Saturday, June 23, 2012


A number of countries and individuals recently celebrated  short story day, to find out what some short story writers such as award winning writer Lauri Kubuitsile did in Botswana visit her blog here. For not entirely altruistic reasons I am worried that every third person I meet  wants to be a poet, a writer but I wonder if there are enough readers to go around. I say this because I have heard a number of complaints over the years about the prohibitive cost of books in Botswana, the lack of a second hand book market, the lack of trade publishers, the closing down of non franchise bookshops and independent publishers etc. In the first of what I hope will grow into a mini-series J of write ups on literature in Botswana I speak to the Reading Association of Botswana.

TJ: Tell us about the RAB what do you do and when where you established and by whom
RAB is a non -profit association formed to encourage and instill the culture of reading amongst  Batswana residents.  It was established in 1998 by some Batswana residents who had had experience with reading associations.

TJ: In 2011 you hosted a reading conference what was its focus
RAB: The conference was known as The 7th Pan-African Reading for All conference.Its objectives were:
·         Strengthen capacity within African collecting and analysing data to support formulation of policy interventions that address the barriers that make it difficult to achieve the vision of literacy  for all;
·         Generate frameworks for the development and implementation of new initiatives that address specific literacy problems;
·         Consider how reading and writing can be harnessed effectively for opening up social futures across Africa and the world at large;
·         Interrogate a range of approaches to literacy that promote reading in families, facilitate the setting up of rural libraries and encourage the development of reading materials.
The conference attracted policy makers, educationists, researchers, authors, readers, teachers, book-sellers, learners, curriculum developers and any other groups and individuals interested in reading.

TJ: What challenges are you facing as an organization.
RAB: Our challenges as an association are that the organizers who are mandated to expand the association are full time workers.  As such they are not able as much as they would love to, to expand the association countrywide.

TJ: According to the RAB it is best to introduce reading as early as during pregnancy although they are quick to point out that it is never too late to start reading. I posit to Glorious Bolokwe RAB Secretary, that there is a widespread belief locally that Batswana as a people don’t read and ask if there is any statistical truth to that notion. She responds by providing the following literacy statistics and by emphasizing that RAB does not share that belief
Literacy in Botswana
Dr. Ulrike Hanemann
UNESCO Institute for Education
Hamburg, Germany
March, 2005

Types of literacy programmes by number of learners and sex, 1993 and 2003
M %
F %
M %
F  %
National Literacy
Mine literacy
Prison/ reformatory
Workplace literacy
Sources: Central Statistics Office/ Department of Non-Formal Education, 1997:41 and ibid., 2004:25

TJ: Speaking of literacy programs, to your knowledge are students encouraged to read for pleasure by their parents and teachers eg is there a bonafide requirement for students to make use of the library and submit book reviews etc?
RAB: Every school has a library.  That may suggest that reading is viewed as an important aspect of learning.

TJ: What is the importance of reading
RAB:  Reading enriches, teaches and makes one wiser.

TJ: What programmes is RAB running to encourage reading
RAB:  Bi-monthly sharing of reading experiences

TJ: Is literature an optional subject in secondary schools
RAB:  Yes it is, at upper secondary school.  However, every school has a library. Such a situation gives a learner opportunity to read.

TJ: What do the high school literature results over the years tell us, if anything, about Batswana students’ relationship to language and literature
RAB: That can be gotten from the ministry of education.  RAB does not have that information.  Actually RAB encourages and instills the culture of reading across a wide spectrum.

We know Batswana can read, but do they read? Having made a note to myself to speak to the Ministry of Education, a couple of bookstores and possibly the Rothschilds Foundation which has been building libraries in Botswana for a number of years now I remember how my brothers read comic books growing up but not much else, I read a lot of kidlit, then romance later picking up short stories and poetry somewhere along the way. A number of male varsity students I knew read newspapers, the girls (at the risk of generalizing) religiously bought certain magazines, a number of both those groups rarely or never picked up a book post school literature classes. In fact I remember a number of my literature classmates looking for film versions of the books we were meant to study because they hoped they wouldn’t have to read the books, but of course adaptations by definition are not verbatim.  

I don’t know if it’s important for anyone except publishers to distinguish between what is being read. Perhaps it is not. And perhaps those publishers who have been accused of justifying not publishing local fiction by saying Batswana don’t read are playing a fixed numbers game – in a population of 2 million people even if every fourth person bought a book you might not ever reach NY bestseller proportions. We also might have to consider that we are preaching the right verse in the wrong medium to the converted – Batswana come from an oral/aural culture, here live shows even poetry shows often play to a full house but a book launch well... When I was about 6 or 7 my parents would go back to work after lunch and leave us with the nanny, a radio, a book and a cassette tape recording of the same book. Years later, on a good day, I can still recite bits and pieces of Beauty and the beast from memory, accent and all. What are you reading today?

