A defiant economic struggle unfolded at the Gaborone Bus Rank last weekend. It was a brave counter action by hawkers against Gaborone Hotel over a long disputed prime piece of land. A tall dark man, with a commanding baritone known as King Can, led from the front. Staff Writer THALEFANG CHARLES unmasks this unlikely hero of informal resistance and discovers a musician with an album
Batsweletse ‘King Can’ Mogabala first arrived in Gaborone in 1996. He was just a 17-year old Form Two dropout from Moshopha in Tswapong, coming to fight off the vicious poverty circle that was consuming him in the village.
Six weeks into his first city job, as a casual labourer earning P350 per month, Mogabala called it quits. His second city job in 1997 brought him to the Bus Rank. And he never left.
King Can started off selling sweets, caps and watches for his cousin Bakgaogane Baruti. Then Toto Moatshe hired him to sell newspapers inside buses. He was then working with his late friend France Mafifi. The duo then quit working for Moatshe and sold newspapers on their own. They set up a stall by the now disputed plot near Gaborone Hotel (GH) and sold newspapers.
In 2001 they parted ways and sold side by side.
“By 2002, business was booming. There were a lot of spaces around the Bus Rank, so I got two more spaces, one in front of the Gantsi buses and another one at the west of GH,” explains Mogabala.
Mogabala hired six workers. He had three guys working inside the buses and women on the tables. Those were the glorious days. Magazines and newspapers were good business.
Gaborone City Council (GCC) started to intensify their war against informal sector especially hawkers squatting at the Bus Rank. “They kept confiscating our stock and destroying our stalls but we kept bouncing back,” recalls Mogabala.
Then the magazine and newspaper business crashed. They were no longer selling as they used to be. And that is when Mogabala started the King Can Music. He gave out some of the spaces to his employees and focused on selling cassettes, CDs and DVDs. These were the days before MP3s and memory sticks. Portable CD players were just getting affordable and the music was great. Those were the days when Batswana started to find their voice, recorded their own music and sold cassettes and CDs. King Can Music started by the corner of GH and soon he was asked to move because he attracted crowds that blocked the entrance of the hotel. He obliged and opened a new stall opposite GH. Music was great business.
“We were moving more stock than shops. Artists then realised that we were better distributors and used us instead. We were selling original music of local artists. Artists like Street Gang,
Those were the days when the Bus Rank sounded like a big wild festival. The music stalls had sound systems blaring new music all over the Bus Rank.
There were the usual hooters, the shouting, new comedy on DVDs, power generators and vehicle engines – all of which made the soundtrack of the Bus Rank. Crowds flocked around King Can Music stalls, some watching new comedy from a TV fed by a small generator. The music business was at its peak.
Then piracy hit and killed off the sales. King Can was selling original music and he collaborated with local artists to fight off piracy, but it was a huge institutional problem that was only beginning. The second destructive wave was the MP3, CD writers and memory sticks. This was the death of the cassette. Piracy got out of control and music distribution business reached it defunct status.
King Can, who was then deeply in love with music, tried to diversify by partnering with Gloria Magloo Thakadu, selling ‘good quality’ clothes from South Africa and Zambia. Those were the days when the local Chinese shops sold fake labels like Mike (instead of Nike) and Adibas (instead of Adidas).
King Can and Magloo were united by their love for music. Fast forward to 2020, in their once glorious stall opposite GH, their animated conversation is on their journey with music.
They are both musicians with albums. King Can recorded his first album in 2019 called Shoplex. The name comes from Moshopha, his home village.
“I wanted to put my home village on the map by naming my first album after it,” he explains. The album has some mpaxanga, disco and African church hymn sounds – it is a kaleidoscopic sound perhaps inspired by various Bus Rank sounds, where he spent his entire adult life.
The music business appears to be dying, so why has King Can chosen it as his new struggle venture?
“Music is in the heart,” he says.
From his stall, King Can and Magloo are now trying to break into the music scene. Magloo has just shot a beautiful video with Jack Bothoko for her song titled Foromane.
Meanwhile King Can, who trades by the name ‘Four Forty Plus’ in the music scene, will soon shoot a video for his album titled Shoplex.