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Improving the Situation of Fine Arts Industry in Botswana: Challenges & Solutions


KEITH PHETLHE


In this era of the 21st century, the fine art industry in the developing countries like Botswana continue to face developmental challenges. This situation has compelled researchers to pose some crucial questions as way of showing the growing concern on the development of art industry in Botswana, and perhaps beyond the borders where I believe local talent has the capacity to expand and develop further. Some of the questions I attempt to answer in this article are as follows:

how much do Batswana know about the fine arts? How can the fine arts be supported by the government and private sector? What has been done so far to improve this industry and how can these efforts be supported further? How can we improve the fine arts in local languages as part of marketing the tourism industry? What can the Ministry of Arts and Culture do improve the situation of the fine art industry in Botswana? What is does it mean to perceive the fine arts as an industry, and how can they be perceived as profitable enterprise in Botswana?

My attempt to answer the questions above does emanate from my perspective as a scholar and researcher within the humanities, and it does not in any way suggest that I want speak from a ‘a holier-than-thou’ attitude. My goal is only to examine the situation of the fine arts in Botswana, exclusively, and present an argument that despite their potential to grow or develop the economy of Botswana, the fine arts continue to suffer neglect. This unfortunate situation persists despite the amount to local talent and amount of resources channeled towards financing the study of the Humanities and Arts in the local tertiary institutions.

To understand the arts, we are obliged to define them from the local perspective, from the aesthetic way of conceptualizing and contextualizing; in terms of how the arts are generally perceived by communities in Botswana and their communal function. In addition, we need to learn from countries abroad such as Greece, Italy and perhaps the US, and appreciate how such countries have historically approached the area of the fine arts as an enterprise.

Emphasizing the definition, the fine arts constitute any creative activity, material or immaterial/tangible or intangible that is consumed by the society for their aesthetic appeal or beauty and their communal function. This definition is theory based and therefore complex, but it can be simplified to mean fine arts include any work creative work of art that is produced and consumed in Botswana. Some examples include, poetry, film, folklore, music and dance, sculpture, theater and performance arts e.t.c Already, these works of art can be seen across Botswana in the malls, our clothes and jewellery, villages and arts centers such as the Thapong Visual Arts and the National Museum.

The list is endless and this is because they are a way of life- culture. Other examples include, sculptures and monuments that decorate significant buildings in Botswana, the glaring displays of artifacts at the main-mall or at the entrance of business places like Bull and Bush or Botswana Craft. Oodi College of Fine Arts, Limkokwing University and, the University of Botswana produce abled citizens who graduate with Art degrees from these universities every year.

Many locals produce immense talent mostly seen during the annual president holidays and other cultural activities; for example Oodi Weavers, Dithubaruba, Mbungu wa ka Thimana and Motlhaolosa Poetry Ensemble, to mention but a few cultural groups that exist in Botswana. However, the critical question that remain unanswered is, how can we utilize these artistic skills profitably? Perhaps the answer should be somewhere between where our national priorities lie and our general attitude to the arts. We must have a ‘collective responsibility’ that views art as an enterprise worthy of financial support and constant monitoring and the availing of arts endowments.

Efforts done thus far which come with the package of the money won from the president day competitions should encourage investors to  look further and invest in the art market, especially those who are into the the tourism and hospitality businesses. As a noted poet and culture activist Moroka Moreri has argued elsewhere in an exclusive interview, ‘artists need not to have circular jobs, but they should be given grants and loans to pursue the arts’. I can’t agree more. My own view which corroborates Moroka Moreri’s understanding is that this is the only positive way to promote the growth of the art industry in our country. However, proper, administration, management, and accountability are required to ensure the sustainability of these programs.  

Based on my observations, artists in Botswana continue to be exploited by consumers due to the following reasons: many generally don’t view art as business, and therefore fail to understand when an artist such as a poet or musician expects a payment for the artistic services rendered. Culturally, art across many African societies including Botswana was done for entertainment purposes (and other social functions) and the idea of profiting from it is a new development that proves that our culture is continually adapting.

