This article was originally published on The Mantle.
This essay was published in conjunction with the release of We Are All Blue, a collection of two plays by the Botswana actor and playwright Donald Molosi. The Mantle is proud to offer this collection, which includes a foreword by President Quett Masire. The two plays—Blue, Black and White and Motswana: Africa, Dream Again—are also available individually.
By Lebogang Disele
What is a Motswana? Who is a Motswana? Are you still a Motswana if you didn’t live and grow up in Botswana? Are you less Motswana if you don’t speak Setswana? Are you less Motswana if you don’t subscribe to the culture? What does it mean to be a Motswana?
These are some of the questions that young Batswana grapple with today. For young Africans, in particular, the idea of being authentically African is a plaguing one as we realize that the “good” education our parents have worked so hard to afford us has, at the same time, denied us something more far-reaching; it has left us somewhat listless trying to find our place in the cultural landscape of our little part of Africa. In an interview with Leslie Golf of the BBC about Blue, Black and White, it’s author, Donald Molosi, says, “My chronically colonized curriculum really failed me, and that’s why I’m trying to reclaim some of these stories and tell them.”
These stories are born from myriad questions about the current generation’s level of “Africanness.” It is important to raise these questions and explore the identity issues gripping young Africa today. It is also important to question how our “countries” came to be and how this has shaped—and continues to shape—our individual identities. It is through this reclamation and retelling that we can begin to do this, and perhaps begin to recover a part of ourselves that has been left off the pages of history books.
Both Blue, Black and White and Motswana: Africa, Dream Again—the two plays featured in the collection We Are All Blue—are important for Botswana today, and perhaps Africa as a whole. As the country approaches its 50th year of independence, it is important to introspect, to look back at our past to pave the way for our future. Donald’s attempt to reclaim African stories is an important step in writing ourselves back into our own histories, and marks the importance of theatre to any society. I argue that works such as these give us an opportunity to reclaim ourselves by validating our experiences as young Africans of the postcolonial era. Perhaps writing, performing, and speaking about these experiences will help us bridge this in-betweenness we find ourselves in, and help us locate ourselves somewhere. Perhaps we need to hold on to these stories, and as Donald does in Motswana, create new stories for a new Africa? And perhaps, with this we are opening a Pandora’s Box, ripping open a wound that is still too fresh in our young hearts. I hope for the former but whatever the case, I hope that we will begin to find our own healing in coming to terms with the real cost of colonialism. It is not just the mineral wealth that we have been robbed of, but parts of ourselves that we can neither go back to nor recreate. This is the restlessness that Boemo Gulubai in Motswana represents. The young parliamentarian is trying to reclaim pieces of himself that have been lost in history, that have been left undocumented and that have left gaps in his knowledge of himself.
Ironically, the iconic story of Seretse and Ruth Khama in Blue, Black and White bares testimony to these gaps. We grapple with the changes the western education has brought to our minds and hearts much in the same way that Seretse did in his time. The big difference is, where Whiteness was an aspiration for Seretse, our new aspiration is Africanness—yet we are not white, who we are we? I don’t know. But maybe somewhere in the pages of this book we will start to fill in the gaps for ourselves and claim our own stories without need for validation of our Africanness.
Donald, both as an academic of Botswana Theatre and as practitioner in the same landscape, mma ke re kealeboga tsala ya me. Go nna ngwana wa English medium e kile y abo e le poko, jaanong ke kgwetho. Batsadi ba bona re le sekgoa thata, makgoa ba bona ma Africa—re tlaa nna ba ga mang? Mme gape go tlaa itse mang ga rona re sa bue dikgwetho tsa rona? Wena o simolotse go ba itsise, ka e le wena ketapele ya contemporary theatre ya Botswana. E ne e le tshwanelo gore go simolole, mm eke motlotlo ka wena tsala ya me. Gongwe e tlaa re kgabagare ra itlhalonya.
A buka ya gago e amogelesege ka pula, Mogolole. Le kamoso.
Lebogang Disele is a Lecturer at the University of Botswana.
[Photo courtesy of The Mantle]