In an effort to foster literacy and cultivate a reading culture in Botswana, the inaugural Gaborone Book Festival (GBF) attracted a commendable number of book enthusiasts this past weekend at Maitisong. On the opening night of the two day event, co-founder of GBF, Kenanao Phele said the festival was a platform for Batswana to gain exposure for their work as they are often underrepresented, under appreciated and underexposed in the literary world.
“But with the little we are doing as Gaborone Book Festival, we hope we can introduce our authors to a wider reading audience. This is our first book festival and we want to host it annually with the support of more funding and all the stakeholders in the book ecosystem ,” she said.
For his part the Director of Department of National Archives and Records, Peter Choto lauded the festival founders, highlighting that it was a step in the right direction as platforms for those who love books are limited in Botswana. Quoting Botswana’s first president Sir Seretse Khama, Choto reiterated the president’s famous sentiments that writing books was a way to preserve a nation’s history and cultural heritage. He expressed delight that the many panelists present at the event were African writers which showcased the beauty and diversity of stories from the continent as well as cemented their ability to present narratives and perspectives that are proudly ours.
He further said that books are used in many ways to transform people’s lives by giving hope and creating the opportunity for them to acquire new knowledge. “Across the world authors are rock stars and make a living out of writing and this is what we also wish for our Batswana and fellow African authors. Platforms like these ones provide a chance for all those in the book ecosystem to engage, interact and have fun the same way that other people do in other festivals. Batswana authors remain under marketed and unappreciated and with such platforms we hope that our authors will gain exposure,” Choto said, adding that GBF is aligned with the government’s strategy of cultivating and nurturing a knowledge based economy as they recognize the critical role the arts play in society.
Political activist and writer, Michael Dingake opened the festival with a discussion on his book titled, Better to Die on One’s Feet which recounts the journey from his incarceration on Robben Island to his eventual freedom. “It is difficult to forget painful memories but what also keeps my memory sharp is that I read. For you to become a writer, you need to read as it helps with the retention of your memory. If you want to stay alert, do a lot of reading and engage in debates and discussions. What I would like people to take from my book is that we don’t live for ourselves but for others,” Dingake said.
As opening night progressed, Margaret Daymond, author of Everyday Matters and Chairperson of Bessie Head Trust Leloba Molema reflected on the life of Bessie Head while Brigitta Zwani author of The Shrink and Nsununguli Mbo, author of The Other Four closed the night with more insight on their literary works.