My Grandmother: The Genius, The Treasure of Knowledge, and The Oasis of Wisdom

The highly intelligent, sharp thinking and inspirational Mme Ontefetse Babusi. She was born in 1925 to Rre Nkwe le Mme Dikeledi Modukanele in Kanye, Bechuanaland (present-day Botswana). Married to the late Rre Sebatlo Babusi.

It should be noted that not only her father was a ngaka ya Setswana, or traditional doctor of note, but her husband too. A critical point to point out is that although “Western” medicine was starting to become established, around the time Ontefetse was born, it was primarily traditional forms of medicine that many Batswana relied upon as trusted source of effective health care.

In that regard, apart from actually digging various medicinal plants in the open woodland and grassland, such as sengaparile or devil’s claw, both my maternal grandfather and great grandfather’s well known roles included “go phekola”, or to cure a large number of patients. Followed by the administration of medicine as well as directions on how and when to actually take the common decoctions.

Ontefetse, had only 1 brother who went on to become a pastor, and 3 sisters, she tells me that her father patiently trained her when she was a young girl, and her hesitant husband continued where her old man left off. Following the expert tutelage, through observation and on-hands training, she started digging medicinal plants and roots on her own for not only her children but also patients as well. According to Ontefetse, she successfully treated ailments such as headaches, diarrhoea, toothaches, kidneys, high blood pressure and skin rush. As a nurse or midwife she assisted both her family and the community at large in deliveries and also went on to “baa bana diphogwana” for a very long time. Ontefetse elaborated that traditional healing was hereditary along the male line, and in some cases, a non relative could be trained but they were then required to pay for the intensive training with cattle.

Although never really recognised as a traditional doctor, a herbalist or even a healer, owing to extreme gendered social relations in Botswana at the time (although much improved, patriarchy still disadvantages women), particularly in traditional medicine, Ontefetse is a prominent traditional doctor.

On my paternal side, my late father, Lekgoanyana, was born to Leselekwane, Leselekwane was born to Sebetlela, Sebetlela was born to Seohela, Seohela was born to Kgasa.

Interestingly, I’m told Seohela was a very popular traditional doctor. And I am also told that Seohela’s daughter, Thatoyame, was indeed Ontefetse’s fathers first wife. This revelation came around 2015 when I further interrogated Ontefetse when I realised that she had detailed history of the house of Seohela, which at present, is the Kgasa kgotla or ward at Mafhikana. It should be noted that Ontefetse’s daughter, my mother Gaontebale, went on to marry Lekgoanyana, Seohela’s great grandson. So, from this small sample we can assume that some traditional doctors prefer marrying in families of other traditional doctors. As demonstrated by Nkwe whose first wife Thatoyame, as well as second wife Ontefetse were themselves children of traditional doctors.

When I was home on February/March 2018, I had the privilege of her exclusive company and she showed me various herbs such as Masigomabe, Makgonatsotlhe as well as Wheat Grass that she had planted at home, where she lives with her daughter Gaontebale, my mother. During the herb training, the “millennial” in me couldn’t stop pinching myself and utterly appreciating the special moment the 93-year-old passed the wealth of knowledge to her curious 36-year-old grandson. Of course, one session is not enough at all to exhaust Ontefetse’s incredible knowledge of plants.

It should be emphasised that my fulfilling 2017 research study in Gasita, on how diamonds have actually impacted the rural agricultural livelihoods in Botswana has been greatly informed by Ontefetse’s continuous storytelling, songs, and poems as well as her pregnant life stories.

This is an ode to The Great Ontefetse, her husband and her father, as well as Seohela.

Basket Weaver; Grass and Crop Scythe Expert; Experienced Hand Knitter; Mud-Mixer; Shepherd; Traditional Doctor; Herbalist; Midwife; Singer; Dancer; Storyteller; Poet; Feminist.

Daughter. Sister. Wife. Niece. Aunty. Cousin. Mother. Grandmother. Great-Grandmother.










Tlatlana: Basket Weaving in Botswana

Traditional mokolwane palm basket weaving is one of the integral aspects of Southern African cultures. Many commentators believe that the history of the Bantu, who originated from the Central African region is that of basket weaving (Yoffe 1978, in Lenao, Mbaiwa and Chanda 2015).

Although they are still made throughout Botswana, they are now primarily made in the north western Okavango Delta region by Hambukushu and Wayeyi women weavers living in the Etsha villages. It is worth noting that the Hambukushu of Botswana originate in Angola and sought refuge in Botswana in 1968 as they were persecuted by the Portuguese in Angola (Parsons 2008). Indeed, they brought with them the most prominent patterns that have been fused together with the local patterns to create the emblematic souvenir of Botswana, tlatlana, or weaved basket.

The traditional use of the baskets is for grain storage and food storage; winnowing as well as for bartering system, that is for commercial purposes mainly in exchange for other products or produce. The most prominent contemporary uses are for commercial and decoration purposes. Following Mbaiwa (2004), baskets are a cultural tourism product that can raise income earning and alternative livelihood opportunities for rural residents.

