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.