The decline of literature indicates the decline of a nation. Those were the words of the celebrated German playwright, Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, back in the eighteenth century. As obscure as that writer and that period may seem, there is a message in that quote that rings true in Botswana today.
Fortunately, there are those who have the passion and the determination to raise literature from its present state of obscurity to its rightful place as a respected and progressive art form.
Batsile Seletlo, a 2nd year student at the Botswana College of Agriculture, is one such individual and he’s putting his time and energy where his passion lies.
Encouraged by his success at the President’s holiday competitions, scooping top honours in the poetry category for two consecutive years, Seletlo developed an idea to start a society whose goal would be to enhance the profile of literary arts in Botswana.
His success at the national competitions inspired him to think about how fortunate he was to have been given opportunities to develop his creative writing skills when he was younger, while there are countless young people who are never given the same chance. Recalling this epiphany, Seletlo laments that he and his peers were raised to believe that they should strive to become doctors, lawyers or accountants ÔÇô nobody ever told them that, armed with the zeal, they could pursue a career in writing.
He and his co-founder, Hankusa Hakoola, would soon establish the Literary Arts Association of Botswana (LAAB), which would then go on to become a registered entity as of December last year.
Seletlo cites the goal of this non-profit organisation as seeking to restore the importance of reading and writing literature as essential to developing intelligent, productive and engaged young people. Corporate jargon aside, LAAB ambitiously plans to begin holding workshops at secondary schools across the country to empower young people who already have a passion for writing but have no one to give them the skills to pursue it.
They are realistic with their goals though and admit they’ll have to start with schools in the capital city before they can expand their reach, as well as their membership, which currently stands at twenty. Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither will the national consciousness necessary to make literature a priority.
The organisations Public relations representative, Vincent Morewang, is quick to point out that they will not be focusing solely on English literature but will also embrace creative works in native languages. Morewang says he believes in the organisations ability to accomplish its stated goals as it is composed of young, visionary artists who are passionate about what they aim to achieve. In fact, all of the organisations current members are tertiary or secondary students and creative writers in their own right.
LAAB also aims to encourage the publishing of works written by local artists and in that regard they are leading by example as they plan to publish two books this year, which will both be collections of poetry. On the 1st of April they will be holding a performance show in which they intend to perform poetry and to debut a play written by one of the organisations members, Joy Mogami.
The play is entitled ‘Tears of our Ancestors’ and though the venue is still yet to be confirmed, it will not be the first time they hold such an event. They held two such events last year, the first at the national museum in June and the second at the mass media complex in December.
This brood of creative writers knows it has a long road ahead of them and they plan to take each day as it comes and enjoy the ride. One only hopes that their passion will not fade away and that they have the commitment to progress until their dreams are realised. They are a small yet significant part in the effort to resist the decline that Goethe spoke of all those years ago.