The battle between President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his predecessor, Ian Khama, has reached its most critical stage ever: forensic analysis of the style of ululating that was used throughout last Tuesday’s kgotla meeting in Serowe.
“Moduduetso ole ga se wa Serowe,” is what the (mostly Botswana Patriotic Front) grapevine in Serowe has been saying since Tuesday.
Translated, that means that the style of ululating at the highly anticipated meeting that Masisi addressed in Serowe last week belongs outside Serowe. This allegation is being made in service of another: that the distinct group ofwhite-shawled elderly women who came very early and took front row are not Serowe residents but had been bussed in from neighbouring villages for the sole of purpose of cheering on Masisi. It is further alleged that they were generously compensated for what has essentially been characterised as an acting gig.
We cannot say for sure who they were and what had happened behind the scenes but there was something a little off about their over-the-top energy in a mostly sedate crowd. When the siren of the lead police car in Masisi’s convoy pierced the still morning air and the emcee announced asked the crowd to rise in observance of protocol, the women took turns ululating several short melodic fragments until the president and his entourage arrived. The ululating was accompanied by some short jigs and the somewhat uncommon chants of “Si! Si! Si!”, which appear to be a play on Masisi’s name. The ululating reached fever pitch when Masisi got up to speak, drawing baffled if suspicious stares from some in the sedate part of the crowd.
A theory has been formed since that the women’s style of ululating is indigenous not to Serowe but the Mahalapye and Shoshong areas which are a good many kilometres away from the Bangwato tribal capital. The forensic analysis of one elderly Serowe resident is that unlike the local style of ululating, the one used by the alleged paid actors from Mahalapye and Shoshong does not cross pitches even during what is supposed to be the vibrato ascent (“the Serowe style of ululating covers a wide pitch range”); that the phrases are shorter than the Serowe variety; that its trilling quality is less textured and bereft of the shivering sound; that the accompanying dances don’t match the melody of the ululating; and that it lacked genuine emotion. Another resident found the ululating to be “tired” compared to Serowe’s. Just so we are clear, the technical language is Sunday Standard’s and attempts to describe what was musically demonstrated to the writer during a static-free telephone conversation.
Masisi and Khama don’t see eye to eye – both figuratively and literally because they haven’t been in the same room since 2018. If 12th century rules of settling a feud still applied, they would probably have gouged each other’s eyes out by now. Displeased with Masisi, Khama left the ruling Botswana Democratic Party in 2019 to form BPF whose electoral performance marked it out as a provincial (Serowe) party.