From dancing to Polka under the stars on the dusty grounds in Kgalagadi to reviving Dr Vom's Thobane with an infectious dance at the National Stadium VIP Grand Stand Mmegi staffer MOMPATI TLHANKANE captures the snapshots of the arts during the outgoing president Ian Khama’s years as his presidency becomes history on April 1
For others in the Arts sector, it has been a seemingly endless night with no sign of dawn while some will always cherish Khama’s days as a series of sunshines.
Since taking over on April’s Fool Day in 2008, Khama became a President who made supporting the arts an intrinsic part of his governance. When he ascended to power, he didn’t just ignore previous presidents’ playbook, he wrote his own script.
He proclaimed the President’s Day in July a holiday through which the arts should be celebrated by coming up with President’s Day Competitions (PDC). According to Khama, the main aim of the PDC was to promote local arts and culture through participation in the various arts categories countrywide. Artists are awarded with prizes ranging from P25, 000 per group to P10, 000 for individual performers.
Last year when the competitions celebrated 10 years, it was reported that participation had grown from 3,274 at inception, to great numbers of 18,971. Some of the awards recipients have been able to penetrate the international market to promote and develop their creativity and talent.
The competitions are possibly the greatest contribution he has ever done for the arts industry, but Khama will always be remembered for unearthing Polka music and bringing it to mainstream audience. He revived the genre that originated in the Bokspits, Rappelspan, Vaalhoek and Struizendam (BORAVAST) area. A fan of the music himself, Khama through the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development came up with the annual Polka festival that is usually held in Tsabong. The fever of Polka reached other regions of Botswana and various groups were formed despite their background.
It was also during Khama’s tenure that dynamic programmes like Miss Rural Area Development Programme beauty pageant was established and spearheaded by the Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Botlogile Tshireletso. The pageant was aimed at facilitating talent identification, promoting inclusiveness of young women in mainstream society as well as providing a forum for young women from recognized remote area settlements.
For the first time under any presidency, the ministry responsible for the arts held consultative meetings with industry players from musicians to fashion designers. Khama also catered for the visual arts. Early in his presidency he issued a directive that government departments should buy art works from local artists.
In 2015, he unveiled the elephant sculpture that was designed by local artists and made purely of elephant ivory tusks weighing 2.7 tonnes. Local artists were also involved during the work of murals at Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism and Molepolole kgotla just to mention but a few.
Perhaps the most promising aspect left by Khama just before he steps down was the launch of the new Youth television channel called Now TV. The idea of a youth and entertainment channel was conceived by the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development (MYSC) in an endeavour to promote
Khama was recognised when he won the Transformational Leadership Award for the 2015 African Muzik Magazine Awards (AFRIMMA). The awards were in recognition of his contribution to the development of the arts and culture industry in the country. Last year he was also chosen by the Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sports and Culture Development, Thapelo Olopeng to be the patron of Arts and Culture.
But it has not been a walk in the park the entire journey and the arts sector had to endure some of the worst challenges under his tenure. The Copyright Society of Botswana (COSBOTS), which is the Collective Management Organisation in Botswana incorporated the same year Khama ascended into the presidency, has not benefited the creative industry and had been hit with allegations of maladministration and mismanagement of funds. COSBOTS is mandated by the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act to amongst others license and collect royalties from users of copyright/protected works to distribute to copyright owners.
It was also during Khama’s tenure when the idea of forming an arts council was mooted, but then failed to materialise. The council was expected to operate along the lines of the Botswana National Sports Commission. Olopeng, at one point emphasised the need for the formation of the council when he called arts associations to unite. Even visual arts heavyweights like Reginald Bakwena of Thapong Visual arts had hinted to the need for a national arts council now long over due. Ironically, Kast has now started his 2,000km walk in his bid for an arts council to be given priority.
Even though entertainment promoters have often shied away from the topic due to fear of victimisation, the cancellation of lala vuka or 24 hours entertainment has affected the growth of the sector. Promoters don’t make much from music festivals and artists don’t get paid as result. When Khama came to office, he cracked the whip immediately when he reduced hours at bars, entertainment centres and music festivals.
Entertainment industry employs people and many have suffered because there were no more night shifts to benefit from. Upcoming artists need festivals for exposure and limited time meant more rotation of well-known artists. Revellers have suffered a great inconvenience and music festivals no longer attract larger crowds except a few.
Hamptons Jazz festival recently suffered a big blow when they had to cancel their show due to the time they were allocated. It was also under Khama when the government failed to invest in building world-class entertainment venues and when he leaves office, musicians and performers alike would still perform in open sports stadia and poorly ventilated community halls.
But after Khama leaves the OP, Mokgweetsi Masisi, a renowned performing artist, will carve his own legacy and it might topple the former or possibly face a more rigorous examination.