Memories That Never Leave Us: A Dialogue With Sebati Mafate
Sebati Edward Mafate was born in Zambia and raised in both Botswana and South Africa. Aside from his writings, Sebati is also an independent filmmaker. He is the author of a non-fictional book “Memories of Lotsane: The Chronicles of An African Boarding School”. He also has fictional books titled Kahuru: The Making Of An African Legend, When The Cobra Strikes and The Devil’s Concubine respectively. His first feature film ‘Black Cobra’ was released by Lionsgate. His historical/fiction/fantasy novel “The Triumphs Of Kahuru” a sequel to “Kahuru: The Making Of An African Legend” just got published on February 12th, and two more are coming out this year, “IRONIC” which is a psychological thriller/ Romance novel, which they are currently in the midst of turning into a feature film. He resides in Southern California with his family.
BY TSHEPO PHOKOJE
This interview happened between Toteng, Botswana and while Sebati was travelling to Chicago, USA. He had to stop at Tulsa Oklahoma while on his way for us to have this email exchange.
Tshepo: Thank you very much for creating the time for us this dialogue. Memories of Lotsane: The Chronicles of An African Boarding School, your first non-fictional book, is an interesting read. Can you share with me the motivation for writing it?
Sebati: When I first arrived at Lotsane, back in 1985 as a brand-new Form 4, I had absolutely no idea how my life was going to change in just 3 years. I found myself at that school, met different kinds of people and cultivated friendships that have lasted a lifetime. And wherever I went, particularly in the U.S., I told stories about my life there, the ups and downs of boarding life, mostly the ups, and in my wife, Vivian, I had an eager audience, and it was her who planted that seed of writing a book so I can share with the world my experiences at that great institution.
Tshepo: It really was interesting for me as a reader to walk down memory lane with you and please thank Vivian for giving you the gentle push to share your experiences with us. How long did it take for you to write the book and when/ where was it published? As a writer who is based in Botswana, I have observed that most writers like myself, are having a challenge with publishing their books in the country for various reasons, how did that impact your dream of having Memories of Lotsane published?
Sebati: Okay, the way it happened was like this; Viv, myself, and some family friends, Gina Aguirre and her husband, attended a football game (American Football) in which our kids were participants, and while we were watching the game; I started telling them the story of our 1986 Football School Team that was led by the very talented Lepholetha Gofhamodimo Senne when we played against our bitter rivals at the time, who happened to be Swaneng Hill School, it was a grudge match, played at Lotsane, and we did not just want to beat Swaneng, NO, we wanted to beat them into submission; I suppose the way I told the story was so colorful that at the end, Gina Aguirre (bless that woman) looked at me and said, “Sebati, you should write about these stories …” That there was confirmation to what Vivian ALWAYS said to me over the years, and I decided to waste no time, and started writing the very next day.
It was like peeling an onion, in that one memory revealed another, and another. And it helped that I was, via Facebook, still in touch with former school mates like Adam Masebola, Balisi Bonyongo, John Moreti, Betty Mathiba, Cross Kgosidiile, and Allim Milazi who helped fill in the blanks that I was able to write the book in four months. Now, being in the U.S. I was able to track down an independent publisher based in Chula Vista, near San Diego, who were willing to publish the book; and they did so in 2012 – the same year the book was written.
I would think that’s the advantage about living in the U.S. When you’re an up and coming writer without a following like say Stephen King or Michael Connelly in that if you are local; such publishers can take a chance on you. I don’t think it would have been that easy if I were in Botswana, at least in as far as publishing with Aventine Press went.
