Steeped in Setswana
Known for his amazing ability with words, Edwin ‘Serurubele’ Moroka is especially famous for his command of the Setswana language.
At the Botswana Youth Awards last month, the Kanye-born poet received an honorary Minister’s award for his contribution to preserving the Tswana culture, through his powerful poetry as well as his Duma FM show, ‘Sekhutlwana sa Bannye’, a programme that aims to ‘teach them while they’re young’.
The Voice’s LEUNGO MOKGWATHI caught up with the cultural activist to discuss his thriving career and his poetic passion for Setswana…
Let’s start at the beginning, how did your journey with poetry start?
I got into poetry after realising that our Setswana language is fading away.
I can’t exactly tell you when this romance between myself and our mother tongue lit up, but I know that it had a lot to do with my background, having grown up in an extended family set up.
That’s where I learnt all the basics, the traditional way of life and doing things.
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It wasn’t until Junior school when I started playing around with poetry only as a hobby though, which I gave up on in Senior school to focus more on my studies.
You know what they say about running away from a calling though, in tertiary my love for poetry was revived and I haven’t looked back since.
This time around, I took it more seriously, performing at different occasions and exposing myself more.
How would you describe your style of poetry?
By the time I decided to seriously venture into poetry, there were already so many poets who were doing well.
I knew then that I had to bring a different element or I wouldn’t survive for long.
For myself, it wasn’t about fame, but about instilling knowledge, so I took on my first radio gig in 2015 on a show called ‘Sefalana sa Ngwao’.
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Like the name suggests, it was all about sharing with listeners different aspects of our Setswana culture.
Later on, I took on my current show, ‘Sekhutlwana sa Bannye’ which does the same thing, but in this one, we are educating the young ones.
What sets me apart is that I am a researching poet who not only wants to entertain but also impart the correct information about our culture and various current affairs issues.
So besides radio and live stage performances, where else can one find your work?
Social media is coming in handy in terms of archiving my works as well as giving me exposure.
I primarily rely on Facebook but I have found TikTok to also be a reliable tool in giving my work mileage.
I have actually co-authored two books, ‘Dinonyane tsa Botswana’ and ‘Legaleng’ which is a folklore book that was launched last year.
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I am currently working on another book which is a collection of some of my poems.
Tell us a little about your process for coming up with poetry content.
So many people don’t believe me when I tell them that I don’t rehearse or scribble down any material, it all starts flowing the minute I switch on the microphone.
As I mentioned before, I research a lot and I make sure that I keep up with current affairs because such content sticks with me and I end up using it in my performances.
Have you ever got ‘brain freeze’ during a performance?
Never! I promise you, the minute I go on stage, it’s like an endless stream of words and phrases which are inspired by my environment.
There could be a fly in the room and I will throw in a line or two about it.
I think that’s what demonstrates the creative in me, my ability to freestyle like that.
You recently received the Minister’s award at the Botswana Youth Awards, what does such recognition mean for your brand?
That was definitely the most rewarding moment of my career of close to ten years.
I am really grateful for the honour because it has added significant weight to my profile.
So many doors of opportunity have opened up since I received that award so I am truly grateful.
Additionally, it has motivated me to keep on doing what I do best, to reach for the stars and make a positive difference through my art.
What doors might these be?
I’m getting invites to motivate children in schools. Also, after seeing me get the award, more people are inviting me to perform at functions.
Great stuff! So, besides poetry, what else are you engaged in?
So far the only thing I have going on is my radio programme ‘Sekhutlwana sa Bannye’.
I have a number of projects coming up, amongst them is a Setswana Symposium since I noticed many people appreciate such learning platforms.
In that regard, would you say poetry is a viable source of income in our country?
In all honesty, poetry in our country is not esteemed to a level where one can fully depend on it as their only source of income.
I think it has a lot to do with our mindset and work culture as poets though, because we have normalised so many things such as performing for free or getting hampers as a form of payment.
You will find instances where someone who was trying to book you ditches you because they know another poet who would do it for a plate of food.
Must be tough! I’m interested to know how you learn new words and phrases? You must do a lot of studying?
Would you believe me if I told you that I have no idea where I learnt most of the words and phrases I use?
I call it a calling because it comes naturally without me having to study anything.
Interestingly, some of my knowledge is acquired through dreams where I find myself sitting alongside some elders who teach me new words, sayings and their meanings.
I discovered my gift in the same way, through a dream: I saw a poem and somehow, I recited it verbatim the next day.
Aside from your dreams, where else do you find inspiration for new poetry?
I get invited to perform at different events so I pay attention to the organisation, its mandate as well as the event’s theme.
I then merge that knowledge with the environment in real time to give them doses of my creativity.
If you had to pick one favourite from your poems, which would it be?
I have a couple, my favourite being a poem from Sir Seretse Khama Day which celebrated our former Presidents as well as our current President.
My second favourite poem is where the name Serurubele emanated from.
It was a poem I recited on Duma FM, and the closing line was ‘Duma Serurubele’.
After that, everyone started calling me Serurubele.
Based on your tendency to give ‘a shout out’ to high profile figures, some think your poetry is politically motivated! Is it?
I get that a lot, so allow me to make it clear that my poetry is not in any way politically motivated.
I get booked a lot for government functions so I do that shout out as a way of recognising and giving honour where it should be given.
In your opinion, is our Setswana language dying?
And it’s our fault because we aren’t speaking Setswana anymore.
There are kids who can’t say a complete sentence in Setswana, and you can’t blame them because English is the main language at home.
For a language to live on, it must be spoken, written and read.
Setswana is also dying because we don’t have policies which regulate language use, so any Jack and Jill can decide to open a language institute, teaching their preferred version of Setswana which may not be the correct one.
Finally, our standard orthography hasn’t been reviewed in a very long time to assess how the language can be developed.
Does copyright infringement exist in your kind of poetry? Have you ever heard someone reciting lines from your poem? What do you do to protect your poems from such infringement?
As soon as I learnt about copyrighting, I visited CIPA for assistance and the response I got was that as long as my poetry is recorded, it is copyrighted.
Despite that though, there are so many people who are either reciting lines from my poems, or making songs out of them.
The whole process of taking action against such people is such a hassle, but I do have plans of visiting CIPA again for quicker assistance.
Are there any poets you look up to?
I have so many but there are three gentlemen who inspired me as an upcoming poet: Sekokotla Kaboyamodimo from Kanye, Ponatshego Mokane from Serowe and Keetile Rabojalwa from Molepolole.
They are all late but these are some poetry icons who I really looked up to and still do because their work was unmatched.
Finally, Thank God It’s Friday, what will you be up to this weekend?
I will be visiting Kasane for the very first time, for a corporate event