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the biker magistrate

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By Keletso Thobega

When you spot 33 year-old Tshepo Thedi cruising around the shanty town of Lobatse in her top of the range German sedan, you wouldn’t believe that this chic and sauve lady magistrate is also a biker!

Yep, when she hangs her magisterial gown, Thedi enjoys nothing more than donning her leather jacket and helmet and getting onto her bike. From a young age, Thedi has always relished the idea of being a biker.

“When I was a small child, I was fascinated by bikes and told myself that I would get one for myself when I am older,” she says. It was however only in 2011 when she moved to Lobatse from Hukuntsi, that the University of Botswana Law graduate decided to act on her passion and interest and got her own bike and then learnt how to ride.

When she eventually had the hang of it, she knew that it was now time to realise one goal on her bucket list – to ride long distance. This past festive, Thedi challenged herself to ride a longer stretch. She rode to the Okavango in the company of her friend, Gaborone based fashion designer, Kefilwe ‘Sweety’ Lobelo. Quite a scary prospect, but the two were intent on realising their goal.

Thedi admits it was not an entire breeze. “Sometimes when other people do things, you wish you could do them too, but when you are in the mix of things, only then do you feel the heat!” There’s a lot of pun there because on their ride, the two had to contend with the sweltering heat of more than 40 degrees, throughout the trip. There was the option of turning back, but they soldiered on, even with the fear of coming into contact with wild animals lingering in their minds.

The two left Gaborone on 30 December 2015, at around 4am, and by 3pm the same day, they were in Maun. They returned to Gaborone on 2 January 2016.
This was a life changing experience for Thedi because she was now in new terrain. Although riding long distance comes with its own set of  challenges, she has achieved something that she had always dreamt of.

The long ride also helped them learn more about the functionality of bikes; they fuelled for themselves and had to deal with any problems they encountered themselves.

“We faced a fair amount of challenges, but all in all, it was a beautiful experience because we stepped out of our comfort zones. Being a biker has increased my self-confidence and opened me to a different kind of peace and freedom. When you are on the road, you only think about the stretch before you, so you close out other thoughts. As much as riding a bike can be physically challenging, it is also quite an exhilarating experience,”she explains.

Given the opportunity, Thedi would ride for charity or any other fundraising activity she feels is close to her heart, now that she knows what she is capable of on her bike. Thedi is also one of the organisers of the Thobo Cultural festival, which is held in April annually in Lobatse, to celebrate the town’s rich heritage and revel in the unique Setswana culture.

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Festival of Kerala – an explosion of Indian folk expression

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Hundreds of Malayalees – the Kerala Indian commuity living in Botswana –celebrated their Keralaotsavam or Festival of Kerala this past Saturday at Maitisong hall, Maru-a-Pula secondary school.

Held under the auspices of Kerala Samajam Botswana, the festival brought together the over 600-strong Kerala Community that resides and works in different parts of Botswana under one roof to share, reminisce and celebrate their culture in song, dance and to showcase their traditional attire. Dignitaries, among them former President Festus Mogae, India’s High Commissioner to Botswana, Dr Rajesh Ranjan and his wife, Dr. Upma Ranjan as well as Russian and Japanese envoys and the president of Kerala Samajan Botswana Sreejith Alakkat – graced the event.

Making a keynote address, former president Mogae extolled the importance of the festival as an ocassion to people-to-people diplomacy. Having visited the State of Kerala in southern India on three ocassions, Mogae, eho turns 80 this year, said the festival helps to cement the bonds and ties that exist betweenthe peoples of Botswana and India. It was however, not so much the speeches that the excited crowds yearned to hear instead they wanted to be immersed in the line-up of cultural events displayed in folk and contemporary song and dance.

The items on display in the various colourful array of presentation were performed by 130 participants under the able guidance of 12 dhoreographers, all of whom were given mementos at the end of every musical or dramatic show. Among the repertoire on show were Mohiniyatam – one of eght classical dances of India that was developed and remains popular in Kerala; Thiiruvathira – a Hindu festival celebrated in Kerala ss the birthday of Lord Shiva; there was also the Oppana- a popular form of social entertainment among the Mappila – these are the Kerala Muslims as well as Kerala nadanam – a relatively new style of dance curreently recognised as a distinct art form mevolved from Kathakali, which is a form of Indian dance-drana.

