In the presence of Kgosi Molaodi Moipolai, Dollar Mac skillfully conducted the launch proceedings, ensuring both speakers and the audience felt at ease and confortable, deftly affording the speakers and audience ease and comfort.
Moipolai’s lively personality filled the space as he warmly welcomed his guests and shared the origin story of Xere, a small village with a population of 402 enhabitants. Established in 2002, Xere lies 14 kilometres from Rakops in the Boteti District and has been under the governance of Kgosi Moipolai since. The visionary leader born in what is now the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), recognising the weight of responsibility on his shoulders, deemed it essential to advocate for the establishment of a community trust to hep the burden of driving development for his people. The Xere Community Trust was established in the sunset months of 2004 with the primary goals of “finding outlets for the youth and to diversify employment opportunities for the community at large.”
Acknowledging that culture has long been a cornerstone of Basarwa people’s lives, Kgosi Moipolai was swift to remind that “this whole land is confident and proud of the presence and cultures of Basarwa” adding “it is time for us as a people to be proud of ourselves and profit from what we have to offer.” As a firm believer in development, Kgosi Moipolai shared that while the festival is the consequence of a brainchild of his, the Mokgalagadi wa Boteti’s vision extends to such a point that Xere will grow to merge with neighbouring Rakops and have amenities such as commercial shopping outlets and fuel stations erected to promote the quality of life of his people. The Trust Chairperson, Tshiamo Nkalapi, echoed these sentiments.
For his part, Nkalapi shared that social burdens such as chronic absenteeism and dropping out of school, along with unprecedented incidences of teenage pregnancies have become a legacy of the village. To counter this, the Trust engaged in a series of consultations to establish ways of mitigating their impacts on the community at large, while also promoting self-reliance among the historically disenfranchised people. The ten founding members of Xere Community Trust, through the assistance of the Boteti district Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), chose to lean on the community’s experiences and expertise to craft solutions. Having come from a location without formal healthcare services, the community was well versed in using indigenous herbs, remedies and healing practices to attend to their needs.
Their surveying exercises yielded insight that their surrounding were rich in natural resources, thus the Trust embarked on the establishment of culture-based economic endeavours to promote cultural preservation, but also intercept and curb migration and loss of human capital due to extractive practices of individualistic hiring of skilled persons from the village.
A successful pitch to the Rural Areas Development Programme (RADP), through the assistance of the Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) unit under the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, resulted in the Trust securing funding to the value of P 451,000.00 toward their goal. While the initial intention had been to construct a cultural village, further inputs by experts awakened the community leaders to the inability of the grant to substantially meet the requirements of such a goal. Paring it down, the committee opted to invest the funds in a first phase of development, using their allocated plots of land to establish structures that will generate interest and revenue while pursuing the cultural village goal. This is where the inaugural Xere Cultural Festival comes in.
Xere Social Worker for Development, Abatoda Gwaba, and Mphonyana Sowa, Village Development Committee Chairpersoon, laid out how the developments that have taken place in Xere over its 21 years of existence have enabled the community to become self-actualised. Among these developments have been the establishment of administration blocks housing government agencies such as the department of veterinary services, social and community development offices; having functional beadwork, tannery, textile and bakery facilities; and a health post.
Along with these assets, the community has also been allocated two farms – one presently serving as a communal agricultural land and the second prospected to be used as a site for artificial insemination, according to Gwaba. The village that got electrified in 2022 also boasts a cooperative that was founded in 2008, and 65 houses that were built through RADP funding, furthermore allowing for economic independence.
The inaugural Xere Cultural Festival has already set itself apart from its counterparts by having a self-governed digital presence. The festival’s website offers guests and interested audiences opportunities to keep track of the programme and happenings in the village as the organisers prepare to receive revellers. Speaking to Rapula Kegopile of Blacksmith Communications, event coordinators and marketing agency behind the project, he expressed their excitement to finally realise the vision of the festival as they have long been in discussions with the Trust, VDC and Kgosi’s office about bringing Botswana to Xere. The offerings awaiting patrons over the two days include experiences of the wilderness as well as cultural immersion.
