This long overdue recognition is a step in the right direction for one of the most overlooked and underdeveloped job creating sectors in the country.
With the task of developing native administrators for the newly independent nation high on its list of priorities, Botswana embarked on the arduous task of educating its people. Together with its development partners, Batswana put their hands to the plough and never looked back. In that race to produce homegrown engineers, teachers, doctors, architects, technicians, lawyers, accountants and the like, anyone viewed as unresponsive to the rallying call was seen as noxious to the nation's newfound ethos.
Batswana who secretly and openly entertained thoughts of being musicians, dancers, actors, writers, comedians, actors, poets, photographers, painters, or sculptors, precursors of today's graphic designers, were viewed with disdain. How dare they waste their God-given talents trying to be artists instead of using them to build up the country's human resource capacity?
"Our orientation as Africans with regards to gainful employment is a 9 to 5. But I spend over 85 percent of my time working. While people are asleep I am at work at the studio communicating with their dreams. My inspiration mostly comes at night when it's quiet and the landscape is not polluted by noise and movement," said Ray Gare, winner (Best in Mixed Media, visual arts category). But maybe rapper Apollo Diablo said it best in his song The City Owes Me: "Seems like yesterday when we started this/we put our souls and hearts in it/arts living in God's children/mommy raised me right/but it's hip-hop that saved my life..."
Sadly, neglecting their true vocation, a word rooted in the Latin for voice, a lot of Batswana reluctantly threw their weight behind the task at hand. And as a testament to that development drive the country came up trumps. Although much work still needs to be done in way of localising all positions tantamount to the development goals laid down, relatively, Botswana boasts one of the most educated societies in Africa plus the enviable title of being the only country in Africa that built its infrastructure from scratch, as opposed to an inherited colonial legacy. But after the hustle and bustle of life gets to the hardworking professional, where does s/he get her/his reprieve? If not from faith-based organisations, most turn to vices the government is hard at work trying to curtail: alcohol and drug abuse.
A day-off is nothing without music, a good book, seeing a play, watching movies, viewing awe-inspiring works of art at the museum, a walk in the park; all of which would not be possible were it not for artists. For these and many other reasons that do not require qualification, artists should be paid as well as any professional out there. Work for the artist is an inspiration that comes from a place of no explanation. It's hard work, sometimes taking months, even years to articulate or complete. Their perennial dedication is true to the words of Lebanese-American poet, Khalil Gibran: "Work is love made perfect." During that long march, athletic pursuits were slightly looked down upon as well, albeit good for a sound mind, a la Mens Sana in Corpora Sano: "a healthy mind in a healthy body." Hence much did not go in way of recreation and recreational pursuits either. The country had more serious things to consider. But 42 years down the line and in just over 100 days into his presidency, Ian Khama, has catapulted the arts, and sports, to their long overdue and much deserved places in the sun.
Artists play a vital role in society. Apart from being the custodians of a nation's cultural heritage, they are also critiques necessary for any progressive society. Based on their views of society they can either encourage or discourage certain trends. A well-written book or issue related screenplay/sitcom can help in the fight against any of the social problems that beset the country: drunk-driving, rape, murder-suicides, HIV&AIDS, alcohol and drug abuse, etc. Due to the creative licences afforded them in their professions, they can even call leaders, parents and society to task, hence upholding cultural traditions and values dear to the nation. And as a result for putting to song or canvas our heart's wishes and misses that we find hard to articulate, and for their creative genius, artists are highly prized, courted and paid.
It was, therefore, good to see hard work and dedication finally being rewarded at the prize-giving ceremony. When Chris Manto 7 first arrived from under the shadow of Jeff Matheatau, many viewed him as a clown. The guy wore an Afro wig for God's sake and his lead single, Zwagapressa, was done in Hambukushu, a language exotic to most Batswana. He walked away, still in his trademark Afro, plus gloves for added flair, with P50, 000 and a photo opportunity with the president. And how long has Puna serenaded us with all of heart and soul? It was good to see her get her due. And Gare, that young man once heading in the wrong direction whose sanity was redeemed by his art, how his works encourage us to look within and know that - at the core, we are all the same: capable of great good and an equal measure of evil. The difference is choice.
"You know how long I've been doing this, Jerry! This is like from hell to fame. It says that people are beginning to take notice. It's a motivating gesture that says, 'keep doing it!' This is just the beginning," said Gare. With his winnings from the ceremony, kid dynamite Stompie represents the hope of the next generation of artists emerging. He has reaped where a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears for little or no recognition went into.
While the awards, are welcomed, they nonetheless represent the biggest payday for a majority of the artists. For most of them this is more than they make from all their albums, paintings, sculptures, and drama and poetry performances combined - if even that much.
Hopefully, event promoters and record labels will take their cue from the government and start giving our artists the respect due to them in terms of remuneration that's commensurate with their creations.
That way, just as in the case of the recent exploits by Zebras, local artists can ascend to that excellent podium, in line with Vision 2016. "Even though the other awards need to increase their prizes, just getting the certificate and being recognised for our work shows that people appreciate us and this is great. It encourages us to aim higher," added Gare.
It is encouraging to see the government once again taking the lead in proper pay for artists.
It is now time for the private sector and the general public to follow and eclipse that ,and let the good times roll for our artists.