Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Kgosi Kgolo Kgafela II

Kgosi Kgolo Kgafela II is becoming a very interesting person to watch in Botswana. He is a brilliant young man, trained as a lawyer, with a firm attachment to his tribe and a mission to remind Bakgatla of the rich cultural history they possess. At the same time, he is trying to find a way for the tribe to hold unto its culture while stepping forward into its future. In Botswana, there is a tendency to look at culture as something defined in the past and few have been able to make it relevant to people of today, so it is being thrown away with little to nothing to fill the gaping hole left behind. This has led to many societal ills. Kgosi Kgafela seems to have found a way to excite the youth about culture and to find a way for it to be alive in modern society.

Kgosi Kgolo Kgafela II is the paramount chief of the Bakgatla, the tribe whose capital is the village of Mochudi in the south of the country. For people who read Alexander McCall Smith books- it is the home of the fictional character Precious Ramostwe. Kgosi Kgafela II is the son to Kgosi Linchwe II who died in 2007. Kgosi Kgafela II was born in Washington DC during the time that his father served as Botswana's ambassador to the United States. He is trained as a lawyer. You can read about his life in his own words here.

After his coronation as kgosi kgolo, the controversy around him began. He was still working as a full time lawyer and wanted to remain doing so and at the same time participate in the House of Chief. The House of Chiefs (Ntlo ya Dikgosi) is a consultatory body of the legislative branch of Botswana's government and advises Parliament on issues of culture. Though he wanted to attend the House of Chiefs he would not be able to be part of the daily activities at the kgotla in Mochudi. This did not sit well with President Ian Khama's government and a battle ensued.

Earlier this year he reinstated the female initiation called bojale. Hundreds of Bakgatla women went through the traditional ceremony including writer and former high court judge Unity Dow. Last month the male version of the ceremony was done, bogwera. The rejuvenation of these ceremonies has brought a renewed pride in their culture among the Bakgatla. Bogwera and bojale are important ceremonies in most tribes in Botswana. It is where children are taught the roles and responsibilities of being an adult. Most tribes have stopped these ceremonies often influenced by churches.

Kgosi Kgafela is restoring traditional values in his village with a commitment to discipline and cultural practice. Last week a group of drama students sang songs from bojale and bogwera at a drama competition. Songs associated with these sacred ceremonies are not to be sung outside of the initiation ceremony though such rules have been ignored. The drama group was taken to the kgotla for punishment; they were beaten.

All of this may sound like the workings of a traditionalist who has not taken steps into the modern world, but if you came to that conclusion you would be wrong. He has since left his law practice. He has set up the Royal Bakgatla Communications Company which has sold the filming rights to both the bojale and bogwera ceremonies. The company has also published a book on Bakgatla history which they are selling. They are in the process of setting up a Royal Bakgatla Private Secondary School and Royal Bakgatla Properties which are looking for ways to earn money for the tribe.

He seems to have taken a page from the Royal Bafokeng of South Africa. No other tribal leader has taken the leadership of his tribe so seriously. He has accepted the role as caretaker of the Bakgatla heritage and as the one responsible for the well being of all of tribe's members. It is exciting to see such pronounced, dedicated leadership. This is a man we all need to watch.

(In my ramblings for this post I came across this quite comprehensive dictionary of Botswana at the website for the Japanese embassy.)

Are you interested in learning more about Botswana? Consider purchasing Lauri's short story collection (ebook) In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata and Other Stories, all stories set in Botswana. You can buy it at Amazon HERE


bonita said...

I'm confused...If students were beaten for singing songs of the ceremony outside of the ceremony, how can Kgosi Kgafela sell the filming rights to the [same] ceremony?

Lauri said...

Bonita I imagine the filming rights were very prescriptive regarding what could be filmed and what couldn't. There are public parts of the ceremonies and very private parts.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

Well, these are obviously very layered, complicated issues, and I appreciate your attempt to bring Kgosi Kgafela's great efforts to our attention. As you probably know, most of us here in The States have a limited understanding of Africa in general, and know even less about the country of Botswana. I love the judge's name, Unity.

Lauri said...

I was surprised how well known Unity Dow is in the USA. She's mostly known for her work around women's issues and her very interesting position from the bench when the Basarwa (Bushmen) took the government of Botswana to court.

Before becoming a judge, she also took the government to court. She was married to a foreigner and at that time children could only take the citizenship of their fathers, which meant her children could not have Botswana citizenship. She took the government to court and won. The law was overturned.

nkadzi said...

I just hope Kgafela is not turning into a cultural fundamentalist from a human rights lawyer.

Nkadzi said...

i hope he is also not cementing a Bakgatla "nation" because he is afraid of a Bamangwato hegemony via the current president!!

Lauri said...

Nkadzi- There are, of course, grey areas where debate needs to happen. There is a thin line between having pride in your tribal heritage and stoking the flames of tribalism. It is the approach and the process and both need to be discussed along the way.