Clara Olsen was a lot more than a journalist

Guest editorial by
Ntombi Setshwaelo

When Clara Olsen departed from this world in 2014, an outpour of well-earned accolades had been bestowed on her by her peers, protégés and members of the public. All the tributes accorded her had basically revolved around her invaluable contribution to society as a formidable and highly esteemed media pundit, exponent and maverick. In that respect, etched in the memory of those who knew her is her dedication to media development through her roles in MISA, as owner of the Gazette and mentor to young news writers, some of whom have turned out to be seasoned, world class editors, journalists and media entrepreneurs.
Notwithstanding, not enough has been exposed to society about other noteworthy roles Mma Olsen had stalwartly played during her life time.
My close association with Mma Olsen came into being in 1986, following the enactment of the 1984 Citizenship Act, which stipulated that children born of a woman married to a foreigner were not entitled to Botswana citizenship.
It is doubtful that across generations, citizens recall or are even aware that she had been a specially elected parliamentarian from 1984 to 1989. At that time, the only other female MP was Dr. Chiepe, who herself had been a specially elected candidate in 1974. For almost a decade after independence, there’d been zero representation of women in the Botswana parliament. Just as noteworthy is that Sis’ Clara 9 (as I called her), had been appointed at the age of 44 – a tender age in those days for that position, considering that the vast majority of her male counterparts were well in their fifties or sixties.
The gender and age factors are worthy of note, considering the extent of sexism and ageism that prevailed then. Quite evidently, her special qualities and track record had been impressive enough for the powers that be not to be clouded by considerations tainted with bigotry. What should be known is that throughout her tenure as MP, Clara Olsen had desisted from being a shrinking violet or token figure. Instead, she had seized the opportunity to resolutely and heroically champion the cause of civil liberties, with particular focus on the rights of workers, children living under difficult circumstances and women. That had not been an easy feat, considering the low levels of understanding and buy-in on issues of human rights back then.
Clara remains as a forerunner in raising both legislators’ and the nation’s conscientiousness of human rights and the imperative to uphold them.