Saturday, January 22, 2022

The multi-tasking artist, gardener, lawyer

He is an artist at heart but a lawyer by profession who has a dream of protecting Batswana artists’ literary works while he continues to advocate for green lifestyle.

If you have ever watched the first episode of Thokolosi drama there is no need to ask who Thami Silitshena is.

He played a role as a traditional doctor known as Rasebokolodi in the first episode of Thokolosi.
He says that his love for arts dates back to his primary school days in Gaborone in the 80’s.
Silitshena fielded an interview at his office in Tlokweng.

He jumps in to explain why he was keeping many plants in his yard, saying that greenery to him resembles life.

“I am an artist, actor and I can write scripts for drama play. I have a passion for it and I have tried to use the opportunity to exploit my talent. If I had my way, I could have chosen theatre as my profession. My father, who was then a professor at the University of Botswana, persuaded me to enroll into legal studies. And I don’t have regrets for doing so because it enlightened me ,” he explained.

Silitshena says he had to go back to study law after he fell victim of scrupulous producers, saying that it was his short stint in the arts that made him realize that there was a gap because society had no respect for artists.

He noted that after he completed his studies, he continued to participate in theatre productions while he was practicing as a lawyer.

“That is when I took a decision that it is my duty to protect the legal rights of artists. Because of my experience at that particular time in theatre, I saw it fit to advise artists on the performance contract and set standards. We have to put all agreements in black and white because the gentleman agreement has disadvantaged many artists. There has to be respect among artists. What I am advocating for is to try to clean the house and I am using my legal knowledge to clean the house because whenever there is a problem there is no recourse in the law,” said Silitshena.

He says he is currently forging links with other organizations in the music and art industry to sensitize artist on how to protect their rights. He was concerned that there is a lot of unprotected works of Batswana and appealed to artists to protect their rights for their own benefit in the future.
“There is lot of discord in the industry. There are many musicians who are copyrighting the legendary Ratsie Sethako’s music. What is his family benefiting from using his work. This is a legal order that we need to put in place to address the situation,” he said.

Silitshena also noted that he is into industrial theatre, saying that the first industrial theatre that he did was in the 80’s when Debswana approached him to write and perform a play aimed at sensitizing the workforce about the HIV/AIDs policy.

He said that one of his contributions was when they took a play that was adapted from Cry the Beloved Country to senior secondary schools and colleges around Botswana.

The play was solely meant to boost students understanding in literature. Another play that he took around the country was based on Oliver Twist.

“Kana Sekgoa sa teng sene se le thata. We had to dramatize it and simplify it. We broke down the problematic areas in the novel. The road shows helped many students because at the end there was a significant pass rate in literature,” he said.

When quizzed about plants that occupy every space outside his office, he said that it was part of paternal and maternal inheritance. He emphasized that his mother, father and uncles were green people.

He says his grandfather used to prune trees at whites’ residential homes at a time when such places were a no go area for blacks before Zimbabwe got its independence.

He said his grandfather would plant those trees and sell them. Silitshena said his grandfather managed to buy cattle from the proceeds of the pruned trees.

His love for trees was further instilled in him by his father who was exiled to Botswana. He said his father, who was teaching in the Department of Geography at University of Botswana, planted trees and vegetables in the backyard. He says at the particular time he didn’t like trees and vegetables because he was the one who was watering them.

According to him, there were more than fifty different species of cactus in the backyard.
“I love to grow plants, herbs and trees currently in my office backyard. Whenever I go to the bush, I pick up seeds that I find on my way. I carry that inheritance. If I go in the bush I cannot resist the temptation to pick up the seeds. I will grow any trees, whether exotic or indigenous. I don’t discriminate whether it is an exotic or indigenous plant. I have more than seventy five types of trees and plants that I have planted.”

He says he is inspired by President Ian Khama’s drive to support backyard gardening.
Silitshena explained that if each and every homestead grew vegetables and fruit trees, the costs for buying them in shops would be minimal.

He emphasized that he will continue to advocate for greenery and is thinking about growing the trees back in the bush.

Silitshena says he is hoping to help the United Nations’ 1 billion trees campaign, saying that he has since joined the campaign which aim to ensure that they reach their target.

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