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The truth in being an Upright African.

19 Apr

rosiemoteneblog

Over the past decade as I embarked on a journey of self discovery, there were many questions, fears and frustrations that crossed my thoughts and made me ponder on my upbringing. As I have said many times before in my writings and social media posts, when you set out to seek an answer and you honestly ask it, the universe conspires and places you in positions where you would find that closure. For me, I was trying to understand the true meaning and feeling of being an African women, understanding the notion of black pride and strength. You must understand this is something that I did not know, understand or believe in. My unconventional upbringing of growing up in a different culture, traditions and compromising era of history, led me to living a very confused life for over three decades. So when I began to question my guilt, confusion and…

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The truth in being an Upright African.

19 Apr

Over the past decade as I embarked on a journey of self discovery, there were many questions, fears and frustrations that crossed my thoughts and made me ponder on my upbringing. As I have said many times before in my writings and social media posts, when you set out to seek an answer and you honestly ask it, the universe conspires and places you in positions where you would find that closure. For me, I was trying to understand the true meaning and feeling of being an African women, understanding the notion of black pride and strength. You must understand this is something that I did not know, understand or believe in. My unconventional upbringing of growing up in a different culture, traditions and compromising era of history, led me to living a very confused life for over three decades. So when I began to question my guilt, confusion and privilege that I was placed in from birth, I realized that I had no reference point to start from, there were no books that could guide me. Fortunately living in the times of social media, I found myself being attracted and participating in very important and thought provoking conversations of Black history, white privileged and reclaiming our kingdom. These conversations were different from the important discussion of bringing an end to apartheid. These new conversation educated me on centuries of black history not only in South Africa but also in other counties and in some cases continents.

 

The old adage goes along the lines of: People come into your life, for a reason or a season. I soon began to understand the phenomenal individuals that I began to meet and indulge in deep conversation.

One of these people was Donald Molosi from Botswana. With my travels back and forth from Botswana for work and research into finding and nurturing African talent, there was always one name that came up when it came to theatre, acting and writing and it was he. I read up on his past and his work and soon discovered this young and phenomenal man had achieved so many important milestones in his short life. Graduating from one of the worlds most esteemed drama schools, such as Williams College, America’s leading Liberal Arts College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. There he completed two Bachelor’s Degrees, one in Theatre and the other in political science. In his four years at Williams, Molosi won several regional, national and international awards for his acting and writing abilities. He won the Best Actor at the Dialogue One Festival in Massachusetts for his portrayal of Sir Seretse Khama (2008); he won the Sanford Prize for Excellence in Theatre (2009); he was nominated for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship as a US national nominee (2009); he won the Lehman Scholar Award from Williams College for outstanding work in Political Theater; he won the Florence Chandler Fellowship which enabled him to conduct theater research around the world for 12 months. After Williams College, Molosi got his Graduate Diploma in Classical Acting from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) in England where he got to study under Academy-Award winner Janet Suzman. LAMDA’s alumni include David Oyelowo (The Butler), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave) both of whom Molosi met and watched on stage while a student there.

 

In 2015 the day finally arrived where our paths crossed. I was in Gaborone on an assignment for CNN with one of my previous clients and was introduced to Mr. Molosi. Our discussion and talks on life, theatre and the arts began. Within a few weeks, he was signed to my agency Waka Talent and our journey began. I knew that working for such an esteemed brand will be an experience of a lifetime and like in may relationships; we take away a lot from each other.

Fast forward to 2017, where he sent me a copy of one of his pieces, titled Dear Upright African, I have pasted it below. I must have read the essay, at least four or five times, resonating with the words, feelings and truth. I mostly cried as some of the answers that I had been seeking over the past few years had been put into context. Here a young man, at least ten years my junior from another country and who had also been awarded many privileges in life, was questioning the truth behind not only our blackness but also our Africaness. Of course there was no surprise when the essay went viral and was translated into many languages around the world. A few months later, the TedX conference contacted Donald to speak at TedX Gaborone, which took place in Gaborone in March 2017.

As he prepared for the important speaking event, he was met with a little objection from people saying that he should not write or speak on that topic. This we ignored as we focused on the positive and thought provoking discussions that had occurred across the world including radio interviews on Trans Africa radio and Kaya FM in South Africa.

 

The day arrived, he spoke with pride, he excelled and he received the rave reviews that were owed to him. He also received very worrying but truthful commentary, in the most unprofessional and defamatory manner.

On Facebook I was directed to the page of a Julia Saplontai, who started by insulting and threating Donald and his ability and psyche. I was rather surprised by her first post where she mentioned that he was trashing her school. This was the worrying factor; the truthful factor was that she personally aired white privilege beliefs.

 

I soon was told that she is a teacher at the school that Donald attended in Botswana. I was surprised at the assumptions as nowhere in his piece does he mention the name of the school, yet here she was bringing attention to it. I promptly took it upon myself to reply, not only in the capacity of his manger but as an African women who stood by and understood his writing. We never received a response, except from TedX stating that they had welcomed Donald speech as saw nothing wrong with him talking on those issues.

