Call for Submissions for Petlwana Issue 7

Petlwana is open for submissions for the 2023 June issue! The theme is Identity. Who/what am I? Who/what are we? We will accept broad interpretations of the theme so feel free to explore!

The closing date for submissions is March 30th 2022.

See the submission guidelines here.


“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.

“We need to think of our art as a business”: N&M Productions

N&M Productions PTY (Ltd) is a 100% citizen and women-owned entertainment production company and script-writing agency, with a vision to create a space where all Africans feel represented, respected and above all, entertained. It is owned and managed by Serena Serene Mmifinyana and Nikita Neo Mokgware. Their work includes UPICtv police drama The Star and Multichoice podcast This Is Africa.

What excites you most about writing for the screen?

Nikita: Writing for screen holds the promise of seeing it in action before your very eyes in ways you only dream of. I enjoy thinking of ways to make my story not just fun to read, but also fun to watch play out in front of you. And it’s not just the characters, but also camera movements, editing methods, and creative special effects that can take your story and elevate it to new heights! So many options, so many more stories to be told and utilized; I mean wow! How exciting is that? 

Serena: It’s always such a surreal moment to see your writing transform from paper to screen. It’s a wonder to see the work that you put in go through the transformative processes of production to finally be translated to a visual platform for all to see. As a media person, I am aware that media shapes and influences our communities, the world we live in. To be able to contribute to that – to teach, to entertain, to represent and celebrate our people – is truly surreal!

What’s the most important ingredient in a thriving film industry, and how does Botswana’s industry fare in that regard?

Nikita: There are many things that go into a thriving film industry, and it’s hard to pinpoint one. Off the top of my head, I would say that a thriving film industry relies heavily on collaboration between filmmakers. We need to utilize all of our collected skills and talents to make sure the work coming out of the country is top quality, and all local. Our own industry is still learning this.

Serena: Business skills are a must in any industry, and currently our film industry is lagging behind. As creative and talented as we are as Batswana, we need to think of our art as a business because we too must put food on the table. The art of business allows us to explore larger markets, to pitch to investors and stakeholders so we can develop and thrive.

In the movie of your life, what would the opening scene look like? Who would play you?

Nikita: The opening scene would probably be quite melancholic. I enjoy such emotions being portrayed on screen, and so I see my own movie starting with that, then leading into a more joyful space; a sun rising, or a child alone on a playground being approached by a new friend. I’m not sure who would play me to be honest. My first love was acting, so probably myself!  

Serena: I see a little girl stretching her arms out to the sky, eyes sparkling with passion and wonder at all that life can offer… I am a big fan of discovering new talent and would love to see a beautiful, Motswana girl make her debut on screen and captivate the world with her talent and aura.

What’s the biggest misconception about screenwriting?

Nikita: That it’s easy. Everyone thinks screenwriting is far easier than the different writing methods and honestly, as someone who has dabbled in novel and playwriting, it’s so incredibly difficult. You have to balance character dialogue with action lines. Figure out camera movements and any editing mechanics that need to be mentioned. Then there’s page count matching however long the episode or film needs to be, being aware of budget if it’s a small project and that scenes don’t end up costing a producer an arm and leg; so much to consider. Notice how I haven’t even mentioned the story itself yet! It’s so much fun, but it’s not simple or easy by any means to get a (good) script done.

Serena: Writing is easy; just make up a story! That is far from the truth! It takes research and planning, consulting and editing, constant re-writing and endless sleepless nights to develop a script. We create worlds and birth characters that our audience should be able to relate to, and that our producers and broadcasters are satisfied with; if we don’t hit the mark, it’s back to the drawing board! Screenwriting is a process, it’s a skill that only gets better with each script that we write.

Which local story, folktale, myth or real-life story, would you love to bring to the screen and why?

Nikita: My friend once mentioned all the folktales and myths that surround Mochudi, the area. I’ve dreamt of making a series based on them for the longest time. Setswana folktales are just as engaging as those from other cultures, so it would be nice to have our own stories be part of film history!

