Remembering the gentle giant that was Mike Mickey-Mouse Mothibi
From me to you
When the news of Mike Mothibi’s death reached me via a text message from The Midweek Sun’s former scribe Yvonne Mooka, I was immediately gutted. Left numb. For this is the man I was only talking about - with my colleagues some few days earlier, telling them how gentle, humble and unassuming he was as a leader in the media industry. We were discussing how a lot of journalists of this era were more of show-off public figures and celebrities than in the era of the likes of Pamela Dube, Ben Ragalase, Ernest Moloi, Letlhogile Lucas, photoman Ben Phetabosigo and Mesh Moeti among others, whom we only knew by By-Lines and hardly in person. They could be sitting next to us at a function and we would never even be aware they were there, until we saw their story in a newspaper. It was when I cited Mike Mothibi in that category that I shared with colleagues the qualities about him that made him an adorable gentle giant of the industry. And then a few days after that I receive news of his passing. This is the man who along with one Mpho Dibeela saw to my shipment from the classroom that I loved with a passion, to the newsroom that I had revered from time immemorial. At the time they enlisted me among the great journalists I found in our company, among them Joseph Balise, Edgar Tsimane and Ditiro Motlhabane, Mike was the Managing Editor at this media house that publishes The Midweek Sun and Botswana Guardian. Dibeela was Botswana Guardian Editor at the time. It was Mike Mothibi who wrote and signed my offer letter. We both appended our initials and signatures on the same pages that formalised my employment. At the time, after all hiring formalities had been done, Mike and I remained in his office to briefly chat and laugh about how he once aided the Botswana National Front strategists to soil my name in their attempt to make me lose SRC elections at the University of Botswana. A Mmegi scribe at the time, Mike authored the story that sought to make the UB community look at me with suspicion; to be seen as a BDP agent planted to destabilize and neutralize the BNF Mass dominated student leadership.
The UB community at the time had an inexplicable detestation for the BDP and was incredibly in love with BNF politics. So a fake letter was conjured up, made to look like it was signed by one Nixon Marumola cited as the BDP’s GS 26 Chairperson, written to BDP Chairperson Hon. Daniel Kwelagobe and informing him that I would be working closely with Hon. Ponatshego Kedikilwe in masterminding propaganda issues in favour of the BDP at the university. The letter, which had a mouthful about my evil plans to help the BDP silence the student voice and douse their militancy, was published as part of Mike Mothibi’s story in Mmegi, and the newspaper was widely distributed at Campus on the eve of the SRC elections. Of course when on the day he employed me we were chatting about his role in that act of political witchcraft, he denied having had any evil intensions against me when he wrote the story. He said he didn’t remember exactly what had happened but that he too must have been made to think the fake letter purported to be from the BDP’s camp was legitimate. He had obtained the letter from the BNF guys – I hear Robert Molefhabangwe was one of the masterminds - who wanted the school community to be wary of voting in a BDP stooge and Trojan Horse. The thing is: I was neither BDP nor BNF but was an independent who had been asked and persuaded by many students to stand for the position of Information and Propaganda Minister. BDP had fielded their own man and so had the BNF, but there was a general feeling among each of the two camps that I was going to win despite not being backed by any political party. Which is why each camp had at different times tried to lure me as their candidate, prepared to ask their respective men to make way for me. I refused the offers, and it was the BNF that took my rejection badly. The BNF chaps were no longer bothered by their BDP opponent, but so much wanted their own man to win against me. So they had to come up with a plan to destroy me in the eyes of the student community. The fake letter trick failed. Dismally! In fact, it helped me get some extra sympathy votes from the neutrals who could tell the whole BDP letter thing was a lie. And Mike remembered he had been shocked to learn I had won the elections nonetheless. “Go raa gore o ne o le blind akere?” he conceded as we winded up our conversation and I was preparing to go to my workstation. In short, Mike was this man who played a major part in the failed bid to stop me becoming the information messenger at UB, but later played the main part in making me a national information man as a reporter for both Botswana Guardian and The Midweek Sun. The two men – Mothibi and his home boy Dibeela – rewarded excellence. I learnt from them that talent and hardwork, not just university papers and exam results, are key to the success of any business. Only 12 months after signing me for the stable, they entrusted me with leading the stable’s Sports Desk. Mike was again the signatory of my promotion, but would soon leave the stable in the hands of Dibeela while he challenged himself with reviving Global Post newspaper just across the road. The last time we met was in 2021 at Kgale Spar where we stopped and talked for over 30 minutes, discussing, among others, how the media landscape has changed over the years, including even how issues of media ownership have somewhat messed up the industry. The last time we spoke via telephone and text message was last year when he was some media/communications errand man for one Bucs Molatlhegi who was eyeing the BNF’s presidency against the incumbent. We discussed the politics of the party and how too, he and others felt the party had derailed from its founding and long term principles. Such a humble guy Mike; an insightful fellow who often raised thoughtprovoking conversations; and despite his colossal role in helping shape the media landscape in the country, he was never one to shout from the rooftops and tabletops to make everyone know who and what he was. He was no celebrity journalist. Down to earth. Not noisy but smart. No pomposity. A leader who cared little about his Title. It is for this reason not many even know that he was once the Chairperson of MISABotswana. Even MISA today remembers him only as the Vice Chairperson! He has also been the Editor of The Midweek Sun for five years; many only remember him as the Editor of Botswana Guardian. He was also the Editor of The UB Scope; founded and edited a national agriculture magazine; led many other forums that helped give the civil society a voice. He, of course with persuasion from Dibeela, is the reason I am employed where I am today, and his December 2023 death incidentally may be coinciding with the conclusion of that era of mine here too, this December. May his soul find eternal peace.