I have personally performed poetry and rendered my services as the MC during some occasions only to be shocked when I was told that I had volunteered, or when a payment was fully determined by my consumer until I started to rethink ways of making my clients realize that my artistic services should be paid for. There are many other artists who continue to face this challenge, and are swallowed by unemployment despite the talent they possess.

Furthermore, I have also observed that many are times when people who sit as judges or adjudicators for the art competitions are largely unqualified amateurs with a very poor background in the arts. This is a problem and will probably continue to pose as a challenge to the proper development of the arts in Botswana. I think it is fitting to suggest that artistry in Botswana needs a proper administration, which should be handled by the people who are not only passionate about the arts, but also those art administrators who are trained to handle budget and profits reaped from artistic enterprises.  

How then can we improve the fine art industry in Botswana? We first need to ensure quality and appreciate the fact that the arts should occupy a significant role in the domains of our society and our economy. Therefore, our art production should be critical at all times, thus responding and maneuvering themes and topical issues of importance in the society. We also need to have artists who are prepared to produce the arts and a society that is equally prepared to consume and support local art.

This is the first major step to safeguard our ‘cultural economy’ through the use of arts in Botswana. Currently in Botswana, private and government financial institutions like banks, CEDA, National Development banks often given loans or grants to support businesses but despite this, the arts continue to be poorly supported however. Is it too risky to sponsor or make an investment in the arts? Hardly. Arts continue to flourish in the so called developed countries because of the way they are viewed.

Artists who want to build their artistic portfolio should also be supported financially to pave their way to becoming art entrepreneurs. This can be done by private investors and through the government programs. Secondly, we need to change our view towards the arts and think of the arts as a component that can have a commercial value. If we do so, our art industry with see growth both locally and internationally.

In conclusion, what can we learn from other countries where the art industry is flourishing? We can learn that art in any given society has a functional value, hence Botswana is no exception. The importance of the fine arts goes beyond entertainment, the arts are important repositories of our cultures. Through art, members of our societies, including the Minority groups will have their voice in the affairs of their society.

As I have argued elsewhere, during the conference hosted by the Department of English under the theme of The Competing and Complementary Role of English in Africa, I argued that we must incorporate other local languages into the extracurricular activities in our schools as a first step into shaping an inclusive and diversified education. In this article, I have defended the current situation of the fine arts in Botswana by highlighting on the challenges and possible solutions to the outlined challenges.  

KEITH PHETLHE pursues a Ph.D in Comparative African Literature with a minor in Film Studies from Ohio University, College of Fine Arts. He is a member of the African Literature Association. He does research on Postcolonial Theory, Translation, African Languages & Literatures, Language Education & Film. kp406314@ohio.edu

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WeekendLife

A.T.I: Batswana’s Judas Iscariot

19th October 2020
Atasaone Molemogi aka

Atasaone Molemogi, who goes by the stage name of A.T.I, is yet again making headlines and trending on social media platforms.

The eccentric and somewhat lose cannon artist is under fire for the stunts he pulled early this year. A.T.I had gone over and above to enlighten and fight for Batswana’s rights against according to him, foreigners who have monopolised the country.

So much so Atasaone recorded a video ranting and hurling insults while in front of Satar Dada’s Motor Centre at Fairground Mall. That was one of his many episodes. However, the one that gave him the ‘struggle icon’ persona was when he was arrested for making a video in front of the State House, this landed the dear lad in the cells of Urban Police Station and later transferred to Central Police Station.

Batswana gathered at the Central Police to demonstrate and demand the maverick be released. A.T.I became the Mandela of Botswana, the voice of the voiceless, the Messiah Batswana needed. A.T.I could not become any bigger till another outspoken personality stepped on the stage, Duma Gideon Boko, lawyer and President of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

The aberrant lawyer did not disappoint, especially when he flamboyantly swung his gown on like Superman in front of the press. This was the moment, Botswana’s two outspoken and nonconformists were wearing their capes to save the ordinary citizen from years of being subjected to mediocracy.

