With nothing to show for months of engagement with Government Enclave while creatives and entertainers fell on hard times, Vee Mampeezy is putting himself forward to lead a united campaign for a to return to work. He apologized to his colleagues before the police broke up their meeting at GSS Grounds in Gaborone this week. GOSEGO MOTSUMI reports
“Open our industry! We are dying!” This has been the clarion call of the creative industry that was brought to a grinding halt nine months ago and is still at a standstill, thanks to COVID-19 and protocols to contain the pandemic. Many attempts to engage relevant authorities on the plight of the industry ultimately hit a snag recently when it was limited to hosting a maximum of 50 people at all events.
Grievances have been growing to a point where the adage, “A hungry man is an angry man,” was almost lived out when one of Botswana’s most successful artists, Odirile Vee Mampeezy Sento, broke his silence and called a meeting of creatives at short notice at GSS Grounds in Gaborone, seeking to harness members of the public for support. “We have done all the consulting and followed all the right channels,” said the musician. “We are tired of not being taken seriously.”
“Hosting 50 people is not working for us. As I speak, many creatives are starving. They have been kicked out of their homes and are not able to provide for their families because they have no income. Other countries are gradually opening their creative industries while we remain closed down and reduced to beggars. This is unacceptable.”
Scores of disgruntled creatives attended the meeting that was cut short by the police for lack of a permit and therefore being an unlawful assembly. But it was a good show of unity and solidarity for a sector that is often criticized for lacking coherence. Artists from across the country rallied behind Vee Mampeezy who also called another meeting for artists for Tuesday (yesterday) at Old Naledi. His argument was that other sectors of the economy, such as tourism and transport, have resumed while the billion pula creative industry remains effectively outlawed.
He says Botswana could benchmark in South Africa, Malawi and Namibia where entertainment is back in the lives of people and holds that the “Di Nwele Dladleng” campaign of the alcohol industry has led to house parties being hosted every weekend and to what is known as “parking lot pimping” where people congregate anywhere, including on parking lots, with little care to observance of COVID-19 protocols.
“What we are saying is that we can control crowds and have been able to ensure that people are safe at our festivals,” he said in an interview. “We can host these events during the day in open spaces and venues where all the measures to ensure safety would be in place. We can be suspended if we fail to uphold the safety measures.”
But Vee has been labelled a hypocrite for having campaigned for the ruling Botswana Democratic Party whose government is now being accused of turning a blind eye on the plight of creatives and entertainers after promising that it would ensure a thriving creative industry. Over past months, the artist has consulted the Minister of Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, Tumiso Rakgare, alongside other creatives to negotiate for a better deal and re-opening of the industry. In the course of time, rapper Atlasaone ATI Molemogi launched an independent campaign that was soon silenced in preference for Vee’s more or less formal process.
He is aware that he has he nothing to show for having been preferred on Government Enclave. “I would like to apologize to everyone because there was no fruitful meeting and nothing went well,” he said. “I apologize for telling ATI to stand down because we felt we were still consulting and following the right protocols to communicate with our leaders. People feel betrayed by ATI and have called him a Judas who got paid off. I would take the blame because his name was tainted.”
Promoter Seabelo Modibe shares Vee’s sentiments and says everyone in music and entertainment wants to go back to work but is aware that a deadly virus is on the prowl. Currently many key industry players are starving, depressed and helpless, he notes. Modibe agrees with Vee that with the dangerous loitering on parking lots, overcrowding in restaurants and the risk of importing infection through open borders, the entertainment industry can surely function under a better regime of regulations.
Meanwhile, a musician who prefers anonymity says he has been stripped of his dignity as the sole provider for his family, thanks to the shutdown of the means of livelihood. He has had to make the painful decision of taking his family back home in the countryside so as to scrape and hustle for them alone in the city. “The creative industry is all I have ever known,” says the muso. “Trying to do other work for survival is not easy. I struggle with hunger and depression because the festive season is here and I am expected to provide. My only hope lies in the industry being re-opened. This is why I am fully behind this movement.”
Upon being contacted, culture minister Rakgare was constrained because he was in Parliament.