World mourns Masire amid controversy over burial dates

By Bakang Mhaladi

Gaborone – Botswana spent this week preparing to bid farewell to its second president, Sir Quett Ketumile Joni Masire who died last Thursday, a month shy of his 92nd birthday.

Masire was Botswana’s President between 1980 and 1998, after taking over from the country’s first President, Sir Seretse Khama, father to the country’s current President Ian Khama.

Last Friday, Khama declared a three-day mourning period until Sunday and the government later announced Masire would be buried in his home village, Kanye, 75 kilometres south of the capital Gaborone on Thursday, 29 June.

However, there was an overwhelming feeling that the late statesman, revered in his country and beyond, should have been laid to rest on a weekend, or his burial day should have been declared a national holiday to allow more people to attend the funeral.

President Khama was said to have informed the Masire family that he had other commitments on Saturday, the preferred date.

The date was brought forward to Thursday, which riled some members of the public who felt it would deprive many of an opportunity to mourn Botswana’s first Minister of Finance.

“I would have loved to travel to Kanye to bid the former president farewell.

But Thursday is a working day so there is no chance I will make it,” a Gaborone resident, Kagiso Mokwena, said.

Former President, Festus Mogae, who took over from Masire, said President Khama had indicated he would be unavailable for the preferred Saturday date.

“The family suggested Saturday, I also assumed it was going to be Saturday, but they came to me saying President Khama had suggested Monday.

They ended up agreeing on Thursday,” Mogae told local media.

Khama would be attending the annual Race for Rhinos in the Makgadikgadi Pans on Saturday.

“I had naturally assumed that it was going to be on a Saturday.

So I had planned a (peace keeping mission) trip to South Sudan around the date. After I heard of the confirmed dates, I had no choice but to re-schedule,” Mogae said.

President Khama visited the Masire family on Monday to offer his condolences and support.

Masire’s body viewing took place on Tuesday at the National Assembly from 6am to 6pm with winding queues marking the sombre occasion.

His body left Gaborone for his home village of Kanye on Wednesday where it was expected to lie in state before burial on Thursday.

Some regional leaders, past and present, including former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, former Organnisation of African Unity secretary-general Salim Ahmed Salim, former Mozambique president Amando Guebuza, and Lesotho’s King Letsie III were expected to attend the burial.

Messages of condolences have been pouring in from around the world, including from former United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan.

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