By Thato Rossouw
The past couple of weeks have seen me take part in a number of debates where topics around the decolonisation of curriculums in our schools – at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, and the teaching of “genuine” African history in these places were interrogated and thoroughly scrutinised. In those discussions, questions were raised about the authenticity of the histories that we are being taught in our schools and its relevance in the raising of a new African consciousness and identity. These debates and discussions left my mind thirsty for a deeper understanding about these topics and a scene I watched in the 2012 sic-fi movie, “Total Recall” – in which Matthias says to Douglas Quaid, ‘the past is a construct of the mind. It blinds us into believing it’ – added fuel to the curiosity driven inferno that was brewing in my mind about these questions, African history, and the role it plays in the development of the African consciousness and identity.
My intellectual thirst was quenched when I came across this book. “We Are All Blue” is a collection of two of multi-award-winning writer, playwright and actor Donald Molosi’s plays “Blue, Black and White” and “Motswana: Africa, Dream Again”. The author uses these two plays – which are said to be the first ever Botswana plays to be performed in New York’s prestigious Theatre District (Off-Broadway) – to scrutinize and discuss the excavation of African history and the development of a new African consciousness and identity which is independent from Western influence and Western gaze.
Blue, Black and White
The first play, Blue, Black and White, tackles the topic of Africans finding, excavating and dressing it up “in pride, intelligence, and foresight” their own history by telling the story of the inaugural President of the Republic of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama, and his British born wife and the Republic’s First Lady, Lady Ruth Khama, and their history making interracial marriage. Even though the story is set in Botswana, the play highlights the commonality and interconnectedness of the history of the African continent and her people by continually introducing characters from the neighboring South Africa and Zimbabwe (especially Daniel Malan and Ian Smith, who were the Prime Ministers of South Africa and Rhodesia, respectively) and their role in the development of the attitude of the citizens of Botswana towards the marriage of Sir Seretse to Lady Ruth.
With his brilliant characterization and firm understanding of his country’s history, the author begins his scrutiny of this issue by opening the play with a folktale about a young man, Morwangwedi, who goes in search for his late father, Ngwedi, after years of not knowing him. The play is set in a classroom and the learners are practicing the folktale to celebrate the commemoration of Sir Seretse Khama Week. The play carries the message that people need to search for, excavate and dress up their history in pride, intelligence, and foresight and use it to protect and develop themselves. An almost indirect call encouraging the reader, and the African people at large, to start learning their own history is made in scene six of the play – We Herinneren (“We Remember” in Dutch) – where the newly elected President, Sir Seretse Khama, delivers his inaugural speech, he says:
…. We were taught to despise ourselves and our ways of life. We were made to believe that we had no past to speak of, no history to boast of. Botswana, it should now be our intention to try and retrieve what we can of our past.
We should write our history books, to prove that we did have a past; and that this was a past just as worth writing and learning about as any other. We must excavate our history, dress it up in pride, intelligence, and foresight, so that it may indeed come alive in our consciousness today. We must connect the present to the past, so that the future may be secured. The past can disappear, and a nation without a past is a lost nation, and a people without a past is a people without a soul…
This story touches on the topics of history and its role in the development of a nation’s consciousness in relations to both the people who constitute it and the rest of the world in a fresh and exciting way. It does all of this while making history by being the first-ever play published about the lives of Sir Seretse and Lady Ruth Khama.
Motswana: Africa, Dream Again
The second play, “Motswana: Africa, dream Again”, touches on the equally important topics of self-realization, the development of self-identity, and the use of our history in the shaping of these two things. As Former President of the Republic of Botswana, His Excellency Sir Quett Ketumile Joni Masire, puts it in the foreword; ‘in Motswana: Africa, Dream Again Molosi captures his generation of Batswana’s questions and concerns about self-identity.’ The story follows the journey of Boemo Gulubani, a thirty year old man who is on a quest to find and define his own identity in a country that constantly prescribes one to him. The author states that through this story he planned to explore the ‘neglected’ heterogeneity of Botswana and also ‘explore the somewhat homogenous national identity of Botswana through the stories of Botswana’s own ethnic diversity.’
Through an ode to Thabo Mbeki in the story, Boemo acknowledges the diversity of his ancestry and the interconnectivity of all the African people’s history by not only paying homage to his Tswana ancestors and ancestry, but by also acknowledging the blood of the different tribes that flows through his veins:
… I am formed of the Tswana people who ruled the land between the Okavango and the Vaal rivers. I am formed of the Kalangas ba-ka Nswazwi, of Mujaji the Rain Queen. I am formed of migrants who left Europe to find a new home on our native land. Whatever their actions, they remain part of me.
In my veins courses the blood of the Malay slaves who came from the East. Their proud dignity informs my bearing, their culture a part of my essence. The stripes they bore on their bodies from the lash of the slave master are a reminder embossed on my consciousness of what should not be done.
I am the grandchild of the warrior men and women led by Kgosi Khama and Kgosi Sechele, the patriots that Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi took to battle, the soldiers that Kgosi Moshoeshoe and King Shaka Zulu…
Throughout the story Boemo, like many other young Africans in the 21st century, grapples with the concept of nationality and how it has managed to divide Africans using boarders that were made to serve the greed of the West, and not to develop the African continent. The story also tackles issues of race, language and tribalism and how they influence a person’s personal identity and how they see themselves in relation to people from other races and tribes. Through his diary entries, Boemo questions his understanding of his identity as a Motswana and, as a consequence, triggers an introspection of the reader’s own life and how they understand their roots and history. After acknowledging his lack of knowledge about his Kalanga heritage from his father’s side, he (Boemo) writes, in one of his entries, that ‘it seems, therefore, that to be a Motswana is to have those gaps in knowledge of one’s roots, those silences.’
Is history really a construct of the mind and therefore very subjective in nature? Can our knowledge of it influence our identity and development as Africans? Should the onus solely be on us to find and excavate this history for the purpose of developing a new African consciousness and self-identity? These are the questions that Donald Molosi tackles in this book. The book is one that will find a permanent place in the annals of history for its magnificence and pure genius. A 1000+ word review of this book will not be enough to properly convey the magnificence of this book, so i have only one take on this book: Read it! You won’t regret it.
We Are All Blue is published by The Mantle.
This book review was originally published at Decolonising Literature, as part of the #Writivism2016 Festival Book Features. Thato Rossouw is one of the select official book bloggers. He will review a number of books that will be launched, featured and available for sale at the festival. Look out for the badge below on your favourite book blogs. And come to the festival to buy the books and get them signed.