We follow local dance group Molelo wa Tladi as they reach for the stars in Rustenberg
When Francistown traditional dance group Molelo wa Tladi came to our offices looking for sponsorship, we agreed to publish their appeal for funds.
The group was attempting to raise cash to participate in the South Africa Championships of Performing Arts in Rustenburg, having won the right to represent Botswana in a previous competition.
Their story appeared in The Voice, but when the many business houses, politicians and government ministries approached were unable or unwilling to help, it seemed that they had lost their chance.
However inspired by the enthusiasm of the group who were determined not to let go of their dream, we agreed to sponsor the cost of the combi fare to Rustenburg for the eleven dancers and manager. Despite having no additional cash for food or accommodation they set off, saying that they would sleep in the combi and dance on the streets of Rustenburg for their supper.
Voice man Dubani wa Dubani accompanied the group on their big adventure. This is his account of the experience.
DAY 1 SUNDAY 10 April
It’s 915 in the evening when I finally link up with the group at Maruapula Filling station. Their mini bus, which we had to push start, was crammed with passengers, bags and provisions for the planned two-day trip. I learn that of all those who had promised to assist with finances for the trip, only The Voice who have contributed P3000 for transport, and fellow artists Culture Spears who have generously given a similar amount to cover the competition registration fee, have helped.
However the group led by their manager Tebogo Eric Batshabeng, seem unconcerned as they excitedly and confidently tell me that nothing will stop them from being stars in Rustenburg. Impressing in that competition will win them the chance to take part in the World Championships in Hollywood Los Angeles in July.
It is the chance of a lifetime.
For them the discomfort of sleeping in a mini bus for two days for the sake of their art, and having no money for food, is no big deal. We cross the border around ten and soon after the cheerful melodious bunch burst into song. We are on our way!
DAY 2 MONDAY
We reach the host city just after 3 am. After a few enquiries we locate the Rusternburg Civic Centre where the championships will start later that morning. The place is deserted with no security personnel around. We walk around the impressive building remarking at how it makes our own Civic Centre look like a dolls house. After exploring and admiring the place it is time for a short nap in the few hours before dawn. Most stayed in the mini bus whilst a few of us spread our sleeping bags on the ground and brave the bitter cold.
At sunrise a Setswana speaking security guard is curious to know of our mission. He listens to our story and is compassionate enough to open the underground car park for our driver and show us to the bathrooms where we gratefully take a shower to soothe our aching bodies.
As we wait for the next course of action most lie on the comfortable seats in the foyer to catch some additional sleep. From the notices on the wall we discover that our group is billed for a quarter to three in the afternoon in Hall 3, which is reserved for dancers and singers.
By half past seven the place starts to fill up, and a sea of mainly white faces surrounds us. Soon we meet Koeksie du Plessis, the woman who facilitated the trip. She is the Director of the Botswana Association of Talent, Modelling and Entertainment, which is affiliated to the South African Association of Talent, Modelling and Entertainment, who hold the rights to the South African Championship of Performing Arts, a subsidiary of the Hollywood based World Championships of Performing Arts organisation. She seems almost surprised that the group is there because out of a total of 34 who had had qualified, only two groups had made it to Rustenburg to represent Botswana for the first time in the competition’s history.
She then finds us accommodation in a house behind the hall, which we are to share with Hope Theatre, a group of young dancers also from Francistown who are the only other representatives from Botswana.
We carry our luggage to the two bed-roomed house where those in need of more rest squeeze themselves into whatever space they can find. I join those who decide to go to the halls and watch the shows till 12:30, the agreed time for the final rehearsal.
At the door I discover that I have to pay R60 per day for a press pass. I pay for two days, making an unexpected dent into my meagre P800 budget. As I move from hall to hall I notice, as an interesting bit of social anthropology, that the applause for the performers cuts across colour lines, but every time a black person gets near to whites they shift from their seats.
