Monday, January 25, 2021

Appreciating pioneer broadcaster, musician, Riecks Morake

Riecks Morake was no Goliath. He fit easily into the tiny Newsreel office at Seretse Khama’s former residence which later became Radio Botswana; the ‘Station of the Nation’ as Nonnie Pilane called it.

The office coud not take him and the smoke from the Rothman’s cigarette that was perpetually at his lip when he was not reading the news or exchanging pleasantries with the other MoNgwaketse at RB, Bishy Mmusi.

Morake would step outside to smoke in between the boisterous exchanges with Bishy or Margaret Motlatshiping who pioneered the radio plays there.

Thankfully, Riecks Morake never took undue advantage of the youngsters as the other seniors did, sending them to Kings Restaurant at the Hall for cigarettes, the notorious Russian sausage and ‘Motlapisi’ of chips squashed between the legwinya or fat cake; lenynyomane as the BaNgwato called it.

Legend has it that he knows no other job than that of radio and newspapers apart from the work he did as a milkman in his early days in Lobatse where he also worked for the information services from that old abandoned prison cell that received the department when it left Mafikeng.

The office was set up like the dining room of the American Mr Don Jones who appeared in the records of the men who had served the United States in Vietnam and somewhere in Latin America before joining the intelligence services in Botswana.

Actually, it was far less imposing than Jones’ workshop which had radios with the longest antennae and all manner of contraptions locked into every available plug in the house.

Through the wall device and the Uher we capture the voices of Sehularo Tawana from Serowe, Moeng Pheto from Molepolole and several others from Maun, Mochudi, Kanye and Francistown.

Bishy and Rre Morake patiently showed me how to record using the Uher paying attention to voice levels and the quality of the recording tape, most of which were waste material sent for broadcasting from various international sources which were not mindful of the specific information needs of the new Botswana.

They taught me to edit the reports for quality which involved occasional splicing of the tapes to get rid of false pronunciation or redundant words. This process also allowed the producer to splice into the recording the narration from his own written script which he shared with the recording engineers, among them Matlapeng, Edison, Binly Molefe and Moreri Gabakgore. Jeery Letshabo, a teacher, came a little later.

It was the belief at the time that because there were no trained journalists, teachers were the best suited for the job because they were accustomed to addressing large audiences and constructing lesson plans; skills that would help them behind the microphone.

The information services boasted a battery of renowned Setswana teacher and speakers in the likes of Moabi Kitchen, Rebaone Kgopo, Rre Leinaeng, Tlotlang Letsholathebe, Morake, Fix Ntsabane and radio enthusiasts including Dineo Kgatitswe, Miriam (Ntshekisang) and others whose faces I can see even as their names elude me.

Among the professionally trained of the lot were Batho Molema and Douglas Moeketsi who studied at the BBC from where one of the greatest talents at the radio station, Nonnie Pilane did not return as was arranged between the two institutions, RB and the BBC.

She was, trully, perhaps the greatest radio personality of the time, perhaps ever. Needless to say there were others.

Phillip Moshotle who worked in the registry, jumping into the announcers seat when one was absent, and stayed there never to return to the registry. Mokgankgara was a natural radio talent as was Geoffry Motshidisi who enjoyed his African Beat. These were the times of the unforgettable (Molefe) Mamapilo who at times shared Moeng Motseng with Molema.

The inimitable Justice Baleseng did Thibang Diphotlha and manned the agriculture desk. Esther Molemoeng did Tsa Babereki and Tsa Boitekanelo. Tex Phiri, Sekgopi Tshite and Grace Olsen did the popular music programmes and Rampholo Molefhe did African Viewpoint and took over the Jazz Festival programme from Nonnie Pilane.

The BBC attach├®’ to RB, Owen Bently, asked Riecks Morake to call the Newsroom staff to a meeting to discuss the future of Newsreel. I was the sophomore in the team, and like the wise men of the Kgotla that they were, Bishy and Riecks allowed me ample space to voice my opinion about the transformation of Newsreel from an English language programme to a Setswana presentation.

I did not hesitate to advocate for Setswana though in those days I suffered a great deficit in the spoken language. I was fortunate to make up most of it under the tutorship of Zachariah Matumo who was my consultant when I worked as Language and Culture instructor at Peace Corps before I was appointed country director for training.

I had the full backing of Bishy and Riecks. In any case this was a common sense decision. How can you have village news reported in English in an African country? Silly.

Rieks did the news reading roster meticulously, sometimes taking advantage of my selfless commitment to learning about the radio. I did not mind working on the weekends when everybody else had gone to the cattle post. It gave me a chance to listen to all the Jazz records in the library and plan my programme and scripts. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Except for the day when Bishy and Riecks left me to the translation of the English bulletin of the lunch time news to Setswana at the weekend. Never had I felt so alone at Radio Botswana.
I knew that I could not appeal to them. I was the great advocate of Setswana. It was a bitter pill to swallow. I swallowed gracefully, and my appreciation of the need for humility in the discharge of one’s duty at work was reaffirmed a thousand fold.

That is how wisdom was cultivated in the youth by the elders, and it worked because ours was the caring generation.

I have spoken sparingly about Riecks Morake’s contribution to the development of the personality of Radio Botswana as a music institution.

Rieks must have written the vast majority of the much needed signature songs to the programmes at RB, including ‘Tshutshumakgala’ and the many other written for Tsa Boitekanelo and the 4B programmes that were then very popular. Riecks Morake’s songs called the Batswana to national duty and they spoke of the natural heritage of the young country that had just emerged from taking independence.

I know that Reggie Kopi is doing a project that encompasses giving orchestral content to Moreke’s songs.

It is about time the Batswana took the recording of the creative resource most seriously because it is the only true source to which the youth can go to look for inspiration for the creation of the more contemporary art.

I thank Riecks for his kindness, for his fatherly advice and his concern for my professional growth.

* Riecks Morake’s funeral was scheduled for yesterday, Saturday. A report will appear in The Telegraph on Wednesday

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