Reflecting on Dr Chiepe’s Legacy, 100 Years Later

As a perpetual voice that spoke about the importance of education, Dr Chiepe’s legacy and character must live on and be emulated by young women in Botswana and Africa to always become the best version of themselves, writes GOSEGO MOTSUMI

Well known as a woman of many firsts, a 100 years later Dr Gaositwe Chiepe has lived an extraordinary life of national service. As she celebrates her birthday on 20 October 2020, she has created a legacy by being grounded in selflessness, respect, tenacity and hard work and will go down in the annals of history as one of Botswana’s pioneers, championing unparalleled quality education for every Motswana child.

Reflecting back on Mma Chiepe’s legacy, the Regional Director of the Platform on Whistleblowers Protection of Africa-Southern Africa, Pusetso Morapedi, said the iconic woman was a perpetual voice who spoke about the importance of education, the spirit of volunteerism and unity, when they were young.

First woman Education Officer
Dr Chiepe was the first woman Education Officer in Botswana from 1948 to 1953, as well as the first woman to be appointed a cabinet minister. She was instrumental in developing Botswana’s education system and is known to many as the woman who fought for free education in Botswana.

Mma Chiepe silently showed women that they can do it by being one of the few women who were in cabinet, politics and positions of leadership. “Being in those positions was demonstrating to young women and girls that this is where you can be,” Morapedi said in an interview. “She silently spoke through her work about service as a woman. We will never know the difficulties she encountered, reflecting now on how she is one of those elders we all looked up to whose voice our mothers listened to when it comes to education,” Morapedi said.

First woman High Commissioner to the UK
Actress and founder of Ora Loapi Gallery, Lerato Motshwarakgole, said Dr Chiepe is a woman whose pioneering can never be overstated as to speak of her is to speak almost exclusively of ‘firsts’. Mme Mma Chiepe has shaped Botswana’s social fabric through her work in education and social justice. She was the country’s first Motswana female Education Officer ever, climbing the ranks until she became the first female Director of Education.

She later became the first female African High Commissioner to the United Kingdom after Botswana’s independence. For a long time, Dr Chiepe was the only female in the Botswana cabinet. She entered the National Assembly first as a Specially Elected Member of Parliament and subsequently as an elected MP for Serowe South.

Mountains of discrimination 
Said Motshwarakgole: “Our vast collection of archival material at Ora Loapi, with our international partner entities, showcase a sliver of her contributions to our country.  Oftentimes in the videos she is the only woman in the room. As a youth and female in Botswana, I can’t even imagine the mountains of discrimination and perception she’s has to tear down. These are issues we continue to face today.”

Award winning actor, writer and playwright, Donald Molosi, said Dr Chiepe is the embodiment of possibility for the Motswana child, particularly the girl child. In his numerous conversations with Dr Chiepe over the years, Molosi said he learned how education can revolutionise a nation.

“Most recently, it was my privilege to interview Dr Chiepe for the Tigerkloof Archives, her alma mater, and to learn the personal anecdotes behind her most iconic moments as a diplomat and leader,” said Molosi. “Botswana has not yet begun to digest what Dr. Chiepe has done for the country.”

Businesswoman and poet, Keotshepile Motseonageng, famously known as Berry Heart, said the story of Mma Chiepe cannot go without her heartfelt ululation.  It is not only the strength of a woman but the real story of women in leadership and politics.  “She opened doors in a patriarchal society,” Berry Heart noted.

Inspiration for Berry Heart  
“That is the first woman to be a cabinet minister before we were born. Every time I feel claws of misogyny against my struggles as a woman in business and leadership, I say if Mma Chiepe did it, I can do it.”

Sharing similar sentiments, Botswana’s long serving female promoter and businesswoman, Zenzele Hirschfeld, said Dr Chiepe has paved the way as a role model for the girl child. She has proved that women are equally capable to lead in all areas of work.
Hirschfeld stressed: “Her phenomenal career has seen her making a mark in politics, education, international affairs and philanthropy. It’s the contribution of men and women such as Dr Chiepe that Botswana prides herself as one of the shining beacons of Africa. Her legacy is unmatched, and I wish her a happy 100th birthday.”