Although Botswana artists have a fair share of representatives in parliament, they are yet to see their plight and dreams on the parliament order paper and Hansard ÔÇô Writes BASHI LETSIDIDI
Had his mother been more approving, former president Sir Ketumile Masire would have pursued singing more actively and at some point, would probably have played alongside his idol, Ratsie Setlhako.
Masire made public his passion for music when he officiated at the inaugural Artist of the Year awards ceremony last year. Basically, he was making the point that Batswana seem to take a casual and not entirely helpful approach attitude towards the arts.
At some other forum in the future, Masire would probably have to explain what he did for the arts at the time that he was president. That is in the past but looking to the future, there are some incumbent artist legislators who could be doing something to improve the arts situation in Botswana.
In her school days, health minister Sheila Tlou was a member of the drama club and last year, starred in a hugely acclaimed play at Maitisong in Gaborone. She has also been known to recite a poem before giving a speech.
Gaborone West South MP, Robert Molefhabangwe is a sculptor and painter whose works more than qualify to be part of the national museum’s permanent collection.
Gaborone North MP Keletso Rakhudu is a founding member of In Crowd, a band that discovered the nascent talents of Banjo Mosele and Lekofi Sejeso who have now risen to musical prominence. Rakhudu could not continue with the band because in the same year that it was formed, he had to go to the University of Botswana.
On the odd lazy Sunday evening, Rakhudu hangs out at Buyani Bar in his constituency and he recalls that on two or three occasions, he has joined Jazz Impromptu on stage to play lead guitar which is what he played at In Crowd. He has also done the same thing with the Police band.
The trio is just some of the MPs with artistic inclination and who are better placed to advocate for the improvement of the arts situation in Botswana.
Tlou suggests that government departments, which occasionally invite artists to perform at events they host, should set aside money in their budgets, to pay for such performances. She adds that locals should, like the likes of Vee, commercialise their services.
“If you want Vee to perform at your function, you pop out money. That should be the case with all other artists,” Tlou says.
In her own small way, the health minister tries to personally empower artists who perform at functions that she officiates at or attends.
“Whenever, I am attending an event and a local group is performing, I’m usually the first one to donate some money on the stage and encourage others to do likewise. I was at an event in Mokolodi some time back and there was an out-of-school group performing there. I took out money from my purse, threw it on the stage and some expatriates who were also attending the event, asked, ‘Is it allowed?’. I said ‘yes’ and some of them even donated US dollars,” Tlou says.
In accordance with Parliament’s standing orders, Tlou cannot table a motion to agitate for the improvement of conditions of service artists but she says that in any way she can, she would ensure that they are rewarded accordingly for the services they render.
Likewise, Rakhudu agrees that the situation of artists in Botswana is far from satisfactory. As they demonstrated recently, musicians look up to him as someone who can represent their interests in parliament. Two months ago, he was invited to a meeting of the Botswana Musicians Union at the Gaborone City Hall by musicians who are concerned that the proposed liquor trade regulations would affect their business as virtually all of them operate from bars and nightclubs. They also want their business to be protected from expatriate competitors (especially those from South Africa) who just breeze into the country, make a bundle and cross back into their country without paying any taxes. Basically, the musicians wanted Rakhudu to conscientise the ministry of trade and commerce about the above and other problems that affect their industry and about the need for a comprehensive regulation regime.
Rakhudu, who agrees with what musicians say, also agrees with the assertion that as artist MPs, they “have not made enough noise”.
“But I want to be more vocal about the plight of artists. To that end, I urge them to be more open with me and notify me issues of concern so that I can present them to parliament,” he says.
Molefhabangwe attacks the issue from a different angle. From the outset, he affirms his support for the rights of artists which he demonstrated by endorsing a bill on intellectual property rights. However, he hastens to add that he did not go to parliament to solely represent the interests of artists.
“I represent society’s interests in general. If I were to solely represent the interests of artists because I’m also an artist, I would be a self-centred and selfish MP,” Molefhabangwe says.