* How one of Africa’s leading universities was birthed in the midst of poverty

The University of Botswana has begun celebrations that will culminate with their grand Ruby anniversary in October this year.

Former president of Botswana and former Chancellor of the University of Botswana, Dr. Festus Mogae unveiled the university mascot, which is named Mmadikolo.

Mmadikolo will travel across Botswana to thank the nation for building the university 40 years ago through their generous contributions when the government did not have money to build a university for its people.

Speaking at the celebration launch this Wednesday, former coordinator of the Botswana University Campus Appeal (BUCA) which was set up to get contributions from Batswana for the university building project Dr. Potlako Molefe shed light on how the government of Botswana managed to raise P1 million through donations in a record time of under six months.

Molefe explained that Botswana was so poor that the government wanted Batswana to raise the initial P1 million and it would look for the remaining P3 million through donations.

Prior to the inception of the University of Botswana, Botswana formed part of the University of Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland up until Lesotho decided to nationalise the university.

“Students from the two countries were refused admission. Lesotho government closed their university doors to students from Botswana and Swaziland”.

According to Molefe, learners from Botswana were now deemed foreigners and had to return to Botswana to complete their studies.

Molefe said the decision by Lesotho to nationalise its institution shocked everyone but in hindsight, the decision was necessary to catapult Botswana’s education endeavours to greater heights.

Molefe explained that the late former Member of Parliament Willie Seboni came up with the slogan 'Motho le motho kgomo', adding that the BUCA Commission was set up with highly-capable personnel such as former Member of Parliament Chapson Butale.

According to Molefe some of the objectives of BUCA were to coordinate the movement of the livestock donations, plan the logistics of these donations, and organise collection systems of cattle and small stock.

Molefe notes that because of the set objectives, BUCA was located at the Office of the President and the Ministry of Education, and the office was used to ensure the cooperation of all departments and stakeholders involved.

According to Molefe, the founding father of the nation Sir Seretse Khama donated 30 heads of cattle to spearhead a nationwide campaign to urge Batswana to contribute to the project.

In addition, traditional leaders, Dikgosi, government officials, councillors, and a majority of the people joined in, spreading the campaign message throughout the nation.

Molefe explained that to guard against pilferage they came up with stringent measures and ensured that all donations were accounted for and everyone who donates was receipted.

Molefe stated that all monetary donations were transported with the escort of police officers to ensure that they do not lose any of it. Molefe noted that this “magical tale of unity” was without its own fair share of challenges as they found it difficult to get transport and to receipt donations from rural areas.

He added that some people thought the project would fail and the low numbers of graduates did not justify the government initiating such a project.

Further, it was difficult to convince people who lived along the Botswana-South Africa border in places such as the Tuli Block, Kgalagadi area, and Makopo farms to donate because the students in those areas were often schooled in South Africa which had more resources.

“Political will must be reinforced by national pride, motivation, and sacrifice,” Molefe said, drawing on the lessons learned from the project.

Moreover, the spirit of Dikgafela was revived during that short space of time when Batswana came together. According to Molefe, Batswana like other nations are endowed with entrepreneurial zeal to build their nation.

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Botswana, Prof David Norris said they will be showcasing all the books, and research prototypes that have been published by the university staff as part of a process of looking back to see how far the organisation has come.

Norris noted that there will be various activities that will celebrate the inception of the university.

The Minister of Education and Skills Development Dr. Douglas Letsholathebe noted that the ministry has a research fund that will support research conducted in Botswana.

Letsholathebe emphasised that government takes research seriously and universities must aspire to do more in that field. He urged local universities to collaborate and co-create with each other, advising institutions to work together to improve the nation.