With art venues closing, concerts and festivals getting cancelled, 2020 has been a depressing year for Botswana’s creative sector. Creatives have lost a large part of their lives during the past ten months and as they are eager to move on, towards that light flickering at the end of a long tunnel, MMEGI Staffer MOMPATI TLHANKANE looks back at 2020 creative journey, a ride that ended in tears for practitioners.
Franco set to make history
No one really anticipated that this year was not going to be a great ‘one ‘ because in January Arts & Culture was the first to break the story that legendary Rhumba musician Frank Lesokwane popularly known as Franco was going to fill up the National Stadium. This didn’t sit well with Kast of Tlatsa Lebala fame, the man who in 2017 filled up the stadium after failing on the first attempt. With the support of the public, Franco assembled a team and named his concert ‘Soul Fill up with Franco’ and the date was set to be April, 4, 2020, tsatsi ke lele ne ba le beile kgakala.
Massive cancellation of Showbiz gigs
By March the novel COVID-19 disease had already started shaking things up and although at the time there was no recorded case in Botswana the government directed that gatherings of 100 people or more at music concerts and places such as night clubs/bars should cease. As a result of the directive, organisers across Botswana started postponing events in an effort to slow the spread of the virus and avoid costs. Attracting over 10, 000 people Hamptons Jazz Festival was one of the first big events to announce its postponement followed by Soul Fill Up with Franco and many others like Toropo Ya Muka 6.0.
Lockdown and the emergence of talent
On the last day of March, President Mokweetsi Masisi announced that there would be extreme social distancing commencing on April 2, 2020 at midnight, for a period of 28 days. The 28 days were eventually extended with another week and although it was miserable time for creatives the only good thing that came out of it was the emergence of talent which kept the public entertained during the uncertain time in history. Humour plays a powerful and important role in the human experience and helps people cope with pain and tragedy no wonder comedians like Dona BW, Mhele Productions, Mr Speaker and Honorable BW just to mention but a few became even more relevant. On the music side, motswako trio Bafana Ba also did their thing and have since shot so many professional music videos with videography maestro Jack Bohloko.
A blunder in the pandemic
The lockdown was time when all creatives were not making money so everyone was frustrated because of the uncertainty it meant for their livelihoods. So when Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) posted a promotional video of South African arts and entertainpreneur Dimpi Dimpopo real name Nadeem Poen most Batswana were furious. BPC later retracted a promotional clip and issued a public apology. BPC's colossal error in judgement came at a time when creatives in the country were already struggling to make ends meet so even the Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development minister, Tumiso Rakgare said he is "equally disappointed" with BPC.
Motserepa’s short lived Instagram moment
A lot happened during this first lock down so still in April, local comedian William Last KRM Molebatsi also known as Motsetserepa enjoyed world attention after American R&B superstar Chris Brown shared his video on Instagram. In the video Motsetserepa was singing Chris Brown’s 2012 hit, Don’t Wake Me Up, but the Instagram moment was a nod brief as the video was taken down. The comment war between Batswana and South Africans in Chris Brown’s Instagram page is one of the suspected reasons that might have led to the deletion of the video. A lot has happened since the 10 minutes of fame, as Motserepa has released an album and amassed a large following on social media.
FNBB comes to the front
The lockdown was beginning to take its toll on creatives so as a cushion, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB) announced that the creative industry will benefit from the P5 million set aside to help industries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. By May FNBB had made a nationwide call for creative arts submissions under the Bodiragatsi Jwame, Lentswe Lame initiative aimed at supporting creative arts. Local filmmakers got the biggest share of the pie after FNBB announced that they would sponsor three short documentaries at P300, 000 in total.
Finally, the Arts council draft bill
Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development (MYSC) invited the public input and comments on the draft National Arts Council Bill 2020. The creative industry players welcomed the long overdue development. The main aim of the bill is to establish the National Arts Council of Botswana to promote and develop the arts and culture sector. The draft bill indicated that the objectives and functions of the council shall be to register arts and culture societies and companies, facilitate training and skills development in the arts and culture sector and investment in arts and culture among others.
Fashion industry lifeline
When the first lockdown was over and people getting ready to return to work in the ‘new normal’ the Botswana government announced that face masks were mandatory. Face masks officially entered the scene creating a silver lining for the fashion industry that was crippled by the lockdown. Now thrown a lifeline in face mask production, the new accessory came at a time when sales of traditional fashion apparel were collapsing. From masks made out of leteisi (African print) to basic fabric this essential accessory became a new way for people to exhibit their fashion sense.
A sign of good days ahead
With initiatives like creation of cultural hubs and increasing Btv’s local content as the icing on the cake, government in June put the creative sector on the top list in the 2020/21 – 2022/2023 Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP). The ERTP was a response to the COVID-19 and the estimated total cost of ERTP spending is P20 billion over 2 and half years and the creative industry, will benefit more alongside other sectors. “The creative industry has the potential to contribute towards job creation and contribute to the much-needed economic diversification. The industry is one of the first to be adversely affected by the COVID-19 outbreak due to the extreme social distancing that was implemented,” further read the document released by the Ministry of Finance and Economic development.
