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 (http://bokamosoafrica.org/) 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

THE BIG CATS INITIATIVE

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.

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/big-cats/lion-decline-map/

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.