Friday, November 11, 2011


Samantha Mogwe will be hosting her very first solo performance at the NO 1 ladies Opera House on 2 and 3 December 2011 at 630pm. The evening of the 2nd is strictly by invitation.

I've heard my eye on this young lady for a while now and am looking forward to this acoustic showcase.

In case you haven't heard of her she is

Ø Winner of the Gabz Karaoke Idols in 2004

Ø Top 24 finalist of African Idols as the only representative from Botswana

Ø 2nd runner up for My African Dream Junior singing category in 2003

Ø Performed with the Infinite Live poets on a regular basis

Ø Worked with various artists such as Andreattah Chuma, Kast, Beat Premiers, Concept, and Stretch

Ø Won an award for MAD Living the dream in 2010

Thursday, October 27, 2011

langa means sun

I am back in Botswana - first email I get is a memo from the meteorological services telling me I should look forward to temperatures of up to 41 degrees Celsius. I want the sun and a bit of shine but methinks this a tad too much. If nothing gives I might actually have to consider sunscreen and those floppy hats you have to wear with a summer-dress...

Random piece of information there is a place called Mpumalanga in South Africa I'm told it means place of the sun/where the sun comes from. I wonder whether it is in anyway linked to my tribe the baKalanga might explain why my family name is Dema (which means black) and why just about everybody I'm related to is a shade of sunloved brown.

But I digress as part of the Poetry Africa on tour showcase I've been in Malawi, Zimbabwe and all over South Africa for last two weeks and then some, immersed in words however its too hot to blog coherently so I'll upload some pics from the tour soon and let them do the talking

Call for entries: Commonwealth Book Prize and Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Call for entries: Commonwealth Book Prize and Commonwealth Short Story Prize
Commonwealth Writers – a world of new fiction

The Commonwealth Foundation has made the call for entries for the new Commonwealth Book Prize and Commonwealth Short Story Prize. The prizes are part of a new initiative, Commonwealth Writers, an online hub to inspire, inform and create a community of writers from all over the world. Together with the prizes, Commonwealth Writers unearths, develops and promotes the best new fiction from across the Commonwealth. Awarded for best first book, the Commonwealth Book Prize is open to writers who have had their first novel (full length work of fiction) published between 1 January and 31 December 2011. Regional winners receive £2,500 and the overall winner receives £10,000. The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2000-5000 words). Regional winners receive £1,000 and the overall winner receives £5,000. The winners will be announced in June 2012.

Chair of the Commonwealth Book Prize, Margaret Busby said “The significance of a prize such as this becomes greater with each year. It is vital to encourage and celebrate the talent of newly emerging novelists whose words have the potential to inspire and enrich the entire literary world. Searching out and promoting the best first books of fiction internationally is a serious task, a great honour and a wonderful challenge.”

Chair of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, Bernardine Evaristo said “This wonderful prize will turn the spotlight on the increasingly popular short story form and aims to support and encourage short story writers worldwide.”

As one of the Commonwealth Foundation’s culture programmes, Commonwealth Writers works in partnership with international literary organisations, the wider cultural industries and civil society to help writers develop their craft. Commonwealth Writers is a forum where members can debate the future of publishing, get advice from established authors and ask questions of our writer in residence.

Commonwealth Foundation Director, Danny Sriskandarajah said “As one of the Commonwealth Foundation’s flagship projects, I’m delighted that we’re putting the prizes firmly on the contemporary map of new writing and launching a dedicated Commonwealth Writers website to extend our global reach.”

Commonwealth Foundation
Marlborough House
Pall Mall
London SW1Y 5HY
United Kingdom

Web: or you can also visit the writers association of botswana (wabo) blog for the rules

Thursday, September 29, 2011


15th POETRY AFRICA - International Poetry FestivalA select group of 20 participants from 12 different countries make up the exciting line-up of the 15th Poetry Africa international poetry festival. Hosted by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal) and made possible through core funding from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund and other valued partners, Poetry Africa runs in Durban from 17 to 21 October at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, with the festival finale at BAT Centre on 22 October. Poetry Africa touring programmes will also feature in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Johannesburg and Cape Town between 8 and 15 October.

The impressive diversity of the programmes will appeal to all poetic palettes, and audiences can expect sharp social and political commentary, innovative, insightful and deeply personal approaches to poetry, streetwise and sassy performances, and a strong spike of contemporary rap and hip hop. With the COP 17 conference on climate change taking place in Durban in November the legendary teaser presentation of all the poets on opening night, 17 October, will focus on environmental and planetary challenges. Thereafter, the general Poetry Africa format is for five poets to perform each evening, with the exception of the festival finale at Bat Centre on closing night.Tuesday 18 October features Dashen Naicker, Myesha Jenkins, Khadijatou, Raul Zurita and Shailja Patel. A visible presence on the Joburg scene for the past 15 years, activist, writer and performer Jenkins, was last seen on Durban stages in the Feelah Sistah Collective in 2005. Prior to her stage appearance, Jenkins will be launching her second collection of poetry, Flight of Dreams. UK-based Khadijatou is well-known through underground poetry and jazz scenes, for her voice and signature djembe drum. She is also the founding director and producer of Step Afrika! Bursting through the ranks in recent years is Durban-born poet Dashen Naicker, and winner of the Durban SlamJam at last year's Poetry Africa. One of Latin America's most powerful and controversial voices is Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, whose numerous awards include the Chilean National Prize for Literature and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Zurita's Dantean trilogy of books about the demise that followed the military overthrowing of democracy in Chile, was composed over a span of 15 years.

Letters to DennisShailja Patel of Kenya has been chosen as the 2011 Letters to Dennis poet, a programme slot instituted last year in honour of late activist and poet Dennis Brutus. Trained as a political scientist and accountant, this brilliant poet and committed activist is a founding member of Kenyans for Peace, Truth and Justice (KPTJ). The recipient of numerous awards and with work translated into 15 languages, Patel was named by the African Women's Development Fund as one of Fifty Inspirational African Feminists for the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. Starting with a brief performance by Zimbabwean mbira maestro Chiwoniso, music elements are prominent in the Wednesday programme on 19 October that showcases Patrice Treuthardt (Reunion), Uzinzo, TJ Dema (Botswana), Jaap Blonk (Netherlands), and Didier Awadi (Senegal). Patrice Treuthardt is an advocate for the preservation of the Creole language in Réunion, Treuthardt defied the nation's official ban and his first book of poetry in 1978, was a long poem written entirely in Creole. The poetry of Eastern Cape-born, Cape Town-based artist, Uzinzo, deals with personal and spiritual identity, exploring the struggles and victories of a young African man in modern day society. Dynamic spoken-word artist TJ Dema is also chairperson of The Writers Association of Botswana.. and the founding member of the Exoduslivepoetry! collective, who have coordinated Botswana's sole annual poetry festival since 2004. Self-taught composer, performer, musician and poet Jaap Blonk from The Netherlands, has developed a unique form of sound poetry that absolutely challenges pre-conceptions of what poetry, and language, should be. Closing the evening is Senegal's Didier Awadi, one of the most prominent artists to have emerged from Africa's Francophone rap scene. With lyrical content underpinned by a strong African consciousness, Awadi skillfully fuses western aesthetics and African heritage.

