For a man who loves challenges and can go all out to do what others might see as a non-achievable, Ben Ngwato has beaten all odds to live his dream for performing arts. From Reetsanang Drama group to a Rehearsal Director of radio drama Makgabaneng, Ngwato is now Producer of Mareledi, a TV serial, which will hit our television screens soon. Sparks as many Makgabaneng fans know him is no doubt a force to reckon with when it comes to performing arts. KGOMOTSO TSHWENYEGO sat down with him to find out more about his journey from a football player to a Radio and Television Producer and Actor.
PASSIONATE ABOUT PERFOMING ARTS
You were a football player how did you start in theatre?
One day when I was coming from football practice, I heard noise from a class in Kgamanyane Junior Secondary in Mochudi and it turned out that it was a rehearsal for a drama. The teacher called me and asked if I could help with an idea of a play for national museum peformances in Gaborone. I then came up with an idea and they loved it.
What was the idea?
(Laughs) I told them I would be an old buffalo and they become children and I would tell them a story about my life. I instantly developed love for drama and I never looked back. On the day of their performances in Gaborone, we travelled in a hilux belonging to one of the teachers. We were sitting at the back of the van and my cap got blown off by the wind. I decided I wasn’t going to stop them for it.
I was about to turn over a new leaf. I decided that as I had let go off my cap I would do the same with football. I treasured that cap because my mother bought it for me but it was a way of parting with the sport I loved most to pursue a passion.
What has been some of your biggest achievements?
I was a founder board member of Reetsanang while still a student, I founded Baitiredi Drama Group in Mochudi which consistent mainly of disabled people. I became a coach and trained people like Ntsoro. I have been a Producer for Makgabaneng for ten years and I am now a producer of a television series which will run approximately 104 episodes.
Would you say you’re the best Producer in Botswana?
Who has been a producer for a radio serial drama for 10years, dealing with more than 30 or 40 cast and ensuring their growth? Makgabaneng is now in its 1,030th episode under my leadership. I have been able to maintain its consistency and the show has never derailed from its intended message. My responsibility also includes overseeing actors’ personal growth and put their behaviours in line. I am not one to blow my own trumpet, let my works speak for me.
You acted in No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency
Yes, I did though it was a small role.
Would you say Botswana artists learnt anything from No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency?
We missed a lot of opportunities in learning.
Wasn’t there anything to learn?
If we leant anything what are we doing about it. We are too selfish a people and very individualistic. We are hindering our own growth, we should be at international level but we have ourselves to blame.
You sound not too happy about this
We are killing one another. Look at the set now, it is in total ruins. As Batswana filmmakers that is a place where we could even be shooting our productions. Someone was given the responsibiity to look after it but look at it now. Someone held on to the responsibility and would not allow anyone to have access until it was a really bad state.
Let’s talk about Mareledi which is the TV series for Makgabaneng
For a long time people asked for Makgabaneng to go on television. It came to a point where we decided that Makgabaneng is ready to go on television. We approached NACA with a proposal and they showed interest and approved the two year project.
So Mareledi will be running for two years?
Yes. There will be four key themes for the two years the show will be running. We have four main characters. With a writing team of four writers, the serial will articulate and model issues as they happen.
Why the title Mareledi?
Loosely translated it means if you work hard life can be smooth sailing but then again if you slip that could be the end of you. That is how life is. Makgabaneng the radio drama will still be running hence we have the television drama titled Mareledi.
Has shooting started?
Yes, as we speak we have already shot the first episode.
Can you give us a peep into what to expect?
All I can tell you is that the serial will address issues such as abstinence, alcohol and substance abuse, intergenerational relationships and multiple concurrent partnerships. We have four main characters who will be facing the negative and positives of life. These are Mpho, Maru, Moses and Masego. Other characters will emerge as the series continues.
Who are the Actors playing these roles?
(Laughs) Lets get to those when the time is right. For now I will not reveal who they are.
Ok. How difficult was the casting?
First we called and auditioned Makgabaneng cast to see how they can adapt to television acting. We then had an open casting call for the general public and the response was quite good. Finally we had a screening test and allocation of roles.
From the auditions, what can you say about talent in Botswana?
This country is rich with talent. We have passed potential stage. A lot of directors stiffen talent by saying potential. Even us actors we stiffen ourselves by saying we have potential. We don’t have potential, we have talent.
What or who motivated you to continue this journey?
There are several people that contributed to me being where I am today by motivating me to look beyond just acting. The list is endless but to name just a few James Chitukuta, John Moloi, Keikanetswe Moesi, Regina Mmusi, Vin Magwaza, Ngugi Wamuri. These are people I worked with when I started in theatre. I will forever be grateful to them.
If you would become a tree, which one would you choose to be?
Trees are tricky, but since you’re pushing for an answer, I choose Morula tree. Morula trees are strong and always nourished. Morula has multiple bi-products like jam and morula drink. There are also household equipment such as kika (mortar), motshe (pestle), has fruits eaten directly. I believe, like a Morula tree, I am a man of many products which I share with other actors for development
What hurts you the most?
Because I am a hardworker and I believe in people’s ability, it is always sad when I see people resisting and not quite willing to learn more. It hurts me when I see very good ideas being turned down only because maybe people do not understand or just don’t see how good the idea is. That is why I have not been selfish with what I have leant. I imparted skills learnt from my time with Reetsanang with others for the growth and upliftment of the arts in the country.
Being such a busy man, how do you spend time with your family?
Every little time I get I spend with them. We go to masimo and relax there. I love living with the ordinary people, watch birds, smell cowdung. I love cattle, they are innocent, though they don’t talk when they play its such a soothing feeling.
Your role in Makgabaneng, Sparks, such a hectic role
I auditioned for and got the role of Sparks and have played it since. It was never changed.
Any similarities between you and Sparks?
I believe in people’s ability and contribute to their growth, I learn and that makes me acceptable. I always come second and always one without. That is who I am but that is not Sparks.
Are we likely to see Sparks returning from prison in the serial?
And will you still be playing Sparks?
NAMES: Ben Ngwato
D.OB: 14 July
Marital Status: Married to Dolly Ngwato
No. of Children: 1 boy (13yrs) Girl (8yrs)
Favorite saying: If you cant believe it, you cant be it