Serena: There are so many stories in Botswana that I would love to share with the world – our history, our folktales, our mythical creatures… However one that has always stood out to me is the story of Matsieng; to see Botswana’s first ancestor on screen leaving footprints behind on his adventure in a new world… What did he do? What did he see? Was he alone?

You can learn more about N&M Productions here and see their work here and here.

Petlwana Journal Open for Submissions

THEME: Secrets & Lies

Petlwana is open for submissions for the 2022 June issue!

Going forward, Petlwana will be published biannually. The June issue will have a different theme each year, while the December issue will be open to all topics.

The theme for June 2022 is: Secrets and Lies. We’re looking for stories, poems and short plays that deal with deadly deceptions, mirthful misunderstandings and intriguing indiscretions. Be creative! We’ll accept a broad interpretation of the theme. Little white lies, lies of omission, lies that save lives or end them; family secrets, political secrets, magical secrets; things left unsaid, tricks and gambits.

The closing date for submissions is March 10th 2022.

Check out the submission guidelines here.

Photo by lascot studio on

Inspiring a generation: Gaborone Book Festival Trust

All photos courtesy of Press Photo and Gaborone Book Festival Trust

The Gaborone Book Festival Trust was founded in 2017 by Kenanao and Keikantse Phele and organized the first Gaborone Book Festival in 2018. Their mission is to encourage and inspire people of all ages in Gaborone and beyond to read and share the transformative power of reading. In addition to the Festival, the Gaborone Book Festival Trust also hosts monthly book reviews, book nights and a School Outreach Programme.

What drove you to start the Gaborone Book Festival?

We were driven by our love for reading and realizing that Botswana doesn’t have a literary festival. As such we felt obliged to create this multiple tier platform where we can we can highlight the literary works of Batswana and that of other African authors. Furthermore, we wanted to create a legacy of inspiring a generation of readers and writers.

What’s the last book you read that had a profound effect on you?

It’s not the last book but one of the best I have read this year.  It has to be Nanjala Nyabola’s Travelling While Black: Essays Inspired by a Life on the Move. This is not a travel memoir as she sates in the book but it looks at issues of migration and immigration, based on her travels across the world. She discusses these issues in her essays with so much clarity and brilliance. It’s an essential read especially now given how the world of travel, migration and immigration keeps on changing due to Covid-19.

What do you hope to see the Gaborone Book Festival Trust achieving in the next five years?

We want to grow our School Outreach Programme because we have seen the dire need of literary activities in schools especially those in hard to reach places or low income. Furthermore, we want to venture into research in order to know the reading habits of Batswana in order to influence policy at government level and CSR for private organization. They are other book ecosystem places we want to venture into like specialized publishing of certain genres like history. Botswana history is grossly undocumented.

How can people support the Gaborone Book Festival Trust?

Anybody who wants to partner or support us can reach out to us via social media where we are active. Our email is We are always looking for partners and collaborators. And to us, no partnership is small.

We live in the digital age, where we can get all our information and entertainment online. Why do books still matter?

Books will always matter – whether physical or e-books. There is magic and space in books.

You can learn more about the GBF here or here.

The Veteran: Lauri Kubuitsile

Lauri Kubuitsile is a two-time winner of The Golden Baobab Prize for African children’s writing, the winner of the Botswana Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture’s Botswerere Prize for Creative Writing, and a finalist for the 2011 Caine Prize, among others. She has more than 30 books published for a range of age groups and her short stories are published around the world. Her books are prescribed reading in schools in Botswana and South Africa, and she has eight titles in the internationally successful Cambridge Reading Adventures series published by Cambridge University Press UK.

Her historical novel, The Scattering (Penguin 2016), won Best International Fiction Book 2017 at the Sharjah International Book and was recommended by the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction (UK) 2017. The North American rights have been bought by Waveland Press (USA), it will soon be published in German by Interkontinental, and it has been optioned for a film by a German production company.