Thursday 20 October commences with the awarding of the Sol Plaatjie European Union Poetry Award, and in the book launch slot immediately prior to the show Jacana will unveil an anthology of poetry submitted for the competition. Featured poets for the night are David wa Maahlamela, Fernando Réndon (Colombia), Sandile Dikeni, Niyi Osundare (Nigeria) and Oswald Mtshali. Poet and prose writer David wa the recipient of a number of awards, including the PanSALB Multilingualism Award, notably being recognized for his work in arts development in the Limpopo province. With three excellent collections of poetry to his credit, provocative wordsmithSandile Dikeni makes a much-welcomed return to the Poetry Africa stage where he last performed exactly ten years ago. Fernando Réndon is an exceptional Colombian poet and visionary who founded the Latin American poetry magazine, Prometeo, and co-founded the International Poetry Festival of Medellin. Now acknowledged as the world's largest poetry festival, it received in 2006 the Right Livelihood award, commonly referred to as the Alternative Nobel Prize. Réndon also initiated the recently formed World Poetry Movement. Thursday also includes the prolific and award-winning Niyi Osundare. A leading figure in the popularization of written poetry in Nigeria, with over 16 poetry books, four plays, two books of essays and numerous scholarly articles and reviews, Osundare's works have been translated into numerous languages. Oswald MtshaliReturning to the province of his birth is a giant of the South African literary landscape, Oswald Mtshali. His seminal first book, Sounds of a Cowhide Drum (1971), which explored the banality and extremity of apartheid through the eyes of working men in South Africa, was one of the first books by a black South African poet to be widely distributed. Mtshali's numerous awards include the South African Lifetime Achievement Literary Award (SALA) from the Department of Arts and Culture in 2007. The programme of Friday 21 October kicks off with poetry from the winners of the Poetry Africa schools poetry competition, before Phelelani Makhanya, Dikson (Zimbabwe), Mphutlane wa Bofelo, Gabeba Baderoon and Joshua Bennett (USA) take to the stage. Phelelani Makhanya is a member of Uhuru Poets, based at the Luthuli Museum, and Bare Thoughts at the University of Zululand where he works. A regular participant in Durban poetry circles, Mphutlane wa Bofelo has published a number of poetry books, articles and stories. He is a previous winner of the Poetry Africa SlamJam. From Zimbabwe, and a well-respected poet on the spoken word and slam scene there, is Dikson. Dikson has also collaborated on a number of fusion projects, including with the all-female ensemble WoCalling. Author, academic, and celebrated poet, Gabeba Baderoon, has produced three well-received collections of exquisite poetry - she is recipient of the DaimlerChrysler Poetry Award amongst others. Bound to raise the early-weekend tempo will be award-winning US-born performance poet Joshua Bennett. Bennett has recited at events such as The Sundance Film Festival, the NAACP Image Awards, and President Obama's Evening of Poetry and Music.Five talented Poetry Africa Prelude Poets have been selected as a preface to the main line-up on certain evenings. Zuhaira 'Lerato' Esau and Sifiso Mtolo present their poetry on Tuesday, 18 October; Tumelo Khoza and Juba deliver on Wednesday, 19 October; and Siyabonga Mpungose appears on Friday, 21 October. Festival book launches all take place at the Wellington Tavern Deck, Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, from 18h45-19h15. Myesha Jenkins' Dream of Flight (Gecko Publishing)will be launched on Tuesday, 18 October, while No Serenity Here (World Knowledge Publishers) by Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, Isabel Ferrin-Aguirre and Xiao Kaiyu, will be launched on Wednesday, 19 October. Thursday, 20 October sees the launch of The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology 2011 (Jacana Media), while Conduit by Sarah Frost (Modjaji Books) is to be launched on Friday, 21 October. Music performances also include the eclectic Sazi Dlamini and Ndikho Xaba, and a rocking finale on closing night by Tidal Waves. The busy day programme includes seminars, workshops and activities at tertiary institutions and community centres, engagement with local poetry groups, a prison poetry programme, open mic opportunities and visits by the poets to thirty schools in Durban and surrounding areas to exchange poetry and ideas about poetry with young learners. The high-paced Durban SlamJam takes place at 16h45 at BAT Centre on Saturday 22 October, featuring Dikson, Mphutlane wa Bofelo, Phelalani Makhanya, Joshua Bennett and Sandile Dikeni. Ticket prices at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre: R30 (R15 for students and pensioners). Book at Computicket (Tel: 083 915 8000 or or at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from 18h30. Closing night at the BAT Centre: R50. There is no charge for workshops and seminars. No advance bookings for BAT Centre.Poetry Africa on TourPoetry Africa performance showcases take place in Blantyre (8th October), Johannesburg (11th), Harare (13th), and Cape Town (15th) with seminars, workshops, talks, panel discussions and schools programmes in some of the centres. The tour includes a number of participants who do not feature in the afore-mentioned Durban programme, such as Kwame Dawes, Chris Abani, Lebo Mashile and Chiwoniso. Acclaimed writer of poetry, fiction, nonfiction and plays Kwame Dawes, who was born in Ghana but spent most of his childhood and early adult life in Jamaica. He is also an actor, playwright, producer, broadcaster, and was the lead singer in Ujamaa, a reggae band. Winner of a Pushcart Prize, Dawes has produced a prolific sixteen collections of fine poetry. Controversial Nigerian-born Chris Abani's first novel got him arrested, and his play Song of a Broken Flute (1990), resulted in a sentence as a political prisoner. He is the recipient of major PEN awards, and his most recent book of poetry, Sanctificum (2010), is a sequence of linked poems, combining religious ritual, the Igbo language of his Nigerian homeland and reggae rhythms. Always a popular performer is the iconicSouth African poet, MC, actress, television presenter and producer Lebo Mashile, who in 2006 was awarded the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa for her first poetry collection. Adding a musical touch is Chiwoniso (Zimbabwe), who has emerged as one of the defining experts in the art of mbira playing, accompanied by her incredible singing. Other participants on the tour include Didier Awadi (Senegal),TJ Dema (Botswana), Shailja Patel (Kenya), Jaap Blonk (Netherlands), Khadijatou (UK), Tibass Kangu (DRC). Gabeba Baderoon and Sandile Dikeni present in Cape Town; Myesha Jenkins and Oswald Mtshali in Johannesburg. Talented Malawian poets Babangoni Kubvala Chisale, Benedicto Wokomaatani Malunga and Qabaniso 'Q' participate in the Blantyre Showcase; Zimbabweans Dikson and Xapa will share their skills in Harare.Click here for participant biographies

Visit for other information or contact the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Centre for Creative Arts on 031 260 2506/1816 or e-mail media queries contact: Sharlene Versfeld Tel: +27 31-8115628 Fax: 0866827334 Email: Organized by the Centre for Creative Arts (University of KwaZulu-Natal), the 15th Poetry Africa International Poetry Festival is supported by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (principal funder), Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (HIVOS), Mimeta, French Institute of South Africa and the City of Durban.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


The Dreaming Is A Gift For Me poetry audio anthology is out.

12 Batswana poets. 3 Languages (primarily English with featured Setswana and iKalanga). 2 Musicians. 1 CD.

The contributing poets include Barolong Seboni, Moroka Moreri, Mandisa Mabuthoe, Lesego Nchunga, Joshua Machao, Angell Nthoi, Boipelo Seleke, Malcolm Champane, Tshireletso Motlogelwa, Kabelo Mereyotlhe, Tshipa & myself (TJ Dema).

You can read a review by Monsieur Polk here-poets-one-cd-immortality-deserved/

The CD is available at Mafia Soul (Main Mall & Riverwalk) as well as Jazellas (Craft Market & in Maun), Mowana Hotel (Kasane). International distribution to be announced soon.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

FISHING FOR THE FUTURE: Cyber tea with Jacob Nthoiwa

I was recently invited to Johannesburg to perform on behalf of a regional NGO, I set aside some down time and met with up a few of my Johannesburg based friends to do some catching up. I love traveling but I cant imagine raising my children anywhere but here, Botswana has her fair share of challenges but I think I'm genetically coded to keep coming back home. Still it doesn't really come as too much of a surprise that there are a number of Batswana are ‘out there’ doing good honest work and making a meal of the opportunities their self imposed vocational exile brings them. Jacob Kelebogile Nthoiwa is a Motswana business and technology journalist for ITWeb and is currently based in Sandton, Johannesburg. He pulls no punches when I ask him whats missing at home, why the need to seek opportunities elsewhere?

I believe our country still lacks journalist. When I say journalists I do not mean content farmers or people who gather and compile information. There are still a few journalists who question issues and investigate deeper into them so they can deliver informed news to the people. We also miss specialist journalists like business journalists, technology journalists, medical journalists, and financial journalists just to mention a few. What I have observed is that each and every journalist wants to go into entertainment or politics. Which leaves a big hole in the other sectors of Botswana economy.

Jacob has a BA in English from the University of Botswana and a Post Graduate Certificate in Financial Journalism from Wits University. He comes from a family of accountants from both his brothers, one a practitioner and the other an accountancy student, to his mother who is with the Auditor General here in Gaborone. His father a retired police officer now runs a small farm on the outskirts of Gaborone.We talk to him about how it all began

The beginning
I grew up basically in every part of Botswana. I was born in the mining town of Selibe Phikwe then shortly afterwards moved to my home village to stay with my grand mother. I later went back to Selibe Phikwe where I started my primary school then later Masunga. I moved to Francistown then went off to live in a small village near Selibe Phikwe called Semolale for a year where I finished off my primary school education. I later moved to Johannesburg to stay with an aunt, a fter that I went back to Francistown then Shakawe, Gumare and Maun. In 1999 I moved to Gaborone where I started my tertiary education the following year. The reason I moved so much is that my parents were always getting transferred to different parts of the country.

To teach or not to teach
After finishing my studies at the University of Botswana I couldn’t find work and by then I desperately wanted to be a writer. The market was clogged. I decided to find a job outside Botswana to avoid being a teacher as I studied Humanities and most of us who graduated there ended up doing PGDE and became teachers if we were not lucky to get into the corporate space. I was unlucky I couldn’t find a job in the corporate world. One day I decided to pack my bags and try my luck in Johannesburg and it actually paid off, within a couple of months I had a job.

Jozi now
Basically during the week I wake up at around 5am in the morning and start reading global news. I always want to know what has been happening around the globe while I was asleep. Then I go on to check my e-mails after that I attend to all the social media sites that I subscribe to. I then hit the gym and I am off to work. At work it is basically all about news gathering going to events and conducting interviews either face to face or telephonically. Then afterwards since it’s a daily, I write down the stories and submit them and do some brainstorming in preparation for the following day. During the day I check the news sites for the developments taking place around the world. I end my day by joining friends for a quick drink and dinner. I end my day with a dose of news then check and reply my e-mails and then I study because technology is an ever evolving industry and once you relax you are left behind. On weekends its basically relaxing and visiting friends and attending all the social functions that I get invited to.

