Preserving the Tswana Culture for Future Leaders

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Picture of Princess Meriam Sefanyetso

By Nomfundo Xulu-Lentsoane 

She sits at the back of the room at the Seolong Community Hall. Dressed as any other community member, Princess Meriam Sefanyetso maintains an unassuming presence. There is no indication of her status as a Kgosana (Princess) who holds the highest traditional leadership position in the Moses Kotane Local Community.

Her father, Kgosi (King) NJ Sefanyatso, has entrusted the responsibilities to the 44-year-old mother of two as his eldest child due to his ailing health. Despite her elevated status, she exudes humility. Sefanyetso displays familiarity with every community member, addressing each by name.

Her mother, MmaKgosi Dirati Caroline Sefanyetso, silently takes the front row at the engagement attended by almost 80 community members, mostly female traditional leaders and traditional leaders’ wives. 

The sessions, integral to the Department’s Rock Leadership Programme, focussed on various topics, including:

  • Social and Behavioural Change Programs
  • Prevention and Treatment of Alcohol and Substance Abuse (KeMoja)
  • Families Matter! Programme (FMP)
  • HIV Prevention
  • Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF)
  • ChommY
  • Yolo
  • Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

When it was Princess Meriam’s opportunity to address the community, she expressed her unhappiness with the municipality but thanked the community for being supportive of one another. “Today’s programme was mainly on FMP – a subject close to my heart,” she says as we go to where she practises what she preaches – Ikageng ya Seolong Museum. 

“As you heard when I was addressing the attendees at the hall, family and community unity is extremely close to my heart. This is why we have this museum today. Family really matters,” she expresses. 

The museum, she says, is considered a heritage site by the community of the Moses Kotane Local Municipality. 

Some of the programmes that the museum includes in its daily activities are the FMP and the Ke Moja programme from the Department of Social Development. “We have door to door visits to find out if any interventions are needed and contact the relevant help such as social workers, health-care practitioners and the SAPS,” she says and adds that the museum has become a home for children, and parents alike, because it offers basic psychosocial support services and when funds are available, the community receives food as well. 

“Our aim is not only to teach the children about their democratic rights, responsibilities, culture and heritage but also to teach parents about positive parenting. We hold regular workshops and family days where families can get together and share ideas and children can play while being educated about who they are and where they come from.”

“We are fully aware that times have changed drastically and that children are now more interested in their online lifestyles but we also believe that knowing where you come from also shapes one’s character,” says the employer of five community members. 

“This development, as you see it, was a school which was built by my great grandfathers in 1925. They had sold all their cattle and all their livestock to ensure that this village had a school where children from the village could at least receive a decent education,” says the Princess. 

Nostalgia washes over her as she recalls her experiences as a learner in this place. Seated in the museum, real-life examples of seTswana food, traditional outfits from the past, and cultural artefacts surround her. 

Near the museum stands a sheltered seolong, a sacred anthill, symbolising the village’s name. According to Princess Meriam Sefanyetso, in their culture, the seolong holds divine protective powers. This belief led their grandfathers to decline an offer from the Department of Education to demolish the three mud-built school buildings (ranging from sub-A to standard five, now known as grade one and grade seven). Instead, they preserved these structures, resisting the construction of a modern face brick school precinct.

The Sefanyetso clan, together with the community of the Moses Kotane Local Municipality, opted to rather ensure that they would create a communal space for the comradery to remain. This was after the learners, teachers and all the plausible resources from the school had been relocated to another end of the village due to safety concerns and to ensure that learning was not disrupted. 

“We chose to open a museum to ensure that the heritage of our culture would still be showcased and that the community, young and old, would be able to come here to learn about not only us as one of the Tswana chiefdoms, but also about the Tswana culture in totality. We also, through the assistance of various government departments, were able to encompass programmes to help children and parents learn about the importance of social behaviour change through cultural activities, arts and culture,” says the Kgosatsana.

Princess Meriam Sefanyetso, adding to her conclusion, says the name of the museum alone is a form of motivation. 

The word ‘Ikageng’ translates to ‘build for yourself’ in seTswana. Princess Meriam Sefanyetso emphasises that the museum is not exclusively for the Sefanyetso family or the Seolong village. Instead, it is intended for everyone who enters its premises to leave a lasting impact and to contribute to creating positive social change. “We must build together in order to create a better future for generations to come,” she says with a smile. 

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