In this article, Mmegi staffer THALEFANG CHARLES goes behind the news and picks a couple of his 2021 works on how he made a lion famous and why the troubled former spy, chief Isaac Kgosi likes to plead to ‘Charlie’
The idea of writing a feature article about some snip tailed male lion came into my mind in December 2020. Although it was mainly an excuse for me to travel, I believed it was going to be an important story that should change the local tourists’ consumption of wildlife tourism.
That December, I had travelled twice to Savuti on the south side of Chobe National Park working, chasing the story and from both trips I was very unlucky because I failed to find the young lion I was tracking. And with every failure I grew more determined. I considered failures as layers to the story. And what kept me even more hopeful was that every time when I left the Savuti, I would get reports of sightings of this particular lion that I was desperately searching for.
In January, I could not wait any longer, so I decided to write the first article about ‘Sekoti’. The article was titled, ‘Will Sekoti be king?’ and appeared in the January 15, the second edition of Mmegi in 2021. That is how Sekoti shot to fame. The article appeared with my 2018 picture of Sekoti while he was still a member of the world-famous Marsh Pride. But the story actually picked traction later when I decided to serialise Sekoti’s daily drama on social media. It turned out that my Savuti trips that I thought I had failed, bore fruits because I had made good wild nature sources who gave timely updates of the young lion.
Sekoti’s story became an instant social media fad. This was mainly because I had made it a contest between son and his savage father called Sekekama. For the first time in the history of local travel stories, Batswana had their first famous lion characters’ story told from their perspective. Most readers demanded for more content on Sekoti and that proved to be a tall order because I was 1,000km away from the area. And obviously my editors would not allow me to spend more time following a lion.
It was heartwarming to start to see local tour operators capitalising on Sekoti’s newfound fame and making travel packages to Savuti. More local travellers were now seeking to travel to go to Savuti to meet this one lion. It was unprecedented for local travellers to finally demand more nature tourism. And this was what the story was initially intended to achieve. To ignite love and passion for nature tourism among Batswana using the story of a particular lion. In 2021 Sekoti became the posterboy of local wildlife tourism. And for me, Sekoti’s story demonstrates the power of storytelling, when stories inspire action and change. I remember at one assignment at the State House, even the President of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Masisi threw a jab at me about Sekoti.
“Charlie, ako ntele metsi”, “Charlie, tla kwano ke go bolelele”, “Charlie, wa bona gore ba ntira eng?”, “Charlie mathaka a o ba bone”, you probably have heard some of these if you have been following the multiple dramatic arrests and court appearances of the former director-general of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS), Isaac Kgosi. Those are some of the many pleas that he loves to say to Charlie. I am the Charlie. And to me, it is both flattering and funny. Having worked at opposite ends with Kgosi, while in power as a feared spy chief and now dethroned and pursed by the same system he built, it is fascinating how the mighty falls.
Usually surrounded by plainclothes security agents, some hiding their faces under balaclavas and mirror sunglasses, the former spy boss loves to make conversation with journalists and observers. He is always restless. He never sits quietly or hides his face like many of the accused persons at the courts. Kgosi usually gives journalists the drama and covering his arrests and court mentions always produces great content. Ever since his first sensational arrest at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport in January 2019, his subsequent arrests were never short of drama.
Covering Kgosi’s arrests, watching him beg for water, crying about backpain, pleading not to be handcuffed because he is 63-years-old, getting angry and then being humbled by young security agents searching him from toes to groin, often give a sense of a demonstration of how power never ends. Here is the once feared spy chief that during his glorious days we witnessed him slap fellow journalists because they used camera flashlights against his instructions, who refused to account to the almighty Parliament Accounts Committee (PAC), but now he is just a shadow of his former self, disgraced, shoved into arresting vehicles by young security agents and begging mercy from the lowly journalists. We are almost three years since the Kgosi’s Airport arrest and the local media’s Kgosi-Arrest hashtag [#KgosiArrest] is far from being retired.
The story of Kgosi Arrest is another demonstration of effects of developing strong men versus strong institutions. It is a vicious circle that even the current strong men at the helm of the spy machinery may one day be on the receiving end, begging for water and pleading for mercy from journalists.