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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

The King’s journal 

23rd November 2021
Kgafela Kgafela II

This book is a true-life story of an African King based in South Africa. The Last Frontier is a resistance stand by Bakgatla Ba Kgafela tribe and its line of Kings from 1885 against a dark force called ‘western democracy’ that is insidiously destroying lives, peoples, nations and threatens to wipe away whole civilizations in Africa.

The story flows through four important episodes of history, beginning in about 1885 when Bechuanaland Protectorate was formed. This section briefly reveals interactions between Kgosi Linchwe 1 and the British Colonial Government, leading to the establishment of Bakgatla Reserve by Proclamations of 1899 – 1904.

The second episode deals with Kgosi Molefi’s interaction with the British Colonial Government in the period of 1929-36. The third episode records Kgosi Linchwe II’s interactions with the British Colonial Government and black elites of Bechuanaland. It covers the period of 1964-66, leading to Botswana’s independence. Kgosi Linchwe ii resisted the unlawful expropriation of his country (Bakgatla Reserve) by Sir Seretse Kgama’s government of 1966 to no avail. He wrote letters of objection (December 1965) to Her Majesty the Queen of England, which are reproduced in this book.

The fourth episode covers the period between Kgafela Kgafela II’s crowning as King of Bakgatla in 2008 to 2021. It is a drama of the author’s resistance to the present-day Botswana Government, a continuation of Bakgatla Kings’ objection against losing Bakgatla country to the Kgama dynasty assisted by the British Government since 1885. The story is told with reference to authentic letters, documents, and Court records generated during the period of 1885-2019. There is plenty of education in history, law, and politics contained in The Last Frontier for everyone to learn something and enjoy.   

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WeekendLife

Gospel concerts make a comeback

16th November 2021
Bishop Benjamin Dube

Hailed for being the prime gospel concert after the Covid-19 pandemic had put events to a halt, Golden Relic, in conjunction with Sweet Brands, recently unveiled the Arise and Worship Concert, Botswana. The show marks the return of worshippers and fans to enjoy music and worship together after what seemed like “cooler box” events were taking over the entertainment scene. 

The concert to be held on December 11th 2021, at the Molapo Showcase, has a packed lineup with the Headlining acts being Bishop Benjamin Dube, Lebo Sekgobela from South Africa and Botswana’s very own Obakeng Sengwaketse. More international acts from Nigeria and Ghana are also expected to grace the event. The show organizers have invested an effort in diversifying the lineup with live performances. 

The promoter of the Arise and Worship Concert, David “DVD” Abram revealed in an overview of the event that; “We have lost a lot of loved ones this year, and when that happens, one’s spirit goes down, and we need a light to ground us once more, to heal our souls. Therefore, the two main purposes of this event are to do the work of God and, secondly, to make sure that we nurture and develop talent in Botswana. With challenges that come up with events of such magnitude, the team and I have been committed to seeking guidance from God through having night prayers.” 

Abram added that as promoters, they usually have a bias towards already established artists, thus neglecting the upcoming ones and wanting to change that. “We approached the Melody Gospel TV Show since we aim at nurturing new talent and agreed on having one of the winners as a headliner for the event to allow them to share the stage with gospel giants so that they are exposed to the industry. This resulted in securing the Second Winner of the Melody Gospel TV show; Thabiso Mafoko as a local headlining act.”

The concert also aims at celebrating a Motswana. Multi-Award Winner; with the most recent title; BOMU Best Traditional Gospel under his belt, also best known for his soulful voice and heartfelt lyrics, Obakeng Sengwaketse enthusiastically said, “I want to thank the organizers of the Arise and Worship concert, it means a lot to me after recently winning two awards that are currently the highlight of my career.

I regard this as a great revival because the Covid-19 pandemic has muffled events such as this. I am looking forward to sharing the stage with the great Bishop Benjamin Dube, Lebo Sekgobela and more artists from Nigeria and Ghana. Sengwaketsi urged Batswana to come and witness the greatness of the Lord as their lives will never be the same.”

Tickets are selling like fat cakes with VVIP tickets having only five tickets remaining; the VVIP tickets include rounder access backstage to all the performing artists. The event will also comprise a seated Gold Circle Ticket, which accounts for 50% of revellers to allow for easier enforcement of COVID-19 protocols and avoid a potential stampede.

