Does the Jostling Begin Now?

Wame Molefhe

The announcement that The National Arts Council of Botswana Act, 2020 is, is good news. Or maybe not?

Before ululating, or grieving, perhaps we should be clear on a few matters. Before the Act was passed, there was a bill.

There was an opportunity for voices to be heard. Comments were solicited. You, Artist, “Creative” (in the new lingo), or whatever name you answer to, did you receive a copy of the bill with “CONFIDENTIAL” stamped across it?

Did you read it, close read it, that is, and then make comments, or did you decide all this was not worth your while?

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Maybe you were busy–trying to eke out a living in a world that makes it difficult to survive as an artist? Or maybe you read it and ended up so overcome with sadness because you thought—where does one even begin to comment?

Whatever you did or did not express, wherever you stand on the new act, the reality is that the creation of an umbrella body to oversee the activities that take place in the ‘arts and culture’ sphere is set to happen.

According to the draft bill, dated 28.01.2020, “arts and culture”—and this is a direct quotation “includes all forms and traditions of literary arts, performing arts, visual arts, media arts and culinary arts.”

Culture, which for some reason regularly gets tagged to art, is itself not defined. An oversight? A deliberate commission? Moving on…
Let the jostling for positions begin.

For the optimists, the creation of this umbrella body to oversee activities in the arts is cause to celebrate.

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It has been in the making for many years. Perhaps it will provide the spark that is needed for the arts to flourish.

For those who still believe in art and how vital it is to life, this structure may be just what was needed.

For the pessimists who are shaking their heads, muttering, it is more of the same, may time prove them wrong.

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Those in the know are already sharpening their shears for they see sheep being fattened for them to fleece.

Looking back to 2010, a debate arose about the role of the artist in society—in this society. This is not a new discussion, of course.

From it sprang questions about ethics, and whether an artist can be affiliated to a certain party and continue to freely create art.

If your stomach is empty, will you have the fortitude to continue to hold on to the ideals and principles you believe in, or will you clear your throat and sing whatever song you need to, in order to be fed?

But since this is a column that deals with literary arts, let me return to the writer. There was once a body called the Botswana Writers Association. Of course it was not a home for all writers, but it was alive and it attempted to do something for writers. Where is it now?

For writers who may be feeling disillusioned, some inspiration from E.B White: ‘the writer should concern himself with whatever absorbs his fancy, stirs his heart, and unlimbers his typewriter.’

And so, whether or not this National Arts Council comes to fruition, those who are committed artists will continue to create. Regardless.

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