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Queen of reinvention

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Bursting with fresh inspiration after bouncing back from a major set back, the 42-year- old ignimatic Motswana woman who left the country as a young and inexperienced teenager to explore foreign lands has reinvented herself yet again.

For many children from middle class families in Botswana, carting off teenagers to boarding schools in neighbouring South Africa and Zimbabwe, which are perceived to offer better education has been a right of passage for years.

At a tender age of 12, Sela Motshwane was sent to boarding school in South Africa.

After five years at Woodmead School in Johannesburg where she met and interacted with many students from different backgrounds, Motshwane returned home to serve what was then a mandatory National Service before heading to University back in SA.

“I was posted to the department of Parks and Cemeteries in Francistown for one year and then awarded a government sponsorship to study Horticulture at Cape Peninsula University,” Motshwane explains.

Excited but unaware of daunting challenges that lay ahead, Motshwane went back to South Africa where university years would prove more difficult than she had imagined.

“The racism in CapeTown was unbearable and I fared poorly. I had been used to engaging freely with friends from all racial backgrounds and never in a million years did I think I was not deserving of where I was. The treatment was horrible and made one doubt themselves,” Motshwane said.

Pushed by circumstances she waited for the right chance and made a leap to migrate to London.

“We engaged our sponsor, the Ministry of Education to provide us with the necessary support documents enabling us to obtain internship visas on arrival at Heathrow airport,” she explains.

In London, Motshwane immediately put her creative skills to good use by volunteering at the Chelsea Flower Show for Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden.

For five years she worked for the gold star acclaimed national treasure. To supplement her income, she also worked for the Plant Breeders Institute in Cambridge.

After a few years, she met a visiting English Professor who advised her to apply for a course at Cambridge University and she did, choosing Archaeology.

However her excitement at being accepted at the elite institution quickly wore off when she was confronted with the ugly side of the reality within the institution.

“The environment was extremely high pressure. Compound that with icy tensions between learner and supervisor then one was in for a really bad experience. In my case, I felt there were stereo- types that led to me not getting along with my supervisor. People have a vision of what a successful academic should look like, and I did not fit that mould. I was treated like I didn’t belong and I was bullied,” she reveals.

To escape the toxic learning environment, Motshwane reinvented herself into a businesswoman in the fashion world.

“I had shared an idea with one of my lecturers who suggested I sought advice from the business school. They advised I apply for a short course they funded and subsequently I received £3 000.00 Stirling towards my business idea. I spent all the money in Botswana buying fabric and paying local tailors towards my clothing line, Touch of Africa Fashion. I appreciated the uniqueness of Cambridge University and the pool of resources one can access including willing parties who made my dream come true,” she says

The ambitious young woman however quickly found out that just like academics business was not a walk in the park.

DEDICATED: Motshwane (middle) at fashion show

She recalls a time when she had scheduled a fashion show and then couldn’t find Tswana print material in shops.

“I borrowed Tswana Print clothes from a designer friend, Lesego Malatsi, a friend booked a hall at Jesus College, Cambridge for the fashion event, I asked Virgin Atlantic to fly the clothes consignment for free in the spirit of supporting a start-up and they did. The fashion show went on with the support of all those involved of course and to date I still have the UK based Leteitsi fashion business going,” she says.

Motshwane however lost her UK Residency visa and had to leave the country, which meant adjusting once more to a new set up of setting up base back in Gaborone where she spends most of her time but travelling once a year to the UK to check on her businesses.

Instead of lamenting the set back, she chose to look at the positive side of things and decided this should be an opportunity to explore new business ideas.

She used her experience in making travel arrangements for her friends and interns who helped with the business at Cambridge to visit Botswana, to set up a new business as an online travel agent.

Talking about her new platform at www.holidayinbotswana.com, Motshwane says, “In every dark cloud look for that silver lining.”

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An Eye for What?

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Sunday. Almost noon in Gaborone. From the pulpit, Pastor Godwill’s beady eyes follow his most-trusted foot soldiers lug bags of tithes behind a curtain where the money counting takes place.

With such a generous flock, he will move the church out of the tent into a proper building before Easter.

He will buy a house, then a jet. He raises his hands and sways to the rhythm of the closing hymn.

The church goers dissect the homily and sing the pastor’s praises as they file into the sunlight: “Oh, God! Daddy was on point today.” “May he stay blessed.” “Halleluja, Pastor.” “Amen, Pastor.”

No one notices a young man who has been skulking around the parking lot. He sidles up to a gleaming, new, black SUV.

Big lettering on the side proclaims ‘The Church of New Life’.

It belongs to the pastor—a Christmas gift from a recently-born again member.

He peers inside. Bibles, prayer books. More Bibles. The big money briefcase is not there.

He continues to pad, cat-like, around the bumper-to-bonnet filled parking lot. In another car he spies a woman’s handbag lodged under the driver’s seat. A purse peeps out.

The young man steals a quick look around him but sees someone approaching, so he moves on to another car.

He tests the driver’s door. It is locked, but the cellphone in the storage compartment tempts him, and his time is running out.

He picks up a brick and hurls it at window, shattering the glass.

As the alarm rings, he slides his arm inside and pulls out the cellphone.

Weaving between the cars, he makes for the main gate. Someone shouts. “Legodu!” Again. “Legoooodu!” Louder the second time.
It’s like a siren screaming. The able-bodied give chase. Men, women and children emerge from their makeshift shops, from houses to join in.

“Legodu!”Dogs bark the word. Cats meow the word. Cows moo it. Goats bleat it.

The whole neighbourhood emerges to bear witness.

