have understood the past, not only will we be in position to predict the future more or less but we will also be galvanised to help create it,” he said. He reckoned that much of the social ills and economic problems that bedevilled Africa could be blamed on the marginalisation of history. These include the xenophobic attacks in South Africa and the problem of refugees and displaced people.
 
“In Botswana, the one great lesson we have learnt is the belatedness with which it dawned on us that it was time we beneficiated our mineral resources, an imperative I obsessively kept calling attention to as far back as the early 80s, and to which the powers-that-be were so lackadaisically resigned,” observed Mr Magang.
 
Another example he gave was the education system, saying Botswana’s examination-based educational system had on balance been resoundingly vain owing to its archaic emphasis on rote-learning instead of spontaneous internalisation of the inculcated knowledge.
 
Meanwhile, Mr Magang regretted that much of the cultural revitalization witnessed in recent years as a great leap forward in the accentuation of Batswana’s historical heritage were driven mostly by ulterior economic motives.
 
“They are packaged for sale, to either the tourist or the ordinary reveller, and geared toward sheer entertainment” he noted. Instead of focusing on entrenching Batswana’s history on their psyche, he said they were tainted with commercial overtones, with the result that what was ultimately put on parade was cultural caricature rather than authentic historicity that reached back to Batswana’s very genesis as merafe, or polities.  
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