Domboshaba cultural festival and Bakalanga Heritage: A rejoinder

Updated: September 27, 2013

by Kangangwani Phatshwane, Sunday Standard

Domboshaba Cultural Trust (DCT) wishes to respond to an article (titled Another look at Domboshaba cultutral festival and Bakalanga heritage – Part 1) which appeared in the Sunday Standard of 11 – 17 August 2013 authored by a concerned Nkalanga using a pseudonym, Bawumbe wa Chiwidi.

DCT welcomes open debate as the author of the said article himself acknowledges allocation of time for an open forum at the annual Domboshaba Festival of Culture and History (DFCH), so-named deliberately in recognition of the significance of the pre-colonial Domboshaba Ruins in Bakalanga heritage. However, DCT wishes to correct inaccuracies and innuendoes which if left uncorrected might cause unnecessary discord among Bakalanga as well as besmirch the good name of the festival.

The formation of DCT was formally endorsed by traditional and community leaders at a well-attended and representative meeting in August 2005. Ever since all Bakalanga traditional leaders have been invited to annual general meetings of the Trust and have two ex-officio representatives on the board of trustees. In fact DCT has received significant support from traditional leaders across Bukalanga. DCT, therefore, finds Bawumbe’s claims of ‘rising levels of dissatisfaction by traditional leaders and communities…’ absurd given that the traditional leaders and communities referred to are free (and in fact encouraged) to participate in different fora of DCT.

The insinuation that DFCH is of little benefit to Bakalanga is also not accurate. The festival provides and will continue to provide a forum for the expression of Bakalanga culture and heritage. In addition, the festival has inspired many cultural festivals across Botswana, which in DCT’s considered view is a significant contribution. The direct and indirect spend arising from the annual festival events is significant to both formal and informal businesses most of which are either owed by or employ locals.

The festival was started by volunteers, continues to be organised by volunteers and adopted a organic model where initial resources to organise it were raised by the community of Bakalanga, until it grew to a level where sponsors could be brought on board. DCT remains a non – profit organisation whose financial statements are open for discussion at annual general meetings. The suggestion by Bawumbe that the festival is ‘turning into a commercial consortium’ is inaccurate and misleading. Another inaccuracy by Bawumbe is the assumption that the festival makes large amounts of money from gate takings and the sale of memorabilia. The fact is these two sources of income contribute less that the total cost of hosting the festival, which cost stands at just under P200 000 per annum.

Bawumbe raises a concern over the treatment of informal traders and suggests that there ought to be freedom of exchange like there was in pre-colonial Bukalanga. While he has got a point, the reality is that most traders attracted by the festival present not to sell traditional craft and Kalanga food (both of which are encouraged by DCT) but clear beer carried in deep freezers. The main challenge has been the attendant littering, the offence such littering causes to local authorities and the burden it places on DCT to clean up.

DCT’s mandate as correctly quoted by Bawumbe is the promotion of Bakalanga culture and language, mainly but not only for the people who have been living in that area of Botswana for more than a 1 000 years. To DCT’s knowledge, there is no division among Bakalanga save that some live west and others east of the Shashe River within the Central and North East Districts respectively but are in fact governed by the same laws of Botswana and therefore challenged in equal measure by any weaknesses in such laws and their administration, whether there are colonial or post-colonial in origin.

However, the culture of Bakalanga east and west of Shashe is identical as the culture had existed for centuries before the more recent administrative boundary demarcations in 1895. The suggestion by Bawumbe that for the purpose of promoting Bakalanga culture and language, these Bakalanga communities be treated differently or that DCT is insensitive to their location differences and/or as to whom they pay allegiance is also patently as absurd as it is shortsighted.

In conclusion, we acknowledge that community engagement could be intensified but remain confident that Bakalanga and other stakeholders recognise the significance of Domboshaba festival and will continue to support it. Could more progress have been made? Yes. To realise even faster progress, DCT invites all interested, including Bawumbe wa Chiwindi, to attend DCT’s annual general meetings, and influence and support the development and promotion of Bakalanga culture and language, submitting ideas that can be tested at such meetings for relevance, appropriateness and feasibility in pursuance of the DCT’s mandate.

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