“The trick is to preserve the flavour of the writer’s voice”: Mafoko Manuscript Services

Mafoko Manuscript Services is an editing agency based in Gaborone, Botswana. It is run by Dr. Leloba S. Molema and Dr. Mary S. Lederer. They also offer translating services in Afrikaans, English, German, Setswana and Sesotho.

What’s the most common mistake writers make, in your experience?

Prepositions and references.  Prepositions are difficult in any language, so we expect that, but references need to follow a style, and that has to be done by knowing what referencing style you are required to use and following it EXACTLY for each kind of source (web page, report, book, journal article, online article, etc.). EXACTLY means including where each full stop, comma, and colon goes. In general, though, because writing is idiosyncratic, each writer’s errors are idiosyncratic.

Which is easier for you: writing or editing?

Mary:  Editing, including my own work. It is always easier for me to look at something that already exists. I’m not as imaginative as our clients!

Leloba: Editing is easier. Writing is more taxing because I have to pay attention to things like overall coherence regarding the point I’m making, the research I’ve engaged in regarding that same point, and the self-editing I carry out as I write. And when I’ve finished writing, I edit some more, and this time quickly—checking for coherence, grammar, typos, etc.

Give some examples of writing habits particular to Botswana writers, and how you tackle them in the editing process.

Mary: In any second-language editing, the trick is to preserve the flavour of the writer’s voice in the original language without forcing it into an English corset.  So we usually try to leave such things alone and to make sure that what is being written is clear and vibrant.

Leloba: I agree with Mary, especially regarding novels, short stories, poetry, plays, autobiography/memoirs, and also when translating quotations from, say, Setswana/Sesotho literature into English, in academic papers.

About academic papers: Quite a few researchers use the passive voice in the belief that they are being objective, e.g., “It is argued in this paper that what, what, what, something, something, something”. So I also quite often turn this type of sentence into the active voice, e.g., “In this paper I argue that….” The objectivity lies not in omitting the “I” but in the quality of the research and how the result of that research is put together in a coherent argument, point by point, paragraph by paragraph.

Sentences in the passive voice can also be wordy and, as a result, incomprehensible to the reader, even when grammatically correct. (Here is an example from an editors’ blog: “The globalisation of travel and tourism has led to the employment of millions more airline operatives in the service of passengers globally. The recent referral by the UN report to this phenomenon has put it under the spotlight.” Instead, “The globalisation of travel and tourism means that airlines have hired millions more operatives to serve passengers. A recent UN report highlights this phenomenon.”)

What has been your favourite editing assignment so far, and why?

Neither of us has a particular favourite assignment, mostly because we find everything we edit interesting. There are so many things to learn!  We would never have thought about classroom seating arrangement, for example, as a subject of study, but there are many more aspects to it than we realised.  We learn something new from absolutely everything we edit, especially about situations with which we have some experience, and sometimes what we edit explains things in our own lives.

You recently compiled and edited one of the most significant books in Botswana’s literary history. If resources were no object, what would your next project be?

Mary:  Hard to say.  I’ve got some stuff going at the moment that is Bessie Head-related (editing a book for young people about Bessie’s early life, digitising one of the anthologies we edited, and compiling an annotated edition of A Question of Power). One thing that has been on a back burner for lack of resources is a photo/essay book about women in Botswana.

Leloba:  I am seized with my memoir.

Learn more about Mafoko Manuscript Services here and here.


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