Molemogi had Batswana believe that indeed they were being treated unfairly in their own country and incited many to take up arms and fight for a better Botswana for Batswana. The people stood rock solid behind the maverick artist.

That is until A.T.I pulled the rug under their feet and went ahead and met Tumiso Rakgare, Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture. The very same Minister he vehemently declined to meet, hell-bent on only having an audience with the President of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Masisi.

What transpired between Rakgare and A.T.I is not known, but any Tom, Dick and Harry can guess that A.T.I, one way or another, was enticed by something said or done by the Minister because the recluse was as silent as a lamb after the meet.

Now, this publication by no means implies that Rakgare offered Atasaone anything valuable but observing the cries of the masses it may be deducted to something along those lines.All this however happened mid this year and anyone would think that it would be old news and a closed chapter, not to be.

The public cannot for the life of them get over how A.T.I used them to push his agenda and then leave them hanging. A sin unforgiveable in the eyes of Batswana. And so the masses have to have their displeasure made known.

A.T.I has been awarded a new name, Judas Iscariot. The infamous follower of Jesus Christ who sold the latter to the Jews for 30 pieces of silver. Batswana made the reference having deducted that they and their dreams have been sold in the same way Christ was sold off. A.T.I has sabotaged and sold the struggle, for what or how much is still not known.

While people find it hard to understand why ATI threw in the towel, the controversial singer seems unbothered and does not regret anything. He however cited that he is not fond of the name ‘Judas Iscariot’. He further stated that people should understand that it is easy for him to get lost in the midst of everything.

A.T.I shared with this publication that he needed to start somewhere in order to meet the President. He further mentioned to this publication that they discussed how best they can assist the youth and he was telling the Minister about his clothing line, and asking for support from the minister. None of the things mentioned have materialized however.

In his defence he said, “We need to be able to save ourselves before we can be able to save others. People should stop laughing at people who supported me and they should stop calling me Judas Iscariot. The reason why I was going to war when the year began, was because I needed security and I needed our leaders to give me answers.

I was scared I wanted more communication. With time I noticed that I am losing myself. No one told me what to do but I did what I did and I did exactly how l felt it was best,” he said.“A lot of people felt I am their answer, no! I am not anybody’s answer that is why when I was still at it I noticed the saviour mentality. I felt I was back at it again.

I cannot try to save the world all the time. You cannot change the world that don’t see the need to change their mental state.

At the same time the people I am trying to do it for, are still stuck in 89. I did it for the people I needed to do it for and for the truest results to be visible.”

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WeekendLife

Becoming Queen: Oweditse on her Miss Botswana reign

19th October 2020
MISS BOTSWANA - Oweditse Phirinyane

It was not long time ago when she got crowned as Queen, after a series of hard work to take over the crown.

For her it was a journey of learning and a wakeup call at the same time, to put hark work in her reign and to bring the best out of it.

Today, she gave a reflection on becoming Queen and reminisced on what it took for her to complete her reign. The Queen is expected to hang over the crown soon, and to who, we are yet to find out.

When reflecting back on her journey, Oweditse Phirinyane shared with WeekendLife that from the time she got crowned as Queen, there was a form of sisterhood that existed within the contestants.

To an extent whereby they were able to solve their issues amicably without holding grudges.“You know when there is a group of women in one place, people often expect drama. But ours was minimal.

It was more of a sisterhood and our fights were more of sisters. We just solved them and got over them,” she said.Forming part of the contestants meant she had to gird her loins and place herself in a better position to be able to take the crown and ascend the throne as Miss Botswana 2019/20.