The plain masterpiece in this picture was bought for only 100 Pula from respondent 1, when I was on fieldwork in the village of Gasita in Southern Botswana. The elderly woman told me that weaving is commonly performed by women. And that unlike in the past, weaving is primarily for commercial purposes and decorations.

I also came to realise that from what she was passionately telling me, they have loads of baskets in stock and lack a coordinated process whereby they can actually sell them. Perhaps, what they need is an organised community trust that could source inspiration from the Ngwao Boswa of Gumare or the Weavers Group of Etsha 6. Of course, all of these societies are from the north western Okavango Delta region, where wildlife and scenery tourism is thriving.







Botswana Diamonds: “Switzerland of Africa”, “African Success Story”, “African Miracle”

Jwaneng Mine:

Diamonds are Botswana’s best friends! Fuelled by diamonds, the country was the fastest growing economy in the world from 1970 to 2000 (Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson 2001).

Botswana is the largest producer of gem-quality diamonds in the world, by value. Indeed, the glittering stones are a critically significant source of revenue in Botswana. It is also widely acknowledged that the country has escaped the so called “resource course”. The resource course is a paradox whereby a country is characterised by increased rent seeking behaviour in government to control the natural resource riches, such as the abundace of diamonds, which could contribute to corruption, civil conflict and war, as well as poor economic growth compared to resource-scarce countries.

Under visionary leadership of the founding fathers, Sir Seretse Khama and Sir Ketumile Masire, Botswana diamonds have contributed significantly to the development of key infrastructure in the country. Diamonds bought social amenities which include, among others, hospitals, decent roads, free health and education services, access to potable water, free plots for residence and farming purposes, as well as an extensinve welfare system.

It is worth noting that although the country’s diamonds are capital intensive the sector contributes employment opportunities in the various mines across the country, most importantly with services related to mining.

Although the country still suffers from widespread poverty and extreme inequality, it is fair to say, revenue from diamonds has had direct substantal impact in alleviating abject poverty.

It was fitting and timely inspirational to some of us, that in 2013 the De Beers global sorting, aggregation and sales operations moved from upmarket London, after 80 years, to dusty Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. The historic relocation meant that Botswana stones as well as those from Namibia and South Africa and as far as Canada are now traded in Gaborone. Therefore, a group of cosmopolitan diamantaires flock to the landlocked Southern African nation 10 times annually for the “sights”, the private rough diamond sightholder sales. Further, the relocation resulted in formation of a number of diamond polishing companies that resulted in employment opportunities for citizens as well as more spin-offs in areas of hospitality, banking and property development.

Following Jefferis (2009) towns such as Orapa, Jwaneng and Letlhakane owe their existence mainly to nearby diamond mining activities. In the image is the Jwaneng diamond mine, located in South Central Botswana. The mine is owned by Debswana, a 50:50 partnership between De Beers Company and the Government of the Republic of Botswana.







Threshing maize in Botswana

My grandmother, Ontefetse Babusi, threshes sun-dried maize with a stick one afternoon of July 2017 at home in Kanye, Botswana.

The matriarch of my family, now 93, reminded me that she used to carry out this then-common chore from the time she was a young girl and through motherhood while taking care of her 8 children, including Gaontebale, my mother.

From the time I was a child, she taught me and my cousins folktales, songs and poems.

It was particularly when I was on fieldwork for my masters research study at Gasita that I trully appreciated my inspirational grandmother. The watershed moment was when I interviewd Rre Mogotsi le Mme Poni as well as their daughter Mma Ikoiheng in Gasita.

The previous night, while I was watching Btv news together with Gaontebale and Ontefetse; the latter sang a catchy song about Mogotsi, Poni and their daughter Mma Ikoiheng, from the 70s. She continued the telling song just before I left for Gasita the following morning.

“Seganana tje Mma Ikoiheng

Mma Ikoiheng wa seganana

O iteile Poni, o iteile Mogotsi”

Translates to:

The rude one is Mma Ikoiheng

Mma Ikoiheng is very rude

She beat up Poni, she beat up Mogotsi!

Of course, when I interviewed the trio, I did not utter a single word about the song. But I think the time has come to go interrogate them in regards to these set of words.




2018 Oppenheimer Lecture: President Masisi of The Republic of Botswana

Although I didn’t get the opportunity to ask President Masisi my question, I thoroughly enjoyed his lecture.

I liked that I atleast met one other Motswana, by the name of Tshegofatso, a Chevening scholar at Sussex. I also enjoyed the company of the Botswana Media Team: comprising of the celebrated Lesego Kgajwane, Baleseng Batlotleng le Onthatile Boti.

I enjoyed greeting them with Dumelang just as I approached Arundel House. I enjoyed walking with the trio into the Arundel House. I also enjoyed taking a picture with them, joined by Tshegofatso as well.

I should also mention that I enjoyed seeing Lilli Harkonen, the Events Coordinator at IISS who accepted my email request to attend this event. I enjoyed shaking her hand as I told her “thank you for accepting my request to attend”.

All in all, it was a great day. I have great faith in President Masisi.

He impressed me with his eloquent answers when he was grilled by the well thought attendees. I am particularly waiting to see how he “reboot and reconnect” The Commonwealth.

L-R: Tshegofatso, Onthatile, Yours truly, Lesego, Baleseng