Sunday, October 17, 2021

“Racism is a crime against humanity”

‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living’- (Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852).

Director of Proceedings, distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Director of Proceedings, permit me to express my sincere gratitude to Don Molosi; the author, actor and playwright of the book we are about to launch, and the organizers of this event, for inviting me to launch this celebrated and ground breaking book, poignantly entitled: “We Are All Blue”.  This book is a collection of two plays ÔÇô Motswana: Africa, Dream Again and Blue, Black and White. The book includes, rather fittingly an introduction by the second President of the Republic, Dr QKJ Masire. I say rather fittingly because in some literature President Khama and President Masire are referred to as Siamese twins!

Don is one of the most influential performing artists in Botswana. In 2015 he won the Bessie Head Literature Award.

Blue, Black and White (2011) is reputed to be the longest running one- man show in Botswana’s history. It is the first ever Botswana play staged off Broadway in New York City, where Molosi won best actor award. BBW is about our iconic first democratically elected President, Sir Seretse Khama and his inter-racial marriage: the play has been performed around the world, including in Brussels, in October 2015, as part of Botswana’s 49th Independence day celebrations.  Sir Seretse and Ruth Khama endured persecution and hardship which they bore with patience, hope and enduring love. Their only sin was that they dared find love across the colour line. Blue, Black and White is a record of their unconditional love to each other against all odds. It is packed with intimate glimpses and breathtaking insights. In this play, this master story teller to come out of our ranks, tells the compelling story of a couple who kept faith in each other and by their life story taught humanity that all human beings are born equal and that racism is a crime against humanity.

For decades, down history’s tortuous lane, colour separated the children of God from each other. They couldn’t share housing and health care facilities; the walls of colour barred them from sharing so many things in this planet, including love. In South Africa, across the boarder, racism was institutionalized. Apartheid was at its height at the time of President Seretse’s marriage to Ruth. His marriage was seen as an affront to the apartheid policy of racism. President Khama had total contempt for the apartheid regime and made this clear in many of his public pronouncements. He used his charisma, electric magnetism, sheer intellectual force and vision to contest the preposition that in the affairs of humanity colour matters. In time he ascended to the mountain top of Botswana’s political topography and started preaching the virtues of multi-party democracy to a continent that was drifting astray and embracing one party state as a model of government. Under his leadership we became known as: “an island of peace and tranquility in a sea of turbulence”.

Motswana: Africa, Dream Again is the story of Botswana and its people as they transition from colonial status to self-rule. The play premiered off- Broadway in 2012 where it won an award at the United Solo Festival, the World’s largest solo theatre festival. These two plays are amazing food for the soul and mind that needs to be read by everybody, more particularly every Motswana and African.

On the whole the book is an amazing sumptuous mix of the life and times of Sir Seretse Khama, contemporary issues in Botswana and Africa; a travelogue of personal musings and reflections that weaves issues of life, love and governance in a manner that is simply breathtaking. The book is phenomenal in its metaphoric richness and dazzling poetic language. The author takes us on a supersonic tour of our history and current affairs, as a nation and people. Lucid and moving, this book brings together in one piece the strands of personal and political narratives into the lives of President Seretse and Ruth Khama’s extra-ordinary lives. This book is a fitting tribute to them in addition to being a monument to our nation.

President Seretse Khama devoted his life to nurturing and developing democracy in Botswana and indeed the whole of Africa.  Botswana was lucky that at its formative stage as a democracy it was led by a consummate democrat who blended our cultural values of tolerance, freedom of  speech and respect for  the law with modern republican values. Few amongst us can credibly contest my assertion that we had a president who lived ahead of his time in terms of his vision and practical commitment to what he preached. He belonged to that small cohort of African leaders who are sorely missed by their people today. I am here referring to leaders such Nelson Mandela, Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkuruma and Patrice Lumumba to mention just a few. President Khama was in that league in terms of his commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

The book has a pan-African flavor. In this book Molosi raises profound and intricate issues of Africa without boarders,  a theme that is consistent, in some respect, with AU’s proclaimed vision for “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa” driven by its citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena. In his own poetic way Molosi speaks about African Unity; a theme that resonates, with concerns of Africa’s departed literary and political giants. It was Patrice Lumumba who once said: “The day will come when History will speak…Africa will write its own history…it will be a history of glory and dignity, Long Live Africa.”

Director of Proceedings, writers like Molosi play an important role in society. They help us self- introspect; they challenge us to excel. On occasions, they are ignored unfairly; and on other occasions, they pay a price for their talent.  It was that celebrated, South African Legendary giant Nadine Gordiner, who, writing in the context of the South African Liberation struggle wrote: “To gain his freedom, the writer must give up his freedom.”

It seems to me that writers are the conscience of the nation. Often they see beyond dark clouds. They can help us understand the past, in order to shape a better future. They are often good in amplifying the voices of the voiceless and their aspirations. As our society evolves, and signs of a second republic to be born keeps appearing and disappearing, we need writers to help us find responses to the challenges of our time. In the words of Professor Es’kia Mphahlele, that iconic literary giant of our time, in this part of the world, “we have to find new, idiom, images, discover ways, re-educate the imagination, see ourselves no longer as victims, but as builders, planners and creators.” With our brains, pens and other tools we can possibly lay our hands on; we must paint, in broad strokes, a picture of a better society we want to live in- where no one is excluded from anything meaningful and empowering.

A quick survey of the literary landscape in our country suggests that there is a general paucity of literary works about Botswana, by Batswana; and one hopes that the launch of this book will motivate many of our people, in time, to start telling stories of our past; and to locate with mathematical precision where we are in the development trajectory and the direction we are moving as a people and country.

As we meet here to launch, “We are all Blue” we recall and salute our other literary giants who preceded Molosi in their works. I have in mind giants like Barolong Seboni, Bessie Head, Seatholo Tumedi, Albert Malikongwa, Beauty Magula, Mmantsetsa Marope, Kgomotso Mogapi, Cedrick Thobega, Unity Dow, Billy Mokgosi, Tiro Sebina, Benjamin Janie and many others.

We are a nation known for talent in arts and literature. Traveling across the globe, I have seen for myself, in faraway lands, our artistic products adorning walls of important institutions. I have seen totally breath taking works of art emanating from the san of the Kalahari Desert composed of Ostrich shells, clay pots, beaded jewellery, wooden cars- an artistic tapestry that depicted important aspects of life in the years past.

* Hon. Justice Professor OBK Dingake was speaking on the occasion to launch “We are all Blue,” ÔÇô a collection of award winning Broadway Plays. This is an abridged speech

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