The young man flies towards the main road. If he can cross the highway, he will melt into the bush and then he will be out of reach, but cars and trucks speed up and down the road. He cannot get across, so he off-loads his loot.

But it is too late for him. A man with biceps the size of the thief’s calves grabs him by his waistband and slams him to pavement. The swelling crowd, cheers.

A slap, a kick, a pinch. Another man fetches a sjambok from his boot.

It whistles as it slices the air, cracks as it lands on the thieves back. Once. Twice. Again. Once more.

A woman who was walking to the Kombi stop cannot resist.

She tucks her Bible into her bag and tugs off her stilettoes. She whacks the thief. Punctuates her words with blow: “You.” Rap. “Little.” Rap. “Bastard.” Rap! Rap! Rap! “That’s for the one who stole my purse.” She stands back and gives way for a man to land his punch.

The cheers grow louder.

A woman driving past slows down to see what is happening. She cannot bear to watch.

She pulls off the road to speak into her phone. “They are going to beat him to death,” she reports.

“Please hurry.” Tears roll down her face.

By the time the police arrive, the young man is soaked in a red sea.

The men in blue-grey uniforms leap from their vehicle.

One of them charges through the crowd that refuses to part.

When he finally reaches the young man, it is to confirm that his life has been stolen.

And still, the crowd cheers.

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Deaf beauty queen calls for Setswana sign language

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The reigning Miss Deaf International Queen has called for the introduction of Setswana Sign Language in schools.

The 31-year-old Serowe-born beauty, Kemmonye Keraetswe brought the crown home last July after emerging victorious in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Keraetswe is adamant that introducing Setswana will help improve the academic performance of deaf students, which at the moment she admits is ‘dismal’.

“There is a need for Setswana Sign Language in schools. Right now we are only taught in American Sign Language and this hinders the communication between us and our parents,” she notes, communicating with Okavango Voice via Whatsapp.

“I am a Motswana but I can’t read or write in Setswana. My parents can only try to give me signs but sometimes they don’t understand when I use the sign language that I learnt in school because it is a bit complex,” continues the brainy beauty queen, who is currently employed at Maun Senior Secondary School as a Teaching Assistant for deaf students.

Keraetswe’s dream is to go to university but she keeps failing the entrance exam as American Sign Language has proved too complicated.

“It is rare for deaf students to pass Form Five. I am even lucky to be working,” adds the trail-blazing queen, who is no stranger to international success having been crowned 2nd Princess Miss Deaf Africa in 2016.

HONOR: Miss Deaf International award

As for her journey as Miss Deaf International, Keraetswe claims that locally she has not been given the same recognition or received as much support as other beauty queens.

“There are so many events happening in Maun but I have never been invited to any of them! I feel like they are discriminating against me but I am just like any of them, the only challenge is that I am hearing impaired,” she blasts.

Additionally, Keraetswe says organisers often refuse to let her take part in pageantries on account of her disability.

“Sometimes they don’t accept me but I am capable just like any other woman!”

To compound her feelings of isolation, she is also having problems with the Botswana Deaf Organisation.

As is the norm with beauty queens, part of Keraetswe’s reign includes overseeing a project.

She wants this to be an independent project as she strives to inspire the death community.

However, the Deaf Organisation insist they should be involved.

“We don’t have any independence. They want us to do everything collectively even business,” she laments.

In conclusion, Keraetswe urged the government to promote equality and work with the deaf community to improve their rights.

She further called for the creation of Non-Government Organisations that will advocate for the rights of the deaf.

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Bouncing back from disability to thrive

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WHEELCHAIR-BOUND WOMAN LAUNCHES FASHION LINE

At the age of 33, Mavis Mtonga is fast making a mark in the fashion world despite a car accident that left her paralysed in her lower body in 2013.

Re-living the traumatic moment, which nearly cut her life short, Mtonga, who hails from Zambia but has been living in Botswana for the past 18 years said she was on her way to Zambia when her family got involved in a car accident that drastically altered her life forever.

“I was with my father and aunt, taking my grandmother to Zambia when the accident occured 10 kilometres away from Nata. It all happened so fast yet it seemed like it was in slow motion. Our car had a tyre burst and overturned three times.”

she said as her voice trailed off, giving way to a deep breath followed by a long pause.

“And then I realized I could not feel the other part of my body just below the waist. I saw people surrounding us but I could not make up their faces, people were asking questions but at the time I could not understand what was really happening,” she said.

She was flown to Princess Marina Hospital and later with the assistance of Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA) Fund they were transferred to Bokamoso Private Hospital where they underwent surgeries.

HARDWORKING: Mtonga

Her aunt died from heavy loss of blood. “I was devastated.” She said.

However, the hardest thing for Mtonga was to accept that she was not going to be able to walk again.

“It was really difficult to accept that I was going to live the rest of my life on a wheelchair. I was trained on how to be independent on a wheel chair and miraculously I learned the skill in two weeks while others took more than that,” she said with a teary voice.

Before the accident Mtonga had already applied to study Fashion and Design at Arthur Portland School and her application was approved in 2016 so she started school in 2017.

“When I first came to class, the lecturers were apprehensive about my ability to cope in an environment full of sewing machines of different sizes but with their help I had to figure out a way to use those machines. I opted to use the small ones, which had a footer but I had to find a way to improvise by using my hands instead because my feet don’t work,” she explained.

To date, Mtonga has not only survived the car accident but she has also gone on to thrive in the fashion industry pushing her own brand in her own backyard.

“I have a year now in this industry and things are looking up for me. I have a few loyal clients who usually rock my designs and keep on coming back, which suggests that I am doing something right. I hope to grow and my vision is take my work overseas one day and live my dream of being a high flying fashion designer,” quipped the determined young woman.

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