5 year Ambition
I always wanted to be a full time novel writer. I am working on a couple of manuscripts hopefully by then I would be a published writer working on promoting my work. I also want to run an exchange programme for young Batswana writers in future in order to develop literacy in the country.

More on the missing
Our country still lacks public relations practitioners. These people can help sell our country so much. We need a career guidance strategy in the country, as well as institutions, which can deliver diverse courses. What shocked me the other day is that Botswana has so many people who studied fashion design, graphic design and there is nowhere these graduates are going to find employment, as we do not have clothing factories in the country. It is almost impossible for all of them or just 20% of them to run fashion houses as the population in the country is so small.

Gifts from the diaspora
Basically I will bring knowledge especially in the business side of media which I have learnt in Johannesburg and what I will learn in future. We should always travel and learn at every point of lives or we get left behind ...people should not rely on the government. We should go out there and we will actually see that our country has potential.

What I have noticed about people in our country is that we are not a reading nation. We should develop the culture of reading. It helps a lot because nowadays we cannot rely on word of mouth. There is so much information out there to be consumed and we should take advantage of it.

It comes as no surprise that with a job that has allowed him a fair bit of travel over the last couple of years Jacob is now considering a move even further afield either to "New York or London at the end of September. There might be offers in those two cities that I cannot reveal at the moment."

Monday, August 29, 2011


In 2010 Botswana won her first Gold medal at the Commonwealth games, today we - royal we- won our first gold medal at the World Championships. Amantle Montsho who won both these medals was also the first Motswana woman to compete in the Olympics. Today she won the 400m in a national record time of 49.56 seconds, right behind her was 200m three-time champion Allyson Felix (America) with a 49.59 finish, Russia's Anastasiya Kapachinskaya came in third in 50.24 seconds.

Facebook (on the Botswana end) is going crazy with congratulatory status updates and postings of various videos.

Twenty eight year old Amantle hails from the village of Mabudutsa, although her athleticism was nurtured while she was a student in Maun. She has come a long way since then, winning along the way - The Botswana National Sports Council's Sportswoman of the year and Sportsperson of the year. She trains at the High Performance Training Center in Dakar, Senegal.

Well done Amantle, we are all very proud.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Once in a while the city of Gaborone shakes the dust off her pretty feet, startling her dancing rattles (matlhoa) into a staccatto whisper, she crawls up from under her own weight and yells "le rona re teng ka kwano".

On Saturday afternoon I attended a Writing Association of Botswana short story workshop by Wame Molefhe you can read about it here. We had lots of fun working our way enthusiastically through the practical execises before some of us shyly read the results out loud, and then this evening another treat. Maru A Pula art teacher and renowned artist Steve Jobson, and live performance artist Moratiwa Molema who is also a member of the Artfunctionz crew alongside Monsieur Polk and The Unseen DJ hosted an open multimedia performance at the Thapong Visual Arts Center.

Titled Bargain Boom Bust it is based very loosely on English artist William Hogarth's A Rake's progress - a series of eight paintings depicting 'the decline and fall of Tom Rakewell the spendthrift son and heir of a rich merchant, who comes to London, wastes all his money on luxurious living, prostitution and gambling, and as a consequence is imprisoned in the Fleet Prison and ultimately Bedlam'(wikipedia). All, most, some of this is translated into an organic fusion of dance, poetry, installation art, music, sound, projection and light in a very engaging and individualistic manner. Its not a wholly cohesive project but I think that was either deliberate or was a natural outcome of the working process. Artists all wrote or choreographed their own material which was then linked into a sequence of sorts. Other than the great craftsmanship exhibited by whoever penciled/charcoaled the figures projected onto white sheets (I suspect its Jobson) my favouite scene has to be the silhouette striptease-dance because it was ever so cleverly done, with none of the too-muchness that an outright undressing in the open might have held for some folks.

Jobson says this production has ambitions to grow within and beyond Botswana's borders by involving additional local and international artists. The closing video clip was sent in from outside the country by Friedeman Luka and though not integrated fully into the production speaks to that process having already begun.

The cast boasts of both well established creatives and promising young talent; Moratiwa Molema, Karabo Maselela, Sibongile Phiri, JB, B Note, Bundu Lama and off 'screen' Kgotla Ntsima, Steve Jobson, Inga Ritter, Andrija Klaric, Vivek Kamokar as well as Nikola Gaytanjie.

Although the event was held at Thapong, Maitisong provided technical assistance in support of the production. Let us hope this is only the beginning. I will put up some photographs of tonight's contemporary interpretation of 18th century sequential art when I can get them, I think they'll show a better story than I could ever tell. Goodnight world

Thursday, August 18, 2011

WHEN EVERYONE ELSE IS ASLEEP: an encounter with José Luís Peixoto in Botswana

'To write is to organise ideas...something that by itself isn't necessarily organised,' José Luís Peixoto.

'José Luís Peixoto is Portugal's most acclaimed, prize winning young novelist,' this is the first line in a write up Sandra Pires from the Instituto Camoes Lectureship at University of Botswana passes around as the author introduces himself.

Born in a small village off Portugal's southern interior in 1974 (a few months after the carnation revolution that put an end to authoritian dictatorship) José finds himself, sense of humour intact, in a University of Botswana faculty of humanities committee room after a hectic flight. There are 12 folks ranging from UB lecturers Tiro Sebina, Mary Lederer & Leloba Molema as well as Lapologa editor Ngozi Chukura to a few faces that bear the telltale signs of a just beginning foray into study. We may be few but he is charming and comfortable in the role of visiting author, as he should be with his first novel accepted for publication at age 25 having since been translated into more than 20 languages. He has written broadly across various genres from music lyrics to novels sometimes fusing autobiography with fiction, theatre play with poetry.

We speak about everything from translation "I leave it to other people its not my responsibility," he says with a smile - to the importance of not just reading but listening as one way that feeds writing. Upon request he reads excerpts from the closing chapters of three books, the poet in him boldly jumps out from beneath each breath held between the narrative. Even though he says he now writes more prose than poetry methinks that is a calling the Gods never take back.

We find out mid conversation that a street, actually the street where he was born and where his mother still lives was recently named after him - and how his amused (and no doubt proud) mother receives mail with her son's name as part of her address.

Having never been there I'm in love with the idea of all things Portoguese; the food, the whitewashed walls, I even dabbled in learning the language so I could better understand one visiting capoeira* instructor's attempts at making me a capoerista, I envy her lengthy coastline and now, her poetry or for now at least the sound of it.

He may very well be a prize winning novelist but I think he is a storyteller first, mediums are just that, a way to translate our experience or perception to the page or the stage. Please visit wikipedia/Peixoto for a bit more on the man and his work. While in Botswana José will run a creative writing workshop before heading to Namibia and South Africa.

*An Afro-Brazilian dance martial arts

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

BATSWANA doing business creatively: Mpho Laing

You know, as over-the-top as people that don’t know me may view me, ke ngwanyana hela wa Serowe, that takes anything that comes and doesn’t fuss. With that said though, I say, there is a totally exciting and different world out there that is worth exploring. This exposure helps one appreciate both the finer things and little things in life. So as much as I may at times get frustrated with the pace of things back home and snail-pace growth of my favourite industry, fashion/entertainment, I still appreciate being a Motswana and the unique opportunities I’ve been showered with in my beloved country.”

This week we speak with Mpho Zcephalya LAING better known as Ms Laing within Gaborone’s fashion-aware community. She has had and continues to enjoy a successful career in lifestyle consultancy as fashion editor, stylist and events coordinator. Born in Serowe, Botswana she currently lives between Gaborone and Lagos, Nigeria. Why you ask, well she is Project Manager – West Africa, for Global Village Partnerships; an International Company that is in over fifty countries around the world.

It’s always been my dream to come to Nigeria. Having met a few Nigerians in RSA, the US and Malaysia; their confidence, egos and on top of the world personas intrigued me. And me being me, I had to come to the source of all the excitement, haha!

My role is to produce the Best of Nigeria series, which basically celebrates the success stories of this country through profiling the leaders in various industries – best of entrepreneurs and enterprises. I still fly the Flag high in the Fashion and Cultural industries, as work progresses in Naija.

A day in the life of Mpho
Interestingly, I do not have one day that’s similar to the other. On a normal basis it is emails before I head off to see various prospective clients to make presentations, or in some instances to follow-up on the clients I had met before. Being the social being I am, early evenings are mostly filled with cocktails, corporate receptions or drinks with new contacts. These kind of set-ups have proved to be the best network platforms thus far. And simply put, I’ve been hit by the Naija bug!

We mention her recent stint as covergirl for local lifestyle magazine Lapologa and her upcoming feature in Naija's FAB mag – wondering if the 'behind the scenes' girl who used to be a wardrobe consultant for magazine and film alike has become GC’s IT girl?
Haha! IT girl sounds so cheesy... Though it is always great to be appreciated. Grown-up girls like me don’t really look at things like that as the ultimate or even a barometer for our worth. Otherwise, I would grow a bigger head in Lagos, because I feature in weekly publications more than I can count; this here is a Media and Red Carpet buzz society. There are many other things that I need to achieve than be on a cover of a magazine. When I am where I want to be, I’ll still be happy with being behind-the-scenes.

