Motsamai Keyecwe Mpho

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Biographical information

Synopsis:

Member of the ANC, 1956 Treason Trialist, founder member of the Bechuanaland People’s Party (BPP) and the Botswana Independence Party (BIP)

First name: 
Motsamai
Last name: 
Mpho
Date of birth: 
3 February 1921
Date of death: 
28 November 2012

Motsamai Keyecwe Mpho was born to a peasant family in Maun Bechuanaland (now Botswana) on 3 February 1921. His family came from a non-Setswana-speaking ethnic group, the Beyei. Mpho attended Moremi Primary School in Maun, and after completion went to further his education in South Africa at Tiger Kloof, Vyrburg, matriculating in 1944. He then returned to Bostwana where he was offered work as a telegraph operator. However in 1948, he returned to South Africa where he found work at the Crown Mines in Johannesburg as secretary of Reverend Anderson, a welfare officer at the mine.

When the African National Congress (ANC) embarked on the Defiance Campaign in 1952, Mpho joined the ANC and began attending its rallies in the Sophiatown area. The following year, in 1953 he found work at the South African Council of Churches (SACC) where he closely worked with Reverend Arthur Blaxall, secretary of the SACC. Mpho became seriously involved in politics rising to become the Organizing Secretary of the ANC in Western Transvaal. When the Congress of the People was convened in Kliptown in 1955, Mpho led more than 200 delegates from the ANC branches in the West Rand.

Due to his political involvement in activities of the Congress Alliance, Mpho was arrested alongside 156 other people and charged with treason in the 1956 Treason Trial. As the state failed to prove its case, he was released alongside 67 others who included Chief Albert Luthuli. After his release Mpho continued with his anti apartheid political activities, he organized committee members of Randfontein Old Location to burn their passes. As a consequence he was arrested for mounting a campaign of burning passes in West Rand and for entering Westonaria Location without a permit in open defiance to Apartheid’s pass laws. While in detention in Pretoria Prison, Mpho married his wife Onalepelo Hannah Macheng on 7 July 1960. On 9 August 1960, Mpho left South Africa for Botswana after he was forced to do so by prison authorities. Upon arrival in Botswana, Mpho entered politics in the country.

He alongside Klaas Motshidisi, Kgalemang Motsete and Philip Matante became a founding member of the Botswana’s first politics party, the Bechuanaland People’s Party (BPP). However, due internal problems within BPP, Mpho left the party and founded the Botswana Independence Party (BIP). He is credited with having come up with the name of the country Botswana instead of Bechuanaland. This was after he named his political party the Botswana Independence Party. In 1962 he attended the Pan Africanist Conference in Accra, Ghana. While he was on his way back to Botswana one of his comrades composed a song Fatshe leno La Rona (Our Land) which he taught them. Thus, Mpho became one of the first people to sing the national anthem Fatshe leno La Rona.

Despite leaving South Africa, Mpho still retained contact with the ANC and political developments in South Africa. He was instrumental in assisting ANC members in crossing the Botswana border to exile in Zambia and back to South Africa. At one time when he felt that his ANC comrades passing through Botswana were under threat from the Apartheid government, he organized people in Palapye to stop a train carrying Thabo Mbeki and Fish Kesting and set them free.

In 1969 Mpho became the first Member of Parliament for the Okavango Constituency and retained the seat until 1979 when he lost to Bailang Salepito of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). He returned as an MP in 1984 when he contested and consistently won Maun/Chobe constituency until he retired from active politics. In recognition for his service to Botswana he was awarded the Presidential Award for Meritorious Service by the then President of Botswana Ketumile Masire. Also, in recognition for his role in the struggle for democracy in South Africa he was awarded the Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo.

Mpho died at Princes Marina Hospital in Botswana on 28 November 2012. 


References:
• B G Reporter, (2012), Motsamai Mpho is no more, from the Botswana Guardian Online, 30 November, [online] Available at www.botswanaguardian.co.bw[Accessed 25 April 2013]
•  Mpho, Motsamai (b. 1921), from Blackwell Online Reference, [online] Available at www.blackwellreference.com[Accessed 25 April 2013]
•  Motsamai Keyecwe Mpho, from The Presidency, [online] Available at www.thepresidency.gov.za  [Accessed 25 April 2013]
•  Keakabetse, B., (2011), Motsamai Mpho turns 90, from the Monitor, 7 February, [online] Available at www.mmegi.bw  [Accessed 25 April 2013]
•  Tebele, M., (2012), Botswana mourns its anti-apartheid hero, from The Southern Times, [online] Available at www.southerntimesafrica.com[Accessed 25 April 2013]

Last updated : 05-Aug-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011