No. This is not a headline full of buzzwords to grab your attention. In an era where our society actively stifles our various forms of expression and passionate communication under the guise of being “maitseo”, it’s a conversation that must be had. Our beloved Botswana has entered into critical times – election seasons. Campaign posters are all over our city, towns and villages. Candidates and political party leadership are doing road (and air) shows across the land working to garner the vote of as many a Motswana as possible, with the hope of gaining the majority and becoming the ruling power. All this after the people have been under a 10-year regime led by one Dr. Ian Khama, a regime the people themselves grew to fear (and in some instances, loathe). Maitseo gained a new definition during the presidency of Dr. Khama – rumour had it, to speak ill of our then president or his allies meant “vanishing under inexplicable circumstances” or whatever the ‘politically correct’ term was. But since His Honour The President Dr. Mokgweetsi E. K. Masisi took over in April of 2018, the prevailing fears have since subsided. Still, the air remains tense as we wait with baited breath to see who the victor of the campaign conquest will be, and how they’ll handle the power placed in their hands.
The development of the communications networks & frameworks in Botswana (and in all of Africa in the last 20 or so years) have birthed a generation more in-touch with global trends and the ‘global village’. A fraction of this very opinionated generation are already activists in their own right for general human rights, against human degradation via peer oppression, with the interests of Africa at heart – you name it, we have them. Heightened information sharing opportunities via social media and internet-based broadcasting platforms has facilitated the propagation of our art, our news, our lifestyles, even our very controversial opinions on a larger scale than ever before.
The reality, however, is that the very basis of activism goes completely against what our socializations have incessantly tried to breed into us. Culturally, self expression has never really been part of our upbringing as African Youth, specifically if it’s in relation to airing our views & opinions to our elders. Culturally, we are supposed to obey our elders without hesitation or inquisition, because the word of an elder – someone who has lived much longer and therefore “knows more” – is law.
This ultimately places today’s young person in a dilemma. The overwhelming desire to be self-expressive butts heads with the deeply-rooted doctrine of maitseo, and the conflict is perennial. The lucky few who have been raised to regularly and eloquently voice their transgressions to their immediate families admittedly find it easier to speak out against concepts they do not believe in and challenge the status quo. The rest of the demographic either bottles everything up or resorts to guising their views under (anonymous) social media aliases as a means of release from the stress of living with this internal war.
Still, the boundaries of self expression and activism can be quite vague, especially in the current climate where these concepts have become the main opposition against African patriarchy and other prevailing practices or beliefs that go against the basis of humane and dignified existence. As recently as 3 months ago, the government of Botswana overturned a colonial-era law that criminalized same-sex relations, a landmark win for the LGBTQI+ community in Botswana. However, as if to spite members and allies of the aforesaid community, the ruling was appealed in less than a week. Freedom of expression for the proudly queer Batswana was flashed and then taken away just as the celebrations were kicking into gear. Last week, harrowing news from South Africa sparked international outcry and a call-to-arms against these atrocities – reports of the most recent xenophobic attacks in the country as well as the brutal rapes and murders of Uyinene Mrwetyana and Jesse Hess (among others), two 19-year-old women in South Africa rocked the continent. And yet, even with all these negative news, Batswana seemed to be defiant in acknowledging similarities with these events and the xenophobia and femicide that prevails in our country. Twitter user @heyloner recently tweeted on how Batswana saying they’re “not as xenophobic as South Africans” reminds her of how they “treat queer people like second class citizens but don’t want to be called homophobic”, all this to hide their shortcomings behind political correctness or maitseo – or as she put it, “le re tsenya matlho a batho”.
What does this say about our values as a nation? A nation that has Botho as one of its core principles can’t accept the humanness of its people (citizens or otherwise) – different as they are from the “norm”? Very telling. The conservative mindset is one that is deeply rooted in our African identity, even evident in our brethren residing in The West. But its time is slowly coming to a close. The youth of Africa are realizing that their worth and the worth of their brothers and sisters is much more than we are taught from birth. The youth of Africa are realizing that the change we very much wish to see happening in and for our continent resides within us, and the power to let it manifest is in our hands. As much as our arte is unique and monumental, so is our voice, whether it be individual and collective. Our activism is the strongest because we all carry the fire of our fighting ancestors within us, and we are educated in our advocacy for a better, more globally competitive Home. We don’t need to be politically correct as it serves no purpose in getting things DONE! Our expression is our activism because it is progressive, and we must not tire in the pursuit of our revolution.