Archie Mogwe

Archie Mogwe attends the AV Centre Opening Ceremony, 1990 / 91

Archibald Mogwe – we call him Archie – has been associated with Maru-a-Pula for over 50 years, longer than any other person. He was in at the very conception of the idea of the school and has kept up his interest and support right up to today.

Sometime around 1968, he helped persuade Botswana’s first president, Sir Seretse Khama, that with the newly found diamonds at Orapa the country was going to need a school for the expected expatriate experts to send their children to. Seretse agreed and Archie was part of the original team of people who formed themselves into a committee to push the idea. The chairman was the Rev Alan Butler of the Anglican Church. Others included Sebotho Modise, Hugh Murray-Hudson and Quill Hermans and they set about looking for a headmaster to take on the enormous task of starting a school from scratch in Botswana, then one of the twenty poorest nations in the world.

Alan Butler knew of Deane Yates – we call him DY – and invited him and his wife, Dot, to visit Gaborone and spend a few days with him and his wife. DY and Dot came, was fairly easily convinced and agreed to leave his post as Headmaster of St. John’s College, Johannesburg, one of South Africa’s most prestigious schools for boys and come and set up a multi-racial school for boys and girls. The Government gave the school 20 hectares “on the edge of the town”.

The steering committee became the School Council and in 1970 Archie took over from Alan Butler as Chairman a position he held until the end of 1995 – 25 years. In that time he saw DY appointed as headmaster followed in 1981 by David Matthews and then in 1991 by Malcolm McKenzie. There were some very trying times in the early years that required Archie to exercise his great skills of diplomacy and leadership.

As soon as the plans for the new school became known a vigorous campaign in opposition to it emerged. This was driven largely by left-wing socialist and communist thinkers who disapproved strongly of the idea of a fee-paying, ‘elite’ school. This was at a critical stage for the school as funds had to be raised to build the school and find teachers and if it appeared that the school did not have the support of Batswana it would make finding the money almost impossible. Archie was actively involved in the fund-raising and went with the Yates to the UK, the USA and Canada to explore possibilities. Seretse Khama finally closed down the opposition by publicly responding to their points and supporting the school and the fund-raising got under way seriously. Archie himself gave R150 to the school which, in today’s terms, would be about P6000.

Then there was a long-running battle with the Botswana Christian Council whose influence over Christian donors was critical. As the on-the-ground Christian organisation, the BCC was asked by foreign donors to rate applications for money. The BCC consistently gave Maru-a-Pula the lowest rating. This meant that the school never received any money from the well endowed international Christian foundations. This really riled DY and Archie was caught up in the vitriolic battle.

He also had to deal with a heated and ugly spat with the Ministry of Education over students who, because of academic performance or disciplinary problems, were ‘expelled’ from Maru-a-Pula. DY would ask the Ministry to take these students into a government school. This brought a stinging rebuke from the P.S., Mr Masogo, and Archie had to steer a course through this minefield. This must not have been pleasant for him as he was a cabinet minister, himself, and he was having to deal with a fellow cabinet minister.

One of the most acrimonious battles Archie was landed in was again with the Ministry of Education when, in 1979, they introduced the ‘Private Secondary School Regulations’ in response to the increasing number of private schools springing up around the country. Some of these were decidedly shady institutions and were ripping off parents. The Ministry’s response was to draw up a set of regulations that private schools had to follow and included an element of Government interference in the running.

DY was horrified and saw in them the loss of Maru-a-Pula’s independence. He persuaded the School Council that they must apply for ‘blanket exemption’ from these regulations and that meant the Archie was right in the front line. There followed a fierce battle. DY stopped the school building programme and threatened to close the school. The Ministry offered partial exemption from the regulations but DY would not hear of that.

Archie Mogwe with David Matthews and Malcolm McKenzie, 1991

So, Archie went off to see President Seretse Khama to plead the school’s case. He succeeded and Maru-a-Pula was granted total exemption from the regulations. This left a nasty taste in the mouth of the Ministry and it took the patience of David Matthews who succeeded DY two years later to smooth things over and put the relationship between the school and the Ministry on a smooth path.

Those were the biggest headaches that Archie had to deal with but his belief in the school seems never to have been shaken. Of course, the recurring headache was the need for money to grow the school and he played a strong role in this. He also went to Seretse Khama in 1980 to ask the government to support 20 Batswana students to enter the A-level course to which he agreed.

Then in 1985 the South African Defence Force raided Gaborone killing a number of people, mostly South Africa refugees. One such refugee who escaped was Hugh Masekela. This dreadful deed put a great dark cloud over relations between the two countries. The South African members of the School Council wrote a letter to Archie as chair of the Council deploring the action and he wrote a wonderful letter in reply setting out his and the government’s very wise views on this.

In 1995 Archie retired from the School Council. He had steered the school from its very shaky start to the point where it was well established and delivering outstanding results. The animosity between the school and the Ministry of Education had died down. His daughter, Alice, and his grandchildren had all been to Maru-a-Pula and became worthy alumni of the school. Alice was made a member of the School Council soon after Archie left.

In 2010 the Archie Mogwe Bursary to assist a worthy student to attend the school was established in keeping with the school’s aim to have a high percentage of students, especially orphans and vulnerable children, given the opportunity to have a Maru-a-Pula education.

Archie’s relation with the school has been amazingly long and amazingly devoted. Through the hard times and the happy times, Archie’s faith in the school never wavered. Headmasters came and went and the school grew as he kept his steady hand on the wheel.

Maru-a-Pula owes Archie immense gratitude.