For decades both Simon Seisa and Tebogo Motswetla have provided unending entertainment to newspaper and magazine readers in Botswana with their Selefu and Mabijo cartoons.
Motswetla created the legendary Mabijo, which has been a constant feature in the Daily News, Kutlwano and The Monitor publications, while Seisa’s cartoons bearing his trademark Selefu, have also featured in both the public and private media.
So, when the two veteran cartoonists announced their intention to host an exhibition at the National Museum in Gaborone, many had reason to get excited and when it finally happened on Tuesday night, a capacity crowd filled the Octagon gallery to salute the two men’s creativity.
Two other cartoonists who also exhibited are Oteng Kgari and Monkgogi Samson.
Guest speaker at the event, the deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Mogomotsi Kaboeamodimo, paid tribute to the two men for keeping the nation informed and entertained with their humorous cartoons.
“Cartoons have a powerful, but simple way of conveying messages and educating. While one might find it difficult to go through text in newspapers, it may be easy for them to get the message through cartoons and illustrations.
The way they bring out the lighter side of serious situations makes it easy for society to deal with such,” he said.
He emphasised that despite some people seeing cartoons as ‘just cartoons’ and underestimating their power and influence, such creative works play a big role in interpreting situations and sometimes providing solutions.
“Cartoonists also have an obligation to play their part as social, cultural and political commentators. Cartoons have a part to play in our culture as they inform and educate us addressing current and historical moments,” he said.
Kaboeamodimo recalled a certain cartoon by Seisa, which appeared on the Daily News many years ago. He noted that at the time there was a mass exodus at Radio Botswana of officers who left the national broadcaster because they felt underpaid.
“As many as 12 of my colleagues then left, some joined the BDF and Rre Seisa crafted a cartoon capturing that. It was an interesting piece, which depicted the then director holding a whip (seme) following those officers.
I reckon he wanted to emphasise the concept of hard work. To remind those people who left to join other departments to remember that only hard work would get them good money,” Kaboeamodimo said. He also noted that while written text might only take a short time in people’s memories, cartoons and illustrations because of their humour remain imprinted in people’s minds longer.
He reminded the audience to respect the cartoonists’ brilliance saying it requires great artistic skill to produce meaningful cartoons with relevant sense of humour.
The former radio newsreader called local cartoonist to be united and speak with one voice and work hard to ensure that they produce works of high standard. Kaboeamodimo underscored government’s commitment to help local cartoonists take their craft to another level, citing the resent sponsorship of Mabijo’s tour of the United States of America.
The tour culminated in the Mabijo comic book being archived at the Michigan State University.
The deputy permanent secretary said that cartoons must not provoke people saying, “such works of art are not meant to disrespect anybody, but to convey a message that is subject to interpretation by the reader”.
Referring to the recent attacks on French satirical weekly magazine Charlie Herbdo that left 12 people dead Kaboeamodimo said, “what transpired in Paris recently where cartoonists were killed by a group of people who took offence in the cartoons is regrettable and it is an attack on democracy”.
He called on the private sector to join hands with government in the promotion of creative arts.
Speaking on behalf of the exhibitors Seisa said while cartoons are mainly created for laughter it was unfortunate their misinterpretation could lead to disasters.
“In some quarters cartoons have been seen to be offensive and degrading and unfortunately some artists have died at the hands of those who lacked understanding of their purpose, those with little respect for human rights, freedom of expression and democracy,” Seisa said.
He commended both Botswana and South Africa for being tolerant of cartoonists. He noted that South African artists like Bob Connolly continued to poke fun at their society even during the apartheid era.
Seisa raised concern that due to a small market, Batswana cartoonists are in need of space in newspapers. He also said that some newspapers were unable to pay their cartoon columnists adequately because of the small market.
“Misunderstanding what the trade is about often leads to self-censoring and thus stealing the satire. Some artists depend on editorial acceptance of the range of satire to be meted out,” Seisa said.