Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Why It's Time for an Arts Council

We hear a lot of talk about how the arts can “diversify” our economy. In most cases when I hear someone say that it makes me sad. Yes, artists should be able to live from their art, but please, let the art come first. Economic diversification will sort itself out, making it the goal of art is killing the art before it gets going.
 The arts have a far more important role to play in society. The arts help to define our national identity, our national psyche. Not just crafts and traditional dance, as some people simplistically accept, but all dance, theatre, music, literature, sculpture, painting. Art gives us space to push to the edge of where we now are, to find the other possibilities, to have space to consider the impossible. Art helps people develop empathy for others. Art is where human imagination can soar and find excellence beyond the mundane confines of the economy or the drudgery of daily survival. Art should be part and parcel of all of our lives, it should not be out there somewhere away from the community. It should be our community. The quality of a country’s art says much about the quality of the nation.
Currently the organisation and the funding for the arts and its development in Botswana are scattered and haphazard. Some money comes from the Department of Arts and Culture, often decided by people who have little knowledge in the particular sector of the arts that they are attending to. Some arts projects are funded by CIPA and the blank tape levy. Most likely given to people who produce a coherent proposal and then actually use the money that they received on the project they proposed. The education of artists is occasionally covered by the Ministry of Education and Skills Development.  The National Library Service sometimes runs workshops for writers and Thapong helps painters here and there. Money and help is flowing into our arts community, but in a disorganised manner that creates one step forward, two steps back, taking us almost nowhere.
What about just basic research and information about our arts community? Is there anywhere a person can go to find out what’s happening in the country in a certain sector of the arts? A database of arts organisations and artists? I once was asked to submit information for such a thing, but what became of it I don’t know. Instead we’re all working away in isolation.
As for the promotion and development of our artists, to help in their professionalising, and in marketing and selling their art, I’ve seen very little.  I once attended a meeting where Brand Botswana said they had some interest there as long as the art promoted the country. That was demoralising, to say the least.
In general the development, support, funding and promotion of the arts in Botswana is disjointed and chaotic with no solid clear vision or mission. This could be solved if we had a well-established and operational arts council.
Let’s start with the dream—what would be my dream arts council?
First, the board would be made up of a wide array of people, all with a strong commitment to the arts. There would be some experienced members from the various sectors of the arts, selfless artists with high levels of integrity. But the board also would have arts administrators, lawyers, experts in public policy and research, business administrators, people adept at marketing and promotion, communications and branding, members from the government and people with expertise in under-represented groups. The main criteria would be that the people have a commitment to the arts and its excellence.
What would my dream arts council do?
They would give grants to artists and arts organisations for projects, development, and festivals. They would fund degrees in the arts. They would keep a comprehensive database of the artists in the country and what they’re doing. They would promote our artists and our art both in the country and abroad. They would hold workshops on areas of weakness. They would bring the arts and the community together in innovative and exciting ways. They would link artists and arts organisations with businesses and private donors looking to support the arts.
The arts council would coordinate the arts in a holistic way, pulling all of the strings together so that they form one strong rope that cannot be broken, and one that’s pulling in a single direction, instead of the hundreds of ways they are being pulled at the moment.
Am I crazy? Is it impossible?
No, it’s not.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Mahalapye Writers' Club's Shaky Start

Writers are difficult people. In Botswana they complain that they are neglected. But when you organise things to help them, they don't show up. So I had decided to put my time into writers here in Mahalapye, my home. I started the club. The first meeting we had six people. The next meeting zero. That told me writers in Mahalapye were fine and I was done. It was about sharing what I've learned and maybe helping a few people, but if they're fine, I'm fine. In any case, I did it because I publicly promised that I would and I like to keep my promises.

But then a few people approached me to ask when the next meeting was. I explained what had happened and just thought I'm not going to force something that is not needed. But these people said try it one more time. So I agreed, but it will be ONLY one more time. And unlike the last attempt, I will organise nothing beforehand. I will pitch up and we will see what happens.


 The next Mahalapye Writers' Club meeting is on  Saturday 8 July at 2 pm at Mahalapye Brigades opposite Tamocha Primary School. 
Bring 500 words or less of your writing to share. 
Tell others. 
See you there!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Price of Freedom by Ellen Ndeshi Namhila- A Review

