El Negro was an unknown African man of Tswana origin. His remains were returned from Europe in October 2000, where he had been stuffed and made into a freak exhibit.
Government ministers, diplomats and members of the public attended the burial of the warrior, known as El Negro (the black man), whose body arrived in Gaborone from Spain, where its display angered many Africans. STAFF WRITER AUBREY LUTE replays a presentation by Dr Jeff Ramsay at the Commonwealth Conference Human Remains Management: Extending the conversation throughout Africa.
Dr Ramsay narrated that El Negro’s story is a text book case for the conference on Human remains management. “When he arrived in Gaborone, he was nothing like what was displayed in Spain. This was wrong on all grounds. We expected a coffin to arrive so that people can view the remains, but nothing of that sort happened then.”
Africa has a very dark past in so far as relationship with the West is concerned. Africans have been seen the worst of mistreatment, they have been humiliated, they have scars to attest to the brutality they were subjected to by their colonial masters whose racism still ferment today despite the many years of civilization across the globe. In Botswana, a man dubbed El Negro has become the template of humiliation faced by the Sotho-Tswana people under the colonial rule.
The body of this ancient African warrior stolen from its grave over 170 years ago and displayed in European showcases was reburied in Botswana on in October 2010 in a solemn ceremony attended by more than 1000 people. The remains were lowered into the ground in a coffin draped with the Botswana flag at the popular Tsholofelo Recreational Park in a northern suburb of the capital. A plaque at the site reads: "The body of El Negro was stolen in 1830 and returned on 4 October 2000."
Dr Jeff Ramsay of Livingstone Kolobeng College relieved the humiliation and indignity suffered by El Negro when giving a presentation at the Commonwealth Conference Human Remains Management: Extending the conversation throughout Africa on March 12 at the University of Botswana. With Africa, Botswana included, still under the shadow of the West, Ramsay’s presentation opened old wounds that reminded many that despite Botswana’s peaceful attainment of independence in 1966, those who lived before the transition experienced haunting and daunting experiences under the likes of William Hunt and George Lennox. The former transported “Bushmen” for popular entertainment while the former sold “Bushmen” remains for various collections.
Dr Ramsay bulleted some incidents to demonstrate how El Negro was humiliated even after his arrival in Africa. He was buried at Tsholofelo Park instead of the Gaborone cemetery, no explanation as to why at the Park; He was associated with El Nino, because it coincided with his burial here; There is a secondary controversy on whether he was from South Africa or Botswana; DNA that was taken from him was never reported back; therefore his story is humiliating and daunting, argues Dr Ramsay.
Back in 2010, Foreign Minister, the late Mompati Merafhe, who laid a wreath at the grave, condemned the two French taxidermists who stole El Negro's body from its grave in 1830 and put in on display in Paris before selling it to a Spanish museum. And for his part the then Spanish Ambassador to Botswana Eduardo Garrigues said "administrative and political procedures" had delayed the body's return. He said the display of the warrior's body had been an "insult to the dignity of all Africans".
Botswana officials had angrily said that El Negro was "displayed like a stuffed antelope", but Dr Ramsay’s depiction of El Negro’s return and stay at his resting place mocks this statement. His return was more like a rendition of the Paris stunts which saw El Negro’s body being publicly displayed to the amusement of Europeans. Today, El Negro’s grave is not noticeable and is a forgotten nonevent. Pressure for the body to be returned mounted after Haitian doctor Alphonse Arcelin, resident in Spain, complained to the United Nations in 1992 at the undignified treatment of the remains.
Arcelin's complaint was followed by a bitter row in Banyoles between those in favour of repatriating the body and those who wanted to keep it. Records show that the suspected warrior was withdrawn from exhibition in 1997 and kept in a depot pending a decision, which came last February when the town council agreed that his remains should return to Botswana for burial.
It is evident though that the exact place of origin of El Negro has not been determined, although he was originally referred to as El Bechuana or Motswana (inhabitant of what was then Bechuanaland). The late Merafhe had tried to put the issue of origin to rest by saying: "He was an African and we wanted him home, period."
