We see it on television every day.
An actor, musician, sports personality or movie star comes into town and brings everything to a standstill as he or she gets mobbed by fans and other admirers, with some actually in tears.
Celebrities are worshipped in other countries so much that it is, indeed, a big deal.
They get mobbed in public and stalked at other times. Even professional photographers are never far behind, earning themselves the notorious moniker of “paparazzi”.
In simple terms, the celebrity culture refers to “the culture of popularizing certain people who have certain attributes that society deems exceptional or outstanding”.
In neighbouring South Africa, football players and athletes fall into the stream of celebrated people, singers, actors, actresses and radio and TV presenters.
I have, on numerous occasions, crossed paths, and even sat in restaurants with so-called celebrities and public figures here in Botswana. I noticed that a few passers-by might notice the celebrity and look at them for a while then move on. People just go about doing their own thing as if they are not in the midst of a celebrity.
Most people believe there are, in fact, no celebrities in Botswana. Random interviews around the Main Mall and African Mall, places where our own celebrities frequent, yielded almost the same answer: “there are no celebrities in Botswana”.
The same respondents, however, had the same definition of ‘celebrity’ and asserted that a celebrity is a popular person, or a famous person and somewhat a ‘star’. They also tended to identify Hollywood movie stars and international artistes, such as Chris Brown, 50 Cent and Rihanna as the real celebrities.
One respondent, who surprisingly did not want to be identified by name, said she believes artistes in Botswana are simple people who buy groceries, eat at the same places and board the same combis with them. “There is nothing special about them, apart from having another small life as performers, they live like us,” she snapped.
A few people, however, believed some artistes and football players to be celebrities in their own right. However, they indicated that though they have themselves met such icons, their reaction was nothing more than any they have had upon meeting anyone else.
“There is a big difference between our celebrities and international stars because our celebrities do not have money and cannot afford to live a life too different from our own,” said Paul Malope, who was on this day hawking CDs at the African Mall. “Money affords them a chance to be different from the rest of us after having distinguished themselves in sports, acting, or singing. Because of this, there are no celebrities to speak of in Botswana.”
One Bashingi Dani, a 19-year-old administrator at an internet shop, said she has met artistes such as Vee, Scar and many other personalities she regards to be celebrities and, “I just took them as any other people I meet in the community”.
She added that she noticed that people also give no particular attention when they meet the celebrities.
“Our celebrities are too much like us and we find ourselves with little to copy from them, except to admire that they play soccer well or sing beautifully,” said Polly Leburu, who said she does hairdressing for some celebrity singers in Gaborone. “She sits in that chair while her hair dries and asks someone to get her magwinya and a piece of meat and a Coke from the women across the road. Believe me, I don’t find that inspiring enough and, in the end, I feel she can learn from me more than I can learn from her.”
Mitchel, an 18-year-old high school student, says a celebrity is a well-known person. She said at different times in her life, she stayed in the same street as Snyomfere, (a local musician), Pacman, (a radio personality) and ‘Charma girl’, aka Magdalene of Culture Spears and Ekentolo fame.
She says together with other kids from the streets they would create a craze whenever they saw Pacman’s car drive by, but as for Snyomfere and Magdalene they acted as if they were just ordinary beings.
Snyomfere and Charma Girl were mostly treated like any other person.
Tebogo Botshabelo, a student at UB, says that celebrity culture is damaging to the celebrity. He does not create a scene by approaching the celebrity because he doesn’t want them to feel “too big or too important’.
Journalist Frederic Kebadiretse says he does not recognize local celebrities. Whenever he meets one, he “remains cool headed because we go through the same hassles at the street corners,” he said.
What I found out though is that while Batswana do recognize international celebrities, the likelihood of them ‘worshipping’ them is interestingly none existent.
I asked what their reaction would be should they meet one of the celebrities they mentioned.
“The minute you meet them, your curiosity is taken care of, they look like any other person you have known,” said Leburu. “Being a celebrity requires you to appear different from your admirers because they are looking up to you. Our celebrities have no money to be celebrities although they sell some CDs and DVDs here and there. Money has everything to do with stardom.”
Where did I hear that a prophet is without honour in his country?