Her second historical novel But Deliver Us from Evil was published by Penguin in May 2019. It was long-listed for the 2020 NOMMO award. In May 2020, her legal thriller/romance, Revelations, was published by Love Africa Press.

She lives happily in Mahalapye with her daughter, grandson, three dogs and two cats.

How important is accuracy in historical fiction, i.e. do you feel compelled to speak on behalf those who lived through the time periods you write about, or are you more focused on the particulars of your own story?

Of course, historical accuracy is important, or you will lose credibility with your reader. And you need that research to understand the environment your characters live in —always— not just in historical fiction, or they will not ring authentic.

Yes, the story is important, but often the events of the time you are writing about will change your story. For example, in The Scattering, when I started, I believed that Riette and Tjipuka would meet in Mahalapye, it was part of why I started that book. Once I did the research, I realised that would be impossible because when the Baherero were given land in the Central District, first in Serowe and then in Mahalapye, it was in the 1920s, it would be too late for the events of my story to work. So they had to meet in Ngamiland.

As to including real people in historical fiction, my method is to attempt to research as much as I can about the person, from all sides. For example, in But Deliver Us From Evil, Kgosi Sechele plays a minor but important role. I tried to read everything I could about him, accounts from others, writings from him, and biographies telling me more about his life. But from there, as a novelist, you must take leaps of the imagination. If I know his writings on religion, his harsh life as a boy being forced to roam the lands of Southern Africa as nearly a destitute and beggar, to have had everything stolen from him and his mother by people greedy for power, you can make that leap to speculate about how he might treat someone like Nthebolang and her mother when they come to him for refuge.

What would you say is the biggest lesson we have not learned from the past?

In both of my published historical novels and my unpublished one, I deal with the biggest travesty of humanity—our inability to learn that war ends nothing. The other issue very near to my heart, and something I come back to time and again in my novels and short stories, is that of our need to make connections and bridges to each other, never boundaries and walls. We seem unable to change this self-defeating behaviour. I suppose these two issues feed into each other. Those who champion war also champion our differences.

Of all the characters you’ve created, which is your favourite, and why?

There are so many; I have hundreds of short stories, published and not, now more than thirty plus published books. At the moment, I’m working on a manuscript I’ve been writing for about two years or so, called Reflecting Light. There’s a little girl who enters towards the end of the book, called Penny, who I have a special fondness for. She’s so resilient and positive after a horrid time she’s had, and she has a lovely open heart. She helps everyone around her to see their way. I think about her a lot. She’s certainly up there with my favourites.

Would you rather re-read one book for the rest of your life, or read only the first chapters of a hundred new books?

Neither. Each would be its own sort of Hell. Well, I do pathologically hate excerpts of all sorts, reading them makes me bite-y. I like reviews of books much better. So, because of that, I guess, if I must choose, I would choose to read one book over and over. I rarely re-read books, even my favourites, there are just too many books in the world that I want to read. What I do nowadays, though, is if I read a book I love on my Kindle (and since I’m rarely in places with bookstores of any quality so I read most things as ebooks at the moment) when I do get to a bookstore, I will buy the book and read it again. I find that the experience of reading an ebook is slightly different from reading a book, and if I love a book, I want to get every last bit of enjoyment out of it; I’m by nature a greedy person.

 A book I recently did that with was Aminatta Forna’s Happiness. I love her books; I’ve read everything by her, both fiction and nonfiction, except for her most recent travel memoir, which I have decided I will not read on my Kindle, only as a book. I suppose I could read Happiness over and over again if life was so cruel as to deny me books. But then, honestly, there are so many books like that, and, frankly, I don’t like this question.

What are you currently working on?

Nothing. At least nothing of my own. COVID has done my head in, too much fear and chaos to settle my mind to write anything creative and of my own. I’ve spent nearly this entire time ghostwriting for others. For a client in America, I’ve written two biographies of serial killers and I’m currently writing a book on Benjamin Franklin. These short, heavily researched nonfiction books seem to suit my COVID-monkey-mind.

