“Naledi is more like a village. The people here are not rich or well off so they strive to make a living anyway and anyhow they can. Of course there are those few bad elements that resort to crime and give the township a bad name,” saysNaledi Police Station Commander. To most outsiders, petty crime, shanty dwellings and squalor are the first things that spring to mind at the mention of Old Naledi. The station commander says perceptions about high levels of crime within Old Naledi are exaggerated. “Off course one or two incidents of crime are one too many but generally the residents here are a loving andcaring community.” Our sister publication The Telegraphcarried the story ‘Zola-Random Conversation with an ex-Convict’ earlier this week about a two time ex-convict looking to make a fresh start. His account of the life of crime he led before his convictions is a way too familiar story in the Gaborone south township.
But amidst all the crime stories emerges stories of hope; stories of residents looking to change perceptions and make positive contributions in Old Naledi.
One such individual is none other than Joseph Ikopeng. He is the founder of thevery talented Mafithakgosi traditional troupe. Together with his group members they have managed to sing and dance their way out of the jaws of poverty and temptations for all things illegal.
I first fell in love with the group five years ago when the then relatively unknown Mafitlhakgosi performed at a friend’s birthday party. They displayed something different from the usualphathisi, tsutsube, or setapa that we had always associated with traditional music troupes.
They had added to their repertoire satirical acapella renditions of some of the popular kwaito and hip hop songs. Lifestyle catches up with the founder to discuss the old Naledi based troupe.
“I was a member of Mogwana traditional group when I first discovered Mafitlhakgosi back in 2009,” Ikopeng tells Lifestyle. His aim, he says, was to scout young talent for Mogwana and help get kids off the streets.
“A lot of children here get up to no good despite the abundance of talent. I knew there was a lot of talent among Naledi’s youngsters just waiting to be discovered.” But Ikopeng got more numbers than he had anticipated and his focus shifted to forming a new troupe of his own.
He assembled his squad and offered to perform free of charge at parties and weddings. Soon there were a few offers coming their way and Ikopeng knew they were on the right track. “We got the opportunity to perform at a big political rally here in Old Naledi and that performance opened the floodgates of opportunities,” says Ikopeng with what could easily be misconstrued for smug. And he has every reason to be proud. They have since performed for state presidents. They have also performed overseas, in China. They dominate invitations for performances at corporate events. And at times they don’t even wait for invitations. “At times we offer to perform for free and end up leaving the event a few thousand bucks richer,” the 32 year old founder tells Lifestyle.
The confidence displayed by two of their youngest performers Botlhe Rapekenene and Tshiamo Ikopeng has been one of the highlights of Mafitlhakgosi’s performances. They were both doing standard one and standard three at primary school respectively when they first joined the troupe. The troupe’s merging of their traditional performances with other genres meant the two youngsters played lead roles mimicking the likes of Vee Mampeezy and Dramaboi. With ages ranging between 7 years and 36, a good number of Mafitlhakgosi members are school going children and the new found fame has the potential to derail their academic ambitions.
“We have organised tutorials for the boys,” Ikopeng says, adding “they attend tutorials after school. Anyone who misses lessons is not allowed to perform with the rest of the group.” He says being a part of Mafitlhakgosi gives the youngsters a purpose; an opportunity to avoid temptations for juvenile delinquency. Following performances or at certain intervals, part of the proceeds from performances is divided amongst group members.
“For the younger ones we engage their parents to sign and receive the money on their behalf.” The group leader says they have also opened savings accounts for members. To avoid monotony the troupe now wants to evolve, with the introduction of musical instruments. “We are now learning to play various musical instruments to enhance our performances and compose our own music.” They have been offered a life line by a German company that has promised to buy them instruments and give them free lessons. Six years after its formation, Mafitlhakgosi hopes to continue raising the Old Naledi flag and proving to all and sundry that there is more to the township that stereotype suggests.