WOMAN OF DESTINY
The evening that I met Rosemary Mukwewa was filled with a cold breeze. Already the lights were shinning on the streets and the last group of workers was arriving home. It was around 7:00PMand I made a call to Mrs. Mokwewa. She responded so exuberantly and told me, “my daughter, just wait for me! Right now am at the farm, so please just go by my house.”She started directing me to her place and, for some minutes, I waited at the gate. Before I could wonder, I saw a Toyota approaching the gate entrance and I knew it was her. Mrs Mukwewa jumped out of her car and headed to the main entrance and switched on the lights. She signaled to me to come inside the house where she showed me a place to relax and offered me some snacks.
Mrs . Rosemary Mukwewa was born in 1955 in a rural village in Botswana called Mathangwane. The educational pedigrees she has pursued seem endless: she did her Cambridge and went to Swaziland to complete a Public Administration certificate with a focus on Organization and Methods. Where in Botswana is called IDM (Institute of Development Management) . Not stopping there, Mukwewa went on to earn a certificate in Urban Development (housing management course) .Then, she went to Zimbabwe for a Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board, after which she attended various related workshops to enhance her skills. She married Aiden Cuthbert Mukwewa, a chemical engineer and graduate of Lufbra University in the UK. Together they have four children, all of whom have pursued similarly ambitious endeavors: one is a chartered accountant, one is a graduate of a university in Canada, one is studying economics in Malaysia, and one is at the University of Botswana studying finance.
Her professional journey began in 1974 with her work as an administration officer. In 2004, she was nominated a councilor under the Botswana Democratic Party ticket. While serving on the council, she chaired the education committee for five consecutive years and later became the chairperson of Town Planning Development Works. Her work earned her a promotion to become Deputy Chairperson of Health, Social Services and Works Committee. In 2008, she was appointed to the new office as a Town Mayor. Remarkably, while still on the council, Mrs. Mukwewa was able to open a business of her own, a catering company, and was appointed a leader of Bala Women’s Commission. This organization is an association for the councils, under the Botswana local Government Association. Using this as a platform, she launched the Bala Women’s Commission in South Africa and in Ghana. Despite her wishes to launch a similar commission in Nigeria, her turn was over at Selibe – Phikwe Town Council, and thus her role at the Bala Women’s Commission also came to an end.
In 2003, Mrs. Mukwewa retired with the intent of taking on farming projects. In this she had a vision to empower women in her community. Mrs. Mukwewa is clearly disgusted by the way girls around her are treated. She has seen too much beyond her control. She has decided to respond by working with young girls to empower them to come out of poverty. She teaches these young girls to become farmers; she teaches them the important skills of the trade so that they can stand on their own. She smiles all the time as we keep on talking about the farming group. In 2009, she joined the Piggery Farming Group, where she was chosen the chairperson of the association called Badikolobeng Piggery. Her intension as a farmer is to open an abattoir for pigs which will be one of a kind. To this end, she has networked with the Women’s Affairs Department in Selibe – Phikwe so that they can become farmers with the intent of the facility that they want to do . The meat product from the abattoir and meat processing plant will be sold locally, regionally and internationally, even as far as China, where she has identified a market for the product. Animal feed to support the operation will be produced by a subsidiary of Badikolobeng Piggery.
Because of Mrs.Mukwewa’s efforts, girls in our village may have a better future. Now, rather than being forced to engage in sex before marriage, as is so frequently the case in our community, young, disadvantaged girls can receive special care and the training necessary to support themselves. Mrs. Mukwewa explains to me her motivation, saying, “can you imagine a big man your father’s age? I saw last year, this man had a girlfriend who works for the copper mine, but when she is off work, you will see that this girl is still young because she is in her school uniform. Then you see that man kissing the girl like nobody’s business. They knew what they are doing is not right; these are the realities that steal our joy and pride as mothers.”
We continue our conversation and Mrs. Mukwewa cites that the official closing date of the mine has been pronounced, 2013. Here her dream has the potential to become even more impactful, as the closure of the mine may mean that more girls will come to her for training. Her vision is to see poverty eradicated by involving women in the business of agriculture. To this end, she liaises with SPEDU, the Selibe – Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit, which has been mandated by the government to diversify the economy of this town when the mine collapses. SPEDU has been also set up to help or assist in the application of loans and plots of land for the residents of this town. She explains her passion for her community and that she wants to achieve a lot. She says she wants to empower women economically because men in this community abuse women because they are not economically fit for success or self-sustenance in our society . With farming she believes she can overcome poverty as long as these women will follow her leadership.
The following day, we went to her farm, where I found pigs, fowls, her farm house, and hectares of land for ploughing by the farm workers. It was a beautiful place—very picturesque with a small hill behind the house.
Her biggest challenge in trying to unleash her potential and accomplish her goals, is not coincidentally Botswana’s biggest issue: HIV/AIDS, which is especially rampant in her region. There is a serious challenge of medical check-ups, collection of ARV Drugs, however life seems to be meaningful when they have achieved all their duties at the end of the day. As HIV/AIDS is a devastating experience in this town, she says she does not discriminate against anyone and is intent on welcoming even the affected. “We mingle with them with love and respect. In this way, they can benefit from others in the group.”
Land issues and infrastructure development remains a challenge, as Botswana remains a “dark country,” unlike South Africa where the whole country is networked with reliable electrical power. Also the constitution of Botswana is a serious problem; the legislative law is not friendly to women. If a woman wants a loan, nothing can be done in the absence of her spouse and all the documents must be first signed by her husband. “If this law could be abolished, we would not experience such delays,” she suggests.
Despite the apparent success of Mrs. Mukwewa’s efforts and her trustworthy demeanor, there are still women who are reluctant to go along with her efforts to empower them. They murmur words of failure and complain without ceasing. She reveals this with pain since the very women she wants to impact and aims to empower economically are the ones who reject her advices, often because of illiteracy and distrust.
In the room in which we sit, she searches her books and files on her bookshelf and finally comes up with a pamphlet entitled, “PRESENTATION TO THE SALGA WOMEN IN PROVINCIAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT SUMMIT.” It reads:
16TH – 18TH AUGUST 2009
BLOEMFONTEIN, SOUTH AFRICA,
BY BALA WOMEN’S COMMISSION - BOTSWANA
SELIBE – PHIKWE TOWN COUNCIL
Inside the pamphlet is the speech she presented at the summit and I am so excited to have the privilege of reading her words and imagining the scene. While I sit, still in awe, she quickly heads to her DVD rack and retrieves a brand new DVD, “ROAD MAP TO QUALITY,” with a picture of a Venda woman. It is a presentation for The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, developed in 2008.
We shake hands as it is time for me to leave, but Mrs. Mukwewa offers me a lift home. On the way, she tells me she is grateful to me for my efforts. Yet, I am the grateful one: I am excited to be rubbing my shoulder with her. The privilege, the access to know about her and what she is doing has greatly impacted me. I am strengthened to realize that there are women of Mrs. Mukwewa’s caliber in my community. I am fulfilled by the alignment of our values and our hopes for the future.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.