Monday, June 18, 2012


For Capoeira Terranossa
It is true Carl, no one tells you
about this or any other thing that truly matters
not in record jackets or the dvd’s lengthy biography
what to expect when capoeira takes you
by the neck and carries you
like some wild mother moving her cubs
to a place of quiet safety
But there is music too here
moving the body of a once upon a boy
taut as the berimbau’s wire voice
his heart going atabaque- atabaque
Each chord plays his body like a harp
He trusts the air to hold him
Listens to the off beat and later tells me what it told him
and then asks me
to do the same

We are many of us here walking on water
before we are lost to reason
Playing Peter, we get the better of ourselves and stop
to ask, who is holding us up
We fall
a tangle of remembered arms and forgotten names
Playing a game of salvation within life's fluid and circular frame
It is easy to plough love here
to laugh when you hear
some teacher’s name caught on the wind, riding a broken song
Until the same boy who told you
days ago you could do this
returns to hurl you into the space between fall and grace
asking you to become your own beat
Where before you would have asked
what your body now knows, how
it is safe here
On this land, which is ours

Friday, June 15, 2012


Poetavango Spoken Word Poetry was founded by Legodile ‘Dredd X’ Seganabeng in March 2008.  Until 2010 Botswana’s Gaborone based Exoduslivepoetry! collective hosted the country’s sole poetry festival The Infinite Word Festival, when Poetavango was formed in Maun a good 600 kilometres north west of the capital city they too initiated a poetry festival adding to Botswana’s rather sparse arts calendar. One infers that since Maun is the gateway to the Okavango Delta the name Poetavango must stem from some word amalgamation of Poet and Okavango.
Dredd X  who says the formation of the collective “was motivated by various factors including the will to promote the art of spoken word and poetry” takes some time to answer a few of our questions.

TJ: You are based in Maun how has this affected your reception how has your community, individuals and businesses alike, supported this collective’s efforts
DX: It took us by surprise, honestly. The community has always supported us from the first day. Their support is growing by the day and Maun has undoubtedly turned into the ‘home of poetry’. As for business, Poetavango is slowly gaining recognition. The support is not as much as it is perhaps supposed to be but in due course, we believe we will get total support from businesses and companies.

       TJ: You have for the past two years held an annual poetry festival please tell us about it
The Maun International Poetry Festival (MIPF) is one of our aims that we ultimately reached. In the couple of years that we had it, it has proven to be an event that poetry lovers across the country always look forward to. It is also a platform where local and international performers can interact and share skills and ideas. It is slowly growing into a globally recognized event. 

TJ: You have stated that one of the biggest challenges you have as a collective is funding for your poetry festival I believe this led to the postponement of this year’s festival by a month or two. You were eventually successful in hosting the 2nd MIPF who did you bring out this year as participating poets
DX: Some of the performers were affected by the postponement of the festival from March to May. We had expected poets from USA, Jamaica, Burundi, DRC, South Africa, Swaziland, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Poets who made it through include; Prince Shapiro and Masoja Msize (South Africa), Upmost and Aero5ol (Zimbabwe), Donna Smith (Jamaica) and from Botswana we had; Barolong Seboni, Ntirelang Berman, Berry Heart, Psycho Cydd, Priskath, Juby Peacock, Mandisa Mabuthoe, Ngwao Putswa, Moroka Moreri, Vygos, Tautona, Dredd X, Keabonye, The UB Writers’ Workshop and more.

TJ: What for you is the value of art in the society – why is it important, if it is, to have painters and poets, storytellers and opera singers etc?
DX: They are the eyes of the society. They are the landmarks of the past, present and future.

TJ: And what of our friend sin the media, has the media been supportive
DX: Very much so. Newspapers, Magazines, Radios and Television have always been on our side -ever since we began.

TJ: In your opinion do Batswana artists/poets collaborate across the country
DX: There’s still a lot to be done here. Collaboration and working together is a vital thing for the development of the arts in our country. But there isn’t much of the collaboration happening. That is why Poetavango has come up with an initiative like the Festival where poets and performers from other collectives are invited.  

TJ: When I was over for the MIPF 2011 I adjudicated a poetry competition for teenage girls, could you tell us what the idea behind that initiative was/is
DX: Neglecting school learners is tantamount to destroying the future of poetry. There is no way poetry can grow if we don’t encourage young and upcoming poets from school level. The Poetavango Interschool Poetry Slam is intended to promote poetry and the art of writing in schools, develop and nurture youngsters who will, tomorrow, be the future writers and performers.

