Thursday, June 9, 2016


Michael - Thursday

Angela Seiphetlheng
speaking at the event
Last weekend I had the great pleasure of being invited to the Bollapela Cultural Festival held in Shoshong in Botswana.  Shoshong features in our latest book – A Death in the Family – and I’ve written about its dramatic scenery and interesting history here before.  The festival is the brainchild of Nyane Angela Seiphetlheng whose love for her home town and its culture and sheer determination made it a reality.  This is the second in what is planned to be an annual event.  This year Angela came up with the idea of linking the book and the cultural aspects through the kgotla which also features in a significant way in the novel.

Sharon Thipe singing about Kubu
At first pass, the concept seems difficult for a western person to understand.  The kgotla is a place, usually a central location in the village, but it’s also an event, basically a meeting at which the chief presides with family and elders of the community, and it functions as a law court also.  Although the chief or kgosi will have the final say, all members of the village are entitled to attend to give their opinions and have them listened to, the aim is to build consensus.  Really the concept is not that foreign, after all modern democracy came from the Greek system where all citizens assembled just like this to reach a majority decision – only men in that case, of course.

Kgosi Mosiele
delivering the guest address
Two local chiefs attended the festival and the guest speaker was also a chief – Kgosi Oscar Mosielele of Moshupa.  I was fortunate to spend two evenings with him over dinner, learning some of his views and getting to know him.  He pointed out that the kgotla is more than just a meeting place or a meeting, important as those aspects are.  It's the heart of the village, and if the village is thought of as an extended family, then it is the center of that family.  So although the title A Death in the Family refers to the murder of Kubu’s elderly father, it actually has a dual meaning since a death at the kgotla can be thought of in that way too, and killing takes place at the kgotla. Fascinating what one learns about one’s own books!  
I wish I’d been able to follow what was being said in the talks at the event, but this was by and for the locals and most of it took place in Setswana.  (But you can read a summary of the Kgosi Mosiele's speech in Botswana's Daily News here .)  

Traditional home
The kitchen is the center of the home
Indeed, the opening session was itself a kgotla; we sat around a curved wall with the women – sitting separately - dressed in matching checked blankets, and it was followed by traditional food served from a cooking pot over an open fire.  I sat between one of the chiefs and the local member of parliament – referred to as ‘MP.’  It was quite amazing to be literally rubbling shoulders with such senior leaders!

Gathering showing the kgotla at the right

The way the book fits in is that there is a strong theme in it around the kgotla at Shoshong – yes, Shoshong!  This was incorporated into the festival program by actors performing these sections of the book, and a singer telling of Kubu’s sorrow in song.  It was an amazing experience to see the Black Tswana Drummers bringing the book to life in front of my eyes –  even more so because it was all in Setswana, just as it would be in reality.  One is always nervous about writing within someone else’s culture; what a complement to have the book woven into it in this way.

In A Death in the Family, the chief is trying to work out whether to allow a neighboring mine to expand onto his land, and calls a kgotla to discuss it.  There’s immediate friction between the young people who want the jobs promised by the mine, and the older people who’re nervous of the promises and the impact on their traditional culture.  Kgosi Mosiele told me this is not uncommon; indeed the young people tend to focus more on the western style democracy and don’t take much notice of the kgotla, finding out about decisions taken on Whatsap!

The chief promises to consider the matter, but partly as a result of his son’s inappropriate interference -in the chief’s view - he rejects the mine’s request.

A riot follows.

Another speaker at the event, Dr. Nthoi, a retired professor at the University of Botswana – he says he’s now at the university of life - pointed out in his talk after the performance that the chief had not really listened to his people, that the kgotla had failed as a result.

Traditional dancing - Mokibe Primary School
It was an event I will never forget, and I will always be grateful to Angela for making it all happen.  And for my very small contribution, I was presented with something that will always remind me:



  1. Wow. A day to remember. Thanks Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Bollapela cultural festival 2016 was inspired by A Death in the Family. Tanki Detective Kubu

  2. Pretty astounding, Michael, definitely A Day to Remember!

  3. Extraordinary, and a compliment to all involved! Go Michael Stanley!

  4. How perfectly marvelous, Michael. I remember that scene so vividly. I am so envious of those who were there and would have loved to hear the discussion.

  5. Interesting article. Great job Nyane.