As we celebrate 50 years of independence, I celebrate MLA: a national icon and a pioneer Setswana lexicographer. He was born Morulaganyi Lochinvar Andrew Kgasa in Kanye on April 16th 1914; the grandson to Motsatsing, whose origins are Barungwane from Kgatleng in Moshupa. MLA (as he was later to become known) was the third son of Tekonyane Dilotsotlhe and Reverend Andrew Kgasa, who was one of the first Batswana ministers of religion in the London Missionary Society (LMS). His is the story of a man whose background could be classified as enlightened and privileged with an excellent blend of Christian values, Western education and African cultural values. It is the tale of a man who later in life lived under the painful affliction of tuberculosis – and for a significant part of his life, lived as an invalid – physically weakened by illness, but who nevertheless remained spiritually strong, mentally active and intellectually alert.
In his unpublished memoirs, “Malatsi a me mo dikoleng” (1974), MLA mentions his first primary school teacher as Kgosikobo Chelenyane at Rachele School and Stephen Makhene as the headmaster of the school. He also remembers other teachers such as Modisaotsile Mabote, Kehetoge Petso, Kwelagobe General Bome, Ms Victoria Namane, Ms Edith Sediapelo Kooneeng, Outlule Boakgomo and Sejako Tiro.
After the completion of his primary education at Rachele primary School in Kanye, he started Form 1 at Tigerkloof, South Africa, in 1931 and studied for the Junior Certificate. He describes the standards of the education system then as very high compared to the education most students go through these days. Yet he points out that a teacher for a specific class was supposed to teach all the subjects: “English, History, Geography, Mathematics, Arithmetic, Physical Science, Biology and Physiology”. Aware that he was writing his memoirs in Setswana and that the subjects he lists are all rendered in English, he admits the difficulty of translating the names into Setswana this way: “Go a pala, le fa re ka re re patelela jang.”
MLA states in his memoirs that while he was in Form 3 in 1934, he met Pidio in Tigerkloof, who was in Standard 6. Although MLA moved on to Lovedale for Matric studies, he declares he never forgot Pidio as one who could be a future wife. Pidio herself was the daughter of Disang Raditladi and Nkwane Ratshosa. Pidio’s elder brother was the renowned Botswana author, Leetile Raditladi, while her younger sister was Mary Mmaanete who married their first cousin Mookame Gaseitsiwe (younger brother to Chief Bathoen II). In other words both Bathoen’s mother and Pidio’s mother were sisters from the Ratshosa family.
He and Pidio Disang Raditladi were married on the 28th of December 1942.
After his return from South Africa to Botswana in 1952, MLA became a member of the African Advisory Council and Joint Advisory Council which worked hard towards the achievement of a non-racial Botswana society long before Botswana’s attainment of independence.
His first teaching post in Botswana was at Moeng College in 1957. Again he taught some of the renowned Batswana such as the former President Gontebanye Mogae, David Magang, Lepetu Setshwaelo, Benjamin Makobole, Lebang Mpotokwane, Kegalale Gasennelwe and Joyce Thema.
In 1961 he was appointed translator in the Education Department. From 1962 to 1966 he was the Principal of Kgari Sechele Senior Secondary School. MLA was also instrumental in the establishment of the Association of Botswana Secondary School Headmasters. This was an organization that facilitated cooperation and encouraged better communication among secondary schools, and between secondary schools and the Department of Education (later Ministry of Education).
MLA retired from teaching in 1967, but this did not end his national contribution. After his retirement he was appointed education specialist for Bangwaketse schools. He also served for a long time as Setswana examiner for both the Junior Certificate and Cambridge School Certificate for schools in Botswana. Other forms of service included membership of the Place Names Commission (1968-77). He later became Deputy Chairman of this Commission. From 1969 to 1979 he was Chairman of the Public Service Commission as well as of the Judicial Service Commission. He was on the Board of Directors of Longman Botswana from the establishment of the company in 1981. Between 1983 and 1985 he was news editor at Radio Botswana, and in 1985 he was a member of the National Setswana Language Council.
Faithful to his family background MLA was a staunch and diligent lay worker in the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA), which he served in a variety of capacities over an extended time. He was a regular delegate to the annual assemblies of the UCCSA as well as Chairman and Treasurer of the Botswana Synod, Synod representative on the Governing Board of Kgolagano College, of which he was Vice-Chairperson, and Chairman of the Board of Governors of Moeding College.
It is mainly as a writer and promoter of the Setswana language and culture that MLA made the greatest mark. Beginning in the 1940s as a regular columnist in newspapers like “Naledi ya Batswana”, where he wrote under the pen name “Makepeace Shabaa”, he later contributed short essays regularly in the government magazine Kutlwano under the heading “Moakanyi a re…” and “Mogopolo wa kgwedi…” In 1970 he gave regular talks over Radio Botswana on the theme “Setswana sa borre” as well as discussions on various aspects of Setswana culture.
For eight years from 1968 to 1976 he compiled, single-handedly, the first Setswana dictionary, “Thanodi ya Setswana ya dikole”, having tried without success to persuade others to tackle the project jointly as a team. A revised edition of Kgasa’s first dictionary appeared in 1988. As he was anxious that the dictionary work should continue after his death, he teamed up with a young linguist, Dr. Joseph Tsonope, and together they worked on a major monolingual dictionary of Setswana. It was published by Longman in 1995 under the title Thanodi ya Setswana. MLA’s wife Pidio passed away on 19 February 1987, after which he married Mabel Seipone Sebogodi (a nurse by profession) in August 1994. In recognition of his contribution to Botswana as a teacher and Setswana scholar, the University of Botswana awarded MLA an honorary Doctorate of Letters in 1992. In recognition of his contribution to Setswana language and culture, Longman Botswana set up a prize, the MLA Kgasa/Longman Prize for the outstanding performance by a student in the Setswana language (in the Department of African Languages and Literature) at the University of Botswana.
This giant of a man passed away on August 10, 2001, at the age of 87.