I feel a light at the end of this horrible tunnel now that vaccines are here, and even my writing brain feels that. I’m about to start a quite long writing workshop (over some months) with a writer in UK that I really respect. I’m hoping this breath of fresh air will bring my creativity back.

You can connect with Lauri here.

Independence Day

“African writers have no obligation to anyone except themselves, they should write what they want – always.” 

Lauri Kubuitsile

As Botswana celebrates her 55th year of independence, Petlo Literary Arts ponders the question of independence, both in a political and in a literary context. What does it mean to be free, to be independent? Are we independent, as Africans, as writers? How does our writing affect the freedom and independence of others?

Here are the views of several writers, those you already know and those you should definitely look up!

Photo by Pixabay on

On Defining Independence

“Independence for me is creative freedom; being able to create one’s art form, be it writing, drawing, music, whatever it may be, without fear or insecurity. It’s also support to create because that’s a thing artists don’t get a lot of and a very important need for all creatives.”

Kearoma Mosata, writer, blogger, social media consultant

“I’m thinking about the freedom of ‘representation.’ With regard to communities of color in the United States, our stories and histories are not told accurately. We are also presented in the context of struggle and not celebration. I think independence within art is the freedom to accurately reflect the lived experiences of marginalized groups. It is the freedom to use ‘representation’ as a means to disrupt the European status quo when it comes to these Eurocentric standards we often fall victim to within our own creativity. It is the freedom to go beyond these standards to appreciate and celebrate different art forms.”

Senecia Curtis, writer and educationist

“I would define creative independence as the freedom to explore and express your creative impulses without fear of judgment or any other negative consequences. It’s having the space to create authentically and that space has to exist within ourselves before it can materialize in the physical world.”

Kibo Ngowi, writer

“It would mean creative freedom. No self-censorship, not being censored or suppressed by a body or individual. It means creating works that are true to me and my environment (real or imagined), as opposed to creating works for the sake of validation, the need to fit in or to please others.”

Sharon Tshipa, writer

“Independence is just a work of art. Fiction. Factual fiction. It has authors and authoresses. It is a brilliant story. But the writers are a different colour, nation and people with different interests and cares. We are not independent. We are just basimane ba kgosing. In short, it is a lie.”

Tshupo Matsogo Matontshe, writer and actor
Photo by Reynaldo #brigworkz Brigantty on

On How Our Independence as Writers Can Affect the Independence of Others

“Traditionally poets were the only members of the community, who didn’t have to be of royal blood, who could tell off the chief. He would then have to reward them with a cow or something. It was the poet’s job to lament, to speak on behalf of the people. The poet had a way with language so he could convey the meaning without causing the king to lose face. Interestingly enough, the government has borrowed this traditional mentality. So I’m allowed to say what I want to say as long as I’m respectful, but that’s not a condition from them, it’s just my understanding of our relationship. “

TJ Dema, poet (from an interview on, 2012)

“I’m a firm believer that language and how we use language determines how we act, and how we act then determines our lives and other people’s lives.”

Ntozake Shange, writer

“Disgust with injustice may sharpen the desire for justice. Readers who don’t see this connection merely wish to be entertained, and I have neither skill nor desire to turn the agony of a people into entertainment.”

Ayi Kwei Armah, writer

“Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, writer

“Fiction can play a great role in advancing different types of knowledge, in making people aware that science and technology does not all come from one part of the world. Because of colonialism, Africa as a whole suffers from a serious lack of confidence, and this contributes to poverty and dependence. Africans look at their own sciences and think of it as primitive, and backward, and evil. No country can ‘develop’ if they do not see science and technology in their own past.”

Dilman Dila, writer and filmmaker (from an interview on, 2019)

“Art is magic, which makes us magicians. We have great power and we can use that power for good or ill. I think it takes courage to be a writer, but it also takes discipline. I owe it to anyone who will read what I’ve written to cultivate wisdom and discernment, to know how to wield my pen. We want to cast spells that open doors, not close them.”

Cheryl S. Ntumy, writer

“I am building a stairway to the stars. I have the authority to take the whole of mankind up there with me. That is why I write.”