Legodile ‘Dredd X’ Seganabeng is a recorded poet, published writer, guitarist and fine artist. He graduated with a Bachelor of Technology in Fine Art from the University of Johannesburg, South Africa and is currently a high school teacher of Art & Design. In 2010, he won the Bessie Head Literature award for the short story category and consequently the story (The Moon Has Eyes) was published.  He has done a curtain raising performance for Jamaican heavy weight poet Mutabaruka in Newtown, Johannesburg in 2005 and also attended a workshop/symposium facilitated by British poet Linton Kwesi Johnson and American poet Jessica Care Moore.  In 2008, he performed at the second instalment of the Jozi Spoken Word Fest in Johannesburg. He recently finished recording a 15 track poetry album titled 'Poetic Meditations' due for release by end of July 2012. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


In a little under two weeks, from the 26th of June to 2nd July two hundred or so poets will gather in London for Poetry Parnassus, hopefully by now this is not news to you. In case you'd like to get to know these poets a little bit bettrer, SJ Fowler who is the author of four poetry collections and has had poetry commissioned by the Tate Britain and the London Sinfonietta, and has featured in over 100 poetry publications is very much the man able to assist with that. 

He, who will be running  four Maintenant events and two workshops as part of Poetry Parnassus  has been "tasked with conducting an interview series with around 100 of the poets who will be in attendance during the festival. These interviews are available to read on the Poetry Parnassus website here and can be searched by poet or by nation"  

Go there, everyone from  Esther Phillips - Barbados, Imtiaz Dharker - Pakistan, Jennifer Wong - Hong Kong, Bewketu Seyoum - Ethiopia, Luljeta Lleshanaku - Albania, Rocio Ceron - Mexico, Jan Wagner - Germany and Kate Kililea - South Africa is on there.

you know you're curious click here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

WORD FROM AFRICA, Poetry Parnassus event

Free event
Sunday July 1
6 - 1030pm
Clore Ballroom, Royal Festival Hall
Southbank Centre, London

Hope to see you there, TJ.

Monday, June 4, 2012


It used to be every Motswana child had an aunt or at the least an honorary grandmother who was a consummate storyteller. At the end of each day's ploughing, after all the chores were done and while supper was bubbling over an open fire, the children would get to hear a story about Kgogomodumo the fire breathing dragon(my personal favourite) or Dimo the Giant. Of course this is no longer the case, there just isn’t enough time “between the job and the homework, and who remembers those stories anyway”. Although there are the lucky few who do get read to by their parents, its fair to assume that a fair number are left to watch Cow and Chicken help their father figure out how their human mother gave birth to them, alternatively there’s always the video games.

The parental assumption is the children are doing all the reading they need to at school. Methinks this is not quite the same thing. When I recently told an old school acquaintance that not only had I re-read and enjoyed Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club (it confused the heck out of us way back when, with it’s sequencing and foreign cultural-ness) but that I thought she should re-read it too our almost friendship came to a sudden end. She doesn’t read ‘Never picked up the habit’ she says. ‘As easy as that?’ I ask. ‘Yep had to do it for school don’t see why I have to do it now, books remind me of Mrs X (English literature teacher) and they give me a headache’. Yeah I’m not sure where to start, its looking like I’m about two decades too late for this one, so I turned to Priyanka Handa of Raising Education Within Africa (REWA) to see whether in the face of cold firesides and defiant ex-students, her organization is engaging kids in any kind of reading-for-pleasure activities.

Priyanka Handa(PH): REWA aims to be a one-stop educational facility for young people between the ages of 4 - 18 and other young adults. We have started the centre with a focus on 3 areas:
1. Tutoring English and Maths for all school-going aged children, by providing courses through our partner Kip McGrath International.

2. Personal Development Programmes for young adults - to give the youth some direction, focus and confidence

3. We also run several events and workshops during the year focused on child development and education; we have a reading room on site which is free for all REWA registered members to use - children and adults alike.

TJ: Is REWA exclusively a child oriented organisation or do you have programs for adults
PH: Currently we are running programs for children only - we do outside consulting for professional development for adults. We will soon be starting our own adult programmes at the centre too.

TJ: I understand you run a children's reading programme out of Exclusive Books what is the idea behind that, and are parents signing up their children
PH: I have been running book clubs for kids at Exclusive books for over a year now - it has been a tremendous success - in fact we were over subscribed towards the end of last year! We are now running these book clubs out of our own centre on the weekends. The aim is to give children the gift of reading and help them improve with their reading expression, vocab, confidence, reading speed, reading enjoyment etc.

TJ: In March you hosted a World Book Day event, please tell us about that
PH: World Book Day was designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and is marked in over 100 countries around the globe.
World Book Day is a partnership of publishers, booksellers and interested parties who work together to promote books and reading for the personal enrichment and enjoyment of all. A main aim of World Book Day in Botswana is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own. We CELEBRATED books on this day with a variety of games, activities and competitions in the form of a picnic at the REWA Education Centre on Saturday March 31st from 11am - 3pm.

Any organization that has the little ones thumbing through Thumbelina has my vote, so for information on Raising Education Within Africa activities please visit or drop into their centre in Maruapula.