The University of Botswana and The Botswana Society celebrated the life of legendary public servant Mr Gobe Matenge at the UB Conference Centre on May 21, 2018 with speakers agreeing that he contributed immensely to the development of Botswana.
The late Mr Matenge was born in Makaleng, and as a young man entered the Bechuanaland Protectorate civil service, serving initially at the Imperial Reserve in Mahikeng. After independence, he served in various ministries and positions, including Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs where he retired in 1981.
He chaired the Bechuanaland Protectorate African Civil Service Association, and then the Botswana Civil Service Association from 1966 to 1975, and was noted for his forthright views on behalf of the civil service. He also contributed in organising Botswana’s 10th Anniversary celebrations in 1976 as the leader of the organising team.
Other organisations Mr Matenge served in included The Botswana Society (President from 1988 to 1998),Transparency International Botswana which he headed, as well as the Kalahari Management Service Trust.
Mr Matenge went on to become a successful businessman and community and political activist, as a member of the opposition Botswana National Front, and later as a founder member of the Botswana Congress Party. He died on April 26, 2018.
The talk on the life of Mr Matenge was led by Prof Richard Werbner, Professor Emeritus in African Anthropology at the University of Manchester School of Social Sciences. Prof Werbner is an American anthropologist who knew Mr Matenge well, and has authored "Reasonable Radicals and Citizenship in Botswana", which highlights the life of Gobe Matenge. Prof Werbner also specializes in the Kalanga-speaking areas of Zimbabwe and Botswana, including ritual, personal and historical narrative, politics, law, and regional analysis.
Prof Werbner described him as nation builder, an activist politician who refused to hold influential positions; but a statesman as well, who believed in the spirit of pluralism and sharing. He was a man who believed in recognising local communities and their dikgosi in the North East, according to Prof Werbner.
Professor Bojosi Otlhogile of The Botswana Society said Mr Matenge also contributed immensely to Botswana’s development while chair of The Botswana Society for ten years,, when it hosted a series of international seminars to make Botswana better known to the world and address issues of national importance ranging from economic and social development, democracy and governance, culture and heritage preservation
Professor Fred Morton, also of The Botswana Society, credited Mr Matenge while the Society’s chair with preserving the ndependent and non-political role of this important NGO by refusing to seek Government support.
Former minister and businessman, Mr David Magang, who served with Rre Matenge from their civil service days in Mahikeng, said Mr Matenge was very outspoken, frank and fearless. He also said he did his best even outside the civil service to build the good public order.
‘’He spoke up for the ideals of the public authority that respected critical opposition and rejected authoritarian rule,” said Mr Magang.