Africa-Press – Botswana. “Sethunya, expect a call from Mesh…” an SMS from Mike Mothibi came through one morning, mid-last year. An hour later, Mesh Moeti called. After an intense debate and assessment of the state of our politics, we were back together working on a draining project, physically and financially.
A few other comrades joined in but midway through this political project that Mike led with intention and purpose, we could tell the battle was lost.
Many fell by the wayside, but Mike kept pushing. I had to confront him, showing him that we were beating a dead horse since the intended beneficiaries were failing in every way.
“Nnyaa Sethunya, we went in knowing the odds were stacked against us. It is the principle.”
Yes, the principle! Those who have known and worked with Mike will tell you that it is never about material and status gain, but the principle.
They will also show you a hardworking, innovative, articulate, and intellectually engaging man. A loyal friend!
Born Michael Keemenao Mothibi on August 28, 1966, the Marxist philosopher entered journalism in 1993 after a short stint in the teaching field. I first met this soft-spoken, gentle yet great debater then, 30 years ago. It was when he joined press, fitting in like a glove, to a politically charged team of Keto Segwai, Sechele Sechele, Lekopanye Mooketsi, Lesang Maswabi, and yours truly. Mike, though a bit older, was like a sponge absorbing information and learning the ropes fast, a trait that stood him well in his illustrious journalism career.
Media veteran Methaetsile Leepile, who together with the then editor Titus Mbuya ably guided the team, recalls Mike telling him recently “Chief o ne wa ntira mpepu ke simolola tiro (you led me well when I started my career)”.
Expressing great sadness at Mike’s sudden passing last Saturday night, Leepile remembered his early days. “E ne le ngwana yo o romegang, a na le tsebe mme ebile a kgona go tshwara ka thaa (he was responsive, attentive, and knew the essence of confidentiality)”.
Officially, I worked with Mike for months before I left for South Africa, but our relationship, founded on socialist and pan-Africanist beliefs stayed the test of time. A fierce debater who enjoyed intellectual engagements, Mike would pitch in Johannesburg and spend time with us, during which time he developed and maintained friendships with some of the leaders of the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania.
It was around the time, in the late 1990s when the threat of the erosion of press freedom drove Mike to contest and win the chair of the Botswana chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Botswana). The government was aggressively pushing what was termed the ‘Media Bill’ and it was the MISA-Botswana board of trustees under the leadership of Mothibi, which worked tirelessly to block and fight off all attempts to muzzle the media. It was around the same time, in 2000 that he was elevated to the regional leadership when he was elected the chairperson of the MISA governing council.
In response to Mike’s passing, Luckson Chipare, who during Mike’s reign, was Windhoek, Namibia-based MISA regional director expressed condolensces.
“I respected Mike very much. He understood his role as regional chairperson, fulfilling and encouraging the MISA mandate. He was nothing like some of today’s leaders who are driven by greediness,” he said.
Mothibi returned to MISA-Botswana leadership in 2004, then as vice chairperson. It was also then that we reconnected. Returning home, I was elected to the Board of Trustees. I resigned soon after to take up the chairpersonship at the newly formed self-regulatory Press Council of Botswana (PCB). At the time, we temporarily managed to wade off government’s threat to push for a law to impose statutory regulation. With guidance and support from the MISA-Botswana secretariat under the directorship of Modise Maphanyane and the board that included Mike, the PCB drafted and published the Media Code of Ethics. That period and moment was when I got to appreciate Mike’s intellect and advocacy. It was back to the tag team of Sethunya (one of the few friends who knew and called me by my middle name) and ‘Mickey Mouse’, as most of us called him, later dropping the mouse when he became a family man.
Around then, in the early 2000s, Mike had “crossed over” as the Dikgang Publishing Company team saw joining then competitors, the CBET Group, as such. First, Mike took up a role that seemed not to be of his DNA of a political journalist, editing the stable’s tabloid, The Midweek Sun. I was then the editor of the Setswana language newspaper, Mokgosi, a broadsheet with a strong political brand. So it was only natural that I would join in the banter teasing him of having softened up. Later when Mokgosi folded, I joined The Voice and Mike returned to the ‘serious’ publication, The Botswana Guardian.
“Who is on the other side now?” he would call and say.
We would laugh and agree that as long as we abide by ethics and standards of journalism, it matters not what publication you work for. Dropping standards and disregard for the ethics of journalism was one subject matter he never tired of engaging in.
While journalism, advocacy and politics were Mike’s passions, whenever he spoke of his other love, farming, there was no stopping him. On leaving the mainstream media, at the highest level as managing editor of the CBET Group in 2012, Mike combined his passions and went on to start Agro Forum Magazine.
As the niche magazine business in Botswana is not profitable, Mike used his communications and media skills to great use in the corporate and community development space. In 2017, he joined the Kanye Sewerage Project as a senior public liaison officer.
When we reconnected last year for the political project referred to in the introduction, I would observe and share my views that he needed to slow down as he was juggling the farm, work, community projects, politics, and family. The last I mentioned he admitted being overstretched but then laughed.
“Go bua mang tota? Le wena Sethunya ga o ikhutse. (Look who is talking. You never rest either, Sethunya),” he said.
Rest my friend. Sleep well!
Source: Mmegi Online