Despite the hype, no one really takes the arts seriously in Botswana.
There’s a lot of talk as of late, but talk is that- just talk. People talk about the arts diversifying the economy but they don’t really mean that.
In Botswana, the arts, all of it- writing, painting, acting, music, dance- it’s a hobby to play at until you get a proper job.
This is why Arts and Culture is under the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture; it’s all about games for the kiddies.
Nothing more. If you’re waiting for the Arts Fairy to land and make everything lovely you best not hold your breath.
Why am I in such a sour mood today? Because I got a phone call just now. Let’s call the woman Mpho.
Mpho decided she’d like to be a writer. So Mpho called the Department of Arts and Culture.
By its very name one would expect the department to be full of people well versed on the various aspects of arts and culture in the country.
You’d expect there to be a desk for writers and literature, one for the fine arts, one for music, manned in each case by people with knowledge and enthusiasm for their niche.
But see, in a world where the arts are a hobby, that would be a waste of time. In that world Mpho calls the office.
Now I will not get into the lazy, take-the-easy-route, attitude of Mpho, for now.
Instead let’s look at the woman sitting at the desk at Arts and Culture. She has taken no time to educate herself about writing and literature in the country.
She doesn’t even read.
Couldn’t give the title of a book written by an African writer except, of course, Things Fall Apart, which she read in secondary school with everyone else, the book she mentions whenever anyone asks, “What’s your favourite book?”
So Mpho says, “I wondered if I might get some information about how to be a writer in Botswana?”
The Arts and Culture officer, the non-reading, not interested officer, does have one thing though.
A cell number. Not any cell number, my personal cell number. “The person who can help you be a writer is Lauri Kubuitsile. Call her, here’s her number.”
Besides all of the privacy issues and the complete failure on the part of this civil servant to perform her job, what is this action really saying? What is this civil servant telling Mpho- and me for that matter?
Imagine instead it’s BURS and a person is having a query about their tax form.
And the BURS officer doesn’t answer the question but instead gives the person the personal cell number of an accountant and says, “You can ask her.”
I wonder how the accountant would react having to answer questions that the folks at BURS should answer. Would this be acceptable in any variation of reality?
I am not a consultant for the Department of Arts and Culture. I am a full time writer trying to make a living under very harsh circumstances.
My time is for my writing, the work that puts bread on my table.
What the Arts and Culture officer is saying when handing out my personal cellphone number to every person interested in writing is that my job, my time, is without value.
The very person who should be fighting my battle, and every artist’s battle in this country, has absolutely no respect for the work that I do.
My time is free, my knowledge that I acquired on my own through hard work and dedication to my craft is something of no worth.
I’ve been battling this for some time. I have phoned and sent emails asking them not to give out my cell number.
But still, as this phone call today clearly indicates, my cellphone number is freely given to anyone who yesterday decided writing might be a good career for them.
And, additionally, as an artist in the country, you are required by some unwritten law to help all other artists in your field. You should be available 24/7, free-of-charge.
This is the attitude from the very department that keeps talking about how arts can diversity the economy, the ones meant to be at the forefront of the fight.
The arts are not a job to be taken seriously- that’s the message.
Imagine just for a single moment any other career. Let’s say I was a nurse.
Would it be my patriotic duty to give guidance counselling to every nurse in the country? Would it be acceptable for people to expect me to help every nurse in the country pass their exams?
But yet, because I’m a writer, it is perfectly acceptable to expect me to read your 100,000 word manuscript written in SMS language.
Come on! It’s time every artist says no. Writers, musicians, dancers, poets, painters, sculptors. Say no.
We’re professionals and we must demand to be treated as such. Writing is my career and I expect, at the very least, for civil servants employed to support the arts to understand that.