Many Independence Days Later

“We were so proud to have a real multi-racial school of high standards in Botswana!”

Ms Ithabeleng Letsunyane ('83)

27 September 2019
Here we are at Independence 2019: 53 years since Independence 1966; a long time in the life of a person but a short – very short – time in the life of a nation or, for that matter, of a school. In 1966 Botswana was very poor, under-developed and generally neglected nation. There was only one government secondary school, GSS, and a few mission and tribal schools. No tar roads, except for a few kilometres in Gabs and the famous stretch in Lobatse especially tarred for the King of England and his family when they visited in 1947 so that they could drive from the railway station to the field where they came to thank the 10,000 Batswana who fought with Britain in the Second World War.

But then diamonds were discovered and suddenly there was the prospect of wealth and development. Into this optimistic feeling, MaP was born in 1972. Not everyone was pleased with the arrival of what they called an ‘elitist’ fee-paying school. Opponents from the University, the Ministry of Education, other schools and socialist-leaning intellectuals said that such a school would ‘devalue’ the university and other schools by raising standards of accommodation, teaching and building beyond what the country could afford. Curious argument that fears raising standards?

Then there was the tenth Anniversary of Independence in 1976 and all of us from MaP traipsed off to the airport which, in those days, was just beyond the Stadium roughly where the UB Sports Complex is now. There we watched Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere and Mabuto Sese Seko welcomed by President Sir Seretse Khama. All went well until Sese Seko’s big military plane slid off the rather narrow runway into the mud and got stuck. The dreaded South African government had to be asked to send something to get it out.

I don’t remember the school going to welcome any more dignitaries in future Independence Celebrations. The airport moved out of the centre of town to where it is now, anyway. Every ten years after that saw a big jump in Botswana’s prosperity; they saw MaP growing in size and importance as academic results became, as Headmaster Malcolm McKenzie, said, “stratospheric”. The opposition to the school dwindled as it showed it was a real Botswana school concerned with its role in the community.

Interestingly, it was Headmaster, David Matthews’ building of Maitisong that went a long way to win detractors round to the school. Maitisong was a very visible and influential symbol of the school’s outreach policy’ as it welcomed many, many performers and audiences onto the campus. It became a shared and loved resource. So, by the 30th Independence Celebrations in 1996 MaP was on a roll.

Now we’ve made it to the 53rd Independence Celebration and the school is secure in its position in the life of Botswana. Enrolment is at an all-time high, and the school may well have raised the standards of education in Botswana, so feared by opponents in 1970.

I’m always touched by the answer I got when I asked someone who was at MaP almost at the beginning: “Why did you choose to come to a struggling little school in the bush outside Gaborone with hardly any facilities?” Answer: “We were so proud to have a real multi-racial school of high standards in Botswana!”

Enough said.

~ Mr David Slater

Maru-a-Pula School Archivist