On what to expect from Mpho in the next couple of years
More like, what do I expect from me. I’ve never been the one to conform to societal pressures nor beat myself up to expectations by external sources. Like they say, ‘The unknown is yet to be discovered,’ and I am on my journey.

Despite this wanderlust, does she ever miss home
Other than magwinya, serobe, bogobe ja lerotse le seswaa*; it has to be the laid back peace of mind that is unique to this Gem of Africa we call Botswana. We don’t realise this sometimes, but we are a special lot with priceless presence. Most important on that list is the love of my life - my darling daughter Lame and family, of course.

Having previously worked on a Best of Botswana book we ask her about her association with that particular initiative
That is a project that will always stay close to my heart. What more can a girl ask for than play a major role in helping brand her country and celebrate the success stories with the whole world. I Managed the project and worked with my friend and ‘brother,’ Thapelo Letsholo from scratch. This has inspired my move to West Africa to run and Manage the project out here, as a shareholder too.

The state of fashion in Botswana– is there an industry or isn’t there
Quite interesting that just a year ago, this wasn’t a very appealing industry to most, but today we are talking a different language. Most young girls want to be models, thanks to the likes of Kaone Kario and beauty Queens like Emma Wareus, and almost every fashion design student/graduate wants to host a fashion week or run a modelling agency. Question is, do we have a big market to absorb all these activities or are we just going to run down the quality and expectations of the consumer to a point where we lose the little interest we’ve so far managed to build? Major players....hmmm, let’s give it a few more years.

We talk Naija
It is beyond words how I’ve been embraced by this non-conventional, challenging, exciting, chaotic, energetic and extreme society. I have never felt like this about any other country I have been to. The most interesting thing about Nigeria is that you either love it or loath it, and there is also a very thin line between treading the right circles and the wrong ones. And if you are here for work, the influential and right circles are a priority.

I love the confidence and energy that Nigerian people hold within them, be it a cook, a driver, a CEO or a criminal, they give their all into what they do and aspire to be the greatest. Life is expensive here, so one cannot afford to be redundant. And I just chuckle when people back home say all these ignorant and negative things about Naija, because there is a lot we could learn from this ‘work hard, play hard’ nation. And of course, they could learn a few things from us too.

Mpho’s last words
My ultimate dream is to see Nigerian investors spend their money in Botswana, something a lot of them would love to do but have never explored, as bigger and more aggressive markets like RSA have appealed to them more. There is a lot we could also bring into this country. These are a few things I am working on at the moment, including very close to my heart project that I am launching end of August in Gabs. I’ll be partnering with Urban Space to import Ankara (Traditional Fabric) female designs to Botswana. Quite excited about this venture and looking forward to its growth.

We’ll be watching this space dressed no doubt in the Ankaras Mpho is soon bringing to our shores …

* a list of Setswana cuisine including but not limited to tripe and freshly ground beef

Monday, August 8, 2011


2 August 2011


Nominations have now closed for Southbank Centre’s Poetry Parnassus – set to be the largest poetry festival ever staged in the UK, but although over 1,500 nominations have been received, more African poets are still needed.

There have been no nominations for poets from: Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia or Zambia.

There have only been a few nominations for poets from: Angola, Cameroon, Cape Verdi, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Ivory Coast (Cote-d’Ivoire), Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

About Poetry Parnassus
205 poets, one from each competing Olympic nation, will come to Southbank Centre for the week-long celebratory gathering from 26 June – 2 July 2012 as part of the finale of the Cultural Olympiad; the London 2012 Festival. This hugely ambitious Southbank Centre project, led by Artistic Director Jude Kelly and Artist in Residence Simon Armitage, will include readings, workshops and a final gala event with all the poets. Every poet will also contribute a poem in their own language to be published in The World Record, a book which will champion translation and be housed in the Southbank Centre’s Saison Poetry Library.

Jude Kelly, Southbank Centre Artistic Director said:
‘Poetry Parnassus will be a landmark event in the Cultural Olympiad – a week-long gathering of poets, for poetry’s sake, to celebrate language, diversity and a sense of global togetherness. By bringing poets to London from Samoa to Senegal, Tonga to Azerbaijan we go back to the roots of Poetry International, the festival that Ted Hughes and Patrick Garland launched at the Royal Festival Hall in 1967, to address notions of free speech, community and peace through poetry.’

Simon Armitage, Southbank Centre Artist in Residence said:
“Southbank Centre’s Poetry Parnassus draws inspiration from Mount Parnassus in Greece – one of poetry’s spiritual and mythical heartlands, the home of the lyricist Orpheus and the dwelling place of the poetic Muses. My hunch is that this will be the biggest poetry event ever - a truly global coming together of poets and a monumental poetic happening worthy of the spirit and history of the Olympics themselves.”

Members of the public can nominate African poets via the weblink below, between now and 14 August 2011. A panel including Simon Armitage will then shortlist and the final selection of poets will be announced in spring 2012.

Poetry Parnassus patrons include: Carol Ann Duffy, Sir Andrew Motion, Melvyn Bragg, Michael Billington, Mark Lawson, Seamus Heaney, Joan Bakewell and Antony Gormley.

Poetry Parnassus partners include: the Arts Council, the British Council, the Poetry Society, the Poetry Book Society, the Poetry School and The Reading Agency.

For further press information, contact Katie Toms on 0207 921 0926 or

Notes to Editors
Southbank Centre is the UK’s largest arts centre, occupying a 21-acre site that sits in the midst of London’s most vibrant cultural quarter on the South Bank of the Thames. The site has an extraordinary creative and architectural history stretching back to the 1951 Festival of Britain. Southbank Centre is home to the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and the Hayward Gallery as well as The Saison Poetry Library and the Arts Council Collection. The Royal Festival Hall reopened in June 2007 following the major refurbishment of the Hall and redevelopment of the surrounding area and facilities.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


I am enroute to the airport to catch a flight to Johannesburg I've been invited to share words at the OSISA women's week.

Lat night the United States Embassy in Botswana was hosting Yewande Austin whos been in GC running workshops in and around the city especially with Stepping Stones International. I 'll blog more about them when I get back. It was an exciting educational show even for someone who is a super laymen with all things music such as myself. I'm still humming Amazing Grace.

Earlier in the day The No-1-Ladies-Opera-House  hosted their bimonthly Farmers and Crafts market - worth experiencing and do pass by my SAUTI Design stall if you do make it next time around.

Gadda go. Dont do anything I wouldn't do.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Word on the street - the internet actually, says poet and current artist in residence at the Southbank Centre, Simon Armitage is planning a super exciting poetry event billed for June 26 - July 2, 2012.

Parnassus is, so I've been told, a mountain in Greece where according to Greek mythology the Muses live and it is also the mythological home of poetry and music.

Back to the festival concept, basically 1 poet from each of the 205 countries will represent themselves and their country, over a week in London. There will be various readings, talks and performances. If you are a UK based translator or interpreter there is an opportunity for you to be involved with what promises to be a truly global event.

You have until July 22, 2011 to nominate the poet you want to represent your country or any other competing commonwealth country. Get voting !

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


A couple of months ago I was asked to adjudicate the annual Bessie Head Literature Awards poetry section. This is one of very few writing awards Botswana has and the short story and poetry section alternate annually. The winners have just been announced and the press release is below and contains information about the open prize giving ceremony.


The BESSIE HEAD HERITAGE TRUST, together with Pentagon Publishers, is pleased to announce the winners of the 2011 BESSIE HEAD LITERATURE AWARDS.

In the category of NOVEL, the winner is Ms. Tlotlo Pearl Tsamaase for her manuscript Unlettered Skies of the Sublime. The first runner-up is Mr. Service Motsamai Monyamane for Mma-Shirley’s Children, and the second runner-up is Mr Moreetsi Pius Gabang for Cryout. The winner will receive a cash prize of P2, 500.00, the first runner-up will receive P1 200.00, and the third runner up will receive P800.

In the SHORT STORY category, the winner is Mr Boikhutso Robert for a story entitled “The
Zambezi Crocodiles”. The first runner-up is Ms. Rebaone Kenanao Motsumi for her
story “Incestous Scandal ... saving Grace”; the second runner-up is Ms Jocasta Tshomarelo
Bobeng for “The War of Animals and Plants”. The prize for the short story winner is P1, 500.00; for the second runner-up it is P900.00; and for the third runner-up it is P600.00.

The POETRY winner is Mr. John Hutcheson for a set of poems (“The Massacre of
Innocents”, “The Man”, and “Curse”). The first runner-up is Ms Lisa Reed for a set of poems
(“Buffalo Sunrise”, “Campfire”, and “The Joy of Africa”). The second runner-up is Ms. Bernice
Tiny Letlhare also for a set of poems (“Wisdom”, “Allegory of a Strong Being”, “What is Life”
and “People in the Street”). The poetry prize for the winner is P1, 200.00; for the first runner-up it is P800. 00 and for the second runner up it is P500.00.

