All speech is free

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BOOK REVIEW

Thinking Allowed by Barolong Seboni was first published 15 years ago. It is now out in a new edition that was launched last week at Books Botswana at the University of Botswana (UB) by Professor David Kerr of Media Studies and the author, and yesterday at Botsalo Books, Game City.
Seboni is well known to readers in Botswana for his humorous and challenging column from a shebeen, "Nitty Gritty", that appears in Mmegi every Friday. For a younger generation of readers who have not heard of "Thinking Allowed" they may be surprised to learn that it is a satirical column that first appeared in The Botswana Gazette in 1983. It has experienced a series of trans-migrations to the Midweek Sun and elsewhere. That Barolong Seboni has been a reliable and commendable columnist for going on nearly 25 years is a cause for celebration.
Thus this slim book helps us to celebrate his diamond jubilee as a creative thinker and writer, or as he calls himself a "Think Ink" person, but one who is careful to "think before you stink". Unfortunately the column "Thinking Allowed" died a natural death when it gave birth to "Nitty Gritty". Yet in this new edition there is, after the 28 excerpts, a new one that will be most welcome and will cause many of his fans to rush out and get the new edition - they will probably need to do so as the old one, published in 1992, is so fingered, it having been read so much, that it is in tatters and no long eligible. Or most likely they have lost the copy, now 15 years old, or it has been used for some other purpose, so they will welcome getting this new edition!
Their only regret might be that Thinking Allowed hasn't been empowered with more new essays, though the new one, "Coca-Colonialism" remains a more fitting conclusion, far better than the old "Free Speech is Costly".
There are other reasons Seboni is celebrating today. I am sure you will find him easily at the Nitty Gritty Shebeen, and be able to buy a round, and propose a toast, as today is his 50th birthday. Please, you say ... but I am not letting any secret out of the bag ... it is right there, stated most clearly, if you care to look for it, in his new edition of Thinking Allowed.  Seboni should be recognised and declared the poet laureate of Botswana. He would then join the notable company of other of his cognate relatives throughout the world. Such an honour, if he would accept it, might also cause some people to actually read some of his books of poems, particularly his Windsongs of the Kgalagadi and Lovesongs: A Collection of Love Poems. He was fortunate between 1966 and 1970 to study in London, and then spent time at Edinburgh as a poet-in-residence in 1993 and again in Iowa at the famous International Writer's Programme in 2003. He has been involved in the University of Botswana's writers' workshop from the start and now chairs it. He has edited, with Dr Biakolo, an anthology of Botswana Poetry. He has also produced an anthology of literature for secondary schools in Botswana called Lighting the Fire. There is also his Songs, Screams and Pleas: A Collection of Short Stories and Poetry from Botswana. It is not hard to tell where his heart is, though you might wonder how he has been so prolific? The secret lies in the corner of the Nitty Gritty Shebeen where he can be found hanging out with his laptop and other resources. You might even hear, from out of the gloom, a roaring toast to "Long live foolishness" followed by, "Long live Nitty Gritty". He is one of those rare academics who has learnt to talk to others, not to be stuck in a rut talking only to "ourselves".
The beauty of this collection is how while reading it you want to talk, even to argue with the author, about what he is saying. His flow of words, with their constant flipping, juxtapositions and contradictions, both stimulates and frustrates. Or they inspire other examples that you want to share with him, as they spring to mind. For example, on the complexities of the Queen's English, or even Botswana English, you recall a Mr Tautology, a young teacher just out of school, who loved to speak in a series of big words that no one could understand. He could easily match, if not transcend those "shaken by catastrophic perturbulations".
What do you do with a student who approaches you for permission to go to the clinic during class time, obviously in a sweat, proclaiming, "My spectacles are hurting!" "But you aren't wearing any spectacles!" "No, my spectacles are hurting". "But spectacles are inanimate, how can they be hurting?" Then the lad lurches forward across your desk, with bulging eyes, while proclaiming, "They are hurting", and at the same time he grabs his crotch. Insight leads to action; not a clinic for him, the referral hospital it is.
There is a fine line between "Allowed" and "Aloud". Thinking may be beyond thought control or the purveyor of any intelligence system, but when it is given voice to what is articulated it may not be allowed. In many times and places around the world during periods of repression, even to sing a song loud enough to be heard could lead to punishments, often severe. In the 1980s in South Africa, illiterate parents could beat children learning to read, if they read out loud graffiti that was unintelligible to the parents, like "FREE NELSON MANDELA NOW!"
The selections in this edition of Thinking Allowed remain undated and credited. Though they are all by the man in the dark corner at the Nitty Gritty Shebeen, this oversight might cause some confusion. For example, one selection is called, "Iraq Has Started a Hot War". The problem is that Junior started the current war, as did Senior the previous war. But, this column must have been written during the time of Senior (who never visited the territory of Nitty Gritty as did Junior, who nearly fell out of the Land Rover at Mokolodi Nature Reserve when he spotted an elephant's dingalingaling for the first time - was it because it was bigger than him - or did he really need a visit to the shebeen, which always creates a problem, what to do with all the Secret Service agents who are guarding him?). My point is, that the need for the selections in this book to be grounded in time and place is perhaps totally irrelevant. This really though is a decision for you, dear reader, to make when you get your copy. Perhaps you, too, have been to Mafatshesburg? If you haven't, what better way to start your journey than by thinking aloud about it. You are allowed to do so, at least for the time being.
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Editor's Comment
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