This week, Voice Woman brings you a long overdue virtual interview with the multi-talented graphic designer-cum-illustrator, and now children’s book author, Onica Lekuntwane.
The mother-of-one, who earned the sobriquet ‘Mmagwe Rati’ after the character she created, inspired by photographs of herself as a young girl, and Yours Truly go way back.
We first crossed paths at Greenside Design Centre College in Johannesburg, South Africa, where we both studied at the turn of the century.
The gifted cartoonist would, however, continue with the specialty college as a lecturer for a little over a decade.
In 2016, we met again as a part of the #IShallNotForget movement, an advocacy group formed following the infamous Sebina schoolgirl saga.
The conscientious Lekuntwane immediately determined to apply her problem-solving and storytelling skills and created the sexual abuse awareness booklets, ‘My Body Belongs to Me’ and ‘Mmele o ke Wame’, to encourage the most vulnerable members of our society – children – to freely express themselves regarding their social and emotional struggles.
In excess of 100,000 copies of the educational booklets have reached children countrywide among other offerings.
Let’s get to know the woman behind Rati a bit more…
Do introduce yourself to our readers.
l was born Onica Monkgogi Tebatso Boasa Lekuntwane at Sekgoma Memorial Hospital in Serowe about 46 years ago, but l have grown to accept the moniker – ‘Mmagwe Rati’.
This is because in 2013, while living and working in Johannesburg, South Africa, l nostalgically created an adorable cartoon character based on childhood photographs of myself, and named her Rati.
She and her friends – Setso, Lesedi, Khwema and more – have become the characters that l use as windows and mirrors for children growing up and learning in Botswana.
Children get to see the world through characters that look like them, and to see their everyday lives positively reflected back at them.
ln real life, l have a teenage son.
You first introduced Rati to the nation in 2016; talk us through your journey leading up to that.
Rati was introduced through the #IShallNotForget period.
As someone who strongly believes in being part of the solution, l felt that responses to issues of sexual abuse of children were mostly reactive and would soon be replaced by the next ‘big thing’.
I wanted to use my skills to be part of a more sustainable solution, so l created the ‘My Body Belongs to Me’ and ‘Mmele o ke Wame’ booklets to help children and their caregivers speak openly about the challenges that our children face. Because the brand is also about edutainment, l created the ‘Fatshe Leno La Rona’ graphics to celebrate the positive aspects of our beautiful nation.
It certainly is a proudly BW brand, well done! Has illustrating children’s books and educational material always been your dream?
I love illustration, and am very good at it.
I wanted to give our children characters that they can relate to because they look, speak and act like them.
Our kids deserve to see themselves positively represented.
What has been your most memorable moment since launching Rati?
The reach of the sexual abuse awareness booklets has really humbled me.
Through the support of UNICEF Botswana, Boitumelo Foundation, Men and Boys for Gender Equality, Gaborone Book Festival, Debswana, Wild Bird Trust and many others who acknowledge the value of what l do, over 100,000 copies of the booklets have reached children throughout Botswana.
The book readings l have done with children always leave a lump in my throat, because they make me realise just how important the booklets are.
And your biggest challenge so far?
My journey has definitely not been a smooth one, but l believe in focusing on what can be done.
For now, my biggest challenge is time.
There is so much more that the Rati & Friends brand can still contribute to building a positive self-identity for children growing up and learning in Botswana, and sometimes 24 hours in a day feels like two!
I hope to collaborate more with other creatives such as writers, illustrators, animators to truly cement the brand as the Barbie, Dora The Explorer and Peppa Pig of Botswana.
Our children deserve it.
Talk us through the various exciting “creative and positive adventures” you’ve gone on with Rati since 2016?
I have always wanted to travel throughout Botswana, and appreciate the cultural diversity that our country offers.
Rati and her friends have made this possible.
You also introduced activity books for kids. Are they available in stores?
The activity book was my first commercial offering under the brand, and a big learning curve.
It is no longer available, as we are working on newer and more age-specific activity books.
These will be available digitally and in print.
We are also going to be offering educational charts that are culturally relevant.
Hopefully these will supplement the handmade charts that teachers often customise to suit their learners.
Monnatia is another booklet – created specifically for the boy child.
This is currently available through Bala Books, Sebilo Books and through direct orders from Rati & Friends.
What other projects are you busy with currently?
We have a fun boardgame that we recently had the opportunity to pilot in schools on the Eastern Panhandle of Botswana.
It is part of a series of ‘Ja Nala’ games, which teach children about landmarks and heritage sites throughout Botswana.
I strongly believe that our children need to know and appreciate their own country first.
We need to know and tell our own stories best.
Do you have any young people you’re mentoring?
Just like Rati has friends, l strongly believe in the power of ‘we’.
I have held workshops – mostly for young kids – to instill a love for reading, writing and illustrating their own books.
They need to know that this is possible.
I am currently working on a project that will see these workshops turned into something exciting. As they say: watch this space!
What does the future look like for Mmagwe Rati and her creation?
I will be Mmaagwe Rati for as long as there are stories to tell, and children to empower.
Away from the Mac, what does Onica do for fun?
l love making stuff, especially with kids.
My house always has a craft corner where l cut, paste and explore materials and processes in preparation for the annual Children’s Christmas party that l hold in my village every year.
I also enjoy listening to (loud) rock music.
It hits the spot!