On 24 July 2011, Ms Penelope Moanakwena, President of the Botswana Reading Association, will award the above prizes in the National Museum in Gaborone, in a ceremony beginning at 2:30p.m. at the National Museum in Gaborone. The event will include readings by the winners and runners-up, a launch of the works of the 2010 winners in book form, and an open mike session.
Pentagon Publishers will promote the titles of their BESSIE HEAD SERIES of writing in English from Botswana.

24 July 2011
2:30 pm
National Museum
, Gaborone
Free Admission

Saturday, July 9, 2011

GO TELL THE SUN by Wame Molefhe

Recently at the No 1 ladies Opera House there was launch of a short story collection by a Motswana writer named Wame Molefhe. Wame started writing short stories a little over half a decade ago, in 2008 she left her job to write full time. She has since written television scripts, contributed to collections geared and accepted for the school syllabus, published a children's collection of stories Just Once in 2009 and this past Saturday she launched her first 'adult' collection "Go Tell the sun."

Go tell the sun was published by South African publisher Modjaji this year (2011). The blurb by South African poet and writer Rustum Kozain says, " Wame Molefhe's stories have a gentle yet intimate and captivating feel to them...And through them the author brings to bear a woman's perspective on the societal mores in which sexual abuse, homophobia and AIDS, among others flourish and spread..." This and more is true but I digress, my focus is the launch.

Rre Batho Molema a leading authority on Setswana folklore and music introduced the 'cast' - two vocalists, a percussionist, a guitarist(all members of Kabo Leburu and Ethno Jazz band) and Wame herself. Although I've known Wame for years, we first met as part of a British Council initiative called Crossing Borders and now serve on the same writers' board, I had never actually heard her read but I've seen traces of the performer in the way she expresses herself about everyday things in regular conversation. It was a wonderful evening, the 2 stories she choose to read were read to music with vocalists turning some of the words or dilaogue into a musical refrain.

Even though Wame writes primarily in English - she is writing through it not necessarily in it - her stories are peppered with Setswana references, proverbs and phrases occassionally actually written in Setswana, the simplicity of the language is almost a blatant refusal to pen any words with more than 3 syllables, all the magic lies in the meaning condensed into each line. As a Motswana I can proudly say this book feels familiar, not because I've heard or read the stories before, but because these are our stories told in a sophisticated but readable way. Yes we have dimo (folklore's giant ) and mainane (our folktales) that we were raised on but we need to tell our right-now stories as well before they are past and forgotten. And as Kozain rightly says Wame's voice leaps gracefully from issues on identity and immigration, family and infertility, sexual orientation and social expectations with admirable dexterity.

When asked if she intends to ever write a novel, she stated that it was more likely to be a string of short stories masquerading as a novel. She feels her strength lies within the realm of the short story but one could argue that "Go Tell the Sun" is a novella of sorts - it's disjointed sequencing allows you to look at the 'same characters' from multiple angles. You know, kind of like reality, always so many versions and only so many sides of a situation each person can or is willing to see.

At the end of the evening, cocooned in blankets and throws, and full of cake and coffee, we had a QnA with the author and it was clear from the comments and feedback that everyone had enjoyed themselves. We are hoping for a repeat performance and Wame tells me she's considering it, we'll keep you posted.

If you have read the No 1 ladies detective agency series but would like an inside out perspective by a Motswana, of all things beyond the daily drinking of rooibos/redbush tea - do yourself a favour and pick up a copy of 'Go Tell the Sun' it may very well be a literary investment you'll be passing on to your daughter or son in the future.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Dkson is a young Zimbabwean slam poet currently on tour in Europe alongside the acclaimed all woman collective WoCalling. I caught him between gigs to ask him to speak in his capacity as artistic director of the Sonic Slam Chorus ensemble (of which, in an attempt at diffussing any bias I should point out, I am a part)

TJ: What is Sonic Slam Chorus? How would you describe it?

Sonic Slam Chorus is a fusion of spoken word, jazz and electroacoustic soundscapes to put it as simply as possible. It is a dynamic ensemble of artists who are passionate about their art, regardless of the diverse artistic and other, backgrounds they come from.

TJ: How did it come about

In late 2010 I had the idea of collaborating with a certain TJ Dema after sharing a few spoken word events. From this basic idea a sprawling and eclectic group of artists was born. I mentioned to Cecilie Giskemo (composer and vocalist from Norway) that I wanted her to join the collaboration with myself and TJ. We then toyed with the idea of bringing a guitarist on board and she was adamant that it had to be her fellow countryman Asbjoern Lerheim. That is the trend that the ensemble followed, a snowball picking up talented artists as it grew ranging from the young Zimbabwean talent V Mukarati on sax to sound engineer and producer AER (UK).

TJ: Whats different about this 'collective' of artists

SSC is undoubtedly unique. The original and continuing notion of giving spoken word a powerful and moving platform is something that we hold dear as an ensemble. All the while the sound stands alone so powerfully it makes me truly honoured to be part of a cast of such skilled and dedicated musicians. The direction that the group is heading in is very exciting. With the inclusion of AER (UK) we will expand upon our current product and bring in live elements of dubstep, drum and bass and ambient electronic effects. Eclectic is the word!

TJ: Where have you performed together

We performed at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) this year for the first time and the press release the day after our first ever show describes the experience better than I could:

‘’In this sometimes pressurised city we live in, when the sordidness of the mundane everyday, strives to turn your mind to dust, Sonic Slam Chorus storms in full blast blowing away the cobwebs that threaten to settle. The best way to describe this talented ensemble is perhaps as, an intense romance.
The visual they present , from the stage set up, down to the wardrobe all works to sustain this image of the romantic, not to mention the words spoken, whose content and emotion run so deep, you are forced to evaluate yourself. A piece of your past comes into full display in your mind and you reflect on the days where innocence was second nature and not a daily sacrifice.’’ Natalie Kombe (HIFAlutin)

TJ: Who are the members that make up this collective

A really nice, kind-hearted slam poet called Dikson ;-), Cecilie Giskemo, composer and vocalist (Norway), Asbjoern Lerheim, guitar/vox (Norway), V Mukarati, sax/clarinet/vox (Norway), Prudence Katomene, vox (Zim), James Duff, bass (UK), Thom Durrant, drums (UK), AER, DJ (UK), and of course TJ Dema, spoken word (Bots)!!!

TJ: What plans do you have for the future

We are focussing on 2 projects. If all goes well and funding comes through then SSC will tour Southern Africa in Oct/Nov of this year. We are waiting on a few big replies so fingers crossed! If anyone wants to help out then visit We hope to hit Zim, Bots and SA. The next big plans are for next summer in Europe. We have begun applying for festivals and hope to do as much as possible in the region.

TJ: How practical is it to have a bicontinental, multi-country collective

Depending on how you look at it it can be both practical and impractical. For us it is no real hindrance. I might be idealistic but I want SSC to be as big as it deserves to be and I believe in it. With internet these days the musicians can be on the same page easily and then all we need is rehearsal time together to get into it. If we are looking to tour SA or Europe then having artists based in both places actually helps in terms of costs too. We don’t have to fly everyone over from 1 place. Sure we can’t do gigs on a regular which is a shame.

TJ: Do you feel that your different backgrounds add to the product or are you all children of the universe who just happen to be from different countries

I love it. Hehehe. A bit of both I suppose. We all get on really well and I am as bad as you are when it comes to the topic of music! From a poet’s (layman’s) perspective they all bring their influences and backgrounds into the mix. Cecilie, being the composer and musical visionary, is a great example of where the sound meets. She is from Norway, trained as a Jazz vocalist, plays the Mbira (Zim) and is all the while a lover of the words we write.

TJ: Where can one listen to SSC online

TJ: When can we expect an album

We have a 9 track promo album that has just been finished. However we will be adding in new elements and tracks. You can expect a tidy version over the next year!

Monday, July 4, 2011


I have on behalf of SAUTI Arts and Performance Management, been quietly working on a project to record 12 Batswana spoken word artists/poets on 1 CD and am hoping it will be released this August.

We don't want to give away too much but if you sign up to our facebook page : SAUTI Arts and Performance Management you'll certainly be the first to know the project details especially which poets we've put on and why and the distribution channels etc.

I did have a chat with the folks at Southern World Arts News recently and you can see that interview at their blog here.

Do come a-visiting soon.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

TOMORROW BEGINS TODAY: A conversation with Bose Maposa

"I feel lucky to be in a position where I can influence how the continent is represented, a willing ambassador, this is a space I take with full seriousness and sensitivity as I will not want to be accused of misrepresenting the richness and the diversity that is Africa. As a young woman whose roots firmly based in the best that is Batswana culture, yet by all measure I am a living testimony of the struggles for equality that women in Botswana and all over the continent have fought to claim the proper place for women’s voices, I carry all of those histories. " Bose Maposa 2011

In the first of a series of interviews with Batswana living abroad we speak to Bose Maposa a young Motswana who lives in Athens, Ohio, United States. Born and raised in Gaborone, Botswana, other than a 3 year stint spent in the north-eastern mining town of Selebi Phikwe, this twenty nine year old is now Assistant Director of the African Studies Program at Ohio University in Athens, OH, USA.

We ask Bose how the sports loving little girl I went to school with at a local community junior secondary school finds herself living where she is and doing the impactful work she does.