For some reason the fight for freedom in South Africa has overshadowed many similar movements in Southern Africa, especially Namibia. In some ways the fight for freedom from colonial tyranny started in Namibia in 1904, when the Herero and then the Nama rose up against the Germans. After World War II, Namibia was handed over to South Africa and the next horrible phase of oppression began. Just as the South Africans suffered under apartheid, so did the Namibians. The brutal oppression led to the war for liberation that ended with the country finally getting independence in 1990. Ellen Namhila fled apartheid in Namibia when she was only a girl; The Price of Freedom is her memoir of her journey as a refugee and then a returnee to the newly independent country.
            When Namhila was ten years old, she saw her uncle arrested by the South African police. They first set their dogs on him in a savage attack, and then loaded him in their vehicle. When he was finally returned to his family, he was a broken man. Later riding her bike home one day, beyond the time of the state-issued curfew, the police shot her. These experiences along with many others that caused people to live in constant fear convinced the young Namhila that she could not remain in the country. At fourteen, she crossed into Angola with a friend and would not return to Namibia for nineteen years.
            If you decide to read The Price of Freedom hoping to find a simple story of triumph over evil, you’ll be disappointed. Namhila writes only the truth as she experienced it. She does not paint with a wide brush covering the unsightly bumps, she gives us details and in those details there is much grey.
            She lived as a refugee in Angola, often moving from one military base to another. In the camps, she received political education. She worked as a nurse and a teacher at various times. She was in Kassinga, a refugee camps, on 4 May 1978 when one of the most brutal bombing campaigns by the South African Defence Force (SADF) took place, the Kassinga Massacre.  In a single day 624 refugees were killed, among them 298 children. Namhila was traumatised by this and yet she had no option but to continue, though it haunts her for the rest of her life.
            For a while she lived in Lubango refugee camp where things were slightly safer and better organised. Eventually she was sent to The Gambia to finish her schooling. There the Namibian refugees lived with families though the cultural differences often made it hard for Namhila, especially the strict rules of Islam.
            She returned to the camps after finishing school and worked mostly as a teacher. There she married, but spending time with her new husband would not be allowed since he was soon sent to Zambia to work for The Voice of Namibia and she was sent to university in Finland where she studied library science while trying to raise her new-born daughter alone in a country and culture she did not understand.
            Eventually, negotiations led to peace and Namhila went home to vote for the first time in her newly independent country. But after nineteen years, the country is not the one she remembers in her childhood memories. Compounding that is the complex relationships between returnees and the people who remained in the country, some who had fought against SWAPO and independence.
            “While in exile I remembered home through the things I had known,” Namhila writes in the epilogue. “Now that I am in Namibia, all that I am in Namibia, all that I knew of Namibia, of home, has changed. I am finding myself lost in my own country.”
            Namhila is honest about the changes in the country and in herself that make it difficult for her to find a place again. She tries to go back to Zambia or Finland to see if somehow she has so changed that her home can only be found elsewhere, but she does not find her personal home in those countries either. Some in Namibia have bitterness toward returnees and do not want to assist them in any way to find their way back into society. This Namhila finds difficult. She knows what she gave up, what she went through for the independence of her country. She knows how much she sacrificed, and yet it appears that the sacrifice is not important. This is quite troubling for her.
            From Namhila’s memoir the reader learns the real price of freedom to an individual. It’s an honest and captivating read.  

(This review first appeared in my column It's All Write in the 19th May 2017 issue of Mmegi)

Monday, June 5, 2017

African Writers You Should Know: Ellen Banda-Aaku

Ellen Banda-Aaku is an award-winning Zambian writer. Her first book, Wandi’s Little Voice won the 2004 Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa (UK). Her first novel, Patchwork won the Penguin Prize for African Writing and was shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Book prize. Her outstanding achievements in literature won her the 2012 Zambia Arts Council Chairperson’s Award. She splits her time between Zambia and UK but managed to talk with me in the middle of her busy schedule.

Tell me a bit about how you started writing.
I started writing fairly late in life. With hindsight, I put this down to the fact that growing up in Zambia, Zambian writers were not visible. I had access to a lot of books at home and at school but they were not by Zambians. At school, it was a requirement to include African writers in the literature in English courses, the list consisted of writers from Nigeria, Kenya. South Africa….no Zambians. Hence, even though I enjoyed telling stories and writing essays etc. I never really thought to become a writer because one inspires to be what they see, and growing up I didn’t see Zambian women writers. Then in my thirties I moved to Ghana and I started thinking about writing a novel.  Around the same time in 2004 I came across a call by Macmillan publishers for submissions to the Macmillan Prize for African Writing. Even though the call was for children’s stories I thought to write something and submit mainly to give me some practice and I felt writing to a deadline would give me discipline I needed to complete a manuscript. I ended up winning the competition and that was the start to my writing career.

Your latest book is Madam First Lady. What is it about?
Madam First Lady is about the first lady of a fictional African country who is married to a dictator and she falls in love with a rebel leader. I started writing it before I wrote my first novel Patchwork but then I put it on hold as I was focusing on writing Sula & Ja, my YA fiction book which has been published in Nigeria, Kenya and Zambia. Last year I decided to finish it with the intention of self-publishing it. At the moment, it is only available as an e-book on Amazon but I hope to get some hard copies printed. It has been well received hence my plans to have it produced in hard copy.