Molodi wa Tladi finally take to the stage and according to the rules they have a minute and thirty seconds to show their worth. I have never seen the group perform before, but with their rousing rendition of their hit song Thakadu e epa Mosima I am impressed. So to are the audience who give them a standing ovation. I am proud of my newfound friends. The reception sends shivers down my spine and a tear to my eye that blurs the colour line around me.
After they leave the stage we learn from madam du Plessis that the group’s next show is on Thursday evening – three days away. We cannot go back home and come back on the day because according to competition rules everybody has to be there everyday or they will be disqualified. After an evening meal of bread and polony, bought with pooled money, we go to our crowded bedroom and wait for the next day.
DAY 3 TUESDAY
We decide to stay and the group spends the day alternating between rehearsals, sleeping, making plans on how to get money for food, and convincing the driver who has been paid for a two day trip, to stay at least until Saturday evening when those going to LA will be named. After much persuasion from the artists and myself he agrees to stay on condition that he will be paid his additional dues when we get back home.
Around 11 I walk into town where from the notices on the street I see that abortion is big business in town. I also notice that the neglected statue of former President General Smuts, which stands in a big churchyard, has lost one of its eyes. At the bus rank I watch Zimbabweans selling pirated copies of Botswana groups Culture Spears, Slizer and Gongmaster.
When I get back to the Civic Centre I learn that the owner of the house we had spent the night in has chucked us out. Strangely this seems to give the artists renewed strength. They have moved our luggage to a kiosk counter at the front of the civic centre, which we christen ‘The Palace,’ and spend the night there bundled together. The spirit of doing our nation proud keeps everybody going through the bitterly cold night on a bare concrete floor.
DAY 4 WEDNESDAY
In the afternoon the group decides to take to the streets and dance to raise money for food and much needed expenses. The adventure raises R170 from the appreciative crowds that gather, with an Indian man whose daughter is competing at the championships popping out R100. When we get back to the Civic Centre we are grateful that the kitchen staff, in the true sense of Unbutu, have offered us the disused but habitable kitchen to stay in till after the competition. The other good news is that the driver has fixed the combi and promises that there will be no more push starting. Grateful to have a room over our heads, humble and crowded as it is, we have a feast of pap and sausages, go to sleep and wait for the future.
DAY 5 THURSDAY
In the morning after a breakfast of fat cakes, bread and squash, part of which du Plessis has provided, it is again dancing time on the streets of Rustenburg where the people enjoy the music and ask us to come back the following day which is pay day. With close to R200 collected in our dancing hat we go back to the Civic Centre where in the group spends the afternoon rehearsing for the night’s stage appearance.
That evening Molelo’s performance once again rocks the house. They have become the talk of the town. The two acts from Botswana also steal the show at the party arranged for competitors as they improvise and adapt their dance steps to whatever music is played.
DAY 6 FRIDAY
We learn that today the groups that will perform on the final night will be chosen at a special show that morning. Molelo are up in confidence as they rehearse and boldly tell me that we are going to LA. They book their place for the next day’s show. In the evening it’s awards time and my young friends walk away with two gold medals and the overall award in the dance category, beating groups from South African and Namibia. Hope Theatre Production also scoop medals. We go to bed in great anticipation of the following days’ events when those who have made the grade to get to Hollywood will be announced.
DAY 7 SATURDAY
Molelo spend most of the day rehearsing and packing. We have decided to leave early the next day. After an impressive performance Botswana groups make the team to Los Angeles. Proud of their achievement Molelo go to bed and I volunteer to wake up everybody at 2am so we can be at the border by six.
DAY 8 SUNDAY 3.15am
We leave Rustenburg, bones aching, knackered, and with rumbling stomachs, but proud of overcoming all the obstacles and flying the Botswana flag high. The discussions on the journey back are of the hope that civic, political and business leaders will come to the party and help raise the close to a half million pula to get the group to Los Angeles. As we drift off to sleep, the spirit of optimism is such that the belief that we will make it does not seem like an impossible dream.