The performances continued until midnight and were punctuated by dinner; cinematic shows and prize giving breaks during which guests and patrons enjoyed sumptuous Indian meals. According to one of the Kerala Salamajan Botswana committee member, members of the Kerala Community comprise largely of professional Accontants and Teachers and have only recently ventured into the business side.

The patron of the association is Ramgoolam (Ram) of the Choppies brand; while some of the business-minded Kerala community membersare found in the gas and oil industry; Botho University; and accounting firms.This community is revered for having bequeathed Botswana with the first Indian doctor, Dr. Nair, who worked at Princess Marina Hosiptal and is renowned for having attended to the health of former presidents – the late Sir Ketumile Masire and former president Festus Mogae. She and her husband, one of the pioneering engineers at RoadsTransport and Safety will be retiring to India very soon.

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RECLAIMING OUR HISTORY AND IDENTITY THROUGH ART

Keletso Thobega

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In an interview with Vibe, Molosi says that as Africans we are the descendants of a people whose corpses Europeans stole to exhibit in Europe for entertainment.

“We are the country that went ahead and buried El Negro’s remains with no protest even though some of his body parts and grave goods remain in Spain. We are also the nation that too-conveniently omits this important story from national knowledge because our curricula remain resolutely colonised. It is the time to stand upright and decolonise our self-knowledge as Africans.” Moremi explains that the inspiration for Ancestor comes from their mutual compassion towards Africanness.

“We realise that much has been robbed from our own self through the colonial project. Ancestor is an attempt at recognising what has been lost, what has been corrupted and reclaiming what we lost and healing wounds of colonial corruption.” He also says that decolonisation is not a one-person project. “It must be understood as a complex process that involves many intersections of personhood, patriarchy, gender and sexual identity. It is because of this complexity that Ancestor cannot be staged through one medium alone, this collaboration is symbolic, it takes to reclaim our history, understanding that we are complex human beings who perceive the world through different lenses.” He adds that many young Africans do not value their own history because they have been, and continue to be taught that is not worth the paper it is written on.

“We must first dispel this myth and teach young people that our history is beautiful and deserves documentation. We need young artists to document and draw inspiration from their origin stories instead of continuing the slavish reproduction of western pop-culture.”

Molosi and Moremi first met a few years ago through Letlhogonolo’s DM Media company. Says Molosi: “It was when I told Letlhogonolo about El Negro a few months ago though that we both knew we had to do something to honor and acknowledge El Negro. I took Letlhogonolo to El Negro’s grave at Tsholofelo Park in Gaborone and, having understood the magnitude of this story, he was shocked to the wretched state that the grave is in. That sight broke both our hearts and led us eventually to this work.” Molosi explains that everything about this story is a study in who we Africans have and continue to be.

“We are the descendants of a people whose corpses Europeans stole to exhibit in Europe for entertainment. We are the country that went ahead and buried El Negro’s remains with no protest even though some of his body parts and grave goods remain in Spain. We are also the nation that too-conveniently omits this important story from national knowledge because our curricula remain resolutely colonised. It is the time to stand upright and decolonise our self-knowledge as Africans.”  The two echo that through Ancestor they want to create a mood, an experience… “And an experience like that can only be enhanced by tapping into various storytelling devices.

We are excited to reflect on the 190th anniversary since this Motlhaping man’s body was stolen from his grave and taken to Europe to be exhibited for the amusement of Europeans. His body was on public display in Spain for over 160 years. Naturally one wonders to what extent our treatment of El Negro’s remains on home soil differs from the treatment he was given in Spain. That is the mood of reflection we are going for. A much bigger African revolution is here and if we weren’t so focused on squabbles between politicians we would see and harness that African revolution.”

The evening performances will feature singer Kitso Selato of My Star fame as well as actor Bayani Moilwa in recitals. Molosi says that Kitso and Bayani are some of the talented actors who staged his off-Broadway play called Motswana in Gaborone last year. “This is the time of collaboration in Botswana arts. We just want to share the story of El Negro and challenge people to reflect on whichever part of the story speaks to them the most.”

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