Books will be written about one of the greatest moments in the history of the country that saw the performing and visual arts highly gain the recognition that they deserve from the first citizen of Botswana.
On Monday this week when Botswana celebrated her 47th Independence, the nation looked on and celebrated a moment when three groups that practise three different traditional styles were awarded the Presidential Order of Meritorious Service (PMS) award.
PMS is one of the three awards that are bestowed on individuals and groups who have impressively contributed to the development of the country. The three groups are Shoshoruka Group from Ikoga (Seperu), Gareng Ga Dithota from Khawa (Polka dance), and Dipela tsa ga Kobokwe (Phatisi).The visual arts, through Rantefe Mothebe who is a self-taught painter, and Oodi Weavers received the Presidential Certificate of Honour (PCH) at the same ceremony.
The awards come at a time when Polka and Seperu dance styles are beginning to grow in popularity in the country. Until 2008, when the President introduced the annual President’s Day Celebrations, Seperu and Polka remained foreign to the general public in Botswana except in the region where they were danced. But the landscape is changing at a steady pace for these two dances. Now nicknamed the President’s dance, Polka is danced around Kgalagadi areas such as Werda, Gantsi, Khawa and Bokspits. But it can also be found in Serowe and Kweneng regions.
Following the Monday celebrations, the leaders of Shoshoruka and Dipela tsa ga Kobokwe were still in awe about their achievements. Shoshoruka group’s Lethebe Sethwara said that the honour meant everything for his group. He said that since formation in 2008, they have never dreamt that they would receive such an award. Funny enough, the group came fourth last year at the national finals but came back bigger and stronger this year.
“We are still in shock. In the beginning when this group was formed a lot of people were not supportive as they did not understand what we were doing, but here we are today,” he said.
He said that the 35-member group with members aged between 18 years and 55 years took the award and everything that they did seriously and were now looking at ways and means of diversifying what the group was doing.
“To us the award means that the leadership of this country has seen what we are doing and is paying us for all the hard work that we have put into the group,” he said.
For the reigning champs of Phatisi, Dipela tsa ga Kobokwe have come a long way when it comes to dominating in Phatisi, a dance that has its origins in Mokwena. The group has won first positions in the President’s Day celebrations since 2010 and look set to continue its dominance. The group was founded in 1997. The chairperson of Dipela tsa ga Kobokwe, Zain Ontefetse, said that the recognition now meant that his group, consisting of mostly the youth, was now in a league of its own.
“This award is a sign that we are the best and that we have contributed to the growth of Phatisi in the country,” said Ontefetse. Although the group has been in existence for all these years, they still do not have an office that they can call their own and are hopeful that one of the good days they will own it. Although there has been public outcry that the group should step aside and give others a chance, they have no plans of doing just that.
“These competitions are our source of income and until our fortunes change, we are still going to be around,” he said. The chairperson of Ngwao Loshalaba, Keith Bafentse, sees the development from this week as something worth writing about. He said it shows that his organisation was doing something right.
“It is big development for us and I think that it is the first time that three groups are winning the awards all at the same time. It also shows that we are headed in the right direction,” said Bafentse. He also said that the awards meant groups are growing and that the traditional dance styles were also gaining the recognition that they deserved.
“Polka has really grown. If you remember very well, when it was first introduced a lot of people did not understand what it was all about. And today people are standing up and giving it the recognition that it deserves,” he said.
“Seperu is also growing and like Polka people are appreciating it. Even though it is still in the North, its growth is commendable,” he added. He also said that while it was easy for other groups to copy traditional styles from different parts of the country, the same can not be said about Seperu.
“It is not easy for groups to copy. I want to advise those who might want to copy Seperu that they should research and understand what the dance is all about,” he said.