Government finally takes a step
Even though the lockdown was behind everyone, the creative sector was still not open so the government had to do something and that is when Rakgare announced that creatives will get a monthly relief from government over a period of three months covering the months of April, May and June. Rakgare admitted that they took a long time to respond
Relief delay and the start of disgruntlement
Creatives had spent months without income but the share that the government had promised them had not yet come, they were increasingly becoming worried as some were evicted out of their rented houses. At this time the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development (MYSC) revealed that it was not certain when the creative industry’s COVID-19 relief fund will be paid. MYSC revealed that payments would come in batches because most of the applications came in the last week of the deadline. They acknowledged that they had received complaints about the issue of the delay and have since told the complainants to bear with them since the processing will take longer than they had expected.
ATI becomes unsettled
Still in June controversial rapper ATI was the first person to show how unhappy he is with the way Masisi is running things. He went to make a short protest at Motor Centre in Gaborone and got ruling party Botswana Democratic Party attention. Rakgare reached out to meet with the lekhete hitmaker but the latter refused indicating that he wants to meet Masisi. ATI took his quest further when he visited the State House but he was later arrested and spent night in jail for taking photographs and video of State House without permission. He was charged with a single count of failure to comply with directions given by an Authorised Officer in a Protected Area contrary to Section 5 (3) of Protected Areas Act 22:01 of Laws of Botswana, a charge that carries a fine not exceeding P2000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or both. With the public behind him and the aid of Duma Boko, Extension II Magistrate Kamogelo Mmesi quashed ATI's charge sheet on grounds that it is defective. ATI was a darling among his fans but was later called a traitor for meeting with Rakgare. Fellow musicians like Mingo Touch publicly condemned ATI, the latter’s quest had come at a cost.
One mission but separate paths
Following the ATI debacle, Botswana’s big and influential artists amongst them, Vee Mampeezy, Franco, Latimmy and Kabelo Mogwe of Culture Spears just to name but a few posted a picture of their meeting on Facebook while local promoters met at Notwane Club to discuss how best the government can ease restrictions and allow the events sector to reopen for its audience. Both promoters and artists had the same cry but the latter then approached minister Rakgare and the then minister of Health and Wellness Lemogang Kwape in a meeting which Vee Mampeezy said was ‘fruitful’. The meeting led to Rakgare being accused of favouritism so the latter cleared the air by revealing that there was nothing private about the meeting since Vee Mampeezy and co were there to represent other creatives.
CEDA new guidelines bring shed of hope
Masisi announced that creatives will get to use their intellectual property as security in the reviewed CEDA guidelines. Masisi further declared that the government would continue to explore avenues to empower Batswana creatives to facilitate their participation in the growth and diversification of the economy. He declared the creative sector once more as one of the critical, key and priority sectors that will get the lion’s share in the new CEDA guidelines.
50 only, nothing more
After the second lockdown which made things worse for creatives and aligned sectors, the government announced that it will only allow a gathering of only 50 people in festivals and other events. It didn’t take long for a group of local promoters and artists to start showing disgust at this arrangement.
Finally united with one voice
Hunger settled in, it was now ten months counting with the creative industry at a halt. Vee Mampeezy after that Veenimbi public sarcasm announced that he is so broke and demanded the government to open the industry. It was already festive, a time when these artists would usually be making money so everyone was on board about holding a public meeting so that they could finally be taken serious. An illegal gathering was held at GSS grounds and it didn’t bear any fruits as the police dispersed it. The one that was held the following day opened a can of worms as the musicians decried that politicians who are now in office had betrayed and abandoned them. As a result government responded by taking Vee Mampeezy in for questioning and later slapped him with a P10 000 fine for flouting Covid-19 regulations in Old Naledi and holding an illegal gathering. The creatives’ plans to halt a parliament session at Grandpalm hotel failed.
No way will the industry open
To quash all hopes that the entertainment sector will open and allow mass gatherings President Masisi said there was no way he could do that unless he was an irresponsible president. As a leader of the country Masisi revealed that his responsibility was to protect and save people’ lives. “I'm worried about the situation I see in bars and other drinks along with chill sessions. The government I lead has no intention of abusing anyone or insulting anyone's right,” he highlighted.
It was already holiday mood when ATI took to the streets again on a solo mission to protest government decision towards their sector. He flouted Covid-19 regulations but entering a retail store without a mask and walking shirtless at the mall. ATI was arrested by Gaborone West police and later appeared at Extension 2 court for three counts of unlawful possession of illicit substances, failure to wear a mask and common nuisance. After spending a night in jail, ATI was released on bail the following day. With festive cancelled for the creative sector and no more cards to play, the ATI arrest was the conclusion of a bitter end to 2020 for creatives. As the showers continue to fall across the country, it is a constant reminder of how teary the year was. Now all creatives can do is to find something to wipe these tears, recollect and wait for 2021, which perhaps might be a better year, and hope for the better.