Monday, December 4, 2023

Are the President and Independence days different?

Botswana television and the citizens have to decide whether Independence Day is identical with President’s Day.

The programming on television over the Independence Day weekend was not only repeating the activities of President’s Day, but it went as far as showing the repeated programmes yet again on the same weekend.

Firstly, the point must be made that all credit should go to the Department of Arts and Culture at the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture for placing the bias on the folk or traditional arts in its President’s Day performances and exhibitions.

ÔÇó The folk arts reach out to the rural areas away from the railway line where populations are less dense and utilities are more difficult to access.

ÔÇó It is far more difficult for the rural communities who which are the best kept vessels of historical record and cultural heritage to sell their product than their counterparts on the contemporary arts scene, especially in the urban centres.

ÔÇó Bringing to surface that huge treasure of the past helps to give context to the contemporary articulation of the values Botswana society espouses. You might say that from an aesthetic point of view, contemporary art finds validation in the manner in which it builds on its traditional and folk antecedents.

You might also say because the folk arts are far away from the driving forces of commerce to which the modern and urban versions have submitted, they are less prone to sacrifice the spirit and heart of the art in order to attract quick money.

In any case, the ‘modern’ or urban artists have, though without much assistance, been able to develop a market for their goods. In the last three or four years, the political disposition of the ruling party has been biased against the expansion of that market, reducing trading hours in the entertainment industry, and placing subtle political criteria in the way of artists who want to benefit from government youth assistance schemes and corporate functions.

If then, the purpose of President’s Day was not clearly defined in Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae’s time, it has now taken on the personality of the political regime of the say. It was suspected initially, that Ketumile Masire established Presidents Day in order to escape the aura of Seretse Khama.

The dates were manipulated to ensure that Seretse Khama Day happened on July 1 rather than July 18 allowing Masire to have his day on the political calendar. Mogae found a new use for the day, to keep in touch with the rural communities which complained that they saw more of the Vice President than himself. In so doing Mogae attracted cultural activity to the villages he visited.

This was understood as something of a social consultation between president and the folk.

President’s Day has grown larger on the national political agenda, with each cultural occasion closely associated with the Office of the President.

The artists in return, appear to have taken the bait, hook, line and sinker, ensuring that their ‘maboko, metshameko, dipina and ditshwantsho’ praise President Ian Khama and remake his speeches under the veil of creating art.

Some of that came through at the Vision 2016 prize giving ceremony where the artists redeemed themselves by fighting to stay faithful to the relevant themes of an educated, informed, prosperous, accountable, united and caring nation.

Part of the reason for the wholesale repetition of the President’s Day programme on television could be outright laziness, or more kindly, the desire of the eligible members of staff who wanted to go on holiday to take a break away from work.

That, under the present regime, is most unlikely. It is more likely that the current political regime would have been more comfortable with further projection of the president’s role in ‘promoting’ culture, even if that meant blurring of the meaning of independence day as against President’s Day.

That should take us back to the largest problem that faces the development of the communications sector in Botswana, dominance of the state media over all others and the failure to redefine that section of the media as public.

It will once more be emphasised that in this context ‘public’ refers to partnership between government and others and not to monopoly by the state.

And so, all good citizens will be compelled to appeal to the professional conscience of the state sector employees to campaign for liberalisation of the regime at the government information services, PEEPA and the Competition Board to foster transformation of the state media to make it public.

That way there might be programming based on the needs of the public, rather than the whims of the Office of the President.


Read this week's paper