BM: I first came to Athens in 2007 for graduate school. I completed my first MA in International Affairs- African Studies in 2009, and my second in 2010 in Public Administration in the same university.

TJ: . Tell us a bit about your day to day - basically what shape does a day in the life of Bose take

BM: Hmmm, this won’t be easy. My day-to-day varies a lot; there are days when I am in the office sending and answering emails either to organize an event such as our weekly African Studies at NOON series or communicating with students and faculty members; I monitor our budget and work on processing payments for faculty and students. There are times when I am out of the office attending Africa related events, and or organizing conferences. The latest conference I was intimately involved in was the 37th Annual African Literature Association Conference themed: “African Literature, Visual Arts & Film in Local and Transnational Spaces” which was hosted by African Studies on April 13-17, 2011. By intimately I mean I was involved in the selection of abstracts, drawing of the program, booking flights and accommodation for speakers, transportation, registration, just to name a few. I of course did not do this alone; I worked with a great team of individuals. I am also the FLAS (Foreign Language Area Studies) coordinator. The only constants in my day-to-day are an hour or so of gym and another hour or so of reading.

TJ: What did you study and where

BM: My undergraduate studies were in Sports and Physical Education- and I did that at the International School of Sports and Physical Education in Cuba. Living in Cuba for 5 years was a life changing experience. The Cuban socialist system for all its troubles taught me a lot about the importance of community service as everyone from professors to students in Cuba is expected to do their part in giving. For example, though it was odd for me to see the University Chancellor sweeping floors, this happened a lot. As an African I also learnt to let go of the biases and xenophobic tendencies that I had towards other Africans. I learnt the importance of a united Africa; not as a country but as a people and the many strengths that come with it. (As stated earlier she then moved on to Athens for graduate school in 2007)

TJ: Speaking of Cuba if I remember correctly you left on a government sports scholarship - do you still play basketball and darts? If so at what level?

BM: Unfortunately no! I still do go to the gym just to stay in shape. But I have transferred my love for sport to academia- I do some work on Sports and Development. For the past 2 years I have been involved in the organization of the Sports in Africa conference here at Ohio University. I was involved in the organizing of the conference; as well I presented a paper. Last year as part of celebrating the world cup in South Africa I presented a paper titled ‘Its Africa’s turn’: Putting symbolic politics into perspective with South Africa 2010”. After getting some useful feedback and working more on the paper, I also presented at the National Conference of Black Political Scientists in Atlanta in March 2010 with my fellow colleagues from Bokamoso as we were given our own panel.

TJ: You came home for how long after studying abroad? Why did you leave again?

BM: I stayed home for a year, at first I could not find a job, and then I got a job as a teacher. I left because I got the opportunity to further my studies.

TJ: Where do you see yourself in the next couple of years?

BM: I definitely would like to come back home and work. I would love to be more involved in projects that encourage Batswana and Africans at large to be knowledge producers rather than consumers. I also would like to start a social business, I am not sure in what, but I know that’s something I would like to do.

TJ: When was the last time you were home/ how often do you come home

BM: Last time I was home was in 2008, and I am hoping to visit before the end of this year. When I was in undergrad in Cuba I came home every year, but graduate school and work commitments do not allow that to happen as often. Thank goodness to the Whatsapp, Gchat and Skype I am able to “see” my family from time to time. Although not easy technology has made it much easier to keep in touch with family and friends back home.

TJ: How do you feel about Botswana (either in the context of the current civil strike and/or generally)

BM: Regarding the current strike, I honestly feel government is not being fair to the workers. Yes, we might not be able to afford a 16% wage increase, but from what I have seen in the last couple of years when I was home- people are struggling, and the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing. I am amazed at the comments I read online about how ‘there is no money’ and yet people working for the private sector know they spend more than what some of these government earn in a week! I think there needs to be more dialogue; you can’t just tell people there is no more and be done with it. I am however generally impressed with how vocal and engaged we seem to be as a nation; that is good for 'democracy'.

TJ: What opportunities do you feel are missing here at home (in Botswana) for someone with your qualifications/desired career trajectory?

BM: When people insist that you should have some work experience, a tremendous amount to be exact, they systematically cut out a huge amount of talent and people who can add value. I am not saying experience is not useful, but I think it is a problem when it becomes the determining factor. Rather, I believe it would be useful to hire someone, qualified of course, and train them. That is the main lost opportunity for someone hoping to come back home. I think many of us just want a chance to prove ourselves and add value.

TJ: What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?

BM: I like to think that my position as Assistant Director is a great achievement as I get to do work that I have passion for because my work sets the agenda of how students at the university engage and re-imagine Africa. Knowing how marginalized African views are, I feel lucky to be in a position where I can influence how the continent is represented, a willing ambassador, this is a space I take with full seriousness and sensitivity as I will not want to be accused of misrepresenting the richness and the diversity that is Africa. As a young woman whose roots firmly based in the best that is Batswana culture, yet by all measure I am a living testimony of the struggles for equality that women in Botswana and all over the continent have fought to claim the proper place for women’s voices, I carry all of those histories. My diverse education background born in Botswana, educated in the Caribbean and USA, speaks to the fact that after all despite Botswana being my “local” I am by all means a global citizen. I consider this journey to where I am today an achievement in itself. My current ability to be an ambassador not only for Botswana but for the continent is perhaps my greatest achievement thus far.

TJ: You contribute to a US based blog about African issues - Bokamosoafrica - tell us about your involvement

BM: The blog ( essentially grew out of the forum we formed and our mission is "Founded in the celebration of Africa’s democratic philosophy to advance the free flow of noble ideas, Bokamoso seeks to groom Africa’s emerging leaders apt to face Africa’s challenges of the 21st century and committed to pushing forward her development agenda." In graduate school I got an amazing and extraordinary chance to meet gifted and motivated individuals from different countries and disciplines, who were interested in contributing to Africa's development-so we got together and formed the Bokamoso Leadership Forum. Seeing that we were far from home, the blog would then be a platform for us to share our ideas and also be aware of what is happening on the continent. Currently I am one of the editors; but I think the most important thing about the blog has been the opportunity we all got to share our ideas, get feedback from peers and other readers, get new insights about our fields, and learn about other different disciplines. We have grown from a small group in Athens Ohio to now be covering three continents, Africa, North America and Europe. Our editorial team which includes myself and my other colleagues one based in South Africa and another in Basel Switzerland speaks to the motto of Bokamoso whose vision is to unite young African scholars and practitioners in grappling with various pertinent issues that affect all of us in the continent. Our theme for the year is “celebrating our own: the power of local knowledge” where we have ventured into such some themes as challenging African intellectuals to produce work that is relevant to Africans in their context instead of borrowing Western tools and inculcating nothing about the local context in implementing development initiatives, we have looked at the role of the African diaspora in reimaging the “local” in Africa, as well I have also written a piece challenging our notions of sexuality in Africa advocating for an inclusive agenda that speaks to the diversity of the nature of men and women in the continent some which are heterosexual and some who are homosexuals.

TJ: What experiences - cultural or otherwise do you think someone voluntarily living in the 'diaspora' such as yourself can/will bring home at the end of the day.

BM: These are endless and it basically depends on the individual. I believe the blog that I spoke about earlier is one way. Mentoring young adults, assisting in school applications, exploring funding opportunities, etc are some of the way too. But I think at the end of the day, the cultural exposure that one gets helps fight most types of discriminations as living here one becomes more aware of those biases they have, they are affected by other peoples biases and when going back home you can be more understanding and this can help build relationships.

Bose misses everything about being at home especially her family, so the next time you are headed 'overseas' do carry a little something local she can nibble on. In the meantime please visit the bokamosoafrica blog to keep an eye on what's going on in her head while she's far and away...

Saturday, June 11, 2011


So the thing is I was born and raised in Botswana *find a map, find Africa look southward but above South Africa sandwiched between her and a couple of neighbours including but not limited to Zimbabwe and Namibia, yep that's us*, so when someone tells me we are losing lions I'm not sure what to do with that piece of information.

Logically I can understand that getting rid of a big predator would shift the dynamics of the local food chain drastically, but secretly if I'm honest I'm not sure how to prioritise challenges to the ecosystems on my day to day list of things to think about.

Beverly and Dereck Joubert are Botswana based film makers whose mission is conservation and understanding of large predators. They are also National Geographics' Explorers in Residence, a title they clearly take very seriously because they are not shooting their documentaries from afar nor is Beverly's impressive collection of what can only be termed photographic fine art photoshopped or cropped for effect - they live where the lions live. That of course is another thing most Batswana might not immediately get, I think the unspoken rule especially for Gaborone based city slickers such as I is 'get as far away as possible'. And for the farmers who live closest to these predators and other wildlife, I assume their primary concern is for their herds of cattle and farmland. The idea that 20 000 cats is considered a serious decline (from over a million 2000 years ago and about 450 000 fifty years ago) probably hasn't sunk in yet.

