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Remembering a forgotten hero

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Remembering a forgotten hero
UNVEILED: Phuthego's tomb stone

The running prince who died a pauper

It’s just after nine in the morning as I get off the bus in Madikola Village south of Orapa after a tedious three-hour journey.

I have come at a friend’s behest to the unveiling of a tombstone in honour of a man simply known to most in the Boteti area as ‘Mogotha’… a legendary runner in the pre-independence days.

I get a hint of the man’s exploits as I join a group of residents and visitors making their way to the uncelebrated hero’s homestead where the ceremony is to be held.

“Mogotha! What a man. He was a great hunter who did not need dogs in his hunts. He could out run any animal,” an old lady tells her audience, a smile of admiration lighting up her wrinkled eyes.

The granny explains to her seemingly sceptical audience that Mogotha, who built his reputation making long journeys transporting mail, was the fastest being in the land.

“He could even catch gazelles,” she continues earnestly, adding that even in his old age, the father-of-one remained sprightly and could still catch a chicken.

As I hungrily eavesdrop on similar conversations, an intriguing picture of Mogotha Gaarongwe Phuthego soon emerges.

A hugely talented runner, he regularly carried post between Rakops and Serowe, whilst also completing other errands for both commoner and blue blood.

Nicknamed ‘Duke’ after a horse owned by a junior Mongwato royal, Mogotha would, flywhisk and cane in hand, ape the horse’s movements as a warm up exercise before embarking on the trips that built his legacy.

I also gather that, at the age of 83, he died a pauper and at times had to raid dustbins for a meal, his only income being his old age pension.

When I reach the homestead, men, women and children are busy making the final preparations as they tend steaming pots, welcome guests and engage in excited talk.

Soon somebody points out the dust in the distance and says it is the area MP Minister Slumber Tsogwane’s convoy. He is the guest speaker in this fitting tribute to an unsung hero.

As the Minister’s entourage arrives, a swift whirlwind rises from the east and blows through the yard.

“It’s Mogotha welcoming those who have come to pay their respects to him,” quips an elderly man, to the amusement of the crowd most of whom had been cursing the relentless wind.

The proceedings begin with a brass band blowing, before hymns followed by a prayer and a moving rendition of the national anthem from the expectant crowd, who have braved the dusty, hot conditions to sat goodbye to an unheralded hero.

Kgosi Tlhabologo Boima of Madikola pays tribute to a man who he says would have easily beaten the superstar athletes of today.

“I am so happy Mogotha is being honoured that, had I a tail, I would wag it to show my pleasure. He was an immense talent. It’s a pity he reached his prime before Independence as he would have shamed some of our modern athletes and would have done us proud at international events like the Olympics,” the Kgosi predicted, thanking Bharon Construction and Boom Technical Services, the two companies who sponsored the event, for bringing honour and recognition to an otherwise forgotten hero.

Remembering a forgotten hero
FALLEN HERO: ‘Mogotha’s’ exploits are legendary in the Boteti

“Young people should take inspiration from this great soul and expose their talent to the world,” Boima added, calling on the youth to keep away from substance abuse and instead concentrate on developing whatever talents they have to the fullest.

Setlotleng Nyoni, the Director of Boom Technical Services, is next up.

She explained that, after hearing of Mogotha’s exploits and heroic deeds, her company felt moved to do something in his honour.

“Our intention was to build him a house. Unfortunately he died before that could be done and we decided to instead erect a tombstone after his demise. He was a great man and his great talent needs to be recognised,” she said, expressing pride that as a local company they were able to contribute to the society within which they trade.

Bharon MD Paul Morobane quips in and thanks the minister for squeezing the event into his busy schedule.

For his part, Minister Tsogwane apologised for not being able to stay for the duration of the event due to his tight schedule, before paying tribute to Mogotha.

“I never saw him in person but I’ve heard of him. He was a great man and a hero who needs to be remembered. It’s a pity we did not get independence earlier as his talent suggest he would have been a fine athlete for the country,” Tsogwane said as he thanked the two companies and their associates for their kind gesture.

As the day progresses, speaker after speaker pay tribute to this man, who legend says once chased a leopard from the banks of the Boteti River and left it to die of fatigue in Nata.

“It was better to send Mogotha on an errand to Serowe than rely on the Albion, Bedford and Chevrolet trucks that took three days to negotiate the bad sand roads between Rakops and Serowe,” quips Kgosi Kopano Mabona of Rakops.

According to folklore, Mogotha could make the 340km journey in a day.

Late in the afternoon as we leave the graveyard after the unveiling of the gigantic marble, steel and ceramic tombstone befitting such a legend, an old woman gives me what she believes was the reason for Mogotha’s athletic prowess and stamina.

“He was an instrument of the Gods. That’s why he always ran with a stick and flywhisk in his hands. No man can achieve what he did without divine help.”