How El Negro’s remains were stolen from Africa
While travelling in modern South Africa, Jules Verreaux and his brother witnessed the burial of a Motswana warrior. He returned to the burial site under the cover of night to dig up the African’s body, which he subsequently stuffed. He then shipped the body to Paris along with a batch of stuffed animals in crates. In 1831, the African’s body appeared in a showroom at No. 3, Rue Saint Fiacre as an exhibit.
La Figero described the Verreaux brothers as “real vampires” who were only interested in dealing with the skin of the exhumed corpse. After eviscerating him to stay with only the skin, the skull and a few bones, the brothers left the rest to the jackals”. In their attempt to cover themselves with their sale, the Verreaux tuned the corpse smearing it with bitumen to blacken its skin more. “That seemed more exotic”!
Almost every year, Botswana Musicians Union (BOMU) attracts hullabaloo over its annual music awards. This time around, it was not only that. There has been much noise around compliance, Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development involvement in the affairs of this organisation, as well as the contentious sponsorship from the Department of Broadcasting Services (DBS).
Following a four-year hiatus, BOMU awards found themselves being the talk of the town due to unfair practices some artists claim clouded the non-complying organisation. These are serious accusations that BOMU has since rubbished as deliberate actions intended to tarnish its reputation.
Some disgruntled artists recently took to the streets to protest against these practices. However, these are not subscribing members of BOMU. Before being cut short by the Police, these artists demanded that the Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development Tumiso Rakgare step down immediately. They claim that Rakgare has failed his mandate.
On the other hand, they demanded that the Youth Ministry reverse the P500 000 it has splashed on the BOMU awards, and the money be split among artists. A lead protester in these activities, Rhumba artist General Tuco, told Weekendlife that BOMU management should halt the awards and instead clean the organisation’s dirty laundry.
He further indicated that they would be dropping a petition at the DBS offices, urging the group to revoke the P1.5 million sponsorship it has awarded BOMU. Because these discontented artists claim that BOMU is non-compliant, they will also be marching to the Registrar of Societies to express their grievances.
In an interview this week, General Tuco said they are still engaging their attorney to formalise their protest and give them a way forward. The Police deny them a permit to hold their rally. According to information gathered last week, the artists were arrested and released the same day and asked to apply for a protest permit.
BOMU PRESIDENT SPEAKS
BOMU President Phemelo Lesokwane told a media member on Wednesday that “We have seen people on social media dragging our name on the mud as BOMU. They say we are non-compliant, corrupt and unfair. When we get to see who these people are, they are not our members. They call themselves artists, but as legalised agents of artists in Botswana, we do not know them, neither do we know what they are talking about. We condemn these acts.”
Lesokwane rubbished allegations that BOMU is not compliant. “We see journalists giving these guys who masquerade as artists more prime time for them to tarnish our name. But they do not have the evidence. BOMU is compliant, and we have all the documents. We also have verified documents from the Registrar of Societies, who are our key stakeholders.”
Talking about being backbitten, Lesokwane claims that government officials from the Registrar of Societies are promoting what unregistered artists are making noise about in the corridors. Some of these officers fed the Youth Minister Rakgare wrong information about BOMU. BOMU has much work to do in-house.
Further, Lesokwane revealed that when they took over the office, BOMU was mugged some of its finances. Investigations are ongoing to retrieve such monies, he said. As if that is not enough cleaning, Lesokwane has a headache dealing with another faction dubbed BW Artists, which represents artists in the Northside of the country.
“If you could look into the management of this organisation, you would question their interests. Two of them are politicians. Once they fail primary elections, they come back into the music industry and cause chaos. I always say I am going to fight with everything I have together with my team to make sure that we protect artists in Botswana.”
JOURNALISTS FINGERED IN THE BOMU MESS
BOMU President Lesokwane has accused journalists of being biased and unfair to his organisation. He stressed that BOMU depends on members of the press to help rebuild the dying Botswana music industry. “Most articles about our artists speak negatively about them. Foreign artists are always given priority instead of our local artists, but we value journalists as our equally significant stakeholders. We can grow this industry together.”
These media reports, Lesokwane said, have forced stakeholders to withdraw their sponsorships towards the BOMU awards, slated for October 2021. At times they are required to answer for hearsays that are not accurate. He reiterated that BOMU has nothing to hide as it is compliant.
BOMU MUSIC AWARDS CONSULTANT SPEAKS
BOMU Music Awards Consultant Seabelo Modibe has been topping the charts for a long good time. His appointment as a consultant was notorious as critics felt his company was relatively premature at the time of appointment.
