Chewing The Fat with Rre Mogwe on His 97th birthday

A day after former politician and diplomat Archibald Mooketsa Mogwe celebrated his 97th birthday, SONNY SERITE paid the old timer a visit at his farm to extend well wishes

The last time I sat down and had tea with Rre Mogwe was three years ago at his retirement home in the Pitsane farms. Ninety four (94) years old at the time, he emitted so much energy that I was left dumbstruck with awe. After all, it is not everyday that you encounter a nonagenarian who still can drive himself, walk unaided, see without eyewear, hear without aids and give you a Colgate smile without dentures.

Rre Mogwe was born in 1921 on August 29 and as such, last week Wednesday marked his 97th birthday. When I phoned him the day after his birthday, I was not even sure he would still be well enough to answer the phone. I had last spoken to him three years ago. After three rings he picks up the phone and his voice is still as audible as a BOCRA-certified frequency modulation.
I remind him of who I am and he responds, ‘‘monna you have long deserted me but I’m still very much alive’’. I feel bad. The former MP for Kanye, former Minister and former ambassador assures me he will be home the entire day and I promise to visit in the afternoon.

It’s just after 5pm when I arrive at his farm and the home yard is eerily quiet with no one in sight except the two beautiful Maltese dogs that jump up and down in excitement as I stroke their foreheads to establish some acquaintance.

I can see the farm workers going about their daily chores from afar. Just as I’m about to get worried that there may be no one home at Rre Mogwe’s, his house helper appears from the other side of the yard where she had been hanging laundry on the line. I inform her that I’m here to see Rre Mogwe and she offers to go check him in his bedroom whereupon I ask her not to wake him up in the event she finds him asleep and resting. ‘‘Sleep? The old man never sleeps during the day’’, the lady assures me.

Within a few minutes Rre Mogwe emerges from the passage to meet me in the living room. It’s clear he wasn’t sleeping. He is dressed immaculately like a gentleman who just knocked off from the government enclave. He is donned in khaki pants and a matching sweater. He looks dapper in a dark blue necktie, a light blue shirt and a complementing designer timepiece. Rre Mogwe quickly explains why he is wearing battered trainer shoes that don’t go in sync with his debonair look. ‘‘I have just arrived from fetching the goats from the bush’’, he explains. Everyday, without fail, Rre Mogwe walks more than a kilometre to round up his livestock from their grazing spots back to their kraals.

Rre Mogwe makes for such great company. He is so fun and loving to hang around. He is an honest man who provides honest answers to every question thrown his way.

Today I have several questions for him but I first want to find out how he spent his birthday. ‘‘My children came over and we had lunch together as a family’’, he informs me. He speaks fondly of his children, among them Alice and Maleta. He says his phone rang nonstop as well-wishers called in from all over the world.

How has he been doing since we parted ways three years ago? ‘‘By the grace of God I’m still here surviving. People say I will reach the centenary age (100) but I don’t know about that’’, he says without conviction but I assure him there is no doubt he is going to live beyond 100 years.

From the update he is giving me about his life, everything seems to be going perfectly well for him, save for only two things that wipe out the smile from his face. His wife, Professor Serara Mogwe, has not been well for the past four years and Rre Mogwe has now adapted to a life without her by his side fulltime. ‘‘She spends week days away being attended to by therapists and only comes here on weekends,’’ sadness envelops his face as he speaks of the loneliness he endures without his wife. The other thing that makes him sad is the rampant stock theft in the Pitsane area. Just recently, 80 of his goats were stolen and smuggled into South Africa. Fortunately, the police were able to trace them and retrieved 60 of them. He lost some of his cows to thieves who brazenly cut the farm fence and drive out the livestock.

What is his secret formula to longevity, I ask. He has no definite answer but he believes taking good care of oneself is very important. ‘‘I bathe, eat well and work around my farm’’, he explains his daily routine. He says even though human beings are not immortal, healthy living can help delay our departure from the surface of the earth. Rre Mogwe has no problem with people who drink alcohol provided they drink it in moderation. In fact, he confesses that he used to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. Thanks to the Chinese he long stopped drinking alcohol when he was a Cabinet Minister. He had gone on an official trip to China and held five different meetings with the Chinese government officials. ‘‘In China when you meet the officials you are offered a choice of either tea or alcohol and I went for the alcohol’’ Rre Mogwe narrates. He says whatever alcohol they gave him, it made him sick all the way until he arrived back in Botswana and he vowed never ever to drink again. Since then, he has never tasted alcohol again. ‘‘Besides, alcohol is just a waste of money’’, he says with a laugh.

Three years ago when I visited him, Rre Mogwe was still driving himself and could even drive to South Africa to buy supplies for his farm and livestock. Does he still drive himself at 97? He gives a naughty smile before responding, ‘‘waii my children have barred me from driving. They hide my car keys and insist on chauffeuring me’’. He however agrees that at 97 years of age, it is dangerous for him to still be driving. ‘‘I agree with them that it is not safe anymore for me to be driving. At my age I can easily get absent-minded while driving and cause an accident so I have stopped driving. I can only drive here in the farm’’, he tells me.
Rre Mogwe reveals that the death of his many contemporaries such as former President Ketumile Masire is a constant reminder that heaven is calling. ‘‘I am only left with Gaositwe (Chiepe) as the rest have all departed’’, he says and I ask if they are in touch. ‘‘We call each other from time to time to ask o teng kako molekane’’

Rre Mogwe also shared his opinion on the feud between President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his predecessor Ian Khama, which I elect not to share with the public, at least for now. I bid him good bye as he walks me to the car and goes to open the gate for me. I drive off and he waves until I can no longer see him in the mirror.