Setlhako homily stirs hornet’s nest
by Oageng Batenegi
In an era of great concern for the neglect of folk musicians, the Botswana National Museum in conjunction with the community of Mokgware found it fit to preserve the legacy of Ratsie Setlhako, the folk artist, in moving pictures.
Apart from this documentary about Setlhako, there is a book. Intended to pay tribute to the late music legend, the two pieces were launched at the end of last year at Mokgware village, Central District, where Ratsie Setlhako is said to have been born.
To many people, Ratsie Setlhako was a celebrated music icon with generations taught about him. One Batho Molema, formerly a Radio Botswana presenter of yesteryear, recorded his music, now played on RB 1’s Dipina Le Maboko, mostly by Mogatosi Kwapa.
Still others claim he was born in Palapye, especially that there is a primary school named after him in the village. He was buried in the former capital of Bangwato. One writer even named him ‘the adopted son of Palapye’.
However the people of Mokgware, a small poverty stricken village 22 kilometers west of Radisele, which is under the watch of Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi in the Serowe South constituency, raised fundamental arguments that Setlhako is their prodigal son.
The people from Mokgware Hills, which can be seen on the map, feel after the car accident that cut short the life of the music legend, there was no consultation of his relatives by the people of Palapye as they just took the decision to bury him at their village.
Prior to the documentation of Setlhako’s life, one of the old people hailing from the village, the late Dipetso Mosinyi, once told this writer about his life and Mokgware origins before he died. He added that they were not pleased by the way the people of Palapye sabotaged the issue of Setlhako. It is believed that was one of the major reasons the old man refused to be part of the project. Mosinyi was relative of Setlhako and was known to be one of the few old people who were well vested with the origins of the small village of Mokgware and its early people.
Amid the acrimony that surrounds the issue, what is really clear is that Setlhako worked mostly as a herdboy around the ngwato royal family, the name of the late controversial Tshekedi Khama being one of those he worked for.
The music legend was a great admirer of the first president of the Republic of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama, and those who have his famous songs will give testimony of how he sang about Sir Seretse.
Kebotse Mmutle from Mokgware wonders why the people of Palapye did not bring the music legend to his native village. She recalls visiting Setlhako as a 12 year old at a cattle post called Ntswaneng, near Palapye. The old woman, who says she was born in 1940, revealed that it was in 1952 when she met the music legend who used to milk cows for them as kids.
A niece of Setlhako ,Oboetswe Mmutle-Lenyeletse, the grandmother of Ecco City Greens’ football player Patrick Lenyeletse, shares a bit about Ratsie’s siblings. She reveals some of them as Bagwasi, Sethunya and her father Mmutle. Both Oboetswe and Kebotse name Kedikanetswe as Setlhako’s mother and that he was born in Mokgware.
However Raditanka Ntebele, the chief of Palapye, shrugs and says he was born way back before Mokgware could exist. However he emphasizes that Setlhako’s relatives are in Mokgware and he doesn’t hide that “ke motse wa ga bo”.
Suprisingly, without saying who Setlhako’s mother or father were, Ntebele rushes to reveal that he knew Setlhako when he was still a young man and that the music legend belonged to the regiment of Masokola who were born around 1899 to 1902. He said Setlhako was born in the Ngwato land of Phothophoto or Maraka in Palapye, not Mokgware as earlier said in the documentary by his relatives.
Meanwhile, Oboetswe reveals that Setlhako is a mokaa and together with him their taboo is Tlou, the details that Ntebele did not mention. The documentary shows the picture of the people said to be the music legend’s relatives in Mokgware.
Despite having worked with Setlhako to record his music, Batho Molema declined to shed light about where the folk legend was born or whether he had any children. He prefers to only say the account of his origins differs from that of those who grew up with him. However, it is odd that Molema evidently never queried Setlhako about his origins despite spending so much time with him recording his music. It is tempting to argue that perhaps if he can be interrogated further, Molema could have more to say.
But again Oboetswe reminisces about her times with Setlhako when he used to sing to her the song “mmampuri nnaka,a kgomo di goroge” when he realized that his niece missed her mother in Mokgware while they were at the cattlepost. She says upon hearing of his death, they travelled to Palapye where they found he had already been buried. She alleges that they were not even allowed to ask any questions about the late music icon’s death as the people of Palapye sabotaged them.
Another interesting twist is whether Setlhako had children. Ntebele said when he was growing up, he used to see the music legend with a woman and a boy accompanying him wherever he went.
Kebotse, one of the nieces interviewed, says Setlhako had a woman and had children. She said he once brought them home to his mother who welcomed them. But according to Kebotse, the nomadic musician soon left, leaving the woman and the children behind. She said upon realising that he was not coming back anytime soon, the woman took the children and also left.
Kebotse says after being told that one of her siblings had died in Thabazimbi, South Africa, they travelled there. Upon arrival there with her mother, they actually found out that her sibling was actually not dead. It appears those people who said her sibling was dead wanted them to come to the place deliberately. In a twist of events the sibling whose gender is not mentioned (the one purported to be dead) tells them that he/she stayed with Setlhako’s child, whose gender the documentary does not mention, at the Thabazimbi settlement.
However Kebotse said that was the last time she saw ‘Setlhako’s child.’ For her part, Oboetswe, another niece, says the late musician does not have any children. But one of people who liked the music legend’s songs at the time, one Malobe Thuso, reveals that Ratsie always walked around with a boy child called Mompati.
Interesting, the boy child, now a middle aged man, also features in the documentary confessing he always walked around with the late musician, helping him. But what is strange is that he does not in any way set the record straight on whether he was the son of the music legend. The young man, said to be Mompati Morakane, lived with Setlhako at Lentswelemoriti.
Kebotse says she always saw him with this Mompati and this alleged woman of Setlhako, known as Garelekane Morakane. She said even at the official opening of the Ratsie Setlhako Primary School there was a rumour that Mompati was Setlhako’s sole relative. But according to her it remains unclear if Mompati was the music legend’s son because she had seen the young boy with the Garelekane before they met Setlhako.
As things stands now, Mokgware Development Trust was registered recently to be used by the people of Mokgware to preserve their culture and take care of their natural resources. The project is led by one young man, Moemedi Nteko.
Further, there is a hint that the people of Mokgware had suggested that the body of Setlhako be extradited from Palapye for their son to come home to his ancestral soil.
However further information reveals that a crew of people of Palapye led by Kgosi Ntebele has not taken the words lightly.
Evidently, these people exercised the option never to allow the people of Mokgware to take the late musician as they also saw him as their source of pride and born in Palapye like Ntebele had earlier claimed.
It remains to be seen how things unfold as the young generation of Mokgware prepare to take seek the intervention of the law on the matter.