He joined the BOMU get-together at the time the awards were still distressed by the hubbub. Many asked if he would manage the heat, but clearly, Modibe is having a hard time. He, however, stressed that BOMU is open to criticism.
“Lot of people say BOMU has been given money to waste. That is not precise. It has sold its product, its broadcasting rights. They were sold for P1.5 million to the DBS. Our contract is for a year, and we will be going back to them in December. MYSC has acquired what we call commercial rights. These are rights that someone buys to promote their mandate. MYSC seeks to promote local music using BOMU awards.”
Mpho Donald was undoubtedly the IT girl of the then tedious beauty industry. She loved looking pretty and smelling good. Of course, this is every girl’s dream, but making a living out of it doesn’t flash into many of these girls’ dreams.
Besides, it used to be a lot more common for the majority of entrepreneurs to be male in the past. However, in recent years the number of female entrepreneurs in the world has been on the rise. She is from a family of business-minded people. Both parents were entrepreneurs, but that is not why Donald is a powerful woman in this entrepreneurial space. At one point, life threw lemons at her, and she made lemonade.
At the age of 38, Donald has been to South Africa more than once. These frequent hazardous trips at the time were to acquire secret elements into being a real hustler. She would get robbed, risk being raped or hijacked, but she survived.
“At one point, life got too difficult to an extent where I found myself doing piece jobs for other people just so I earn something to buy toiletry, food and clothes even. I did laundry, and in the entire process, I got tired. I had to think about business, and it was easy because I come from a line of people who believe in trading. Somehow I got motivated, but I never wanted to work for anyone in life.”
Before embarking on shadowing missions in South Africa, Donald would go around the capital city, hunting for customers. Kgale Mews, Commerce Park are urban offices for various companies, but this did not restrict her from knocking, selling makeup, jewellery and accessories.
She was known for this particular hustle in all the offices. Some people will get exhausted because of her irritating products, but that did not stop her from acquiring a tiny spot in Main Mall. She pitched her gazibo, and her next items on display were plus size women’s outfits. These women are often overlooked, especially on beauty pageantry. The controversial Miss Plus Size Botswana pageant never saw the light of the day ever again.
“I guess that was after I saw the pains of plus-sized women when it came to shopping for something to wear. Being a plus-size woman made it easy for me to penetrate this space. I modelled all my clothes and advertised them on social media.”
Social media opened many doors for so many entrepreneurs. Donald can attest to that. She told Weekendlife that “People started coming in to buy both makeup and the clothes. Then, later on, I started selling second-hand clothes and while at it, I moved to my first shop. I think for me taking risks has never really been any scary because I convinced myself that in any case, I fall, I will rise again.”
“So I went boldly into everything that I could do at the time. I would travel to South Africa to places I never knew. I got my stock there, and even when I got robbed, I knew I would eventually reach my destination. It surely wasn’t an easy walk in a park, but I persevered,” she said.
From her mini boutique, Donald went full force into buying and supplying second-hand clothes. “As the COVID-19 lockdowns hit us, I was busy at work pushing the idea on mini bails and second-hand clothes. So it came down to my mind that I have to know what to sell in which season. It was a trial and error kind of hustle, but once you get a grip of it, you begin to sail smoothly.”
Donald currently supplies small businesses across the country. She gets to enjoy a good relationship with her customers, who are in other countries even. “It took me much effort, commitment and loyalty to be where I am today. I guess I could now boldly say that hard work is beginning to pay off. I have started knocking on bigger doors for partnerships, and I believe that if I can get them, beauty plus size clothing will be elevated to the next level.”
Mpho Donald is originally from Serowe. She studied her O and A-levels in Zimbabwe at the Specis College. Still, in Zimbabwe, she enrolled and qualified as a Travel and Tourism expert. She said in an interview that she will be venturing into other hustles too but couldn’t reveal which ones now. Donald is optimistic that everything will be ready and served in 2022.
After being announced as the next Miss Global Botswana, social media was ablaze, and curiosity was flown all over on whether Sakshi Bhargava is a native Motswana or the crown has incongruously been given to a non-citizen. Many Miss Global Botswana fans were breakneck in assuming that the queen is Indian, probably because the parents are of Indian descent and she looks Indian.