Even if you didn't know it then, you've seen the Joubert's 5 time Emmy award winning film productions over the years. Their latest, aptly titled The last-lions is a tale of adventure and intrigue to rival the best based-on-a-true-story hollywood has to offer, starring Ma di Tau(sic) a lioness willing to do anything to protect her bloodline, keeping her family together against the most incredible odds. Like most Batswana men my father is a lover of beasts, it matters not whether they be they cow or lion and I have inherited his apetite for watching them - as long as it is from the safety of my strategically placed living room couch. Whether this is because I'm generally squeamish or am not a farmer in Leroo-la-Tau, revenge killings, trophy hunting, hunting farms and that whole lions-are-the-enemy song and dance is not my cup of tea. From this privileged point of view I can better understand how the drastically declining population of big cats can and should be a worry. Some African countries and Botswana is no exception, rely heavily on low-impact/high-cost tourism (in short few visitor footprints and higher hotel gaming costs). While protecting the environment from geographical taxation, this distances the local population a little bit from these creatures. One might see them as troublesome, dangerous - this second adjective cannot convincingly be argued against- animals seemingly maintained for the joy of fat-pocketed binoculars wielding foreigners and in the name of a higher GDP.

The Jouberts and National Geographics' Big Cats initiative aims to halt the population decline by 2015 as well as to restore populations to sustainable numbers. You can do your part by applying for a grant for any number of intervention focused initiatives or by donating to the cause. Some folks who've already garnered the grants are running projects ranging from offering insurance to local farmers whose livestock has been killed by lions to those managing human and big cat conflict through securing livestock enclosures and offering conservation related education.

As I get older I begin to think of myself as part of a greater space, the universe I suppose, a bigger cause than just my next paycheck and my immediate family. The word legacy begins to take on a much more tangible urgency which is probably why I'm thinking about lions on a Saturday night.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

MOTHER TONGUE II: I too am African

Setswana is growing everyday, there are so many things for which we have no names in this language, or have borrowed names from places afar, mainly because those items did not exist for us until post independence. There is a vibrancy to a still expanding, flexible tongue. Ever since I was a little girl I have enjoyed listening to our radio news broadcast in Setswana. Suddenly there would be a need to say a simple (in English) word such as helicopter (in Setswana) and someone would have to mould a phrase that in some way captured a description of a ‘flying thing which takes sudden flight and drops like so’ and the phrase-word ‘sefofane sa thoo-tomo’ was born, relying heavily on onomatopoeia for the bit describing the up and down motion. These new words are beautifully ticklish on my tongue and the idea that anyone writing right now could pull a China Mieville* and create a new language, one that could very well be accepted as part of our future formal language, is very exciting and still the majority of local (read popular) wordfolk write and express themselves primarily in English.

University of Botswana lecturer and poet Benjamin Janie speaks two languages, Setswana and English and understands Ikalanga. He gladly acknowledges that there are strong arguments for and against writing in European or foreign languages and writing in African indigenous languages. Although he admits that Setswana writings do not sell as much as English writings he feels that African artists are honor bound to produce works in their own language or at least in both languages and that it is a disgrace to promote foreign languages at the expense of our own.
“The misconception that Batswana are not proud of their languages is believed by urbanized 'uneducated' individuals whom Franz Fanon calls 'black skins in white masks'. I also strongly believe that Batswana can selectively embrace other cultures without dissolving their own and despising their indigenous languages.”

As a follow up to my last write-up on language and literature in Botswana I’ve asked a few Batswana practitioners to answer –via email – a few questions for me. My cyber panellists are as follows:
Ngozi Lebogang Chukura (NC) is a writer and artist of Nigerian and Batswana descent. A University of Cape Town print media graduate, she is currently Editor of Lapologa, a lifestyle magazine.
Angell Nthoi (AN) is a artist who has been writing, reciting and performing poetry, and verse, for the past seventeen years. He sketches with pen and pencil, and designs with computer programs as well. In addition he produces, records and composes music for other artists, and himself, under mouthofvigilance; a movement for moral regeneration, and cultural integration, through urban arts development.
Wame Molefhe (WM) is an award winning short story writer who has a number of co-authored books prescribed for the Botswana school syllabus and her debut solo effort ‘Go Tell the Sun’ a collection of short stories set in Botswana was recently published by South African indie publisher Modjaji. She is widely considered one of that rare breed of Botswana's successful and few fulltime writers.
Mandisa Mabuthoe (MM) is a poet, vocalist and artist. She has performed in South Africa, Australia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. She was also a member of Exodus Live Poetry in Gaborone. She is currently working on a theatre production.

TJ: How many languages do you speak?

AN: fluently, I speak three; iKalanga, Setswana, and English.
NC: I speak 3 languages, English, Setswana and French
WM: I speak two languages. I understand bits and pieces of a third and am learning a fourth.
MM: Three

TJ: What language(s) did you speak in the home growing up?

AN: English. We couldn't speak a word of anything else, until about five years old or so, then, I picked up Setswana off of the streets, by playing with other children who lived in the area. iKalanga came last, learned from my grand parents and other relatives from the homestead, I learned it mostly through listening and watching people as they spoke, and interacted.
NC: I spoke English, growing up.
WM: Setswana.
MM: english, setswana and xhosa

TJ: What language where you taught in in school?

AN: English, and Setswana.
NC: My language of instruction at school was English
WM: English.
MM: English and setswana

TJ: What language(s) do you write in? Please be specific about whether it is different languages, a particular slang, or a mishmash of languages within sentences eg TswEnglish etc

AN: I write mostly in English, iKalanga, and sometimes, in Setswana, respectively. I've also developed a personal slang i call 'doodle' (made up mostly of comic book terminology and or language, and common slang (particular to old school hip-hop culture.)) which i write in.
NC: I write in English
WM: I write in English, but usually use a few Setswana words and others that might have their origins in other languages, but are commonly used in conversation.
MM: english, with the rare occasion of one or two sentences in setswana or xhosa

TJ: Why do you write in that language?

AN: I write in these languages at different times depending on, and in accordance to my state of mind, emotions, time, and space. at times, if not most, i write in English, because, i started writing in English, and find that it is easier to express certain ideas, or execute certain feat or measure in terms of prosody in it, i'm more practiced in it. iKalanga is more personal, and requires more mediation on the subject matter... it takes more time and effort to digest and then deliver. though i can, and have written in Setswana, i usually avoid the language altogether. I feel i sound funny, and have been told that, i have a 'funny' accent.
NC: It's(English) the language that i feel most comfortable expressing myself with.
WM: I write in this language because I am able to write in it without being weighed down by fear of not saying something the ‘proper’ way. As a writer, I learn by reading other writers. There are many more English texts to select from than there are Setswana.
MM: the language I first learned to write and read in is english, I think in setswana as well but I have a wider vocabulary in english.

TJ: If you write singularly or primarily in English do you feel pressure to write in other languages?

AN: No. (well, if and when I do.)
NC: I sometimes feel the pressure to write in languages like Setswana, or Igbo, because there is an expectation that because i have parentage from those places i must know those languages. When i was at school in CPT(South Africa), even the Xhosa performers/ writers would ask why i don't 'spit' in Xhosa. It was only 'okay' when i said that i grew up in Botswana- even then they would ask why my delivery isn’t in Setswana...
WM:I do not feel pressured to write in other languages. Yes, I have been asked why I don’t write in Setswana and my answer it is my preferred tool for my writing. This does not mean I will never write in Setswana or another language.
MM: No pressure, just desire, and I'm a little it envious sometimes of people who can write in all three of my languages.

TJ: If you write in a language other than English what difference in terms of media attention and audience/market reaction have you noticed - if any?

AN: When I write in iKalanga, the reaction is always the same. no matter how intricate, deep or profoundly simple the subject matter, and or the delivery is. I feel, people in general do not appreciate it.
WM: I have not yet tried writing in another language, or at least I have nothing that I want to share with anyone.
MM: There's just something beautiful and intense about writing or speaking in a language other than english, people like to hear it, I've seen the audience react as if to say, "wow that was deep"

TJ: In his 2009 article "Who will preserve traditional poetry and song" Gasebalwe Seretse says - Today Botswana has seen a rise in the number of poets, but most of them are 'urban poets' like Seboni and Motlogelwa. Nobody can doubt that the likes of Tjawanga 'TJ' Dema(sic), Lesego Nchunga, Boipelo Seleke and Andreatta Chuma(sic) are doing a great job, but there is need for young people to preserve traditional poetry as it was practised by our forebears in the olden days.- what are your thoughts?

AN: to an extent, yes... there is a need for young people to preserve traditional poetry as it was practiced, but the onus is not only on them. most of the young 'urban' poets have shown an interest in their heritage, but, having seen this, the elder folk/ traditional poets have not extended themselves to them, if not rarely, to encourage them, to pass on the torch, as it were.
NC: I agree with the statement that we need more people who are interested in indigenous forms of performance and storytelling, but i think it's unfair to expect everyone to express themselves in that way.
WM: I believe my culture and tradition help define me as a Motswana. Botswana jwame is that voice that reminds me to greet people I meet, to honour our ways, to address my elders in a certain way. When I say ‘Ke segarona,’ I mean these are my people’s ways. I believe traditions should be passed from parent to child to grandchild and so on. I derive great pleasure from listening to older people and tapping into their knowledge. And I often try and use these things that I learn in my writing. I think the beauty of art, any art, is that it allows artists to express themselves. I know people say: ‘This is not how things were when I was a child.’ I hear myself say those words too but I would not foist the responsibility for the preservation of our ways on our young people.
MM: I agree, and there are many, Ntirelang Berman, Keabonye, Gauta, Lucky(Ngwao Putswa - Francistown)... and many more, not only in Gaborone. There is something about the media and the things they choose to notice. im very much in the scene, there is plenty of traditional poetry and songs out there, definately more in english, but hey? if we want more we can and should make more.

