Botswana’s oldest citizen gives her views on the old and the new
“Seeing the funny side of life has kept me young”
Without definitive data it is impossible to say for sure, but at 109 years granny Kebuang Tsebe is a contender for the title of oldest person in Botswana.
When asked to reveal the secret of her old age, she stares into space as if in deep thought, then finally throws her head back and bursts into a deep cackling laugh that exposes her few remaining teeth.
Born on 1 January 1902, she admits there is no secret, but being able to see the funny side of life and remain positive in good times and bad as she has, is as good a formula as any for longevity.
Added to that living a simple, rural existence has also helped, and when she describes the past, the phrase the ‘good old days’ comes to mind in contrast to the stress that so often plagues modern life.
Speaking to us at her home in Tutume, the centenarian talked of the contrast between the then and now.
My family was originally from Serowe. My father Solomon was a priest and was posted to Nkange village near Tutume by the late Khama III in 1902. His mission was to spread the word of God and to teach Bakalanga how to read and write.
I was only a few months old when together with my mother we left our tribe and joined my father on his godly mission. I have never retuned to Serowe, in fact I have not been farther afield than Francistown, and my family have been assimilated into Bakalanga through inter marriage.
My parents later settled at Selolwane in Tutume village where they stayed until they all died some long time ago before Independence.
I have given birth to two daughters, the oldest was born around 1930 and the youngest has sadly passed away.
In olden days food was always plenty, and free. Back then money had no value as very few people knew or even cared to have any money. We ate a variety of Ikalanga dishes, like mabele, lebelebele and maize with vegetables. Meat, just like other foodstuffs was always in abundance since we had a lot of cattle and goats. Sometimes men would go hunting and bring meat.
Milk was also part of our daily diet, and as a supplement we ate wild fruits and berries. People used to share and would eat from one plate. Selfishness and greediness was shunned at all levels in the Ikalanga society. When you found people eating you would just sit and join them without having to be invited. Things only changed gradually when people started using forks and spoons and eating rice which you only get from shops and for which you needed money.
People used to walk and the only mode of transport was an ox- drawn sledge, which was used mostly when carrying heavy loads especially on long trips. We never felt delayed because nothing was done in a rush. As time passed there came an ox-drawn wagon, which was only afforded by the rich. Then came big lorries and I was a middle-aged woman before I saw my first car. As for aeroplanes, I sometimes see them passing in the sky, but have never got up close to one.
I must admit that although I dislike many of the new things that have come with change, I love cars. Every time I get to ride in one it is a real thrill and I am always looking for my next ride. Since I don’t have the use of my legs anymore, it is the way I can be mobile – sadly it has been some months since I was last out.
Beer has always been part of African tradition, but in our day it was reserved for elderly people and it was served for free mostly at social functions. Women used to prepare alcoholic beverages especially after a good harvest and people would come together and drink from the same container. There was always a limit to the consumption of beer. Young people were not allowed to drink and elders who misbehaved while under the influence could attract tough penalties. I think that the coming of bars and the selling of alcohol has led to many of the problems of today.
For entertainment people would go to social events, which was always marked with singing and dancing all types of Ikalanga songs. Church gatherings were part of their entertainment as it was a big social gathering and often the highlight of the week.
Wedding celebrations were also great social occasions, with song, dance and beer. Nowadays funerals seem to have overtaken weddings in the social calendar.
Young people also had a range of games to entertain themselves like koyi, hide and seek, and other simple pleasures. Television is now the big attraction, but because of my failing eyesight it is not something I have seen much.
Of course we had criminals, but there was no serious crime. Village elders or the Chief normally resolved the minor disputes.
It was unheard of for people to kill each other and we only heard of the Matebele from Zimbabwe who would kill people and steal their cattle, but to us it was just news. We only knew that one could kill animals not humans. Looking back to the olden days I could say nowadays people are far more stressed. Killing a lover or killing a parent for money were crimes that you would not imagine in your worst dreams.
Formal education was not a big thing in olden days and although people were encouraged to go to school, the priority was given to grown ups and mostly male children. Since my father was a teacher, I had the chance to go to school, but I failed because I had no interest. Yes I learnt how to write my name, but I never saw the importance of book learning – you learnt from those around you and from your own experiences. Even though my father taught people to read and write, I sometimes think that such knowledge has only complicated life and brought unhappiness.
SEX AND MARRIAGE
Like most others back then, my marriage was arranged. My parents made all the groundwork and I was given to my husband Zebe Gwamba from Selolwane village. Unfortunately our marriage never lasted long because shortly after tying the knot my husband developed a serious mental illness, which forced me to flee my matrimonial home. I only returned after he had passed away. I once had a relationship with another man, but it never lasted long. As for sex, in my day it was only to produce children. If there was any pleasure in it, it was reserved for men only.
There was no such disease as HIV/AIDS until relatively recently. Of course we had people suffering from a range of sex related diseases, but all of these were curable. Lack of disciple and control in young people, and the deterioration of morals amongst older people, has fanned the AIDS epidemic.
People never had formal employment. Everyone was self- employed and worked according to the season. Although nothing was ever written down, people knew their job description and there was never any excuse for not doing ones duty. Just like elderly people young children also had their duties, which they had to do without failure. I think the biggest difference between the olden days and now is that the spirit of togetherness is missing. We lived closer to nature back then, and as a result lived what I would call a more natural, purer kind of life, and consequently were far happier.