What do you site as the turning point in your writing career?
Because of the way I started writing, I would say winning the Macmillan Prize was my starting and turning point. I’m not sure I would have continued as a writer if I hadn’t been successful with my first piece of writing. I was so sure it would come to nothing I didn’t tell anybody I was writing until I won the prize. Winning the Commonwealth short story competition in 2007 was a significant point in my writing career because that is when I decided to study for an MA in writing because I decided to pursue a career as a writer.

What do you think is the most difficult aspect of being a writer on the continent as opposed to being a writer in the UK?
As the world opens up due to the internet etc., I think more and more, the challenges writers face will be similar as the physical location of the writer will matter less. Having made the point, I feel in Africa countries like Zambia are lagging behind due to the lack of infrastructure (creative writing courses, literary agents, a vibrant publishing industry,  investment in writers and the creative industries, etc.) to support and develop writers.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on two projects in Zambia, a radio drama series titled Minding Shupe’s Business and a film documentary titled Aunty Rebecca. Aunty Rebecca is a about a volunteer social counsellor who is almost single-handedly working to educate communities about cervical cancer and HIV and the link between the two diseases. Zambia, despite its small population, has one of the highest cervical cancer rates in the world. By following Aunty Rebecca around the Cancer Hospital as she counsels, the documentary highlights the challenges faced in trying to bring the prevalence incidences down.
When I’m done, I plan to write another YA fictional book – hopefully before the year is up.

(NOTE: This columns first appeared in the 2 June 2017 issue of Mmegi in my column, It's All Write)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

2nd Meeting of the Mahalapye Writers' Club!!!!

This Saturday is the second meeting of the Mahalapye Writers' Club. We'll be meeting at the Mahalapye Brigades (formerly Mahalapye Development Trust) along the Shoshong Road opposite Tamocha Primary School at 2 pm.

Venue: Mahalapye Brigades along the Shoshong Road
Time: 2 pm
Date: Saturday 20th May

See you there!! 
(any questions you can email me at lakubuitsile@gmail.com or phone 71327525)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Kingsmead Book Fair- Johannesburg!

Next Saturday the 13th of May I'll be in Johannesburg for the Kingsmead Book Fair!
The first event will be about The Scattering with Yewande Omotoso:

Indomitable Spirits (at the Music Centre)
Yewande Omotoso (The Woman Next Door), introduces three unforgettable books about courage and the will to survive at all costs, with Sean Christie (Under Nelson Mandela Boulevard), Lauri Kubuitsile (The Scattering) and Unathi Magubeni (Nwelezelanga: The Star Child).

Later in the day I'll be with Ros Haden talking teen romance! We'll be in the Teen Studio 2 at 15:00. I'll be talking about my two Aunt Lulu books: Signed, Hopelessly in Love and Signed, the Secret Keeper.

Here is the complete programme. I hope to see everybody there!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Literary Crossroads Goethe-Institut Windhoek

On the Monday after Easter I am off to Windhoek Namibia to be part of the Goethe-Institut's Literary Crossroads. The programme sets out to connect writers around Africa for interesting discussions around those places where their writing crosses paths. The main event will be a panel discussion between me (discussing my most recent historical fiction writing) and Namibian author and publisher Jane Katjavivi. I read Jane's wonderful memoir, Undisciplined Heart (Modjaji Books) when it came out in 2010. Below is her bio:

  Undisciplined Heart: When Jane Katjavivi becomes involved in London in support of change in Southern Africa, she meets and marries a Namibian activist in exile. Moving with him to Namibia at the time of Independence in 1990, she faces a new life in a starkly beautiful country.
She starts to publish Namibian writing and opens a bookshop. In Windhoek she develops friendships with a group of strong, independent women, who have also come from other countries, and are engaged in different ways to overcome the divisions of the past. Over coffee, drinks and food, they support each other through times of happiness and sadness, through juggling careers and family, and through illness and death.
When her husband is made Ambassador to the Benelux countries and the European Union, and later Berlin, Jane has to build a new identity as the wife of an ambassador, and come to terms with her own ill-health without her friends around her to support her. 

I'll be in Windhoek for the entire week and will be doing a few other things as well. Below find my schedule if you will be in Windhoek and would like to attend or listen (for the radio interviews). 

TUESDAY 18 April
 10:00 radio interview on NBC Radio- German station with Ralf Boll

15:45 radio  interview at 1 FM

 19:00 Panel discussion Literary Crossroads with author and publisher Jane Katjavivi, moderated by Namibian writer, Sylvia Schlettwien
Venue: Library Goethe Institute Windhoek

Getting your Manuscript Ready: Looking Over Lauri Kubuitsile’s shoulder as she writes a Novel
Venue: Library Goethe Institut Windhoek

14:00 - 16:30
The Ins and Outs of Getting Your Work Published and Other Information no-one will Ever Give you
Venue: Library Goethe Institut Windhoek