TJ: Do you think that all literary practitioners are honour bound to act as custodians of their indigenous languages?

AN: By appreciating and promoting them, yes... not necessarily through practice, though.
NC: No, i do not think so.
WM: I think literary works can serve to document and save for posterity a people’s history. There are different ways of doing this.
MM: I think all literary practitioners are honour bound to be custodians of who they are and where they come from, tell their story, speak about change where they desire it etc... i definately think they should be encouraged to write and speak in their indigenious languages.

TJ: What can every Motswana do to preserve their language from linguistic erosion in this fast globalising world?

AN: Put in a petition to revise the national language policy, and push for the recognition of all indigenous languages at all levels. all languages should be placed and used as mediums of instruction, and in office. it all has to start here; at home.
NC: Language is alive only when it is spoken; Setswana, SeYeyi, SeKalaka, Xam- whatever language one feels they identify with- can only be preserved if it is spoken and written. That's what i think.
WM: Learn your mother tongue. Love it. Speak it. Write. Keep it alive. I do not subscribe to the idea that speaking only English is a sign of ‘cleverness’. I cringe when I deal with a Motswana mother who says her child cannot speak her mother tongue. Go nthaya gore motsadi ga a itlhaloganye. Of course, there may be understandable reasons for this. For example, the child might have grown up in a place where a different language is spoken. I feel sorry for children who are denied the opportunity to learn their mother tongue.
MM:start by speaking their languages to their children at home... I have pages of thought on this one, but my thoughts are still raw and unprocessed.

TJ: Nna ke morongwa fela, karabo e na le beng ko pele. A conclusion in this case is a little above my pay grade, I come bearing a basket of questions and little else, and instead I leave you with this little nugget of a table turner, “What do you think?”

*Mieville’s book Embassytown does wonderfully genius things with words and language, meaning and intention etc

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

MOTHER TONGUE: Not out of innocence

I am talking to a friend about my most recent, not to mention unsuccessful short story writing attempt, when she suddenly goes sage on me, “Chinua Achebe once said, ‘For an African, writing in English is not without its serious setbacks. He often finds himself describing situations or modes of thought which have no direct equivalent in the English way of life. Caught in that situation he can do one of two things. He can try and contain what he wants to say within the limits of conventional English or he can try to push back those limits to accommodate his ideas ... I submit that those who can do the work of extending the frontiers of English so as to accommodate African thought-patterns must do it through their mastery of English and not out of innocence.’"

The year is 2011, 45 years after Botswana a former British Protectorate gained independence from the British. It was done in a rather civilised fashion, with one flag calmly climbing down the pole while another took the spotlight in all it’s bright azure blue and aspirational black and white stripes. This seems to have set the tone for an exceptionally peaceful 4 decades, that is outside of the recent civil strike which nearly brought our young economy to a standstill, but that is a story for another day. Still the 2011 Global Peace Index says we are the most peaceful country in Africa for the third year running and number 35 out of 153 countries measured around the world.

In this day, at this age in her development Botswana is socially in transition. She has pockets of folks clinging to tradition, a fair bit of her younger generation might as well be American and then there is the rest of us swaying somewhere between the two. This transitional generation was raised by stalwarts of the past and as a consequence feel we owe tradition some respect, but wearing a tukwi ie a woman's headkerchief, learning funeral hymns by heart and keeping vigil for the dead rather than being at the recently shutdown fashion lounge night club is a weekly struggle. Somewhere, not independently of this development, spoken word has raised its hand hesitantly. It is by far one of the consistently growing 'pastimes' in the capital city of Gaborone and arguably within the bigger towns as well. Every third university student, although studying something practical, uses words in some form or other; theatre, short story writing, song, hip hop or poetry in their spare time. Performance poetry (though some argue there is no such thing), specifically of the free verse/ blank verse/ spokenword poetry family, has found an eager to practice lot partly because it appears to this dot com generation to be a quicker path to rockstardom –not as exhausting as trying to write a 500 page novel or as ‘fixed’ as writing a short story. It has no insistent need, at least not immediately, for publication and word has it 3 semi-solid poems could turn you into an overnight celebrity. A fair number are under the illusion that you are at liberty to break the rules – without learning them first.

Either no one in this 1.8million strong country, is writing in fluent, unsullied Setswana or their attempts are not considered newsworthy. Either scenario is scary but more so if the language is dying in real time. In my time. For if language is indeed inseparable from culture, housing all our norms and values, in an often untranslatable manner - then we stand to lose more than just words, we lose the blueprint for who we are. And without that reference how do we move forward? As our first President Sir Seretse Khama said at a 1970 UBLS graduation, "It should now be our intention to try to retrieve what we can of our past. We should write our own history books to prove that we did have a past, and that it was a past that was just as worth writing and learning about as any other. We must do this for the simple reason that a nation without a past is a lost nation, and a people without a past is a people without a soul."

2004 brought with it the country’s first broadsheet, Mokgosi, a newspaper written in Setswana under the enterprise of a Mr. Methaetsile Leepile. In an interview with RAP21, not long after setting up the paper Leepile reportedly said, “Changing public perceptions is one of the biggest challenges that Mokgosi faces. The truth is that there is a widespread perception that reading Setswana is difficult. That was exactly the perception with English a decade and half ago when I used to work for an English language paper”. The whole wonderful initiative lasted less than a palm-full of years. The word on the street? Beyond the usual distribution and financial issues that sometimes stalk start up papers, apparently not very many people bought it,“Batswana don’t read” – though I must point out the English papers are increasing by the year and the few bookshops we have remain open, "Batswana believe English is the educated man's tongue", and then there’s the “anyway Setswana is difficult to read, it takes too much effort to get through a sentence” line.

I am the first to unsmilingly raise up my hand and say I write through the language I am best able to articulate my thoughts in. And as someone who was privately (English medium) educated, living in a country where I have never met an interpreter of written Setswana poetry to English, and given the small population of where I live this is perhaps a misguided attempt on my part to secure a larger and much more international audience. I’m told only 5million plus people in the world speak, or should speak due to parentage, Setswana/ Tswana (4 million of those are not within Botswana’s borders). I have no intention of publicly dragging back the ever broadening Setswana language through my limited vocabulary in some innocent attempt to preserve the language. I speak it at home and with friends but not really during interviews unless I am pushed and I certainly do not write (for public consumption) in it. I am not proud that I cannot write acceptable poetry or a half decent article in iKalanga or Setswana but neither am I ashamed that I write in English. First I am a poet and if anyone else sees themselves primarily as a language custodian I am happy to assist where I can but my primary battle is to nurture the love of words, in any language. I adore my mother tongue (iKalanga), my ears are tuned to find it’s tempo womb-warm, I celebrate the euphemistic-richness of my national language (Setswana) and gladly exploit the practicality of the English I have taken ownership of, which is as much mine as it is any else's.

One of my favourite poets, Moroka Moreri recites only in Setswana, he is a wonder to behold; able to stand in front of a room full of people and much like some rappers summarise a morning’s worth of activities off the top of the head quite succinctly and in traditional form. His leather (cow hide) garments evoke a by gone era while speaking to the hope that perhaps not all is lost. You will not have seen him or heard him as often as you have the urban poets. But perhaps the idea of a poet being pooled beyond his community is a ludicrous one in our traditional context. After all publicity is a western ideal, our folk artists and poets kept close to their communities almost always – documenting, mentally archiving, passing on that particular place’s silos of knowledge to the next generation. Pre independence there was more live performance than publishing – if any at all- going on and certainly less concern with a poet’s national or international popularity than with the communal relevance of the words they spoke. Memory was each artist’s best friend, their tool stalling time until a new memory keeper would arise to hold fast to the stories, the songs, the poems. If indeed this is where our lore and the values imbedded in them still are, away from television screens and city lights but still there, then I shall breathe easy tonight. No doubt it will become harder to find an eager next generation of griots, the city lights will get brighter than the village fireside each year and the children will willingly be pied-pipered away from the places and the languages that spell home for them.

Still, perhaps this is not a case of a handful of rebellious urban writers shunning tradition’s tongue, but a diversification of a national knowledge base as well as a coincidental seeing of what must be done – by those who hear the call – to introduce new ways of storing what tradition’s memory has carried this far into the past’s future, our today. Be it through recording, transcribing or ensuring that the line from one generation to the next does not break.

In my next post I’ve asked a few acquaintances and friends, fellow writers in one way or another, to answer a few questions about writing in English or rather not writing in Setswana. I’m eager to hear what these ‘urban’ writers have to say for themselves.