“From Phikwe, when SPEDU was taking us on those trips every day. We got lessons, the mere fact that SPEDU was the main sponsor, and they would take us on these long drives, it then occurred to me that this is all for nothing. I had to pay attention to everything that was being said.

My gut said there would be a question on SPEDU. So when we came back, I was ready because I was paying attention and I took time to read the pamphlets that were given to us.”

“So when I took over as Queen, I had a short period to record beauty with a purpose. I had to meet all the Miss World deadlines, I had back to back meetings, interviews and at the same time I had to prepare my wardrobe so it was just crazy. There were no enough sponsors to rely on.

There was no time for delegation of issues. There was no money. I also managed because I had good relationships with designers, as a model and as an individual.”Even though the budget was not enough to cover up her expenses, she had to take care of herself because Miss Botswana did not have money.

Although they assisted where they could, they could not cover half of her wardrobe, not even a quarter. Due to different timelines, and different seasons, she struggled to buy winter clothes for London as it was summer this side, yet it was winter where she was going to compete.

“The shops did not have winter clothes, so it was stressful getting ready for Miss World. That was the most painful part of my reign. You end up settling for things you would not settle for. I then suggested for the next Queen to be crowned earlier.

I wanted to be there for them to form that part of sisterhood. Most of the Queens after their reign they leave because of conflicts. So I wanted to change that,” she said.“If they all meet then I will too because I know the tricks.

The tricks starts here, what is happening in our country and what you have been doing back home. Even if it is not a major thing. Companies, when we come to them and we say ‘support Miss Botswana’, it would not always be about money but making the Queen part of their projects and social responsibility projects.

She has to be there to build her portfolio and those who are watching can see that she is active. There are a lot of events in the country that a Queen can attend.”

Being at Miss World
Part of her reign meant her being at Miss World to compete with Queens from all over the globe. Although she anticipating to give her all at Miss World, she was met with disappointment. However, she had a form of sisterhood with other countries to cushion the disappointments that befell her.

“When I left for Miss World I was so exhausted. My mum had to come the previous day to help me pack. I was so exhausted. My body was on shutdown mode. She came because I was just about to break down. I was overwhelmed because I was doing a lot of things. Her presence made me feel better,’’ said Phirinyane.

“I left for London alone and I had a lot of luggage with me at the time. London was my first long trip. So I was sleeping on the way because I did not want to stress about anything. I arrived in London and I saw people from the Embassy waiting for me. And I had to check in at the Tower Hotel.

I did not have a roommate for a week. My roommate was Miss Ethiopia. I grew close to Miss Barbados and Miss Antigua. When my roommate came, she was a headsets girl,”

“Her English was not good even when I needed to converse with her. Our conversation would be short. But what I loved about her was that she would tell me how amazing I was, without fail.”

Although she had initially perceived that she will be competing globally to bring the crown home, she was instead surprised to learn that the finalized where already chosen and they were there to do formalities.

“They already had their finalists based on social media, not the likes and not the followings but the reception and how you are treated back home. The other thing they look at was how valuable pageantry is in your country. That is if they crown you, what they will benefit from your country. It is business at the end of the day,’’ she said.

“Some people would be barely having two weeks and already they are in Top 40. Somehow it would crush me or destroy someone. I would raise my complaints to our team leader that it was not fair. I was in a group with huge countries.

Countries where pageantry is taken seriously. When I didn’t make it to the Top 40 I was shocked. But at the same time I was content and proud that I have done my best.” She stated that she had a lot of projects that she had to do back home, but she could not due to Covid-19 but there were initiatives she engaged in for the betterment of the society.

When she took over she admitted that she was hyped up and pumped up to implement her projects, which she said she will continue doing even after her reign.“I wish I could have done more but I am still proud of what I have done.

I am proud that I never gave up. I hope one day it gets to a point where people understand the beauty of pageantry and the entertainment industry,” said Phirinyane.