In a similar incident early this May, Miss Universe Canada Nova Stevens was chastened for being black. The beauty queen admitted that she’s disappointed with the behaviour of some pageant fans from other countries, noting that their hate takes away from the fun and enjoyment of the pageant.
“Is it that difficult to spread love instead of hate? No one is saying you have to support all contestants. All we’re saying is that you support your delegate without bringing others down,” she said. She called out racist comments on her Instagram criticizing her appearance. Stevens is of Sudanese descent. The remarks included: “Akala ko engkanto (I thought she was a mythical creature),” and “Hindi naman sa hinuhusgahan ko siya pero natatakot ako, promise. Parang hindi siya tao.” (I’m not judging her, but I’m terrified. It’sIt’s like she’s not a human being.)
Miss Global Botswana Bhargava told Weekendlife that she was born and brought up in Francistown, 19-years ago. She started her primary school in John Mackenzie and did her A-levels in Francistown, where she served as Deputy Head girl.
Her parents, she said, moved to Botswana from India in 1988. Technically, they have been in Botswana for 33 years. That then means they are Batswana by citizenship. According to data from the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration, and Gender Affairs, for a citizen of another country to qualify for Botswana citizenship, that person must satisfy few conditions.
The applicant has been resident in Botswana for a continuous period of 12 months immediately to the date of their application for a naturalization certificate. They should have been resident in Botswana for aggregate periods of not less than ten years during the 12 years immediately preceding the 12 months prescribed above. The applicant shall renounce the other country’s citizenship.
“Being born and brought up in Botswana, I have grown up learning Botswana culture, understanding Setswana, and I pride myself in being a Motswana by birth but Indian by race. We were lovingly welcomed into a very diverse nation. They fell in love with Botswana, and from then, they knew that this was the place where they wanted to birth and raise their children such that we grew up knowing this peaceful nation to be our home.”
“Our national flag, the black and white colors symbolize collaboration between people of diverse races and culture and a belief in racial cooperation and equality. I am proudly one of the first representations of the diversity our country has especially in the pageantry industry and I am fully equipped to represent our country.”
Bhargava further indicated that the Botswana culture is more of her identity than anything else as she has always known Botswana to be her home. “One should not be judged by race but should rather be embraced by character.”
BEAUTY WITH A PURPOSE
Having started pageantry at the age of 16, Bhargava has been a beauty queen with a purpose. She has worn two crowns too. In 2016, she was crowned Junior Miss Botswana 2nd princess and Miss Teen Hope 1st princess in 2017. During the past few years, she has also been pursuing ambassadorship with few companies.
“I became the brand ambassador of three local brands: the Diamond Pageantry Academy, BushT Fashions, and Em’s beauty Spa. She founded a non-governmental organization called Able Hearts Foundation. This is an NGO that strives to create equality for people living with disabilities.
“It runs with a slogan dubbed ”We are all equal in the fact that we are all different”. I believed that I am a true representation of what a beauty queen can help the community and how we have the ability to make the world a better place,” she told WeekendLife in an exclusive interview this week.
She started Able Hearts Foundation in 2017 after she realized that people faced with disabilities were ridiculed and made fun of, and, “I knew that as a teenager, I needed to stand up for this community and educate my peers on how to treat people faced with disabilities as equal in the society. For over 4 years now, I have worked with the Francistown Center for the Deaf Education, the Lephoi Center for the visually impaired and the Mochudi Resource Center for the blind.”
The newly crowned queen said she has worked with many more children living with disabilities and made it her mandate to nurture their talents and empower them to the point where they know and trust that they are equally important.
ATTENDING MISS GLOBAL IN INDONESIA
Miss Global organization has announced through their Instagram account that the competition is back, and a new edition is set to be held this September in Bali, Indonesia, with more than 80 delegates expected to participate.
Bhargava will be representing Botswana at the beauty competition, and she is ready to bring the crown home. “I entered the pageant industry at a very young age and my biggest dream was to represent Botswana on an international stage.
I applied to Miss Global organization as Botswana’s representative to hope that I would get a chance to truly showcase all of the hard work I have been putting into my ambitions of putting Botswana on the global map in allowedy. I am very excited to have been given the opportunity to live one of my biggest dreams.”