A film director lost in the classroom
He comes across as a reserved person who prefers to blend in rather than stand out.
It is only when you engage him that you learn that Pelontle Mpatane is no shrinking violet.
Popularly known as Tamajasane in the streets of Francistown, or Anatomy to his former National Health Institute (NHS) classmates, Mpatane is drama personified.
From the moment he took up acting at Mathangwane Primary School, the 47-year-old retired teacher has never looked back.
In 2006, the local film industry welcomed the popular Tamajasane and Tamabrown flicks; Mpatane was the man behind their productions.
Voice Reporter Kabelo Dipholo sat down for a fun-filled interview with one of the country’s talented film directors.
Unsurprisingly it got off to a giggly start.
Q. You are quite a popular figure in Francistown yet you always seem to be calm despite all the attention.
A. I’m used to it. Growing up in Mathangwane where I did my primary education I was amongst the few who were admitted at St Josephs College in Gaborone.
We used to travel by train to and from Gaborone and this made us the talk of the village.
It enhanced our status and we became special kids and an envy to a lot of other kids, so I’m used to such attention. (laughs).
Q. (Laughing) I can only imagine. Well you are also a good actor. Kindly take us back to your early days as an actor.
A. I remember my first taste of acting was when I was in Standard Four in Mathangwane.
I went to St Joseph in 1984 and the following year as a Form Two student I became the school’s Drama Organiser.
We won a lot of competitions and remember I directed some of our plays.
Q. Why didn’t you go on to an arts institution after completing your Form Five?
A. I was hired as a Court Interpreter immediately after finishing my high school.
I interpreted for the Chief Justice Livesey Luke at the popular court room 1.
I was still fresh from school and you know how these legal people like to communicate in Latin.
One day he announced that the matter would be adjourned ‘sine die’, and I could not interpret that.
Sensing my predicament he called me to the bar and explained that it meant adjournment without appointing a day on which to appear or assemble again.
I learned Latin in court and it was amazing.
It didn’t last though because I later enrolled with the National Health Institution (now Institute of Health Sciences) to train as a nurse.
Eight months later I was having doubts.
There was a module ‘Anatomy and Physiology’ which was problematic for me.
Soon my classmates nicknamed me ‘Anatomy’.
I made a decision that maybe nursing was not for me; I hated their night shifts anyway.
Q. So what did you do?
A. When I was called for an interview at Molepolole College of Education I skipped the Anatomy class and went to sit for the interview.
I made it and left to train to be a Guidance and Counseling teacher.
All this was done behind my mother’s back.
All along she thought I was going to be a nurse and she bragged about it to her family members and friends in the village.
She was hurt when she eventually learnt that I won’t be wearing a white uniform!
I have to add that during my eight months at NHS I was also part of the drama group and we did well.
In my second year at MCE I became the Chairperson of the drama group and I don’t remember losing any competition; we dominated college competition for three years.
It was at this time that I was also the Vice Chairperson of Reetsanang Association of Drama Clubs.
Q. Poor mother. Did she approve of your acting through?
A. She didn’t know I was into acting.
She found out in the most horrifying way.
I had left one of the pictures taken during one of our plays on the table in my room.
I was playing a criminal and was wearing prison clothing.
When I came back my mom was crying asking me why I didn’t tell her that I was in prison.
She was relieved, she couldn’t imagine her only child behind bars!
Q. You seem to have achieved quite a lot during your stay at NHS and MCE. What happened after graduation?
A. I was posted to Matsiloje in 1993 where I went on to revive their drama group. We dominated our zone and twice we reached the National Finals.
I became the School Drama’s National Chief Adjudicator and was able to resource students from all over the country.
I also formulated an adjudicator’s manual and scoresheet which is still being used today.
Q. I understand you’ve also rubbed shoulders with a popular South African actress.
A. I’m not sure it can be called rubbing shoulders.
In 2004 I enrolled with the University of North West for my Honors Degree.
I also studied part-time at MmaBatho Theatre where I obtained a certificate in Theatre.
That is where I came in to contact with this South African group Thokoza and I was drawn to it by Dieketseng Mnisi who I had seen on the the drama Muvhango.
Currently she plays the character of MmaNtuli on Skeem Sam.
I travelled with the group on two outings but never took any roles; if that qualifies as rubbing shoulders I guess I did.
Q. It’s good enough for me! What happened after university?
A. I graduated in 2007 and I came back and was posted to Setlalekgosi Junior School.
I also sadly lost my mother and this became the most difficult phase of my life.
My career was on the up though as in 2008 I was promoted to Head of Department at Moiyabana.
My arrival coincided with the Deputy School Head’s study leave and I was immediately appointed the acting Deputy Headmaster.
In 2011 the School Head retired and I was appointed to his position on temporary basis until I was transferred to Mathathane in 2013.
Following a lot of administrative issues I decide to take early retirement and I quit teaching in 2016 aged 45 to focus more on arts.
Q. The Tamabrown and Tamajasane movies used to dominate the market. Kindly share with our readers where you got the idea of imitating old Kalanga men?
A. My first movie was called ‘Mmona silo’ which I co-wrote with Vincent Hove in 2006.
I later produced ‘Halala banana’ starring three other guys and the man people would later know as Tama Brown.
After these two productions I wanted something more organised and I invited Tamabrown to join me.
What followed were five amazing episodes of Kalanga comedy.
I observed a lot of old men as a boy and enjoyed mimicking them.
Another thing I observed about our senior citizens is that they never want to be upstaged, they want to be perceived as the ‘Mr Know it all’ particularly elderly Kalanga males.
If you ask a Kalanga old man who has never been to Gaborone whether they know the city, he’d probably tell you that you are a young boy who knows nothing; and add that he’s the one who built the city together with his buddies.
(laughs). The movies are comedy based on reality.
Q. Since retiring two years ago what have you been up to?
A. I have an office where I spend my time working on projects which will be completed soon.
I’m working on a project called Culture Black Out and another documentary-drama Matters of the Soul which interrogates capital punishment in Botswana.
I also do screen printing, so I’m a busy man.
Q. Are you married?
A. Not yet. Hopefully on 20th April 2020.
Q. Is there anything people don’t know about you?
A. I’m a brown belt martial artist.
I used to do drama and martial arts until I decide to focus on the former, so I do pack a punch!
Q. Thanks God it’s Friday, what are you up to this weekend?
A. Most of my weekends are spent in the office, working.
I however love Sundays.
I go out and listen to Jazz music.
I have a jazz album of my own called Ntolontolo which sometimes plays on RB1.