“I suppose the way I told the story was so colorful that at the end, Gina Aguirre (bless that woman) looked at me and said, “Sebati, you should write about these stories …” That there was confirmation to what Vivian ALWAYS said to me over the years, and I decided to waste no time, and started writing the very next day.“
Tshepo: Wow! Four months is such an impressive short space of time, well, according to how I imagine it right now. While reading the book, I picked that you referred to people with not only their names, but surnames and even their nicknames and that on its own tells me a story about the friendships you formed in Lotsane. I am ashamed that I cannot even remember names of most people I used to be in class or work with. I find that admirable. What’s in a name for you when it comes to friendships or relationships? And while we are on the names topic, I have observed that in some parts of the book, you mentioned the “naughty” behaviour of some individuals. Did you use their real names? For example, the classmate who hid her pregnancy and ended up giving birth at the dormitories. And if at all you changed the names, didn’t that somehow affect the flow of the story?
Sebati: I think I’ve been blessed with a very retentive memory, especially with people and events that had a very big impact on my life; my whole three years of my life was a big impact so that’s probably why I was able to remember people’s names, but then again I had help, and to be quite honest in some instances I surprised myself in that one memory revealed another. In some instances, like the one you mentioned about the lady who hid her pregnancy; I had to change her name altogether because as you can imagine that is not something people would like to be reminded of. But in doing so, it did not affect the flow of the story – if anything it boosted my drive even further – knowing that I can tell of my experiences without embarrassing anyone. In truth, all I was doing was recalling things I saw, heard, and experienced during my time there. The changing of names was few and far between though; like the young lady who broke my heart for instance, her name was changed, because I know she’s married and with a family; I did not want to embarrass her.
Tshepo: That makes perfect sense. I believe that writers have a responsibility that most do not recognize. When you tell a story, there are a lot of things to consider and one of them is ensuring that your work does not come out as selfish and inconsiderate. I will note that down as a lesson learnt from reading your work, that characters’ dignity in a non-fictional story deserve to be preserved. Lotsane seems to be the place where a lot of who you are really came together, sort of an apex point. How did being there, though at first you were “Disappointed and apprehensive”, change your life? Another thing that stood out for me, in Chapter 10, how ‘Big Joe’ would declare something as a joke and it later took a life of its own. I also was intrigued about what you paraphrased Napoleon Hill to have explained how our brains work, how it cannot tell the difference between the negative and positive energy that it is fed. Do you still believe that our success or failure is a result of our thoughts?
Sebati: Two things that I consider were the, as you succinctly put it, the apex of my life at Lotsane was when my great English teacher, Mr. Monty Fanikiso Moswela, formed the drama club and encouraged me to keep writing. You see, with drama I realized that I had a hidden talent, I could act, at least that’s what I believe, and I loved it. The second being as my English teacher, I would show him stories I wrote, and even though I was a novice then; he still encouraged me to keep writing no matter what obstacles lay in my way; that pat on my back was PRICELESS in that I found out that this, the writing of fiction for a living; is something that intrigued me then and has intrigued me since. And the example of Mr. Joshua Ntsuke (Big Joe) is someone who liked to talk highly of himself; not in a braggadocious manner but as a joke albeit partly, and if you see him today you’ll see he has done very well for him and his loved ones. And then all this made sense after I read Mr. Napoleon Hill’s book “Think And Grow Rich” in which he states that “Thoughts are things …” And goes on to state that positive self-talk can be just as great and negative self-talk is in that our subconscious mind is like a fertile field in which beautiful plants can be grown just as easily as weeds; we are what we think we are, and “Big Joe” is, to me at least, a shining example of that.
Tshepo: Profound. As a former boarding school student, I used to always wonder what went on at the boys’s hostels. Reading your book has really opened a window into that and silenced my wondering mind. I also found the part where Form 5’s would treat the Form 4’s in a way that I regard as ill. In my former school, Moeng College, I remember that as a form 3 student, being new there had its own challenges. Being “booed” by a group of boys was uncomfortable, especially if you walked alone most times as I used to. I never understood what the whole point was but it affected my confidence. I also recall that, when I was doing Form 5, one Form 4 boy decided to walk with me back to the dormitories after evening study, the next day, he was limping because older boys disapproved of that. I look back now, many years later and realise that it was bullying, though subtle. What is your take on the bullying that went on at Lotsane and seemed to be dismissed or ignored?