On the Friday, a sundowner excursion into the surrounding pans is how the festivities as set to begin. Saturday morning, guests are encouraged to rise with the sun with an opportunity to partake in a game drive into the CKGR boasting all the bells and whistles such as a breakfast picnic and photographic opportunities. Lifelong learners and adrenalin junkies may chose to forego the game drive in favour of a guided animal tracking expedition on foot with professional trackers from Xere, or riding quad bikes into the pans for a chance to spot wildlife along the way.
As the midday sun defrosts the expected chills of a desert night, guests will be presented with a variety of experiential activities including beading, harvesting and processing veld products, traditional healer consultations, and playing indigenous games of Basarwa. Traditional cuisine (including game meat) and traditional beer will not be too hard to find as organisers acknowledge that the best way to learn a people’s ways is through how they feed themselves.
The Trust has delegated Creative Concepts, Mophato Dance Theatre, and Amble Promotion with curating a theatrical production that will serve as the highlight of the event in an evening of song and dance. This production sees people of Xere reaping the benefits of working with industry professionals who have produced shows that have packed out venues such as Maitisong Theatre and toured the United Kingdom and United States of America. Following the theatrical showcase, attendees will then be roused to burn the midnight oil with the urban festival set to feature acts such as Dr Vom, Sereetsi and the Natives and Mpho Sebina.
For all that is on offer, the modest ticket prices of P 100 for day access and P 450 for two days of self-sufficient camping make it an accessible affair – especially considering that the organisers have ensured the provision of running and heated water along with sanitary ablution blocks. For those seeking a fuss-free experience, catered luxury camping packages are available for P 5,500 and P 8,500 – inclusive of game drives and other limited experiences.
The commitment of the leadership of Xere toward realising this festival places them in strong standing to become contributors to the global cultural travel market that was estimated to be valued at around US$ 400 million in 2022 according to analysts at Future Market Insights. In pursuit of this success, Keitumetse Kewagamang, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer under the Boteti District TAC, offered that the organisers of the event backed by Botswana Tourism Organisation to the sum of P700,000 undertook benchmarking excursions to the Kuru Dance and Music Festival as well as the Makgadikgadi Epic pairing these with direct consultation with their production teams and members of the Xere community to build a project for the people by the people.
For her part, Nkhumisang Lesheto, Miss Face of Xere, drove home the social impact that this festival will have on the youth and persons with disabilities in Xere. According to Lesheto, the introduction of the festival has seen the identification of 6 youth groups whose talents will be on display throughout the event; additionally, the organisers have committed to enabling three people with disabilities to establish their own livelihood promotion projects, while also dedicating 10 percent of the event proceeds to participating artists and exhibitors.
For a village presently dependent on social welfare safety nets, and whose founding members only had goats, donkeys, horses and cattle endowments to rely on for self-sustenance, this festival seeks to leapfrog the existent accomplishments toward sustainable development. Along with the construction of offices and exhibition and archiving premises, indigenous architectural structures that have been erected thus far include caretakers’ quarters, maternity dwelling, and a consultation site for traditional healers. Through this festival’s success, Kewagamang hopes to realise their “3-year plan to ensure that the community takes the lead on the organisation and execution of the event”, thus enabling a comprehensive hand-over from state parties to the rightful custodians on the ground.
As Botswana is invited to journey to the Boteti District, Kgosi Moipolai affirms that he will be ready to welcome his guests. The spirited man’s dream for a better, confident, self-sufficient community in Xere that is freed from substance use and other social ills has been latched onto the promise of a cultural festival set to be one for the history books. With people gaining access to authentic ways of life of Basarwa in a holistic manner, it isn’t hard to imagine that the social cohesion sought by the community may manifest as a result of this endeavour. Who knows, one day Xere, Xhumo, Madikola, Rakops may just be amalgamated into a veritable cityscape of sorts, celebrating the cultural wealth and diversity embodied by its people as Kgosi Moipolai intends. Before this, however, all roads lead to the inaugural Xere Cultural Festival as memories and fantasies await their fulfilment.