 

A few days later, she continued to attack him using the most unnecessary language. This raised a number of alarms for me. Firstly, she is a teacher and is responsible for shaping young minds and lives, yet she was using the most crude and damaging words. The second alarm was why did she think she had the right to undermine his thoughts, quest of knowledge and truth behind his upbringing?

This then woke me up to so many other sense of my upbringing of how as Black people were have been pre conditioned to believe that we cannot express ourselves within reason, how our pride, traditions and cultures have been undermined and our minds programmed into believing that we are inferior, more importantly how we are not supposed to talk and feel the pain of the past.

Julia Saplontai has subsequently removed herself from Facebook but not before posting an unapologetic statement on how she has been forced to. Her posts are pasted below.

 

This has caused a lot of outrage and many are saying that she should not be allowed to teach. To this date we have not receive an apology or statement from the school. As this is an important and heated debate, we welcome any further discussion from other schools, educators, learners or civil servants. The conversation needs to continue, we have the right to express our pain and frustration and hear each other out. We need to heal the wound of the past but before doing so, we need to face them and acknowledge them. We need to educate our nations both young and old of our kingdom and who we are. As colonialism as swept through Africa for centuries, we cannot unravel what we have learnt, but rather seek what we were no taught. We need more research into our African heroes and heroines. our traditions and cultures. We need to document them and they need to be added to our school curriculums.

We need to stand tall, after all we are Africans, we are kings and queens.

Dear Upright African,

Private school failed me. That type of European-School-In-Africa that insists on a chronically colonized curriculum. That brand of Eurocentric “international” school in Africa that equips the African child to be more functional in the West than in his or her own corner of Africa. That Botswana “English Medium” school where I was forced to memorize the metro map of Paris throughout high school and I was tested on it for a life-shaping grade, while never being taught anything about Botswana. Except to casually gloss over that super-genocide delicately named the Scramble for Africa, told as an organization of African land by the Almighty Europeans. Upright African, if history itself is a performance of memory I would like you and I to consider what exactly we gain or lose by dropping the African out of that performance.

I am reminded of six years ago. I had just flown into Johannesburg from Kampala. I was in Johannesburg to do a screen test for a TV series about Botswana. Before the screen test was over I had already landed one of the lead roles. Of course I was thrilled, mostly because even though I was enjoying an award-winning career on-Broadway and off-Broadway in New York City, I still had the firm desire to do something at home. A week later I was in Gaborone, script in hand, and ready to film. Then an email from the series producers popped up on my phone saying that after “much careful thought and consideration” I had been dropped from the production for “not looking African enough.” The news was more infuriating than disappointing. I found myself wishing they had told me that I had been dropped because I had not been a good enough actor during the screen tests, or that I was asking for too much money… just, anything else. But to say that I did not fulfill some British self-styled Africanist director’s zoological notion of what an African looks like was to abuse even my ancestors. I tell you, Upright African, you and I must write and perform many many stories about the Africa we know where my perfect teeth are not remarkable.

When I predictably lived in Paris years after high school I almost instinctively knew how to catch the metro from Villejuif to Centre Pompidou to Porte de Montreuil. I therefore found myself questioning my education almost obsessive-compulsively: what study of French history and culture (in a Botswana school) had  this been that it almost-by-definition had to displace people who look like me and you out of story whilst the bloody Eiffel tower itself was built by enslaved Africans who died in the process and whose bones remain under the magnificent monument? What if in that high school class you and I had learned not just about the great French singers Patricia Kaas and Edith Piaf but also about their equally great contemporary Josephine Baker and how she wrote a competing narrative with her body, claiming the agency of the black female body on stage, in Paris no less? How different might our consciousness have been at that age as products of “international” schools? Would we have spent so many disorienting years after high school apologizing for (not) being African? What if we had simply learnt about African empires instead of French history? You see, we also belong in history as protagonists and not just as supporting characters. Upright African, we must also make dolls that look like little African girls. Perhaps I digress but you get me.

When the grand story of David Livingstone’s peripatetic exploits across Africa is told in Big-British-Books-On-African-History, it introduces us to his African aides, Susi and Chuma. We are told that Susi and Chuma were loyal servants to David Livingstone. We are also told that Susi and Chuma were so loyal to David Livingstone that when he died at a location described as “the centre of Africa,” Susi and Chuma risked their own lives by carrying Livingstone’s embalmed body for months from modern day Zambia all the way to the coast of modern-day Tanzania so that the body could be shipped off to London for burial. Now, what if we dared to tell the stories of Susi and Chuma not just as servants but also as – to use that fancy term reserved for Europeans – ‘explorers?’ What if in our version of missionary history we also saw Africa through Susi and Chuma’s eyes? Would we not see that Ilala, the Zambian village where Livingstone died, is in fact not the center of Africa but simply a case in colonial cartography full of self-serving symbolism?

Beneath grand narratives of history lie African stories waiting for you, an Upright African in the world, to tell them truthfully. With no apology. For our own humanity’s sake!

Love,

DM

 

Comments from Julia Sapontai:

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My response to her first post:

 

Comment from TedX

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For further discussions or interviews please contact:

rosie@wakaagency.biz

www.wakaagency.biz

 Facebook pages:

Donald Molosi

Rosie Motene

Wakaagency

 

Twitter:

@rosiemotene

@wakaagency

@Actordonald