On the evening of September 24, 2018, Donald Molosi, Botswana’s renowned writer and performer, popularly known for his stage plays, Blue Black and White about Botswana’s "Colour Bar" love story, and Today it’s Me, about Philip Lutaaya’s journey with HIV/AIDS as an African and an artist, staged a reading of his off broadway show, Motswana.
At the end of the reading, the players all stand up and chant, “Botswana, imagine yourself again”.
The play itself is about a lot of things, not the least of which are the intersections and diversity of identities in Africa, but really in Botswana.
The writer addresses identity politics, juxtaposing a young liberal man, in a life-long a debate with his parents, as well as his society about what it really means to be African, exploring various aspects of this, including spirituality, partisan politics, creativity and an underlying need to excel. He is contrasted with a seemingly unquestionable leadership in a democratic republic. It almost reads like an oxymoron, that there are things, in a democracy, that are above question. He curiously navigates life as a child born to parents from different tribes in the country.
With a staunch, do things by the book and question nothing you might not get answers to Kalanga father, and a conventional, mildly curious, and often a too liberal for her husband Mongwato mum, the young man finds himself juggling various identities, including careers. He is a writer, as well as a politician.
His name is Boemo. A name signifying a placeholder, or a place of waiting, for something – anything; or a replacement, or even a stop! Or what we stand for. There is a Setswana saying, ina lebe seromo, which I understand to mean the name you are given sends you, a roundabout way of saying, your name is your calling. Setswana names, like many other African names, are signifiers. They denote a time or a period for the namer, or they represent something much greater than the child being born, at the time of their birth. They are often a heartfelt expression of what the namer wishes the child to grow into. Simply, they’re a big deal, like a pair of oversized shoes the named wishes or hopes to grow into. So Boemo, it seems, is named deliberately. He interrogates, in the usually aggressively revolutionary ways our generation does, the meanings of everything, the purposes of all things under the sun, most importantly, being Motswana.
We don’t really learn of Boemo the politician much. Only in passing commentary by his parents. An initial listening of the play however,
We know him personally. His personal politics are what appeal to us. A reminder, that the personal is political. Begging the question, what is politics today? Is it what the people of a certain party are known as? Or the way a country’s leadership is to reflect said country’s population?
Or the way when a country looks herself in a hypothetical mirror, she sees herself? Or is it how we dress ourselves up and contour our faces for public presentation? I have often heard many in our generation say; we don’t wanna live that, “Batho ba tlaa reng?!” burdensome life. That we want something more authentic, and real. Something we understand and can relate with. Something we believe in. It seems more idealistic than anything, I know.
But I wonder what it feels like, to be led by a leadership we are not suspicious of. One we believe in, and one we can trust with the country’s resources and healthy and sustainable development. One that doesn’t tear each other up in private WhatsApp groups, or make front-page news for corrupt practices and nepotism. One willing to engage with us.
Many people in the generation we are in know one thing: That the country needs a change, to reflect her people. To reflect the situation we are in, and to acknowledge us. We are no longer accepting that any of us, or anything relating to us be swept under the rug or be kept under the radar. Many of us seek accountability, both privately and more importantly, publicly. Boemo. An invitation to stand.
A suggestion of an end of an era, and the beginning of a new one. A calling to our politicians to represent us and represent us genuinely and authentically. The next year’s elections are an invitation to imagine ourselves again. A call to demand change. From both the ruling party and opposition. Boemo, a prompt to fill the shoes of a Botswana we, the people, envision. It is a dare, to disappoint expectations of failure to consult, and enable political participation of all citizens. We are chasing visions of a future in which we see ourselves in our leadership.