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Lorraine LH: the voice of the San

Lorraine LH: the voice of the San

This week Tumisang Ramakoloi conversed with most the outspoken songwriter cum musician and United Kingdom (UK) based Motswana Lorraine Lionheart who believes she was raised to appreciate the ethic of kindness, universal love and the gift of creativity.

She is extremely vocal when it comes to issues affecting the San people of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR); where she posited their treatment under the ruling government is extremely unjust and believes those in power are all to blame.“Through my involvement I hope to influence a lot of people to listen to the Basarwa and pay more attention to their plight. I hope to see one day Basarwa getting the respect, equal opportunities, the recognition they deserve and a fair share of Botswana. I want to go back home to a loving and tolerant nation that respects the rights of all human beings regardless of their differences. I hope to participate in reviving the dying Setswana culture of charity. I want to do my part to enhance an already beautiful image of Botswana, which is seriously threatened by failure to tackle issues such as this, successfully. And I believe we will change the Batswana’s negative perception and persecution of the Basarwa. No Motswana should feel insulted when called a Mosarwa. I believe this is the beginning of the end of the deadly circle of inherited prejudice. And I pledge to play my part,” she said this week. 

You are best renowned for advocating for the rights of the Basarwa, how have you used living in UK to communicate and engage other independent activists and organizations to drum up support for this issue?

I do not consider myself an advocate for Basarwa even though I do not object to being labelled as such. I believe I am just an ordinary concerned Motswana whose mission is to draw as much attention as necessary to the struggles of the Basarwa and to do everything in my power to let this tribe to be heard. The Basarwa community is not short of advocates, and they certainly do not need me to speak on their behalf. I am simply asking our government, Batswana and the international community to listen to Basarwa, and I do that out of the love of a tribe that fully raised me. 

Are there any independent organizations that you have roped in to help in your war against the resettlement of Basarwa form the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR) to the New Xade?

Currently I am building relationships selectively with organizations such as the Kwedom Council whose main focus is not only to fight for the rights of Basarwa, but also to empower Basarwa. In this bid I am prepared to work with more organizations and individuals for a common goal. Kwedon is an organization which promotes a culture of self reliance, self determination and effective participation of Basarwa in all activities that concern them, protect and promote Basarwa cultures by enhancing the formation of Basarwa cultural groups and encourage appropriate use of their culture in tourism activities to generate income and develop Basarwa languages and to promote their use in school.

Thus this means you don’t believe in cultural dynamicity and civilization? 

Of course I believe in civilization and cultural dynamicity, I would not be involved in this if I didn’t. However I do believe civilization means different things to different people. Basarwa were civilized way before we got our independence, and way before the adoption of the so-called modern civilization by our nation. I believe for anyone to call Basarwa uncivilized is not only a great insult but it is also a demonstration of incredible ignorance and generally just sad realization of what Western propaganda has done to us.

Being a poet, have you ever thought of using music and poetry for the maximum communication of your messages and campaign? 

Naturally yes I have. And I intend to. I will be releasing a charity single in October titled “The silent cry”. I intend to use this song as my first step to tackling the challenges of making my home town Gantsi, a street kids free town. This is just one of my many projects I have planned. As they say, charity begins at home.

Has this issue influenced your lyrical content?

I would say yes, however I have always wanted to write powerful songs, like my idol Buffy Saite –Marie, but somehow always went for the merely fun songs like “Solomon”, indulgent nature inspired songs like “The full moon” and generally songs that tell my life story. But I have learnt that not everything should be about me, and being so involved in this cause teaches me something new every day and I am now inspired to write songs that will change people’s lives not just songs that make them feel good temporarily. Silent cry is a song that talks about every individual’s ability to make a difference. Being kind to another human being does not require anyone to become wealthy first or academically educated. We all have eyes to see and ears to hear the silent cry of those less fortunate if we so choose to.

What do you believe will be the greatest reward in allowing Basarwa to restore and maintain the land of their forefathers? 

Allowing Basarwa to restore and maintain their ancestral land should never be considered a reward, it is their right.

I have learned that you were recently in the motherland, what were you here to do?

I took time to visit Basarwa communities and engage them in my work, but most importantly to listen to them and understand what their current position is. I am coming back to Botswana in a few weeks to do more on the Basarwa campaign. 

Don’t you believe the monetary inducement and sporadic rations (cattle, goats, boreholes and education. etc) provided for Basarwa provided in this resettlement could bring them a better living?

Having seen what some of these government politically correct ideas have done to Basarwa, I totally disagree. Before relocations Basarwa were independent, they were self-sufficient and provided happily for their families. Now they have been robbed of their dignity and have to depend on government’s hand-outs. The government has turned Basarwa in to beggars and it is so sad and wrong. The government claims to be giving these hand outs to improve the lives of Basarwa, when meanwhile they are just driving them right in to the hands of poverty and slavery. Those government hand outs are not even accessible to the majority of Basarwa. There are so many Basarwa out there who cannot have access to these handouts because of the position the system has put them in. Some do not have identity cards and birth certificates so therefore cannot be officially registered to receive help. However due to the relocations the government has broken Basarwa family units and some do not even know where their parents are. The relocation of Basarwa has done a lot more harm than good. Basarwa are not farmers of cattle and goats. What a pointless exercise that was. Basarwa know more about wildlife than any tribe in Botswana, if the government really wanted to empower them, then they should have been given licences for game farms rather than cattle. Those licences are being given to other people including foreign investors. Basarwa are a naturally wealthy tribe and can contribute to our economy through for example tourism, herbal medicine, arts and culture and much more, but instead they are been marginalized and discriminated against. The government is not improving the lives of Basarwa. The government of Botswana is slowly wiping out the population of our indigenous people and if not stopped this will be in our history books as one of the biggest humanitarian tragedy of our times. I do not believe that is what Sir Seretse Khama had in mind when he was famously quoted saying “We should write our own history books to prove that we did have a past, and that it was a past that was just as worth writing and learning about as any other. We must do this for the simple reason that a nation without a past is a lost nation, and a people without a past is a people without a soul.”

And obviously being in this cause teaches you something every day, what is it exactly? One of the things I have learnt from this is that in life some work we choose, but some work chooses us, and I believe that this is the kind of work that chose me. I have learnt a deeper meaning of tolerance and love from this and I am growing as a person. I have seen people with negative views give themselves a chance to reconsider what impact they may have on others, and more than ever I now strongly believe a human being is a self –transcending being. Every one of us has the freedom to change at any instant.

The opposing counterparts would argue that you only riding on the issue for your own selfish benefit and to remain in the mouth of the media, what is your take on this? 

That’s a first. Usually I am accused of promoting my CD sales in Botswana even though I have none on sale. Anyway I am focused on only the positives that I can do and I refuse to dwell on anyone’s negative opinions and assumptions about my motives. I have no time to waste entertaining such because the job at hand is too massive a challenge and needs my full attention. I don’t see how being in the mouth of the media in Botswana can pay my bills in the UK, so for me there is no personal gain whatsoever. However to ensure the message reaches as many people as possible, of course I need the media. I am mature enough to understand that no matter what you do in this life people will talk, and they are by the way entitled to their opinions, it’s a free world. However I will not live a life that is governed by fear of what people may think of me. I have chosen to live a purpose driven life and no one will ever take that away from me. Criticism helps me to get better at whatever I do and makes me more determined. So please tell them to bring it on.