In a bid to entice merrymakers to buy tickets, the promoters have come up with a layby strategy and buying tickets on an instalment basis for the attendees to be able to buy their tickets since the COVID-19 Pandemic has left many Batswana in financial ruin but having the interest to attend the event.

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WeekendLife

Fame vs Mental health

9th November 2021
Lizibo

One can only imagine what is like being in the public eye. It is not a walk in the park; and not as easy as people might think it is because of the pressure from the public. Celebrities or influencers are perceived to be perfect, perfect bodies, perfect families, perfect parents, financially stable, healthy, and always smiling and patient with everyone – Is this for real?

However, when people’s expectations of celebrities are not met, the same celebrities are often victimized, body shamed, or blamed, fairly or unfairly. As a result of them not having a personal life, they are often scrutinized in all aspects of their lives; their lives are aired for the public to see and judge. Celebrities are often extra careful about everything that they do, they have to go an extra mile as compared to how ordinary people live their lives.

To understanding this experiences by public figures, this reporter made a case study of Mr Lizibo Gran Mabutho, the firstborn in his family with only one sibling, his younger brother. Lizibo describes himself as a simple Kalanga guy who was chosen by music and did not choose music.

He said being raised by his mother and grandmother, he grew up surrounded by music from birth. Lizibo said his grandmother was a religious person who held church services at their house in Zwenshambe, “for me singing was from Monday to Sunday. I was not like any ordinary child who only sang at church on Sundays or sometimes in school assembly, for me it was a daily thing. My mother was also a talented dancer in our village that is what I mean when I say I did not choose music, but music chose me.”

Lizibo said though he grew up surrounded by music, it was hard for his parents to accept the path he has chosen to be a musician. Lizibo said he had to prove to his parents that music was his passion and that it could pay the bills like any other profession. He said eventually they saw his passion for music and supported him.

Lizibo said being exposed to music from a tender age made him venture into the music career from a tender age. He said he was part of the Kgalemang Tumediso Motsete (KTM) choir, Lizibo said being in the public eye for the longest time has taught him that he is living for the people and that he does not have a life. He said the very society that is watching him has so much expectation for him and that means he has to conduct himself in a good manner because people are looking up to him.

Lizibo said he understands the saying that great power comes with great responsibility, “when people see me, they see a role model. I realize and understand that people are and have been modelling me even when I was not aware of it, I know of six mothers who have named their sons after me because they felt that I inspire them somehow.”

He said he has accepted his fate that he will never have a normal life because people are looking unto him. He said he is grateful to be in the public on a positive note by bringing hope to the people because he has always wanted to be part of people’s solutions and not their problems.

He said, “people should understand that our careers are our calling. One needs to be spiritually connected to their calling as an artist. The most rewarding part about being in the public for me is not about payment but about being the solution to someone’s problem.”

Lizibo said the greatest challenge that he has ever faced about being in the public eye has been the issue of trust, not able to know which friends are genuine and which ones are not. He said as a way of avoiding fake friends he has always kept his four close friends who have been there for him through thick and thin. Lizibo said being close to his family has also helped him as they have been his strength when things were not going well for him, “most of the time people say we change when we taste fame. That is not necessarily true because people are the ones who changed when we became famous. People always want something from us, nothing is ever genuine with people and that is why I chose to keep my circle very small.”

Lizibo said as much as he travels a lot because of the nature of his work because it is naturally demanding, he said he always ensures that he creates time for his family. He said that at home he is Lizibo who is sent to do errands, he is Lizibo the son, not a celebrity.

He said there is a lot of pressure that comes with being in the spotlight, “the public puts so much pressure on us mostly about the material lifestyle they portray us to have. We are often compared with South African celebrities, but people fail to understand that we are two different countries. Most people fell into the trap and are living above their means resulting in them living in debt. I often tell youngsters not to fall into that trap of being tempted to live life above their means.”

The advice Lizibo gave to upcoming celebrities was that they should know that being in the public is not about them, but it is about the people. He said, “one of my mentors once asked me if I make music about myself or the people. He said I need to make music for the people because it is my responsibility to feed them with what they need, he said they might not even be able to know that they have a need but that I need to identify that need and meet it. Our responsibility is to serve people what they need, our music is to feed people’s hunger. My music is about love, I feed people love.”

Lizibo said it is important for celebrities to seek counselling and take care of their mental health, he said he has been investing in his mental health for years because he understands the importance of mental health especially when one is in the public.

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