Sebati: The jeering of the Form 4’s was tradition, a baptism of fire so to speak, but it ended right there, and was soon forgotten by the next day as everyone settled into their new lives and the form 5’s adapted to the newbies; it never got physical to the best of my knowledge and at least during my time. The only time when things kind of got out of hand, was when the girls, who were fellow form 5’s, booed this one girl and in front of her parents that she was reduced to tears; and that was when the headmaster Mr. Mahole (May he rest in peace) chastised the offenders at assembly and some even got punished for their actions had embarrassed the school.
Tshepo: Thank you for clarifying that. Bullying continues to be a problem, especially these days and it can have lifelong painful results. The Kabo Matlho Campaign seemed to have excited you and gave you some purpose. Did you continue to get involved with more charitable works over the years?
Sebati: The Kabo Matlho Campaign was the brain child of the great man Mr. Emmanuel Mudidi the expatriate teacher from Rwanda, who later became the first Minister of Education of that nation after the genocide. He then used the drama club as the vehicle to raise money for Kabo, and the campaign was a success. Unfortunately, I have not been involved in charity causes as much as I would have liked because, strictly speaking, there was never another opportunity like the “Kabo Matlho” Campaign, and schooling, especially when I was chasing my degrees got in the way. I have though in the past approached several leaders of none profit organizations in the US and back home to pledge some of my royalties to a worthy cause, but none of that has penned out thus far.
Tshepo: We must have hope for better things and I believe that life still allows us to achieve what we wish for, no matter how small or big it is. To wrap this up, you previously mentioned being a member of the Drama Club and how you were encouraged to write, I must applaud you for the feature film “Black Cobra” which was based on your second fictional novel, “When The Cobra Strikes”. I hope that one day soon, I can be able to watch it and for the rest of the world to also have that same privilege. Will there be more films, fictional books and probably another nonfictional book coming up?
Sebati: Thank you very much. You see, I love telling a story, either on paper, the big screen, or around a fire. A historical/fiction/fantasy novel “The Triumphs Of Kahuru” a sequel to “Kahuru: The Making Of An African Legend” just got published on February 12th, and two more are coming out this year, “IRONIC” which is a psychological thriller/ Romance novel, which we’re currently in the midst of turning into a feature film which will star our own Archibald Imani Seboni and Kathy Wu, a very talented Chinese American actress. We expect to get cameras rolling later this year, I am heading to Chicago to raise funds for it, and “Kahuru And The Imposter” which will complete the human leopard trilogy. I am not planning to write another non-fiction any time soon mainly because I have not yet decided on what subject to tackle. I am however helping a friend, the former Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Peta Bala’c to write his memoirs and one about Mr. Balisi Bonyongo, the current Managing Director of the Jwaneng Mines, who also happens to be a very close friend of mine.
Tshepo: Congratulations on your latest book and good luck with the feature film project. I want to sincerely thank you on behalf of Africa in Dialogue, for having honored my request for this dialogue to happen. I wish you all the best in your future works and thank you for the inspiration. Artists, writers included, should keep creating, we have been entrusted with an honorable yet challenging task. This has been wonderful.
Sebati: My pleasure Tshepo, the honor is all mine. Thank you for taking the time to interview me.
Tshepo Phokoje is a 37-year-old writer from Palapye, Botswana. She writes both Fictional and Creative non-fictional short stories as well as Poetry. Her first fictional short story was published as part of 36 Kisses; an Anthology of Short stories & Poems by Botswana Society of Human Development, which was aimed at promoting commercial tourism. Her poem Battered, Bruised & Abused, is part of Silent No More, a PDF anthology about Gender Based Violence. Her poem “FEAR” has been featured in the May 2018 edition of Writers Space Africa, an international online magazine. In her spare time, she edits her fellow writers’ works. She is an overall lover of Arts and hopes to start her own blog, which will focus on Mental Health, Gender Based Violence, Loss, Motherhood, the ripple effects of unemployment and/or liquidation of mines and Survival stories.