Bessie Head, writer

Of Independence and Speeches

By Barolong Seboni

(From Thinking Allowed, Morula Publishers, 2006)

Independence has come and independence has gone. It is now about a month later and the dust has settled, so now you can relax, ruminate and digest, both mentally and biologically, all the proceedings of September 30th. You can digest the food and you can digest the speeches. And I am quite certain gore just as you cannot remember the food that you ate, except that it left you with indigestion and a sour taste in your mouth, you probably do not recall any of the eloquent speeches, except that you couldn’t quite swallow them!

Well don’t worry yourself too much, it happens to the best of us. Actually, I’m not being completely honest. There is an Independence speech that I will always remember. I heard it when I was twenty-two. Perhaps it was the same speech modified and updated (not upgraded!) over the years. Who knows?

Anyway, because thinking is allowed, this week I have delved deep into the recesses of the memory bank and have unearthed a gem of a speech that glows faintly and dull until it is exposed into the daylight with loudness of thought.

I will attempt to present it in dramatic form because indeed it was dramatic. The speech was delivered by a very eloquent Minister and party stalwart, who is still in the high echelons of power even today. For reasons of discretion and also for reasons quite obvious to all who know this modest gentleman who would shy away from the instant fame and popularity that would become his chaperone if his name was presently disclosed (for indeed such men would find it so burdensome to have greatness thrust upon them without foreknowledge!), we shall simply refer to the erudite personage as The Honourable Minister for Independence Speeches, MP, MBE, PH (Primary Higher). For our convenience we shall simply abbreviate and shorten him to T.H.I.S.

The setting is a moderately populated village of Botswana. The villagers have come out in their hundreds to the kgotla. It is not immediately clear if the people are there for the speeches or for the slaughtered beast and the free Chibuku.

The Minister (T.H.I.S.) addresses us from an elevated platform under the shade. He is flanked by the Chief, the Council Chairman and two or three other party people, the most notable one being the Councillor who is quite inebriated and intoxicated by more than just the presence of the Minister. He was making hay while the sun shone upon him. To put it quite plainly, he was drunk like a skunk on the windfall of liquor brought by independence.

The ministerial throat was officially cleared and allowance was made for the interpreter to clear his, and the business of speechifying began.

A Little Literary History

In the spirit of Independence Day, let us liberate ourselves from the myth that African literature is a recent development. We have always had stories in our blood!


And now for a little patriotism! We might be catching on to these facts a few years late, but fortunately, knowledge is timeless! Check out this list of BW “Did You Knows”.

Cool Facts About Botswana

Gaborone Mall


The Mall

is an eye awakening

from the honey-heavy dew

of slumber that had settled

on its eyelashes:

the brilliant rays of the golden promises

skying the horizon.

The Mall

yawns ajar;

glassy-steel dentures open

beckon you to come-in-and-browse.

It is the tricky, sticky tongue of an adder

jetting out to catch the unsuspecting fly.

Telephones tinkling

tills clinking

with tikkie-box precision,

receiving cents sinking.

The Mall is the sound of lips:

kissing lovers, kissing brothers

pursing together into whispers of gossip;

office girls with telephone tone,

hissing in switchboard frequencies

It is the pouted lips of fat businessmen,

gaming on you to offer a smack on the cheek

before you turn the other…

It is the voice

of the Daily Newsense


Radio Botswana the station of stagnation

The Shrill voice

Of that only man

standing by the Capitol Cinema

saying sooth, prophesying

to the wind, the birds

the hustle-bustle of city Gaborone

The Mall

is the scrawny hand

of that grandma,

cracked like the disused clay-pot

or parched terrain no longer able to

support grass,

begging for Pula.


warm in her rug of poverty,

crouching against the stone-cold grey monument

leaning on memories of forgotten regiments

who fought foreign wars.

It is the nifty hand of the urchin:

Mahlalela dispossessed

picking pocket;

wealth repossessed

picking noses

pricking consciences…

The Mall is the neon twilight;

an electric eye blinking


watching you,

watching me,