In lamenting the abuse that he suffers on social media from people young enough to be his children, President Mokgweetsi Masisi made an accurate prediction about a future that lies farther down the road: even when he is no longer in office, this misconduct will continue.
In a period of time when an electorally significant section of the population feels that the Botswana Democratic Party has outlived its usefulness and many are disgruntled with Masisi, that future could be two days after the 2024 general election. That is when the Chief Justice will clear his throat and announce the winner of the elections. If there is a new president (be it Duma Boko, Dumelang Saleshando, Ndaba Gaolathe, Sidney Pilane, Themba Joina – or anyone in the opposition ranks) it won’t be long before he also becomes the new number one target on social media.
At least based on what Masisi has been subjected to, the new president will be criticised, meme-ised, lampooned, cartooned, insulted, fashion-policed and his face will be photoshopped onto just about every unflattering picture floating around social media. Indigenous reproductive-organ insults (with at least one of those organs descriptively lathered with faecal matter in some cases) will also be on the agenda.
The above scenario raises the question: if the future is UDC, how will a UDC government deal with the problem of irresponsible, often criminal use of social media? Against a recent incident in which “lying dicks” were lambasted, the more pressing question is: how much freedom will artists (or those who merely write insults in verse form) have?
Two months ago, a rapper called Ozi F Teddy released a song in which he did little more than musicalise a freedom square-like rant speckled with raw reproductive-organ and lavatory insults. This rant is levelled at unnamed political leaders (‘fuck the government/that’s who I’m dissing’) and claims everyone in Botswana (‘re nnyetse rotlhe’) as collateral damage. Towards the end, there is a chorus (mosono wa ga govy) that is repeated four times.
Thamaga police arrested Ozi F Teddy and resultantly, UDC president, Advocate Duma Boko, travelled to the village, which is some 35 kilometres southwest of Gaborone, to rescue him. How all this went down is described in a September 27, 2021 video post on LATTY’s Facebook page.
“What happun’d is when big homey came through – o botsa nna, ga a ise a bue le mapodise, o botsa nna: Rra, o dirang ha? Charge e kae,” Ozi F Teddy says in the video, meaning that when Boko arrived at the charge office, he asked him (not police officers) why he was in custody and whether he had been charged with any criminal wrongdoing.
On learning that Ozi F Teddy hadn’t been charged, Boko’s next words were, “Ee, a re tsamae ee.” (Okay, let’s go.) Final scene: “Re bo re vaa.” (Then we left [the police station].) Prior to this, a lawyer from Boko’s law firm had also legally intervened on behalf of Ozi F Teddy.
Sunday Standard asked UDC’s Head of Communications, Moeti Mohwasa, whether Ozi F Teddy would be able to sing the exact same song that he sung two months ago under a UDC government and in reference to UDC leaders? For context, the song – titled Bodybag V Freedom of Speech says the following: that people are starving (Eh mosono, what the fuck we gonna eat?); that Covid-19 is wreaking havoc (them hospitals is packed, they can’t do shit/the fucking mortuaries packed nigga/that’s bullshit); that a certain leader’s priorities are upside down (wena o isa masole ko Mozambique/you probably got a business ko Mozambique); that the latter is physically exhausted (Daeman o busa o ka re o setse a lapile) and should step down (hologa setilo ha go padile); that citizens should overthrow the government, not least because the rapper himself is fed up (A re thankgoleng mosono/nna ke kgathetse); that leaders are dull and sleeping at the wheel (Ditlhaloganyo donti/that’s what you missing/slumber party, you niggas sleeping); and that leaders habitually make promises – like multi-year Vision 2016 roadmap, that they don’t keep (Le maaka le marete/ E kae 2016?). Some would probably have preferred a sanitised version but that wouldn’t give readers a full appreciation of where Botswana is right now.
The very first response Mohwasa gives is non-verbal: a hearty laugh that comes loud and clear over the phone. The verbalised response invokes the poetic-licence defence and draws a parallel with what Boko said during the 2019 televised presidential debate when he unspooled a string of metaphorically-rich if negative labels (from popular song by Ratsie Sethako, a famous Mongwato folk singer) and used them on BDP leaders.
One of those labels, dithodi bo–magogajase, means an uncircumcised man. Courtesy of Kgosi Khama III’s new-found religious fervour, male circumcision was banned in Gammangwato, meaning that all Bangwato boys started wearing “full-length overcoats that dragged on the ground.” Ratsie Sethako’s song depicts such physical form as a freakish cultural aberration (bothodi) because even then, Ngwato society retained memory (and language) of when all boys wore “half-length overcoats” – when all were circumcised, in less mentally-taxing language. That is what dithodi bo–magogajase in Ratsie Sethako’s song means.
To the repeat question of whether Ozi F Teddy can use the same words about an underperforming UDC leadership, Mohwasa expands the verbalised response. He reiterates his earlier point about poetic licence as cultural and moral shield for artists.
“It is not an easy call to make because the issue is debatable,” he says.
Debatable or not, it is really hard to imagine some UDC leaders cheering when Ozi F Teddy releases a version that disses them. If it is not him, it would be somebody else who has been led to believe that there is no problem with insulting leaders. One other thing can be predicted with certainty: the insults will be rawer, the expletives more numerous and the appreciative audience larger.
Some of the commentary in the mainstream media has asserted that Ozi F Teddy is exercising his “freedom of speech” after the manner of artists who have used protest art. The fact of the matter though is that this issue has absolutely nothing to do with freedom of speech. Instead, it has everything to do with a cultural dynamic which has been known to unfailingly accompany a particular historical episode: the collapse of an empire.
When empires collapse, their quality of entertainment is coarsened – the gory spectacle at the Colosseum in Ancient Rome intensified towards the last days of empire. An empire that has dominated the world for the past several decades (America) is collapsing. Niall Ferguson, an economic historian who teaches at Harvard University, has proposed that much like the British Empire in its dying days, the US is on its last legs. Resultantly, a growing oeuvre of vulgarity is being passed off as art. A certain type of mind that evidently doesn’t maintain a healthy perspective on cultural sophistication sees this vulgarity as artistic innovation that has to be imitated.
Like his generation, Ozi F Teddy so overconsumes American culture that he even imagines he is in the US. He raps that he has “been trying to get money since the 10th grade” – if he had kept it real, he would actually have been trying to get that money since “Form 3.” He assumes the persona and speech patterns of a G pimp-strolling in the hood but in as far as his trade goes, contrives to be unrecognisable as African.
When the US has collapsed and an autocratic Asian regime is ruling the world and setting global cultural standards, there will dawn the jolting realization among one too many westernized Africans. Realization that they imitated the worst of a culture that was on life support and in turn, knocking one they inherited from their forbears off its axis by continually devaluing and vulgarising it.