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WeekendLife

Botswana’s little beauty queens earn international credit

19th October 2020
Little MISS Princess 2020 Katlo Ratau

The contentious and contagious COVID-19 pandemic has caused many prominent beauty pageants around the world to be cancelled and postponed.

Among the most to be affected were the Miss Botswana 2020 and of course Little Miss Princess of the World, both the local and global events which were cancelled entirely.

A few of these beauty pageants have modified to remove a live audience or to be purely held over teleconference. One protuberant beauty pageant going on this year is the Miss South Africa that will be going down on the 24th October 2020.

Well, that is a story for another day. It is definitely a golden year and we can’t complain much because Botswana’s five Little Miss Princesses of the World have been recognized internationally and honoured among the Teen Top 100 Young Talented of the World 2020 by Fabuk Magazine.

Fabuk Magazine is a fashion and lifestyle publication which is distributed to many of the leading fashionably trendy destinations all over the world. The major countries for overseas distributions are UK, France, Turkey and USA amongst others.

The magazine is on-hand at most major events such as fashion and red carpet shows, international festivals for fashion and tourism shows.Undeniably the most artistic and dazzling, Katlo Ratau made the list of Botswana’s keen princesses to ever join the Miss Little Princess of the World pageant which was held in Bulgaria at the time of her reign.

A Form 4 student at Delta Waters International School in Maun, she participated in the pageant in 2016 and went home slightly thwarted after being crowned 1st runner up at an outstanding occasion held at the GICC.

Well coincidentally for her, she had a chance to travel to Europe with other Princesses and came to blows with similarly incredible girls from the entire world. She effortlessly sailed through to the finals and was crowned an ultimate winner through her ease composure and radiance.

Joining other Princesses of the World from Botswana was Anke Nkwe. At the age of 12 years, she is already setting bars to be recognized globally as a shining star. Perhaps Botswana will be doing the most at the Miss World in the near feature.

This little dynamite joined the pageant in 2017 and only made it to Top 8 and never hesitated to come back again the following year to claim what belonged to her. She was crowned Miss Congeniality and scooped the second place.

In beauty pageants, Miss Congeniality is usually determined by the votes of other contestants, as being that girl that whom they regard as the most pleasant or kind among other competitors. Nkwe is also a model for the Diamond Pageantry Academy.

With a sterling and authentic record of beauty pageantry, Koketso Gulubane has been selected among the Teen Top 100 Young Talented of the World 2020. She was once crowned Little Miss Independence and participated in the Little Miss Princess of the World twice, in 2015 and 2016 only to finish in Top 5.

At one point she joined Junior Miss Botswana and Miss Teen Botswana where she won numerous awards that include Miss Photogenic, Miss Congeniality.Little Miss Princesses of the World 2019 were not there to add numbers.

The reigning Queen Janet McIntosh and her second runner up Crystal Mokgaotsa were selected among the Top 100 Most Talented teens. At the age of 10 and earning her stripes already, Mokgaotsa was the winner of Best Talent at the pageant.

If these young girls could be nurtured and groomed from these ages, we can have a story to tell at the Miss World or Miss Universe pageants. We have been failing grimly because the girls go out to participate when they are never ready, something that is killing the reputation of the Miss Botswana organization softly.

The reining Little Miss Princess of the World Botswana, McIntosh, joined the pageant in 2016 where she failed to make it to Top 10. She made a huge comeback in 2019 and easily earned her crown. In an exclusive interview with WeekendLife, founder of Miss Little Princess of the World Botswana, Tebogo Lebanna said when participating at the world stage, their main focus is the Botswana culture and tourism, which has proven to do wonders for them.

“This has been our secret ingredient. European and American countries are stunned by our culture and tourism and that is something we strive to promote on other platforms post this COVID-19 pandemic. Our culture is rich and as much as it is dynamic, the world loves to see that”

She added that they also outshine other countries in talent exhibition, saying that they have joined forces with Mophato Dance Theatre, a group that helps in teaching the girls traditional dance skills and dance presence.

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