It is Tuesday December 8th, 2015. The dinner is scheduled for 7pm in a private room of the Beef Baron, in the Grand Palm Hotel. I arrive 15 minutes before time and wait in the lobby. I have heard something about protocol; that it is bad manners to arrive after His Excellency. I am met by his private Secretary Mr Tlhoiwe, a very pleasant man with a wide smile. At 1905, QKJ had not arrived, but he calls his Secretary. He asks if I have arrived. “Yes your Excellency he is here.” I could barely hear him from the other end: “Please tell him I am terribly sorry for being late, but I am stuck in traffic. I will be there in five minutes”. I smile to myself as Tlhoiwe relates the message to me. What great humility! What a man! What a knight! In five minutes he arrives followed by his driver and a bodyguard. He comes matching jokingly, his face beaming, displaying a characteristic joviality typical of the former President. I stand up to meet him. We shake hands. He has a firm grip though he is frail. He is wearing a white shirt and a pair of khakhi trousers. He apologises for being late. He had earlier travelled to his farm in Lobatse and he had only returned in the last hour. He laughs loudly and takes me by the hand and we walk together through a series of sliding doors into a quiet room. A table is set for two: only me and him; nobody else. The sliding door closes behind us. Tonight, I am having a private dinner with his Excellency the former president of the Republic of Botswana, Sir Ketumile Masire. We sit. He starts with a hyperbolic expression: “I have been dying to meet you”….
For over two hours we eat, we drink, we laugh, we talk about farming, language, politics, writing and the development and preservation of the Setswana language and culture. His brain is sharp. He has brilliant ideas as well as multiple frustrations.
Way after the dessert plates had left the table, he says: “Rra, batho ba ratana, ga nke lobaka lo nna lo leele; ka nako yotlhe lo lo khutshwane….” he laughs loudly again and we make our way out.
I go home exhausted but feeling content. It is not the first time I meet Sir Ketumile Masire. I shook his hand in 1997 when I got my BA from UB. He launched my dictionary “Tlhalosi ya Medi ya Setswana” in 2012. I was with him in Tiger Kloof this year when they named the administrative block the “Sir Quett Masire Building” after him. Tonight was different though. It was special. I had an exclusive dinner with His Excellency the former President of the Republic of Botswana.