Brilliant! Astute! Driven! Add to these adjectives humble and you get Donald Molosi, the 29-year-old acting luminary who stands out as Botswana’s answer to the greats of Hollywood and the US’s Broadway. His love for television from a young age has catapulted him into the greats of his beat – soloist actors - making him the best ever actor of his type to come from Botswana. He has a closet full of awards to attest to his worth.
He plays primarily as a soloist though he has an ensemble presentation of all his works. It is the magnificent work on Blue, Black, and White - a depiction of the founding president Sir Seretse Khama’s life covering the period 1940 -1970 - that has catapulted him into international stardom.
For the purpose of this interview, Molosi comes into The Patriot offices putting on a loose orange shift and a pair of jeans. He is dropped by a taxi that is also prompt in picking him up; it had waited for him outside for the over one hour of the interview.
He confirms to a life of blending; not the kind to seek and rejoice on public attention. “I am a shy person. I am better and prefer one-on-one sessions. If we were many I would not have talked much,” he says – highlighting essentially what has become a defining culture for him. His most awards have come from soloist acts; he keeps a close knit group of no more than four friends and rarely goes to areas where his trendy peers go. He is not the restaurants type and does not do well in crowds.
You ask him about how he relaxes since his work is about entertaining people and the answer depicts a loner that enjoys silence and space. He does yoga every day and is junky for travel to spend time in serene quiet places. Yet this is understandable for a man who banks mostly on a clear mind to offer succinct perspectives to past and current situations. He depicts history as though he was there when it was made. The life of Sir Seretse is one. This he calls a love letter to the foundation of the country. The other is Motswana – his most opinionated work – which critiques who should be a Motswana. This, he says, is another love letter – a critical letter on the country’s history; that provides a feeling that there has been a restriction of people’s consciousness to lines that form country borders.
“It is sad and interesting that we believe that the concept of borders creates identities. There has been a loss and dishonouring of history,” he says with regard to Motswana – adding that in the process of the story line he also paid tribute to Botswana’s veteran journalists the late Rampholo Molefhe and Russ Molosiwa among others. He remains worried about whether the current crop of journalists is crafting properly what a Motswana is.
Most captivating about Molosi is the drive and focus he gives to his work. The best so far being the Blue, Black and White. It started long when as a 21-year-old drama student he was drawn to exploring the nature and form of British plays. In the process he was learning the English culture and that made him curious about his. He then wanted to do something close to his home country and the Seretse story was more than appealing. He delved in!
And so in 2007 into the next year he spent the whole year criss-crossing three continents to put together the fragmented story of Sir Seretse. He spent time in the UK where he scanned through the archives and visited the house where Seretse and Ruth stayed. In Botswana he talked to the family, Seretse’s contemporaries and even his poets (Kebatlamang Morake – former minister) and also in the USA where part of Seretse’s history was available. He immersed himself so deeply into this extra-ordinary leader that at the end, he knew his handwriting and could even sign as he did.
“I am sharing someone story. I needed to visit even his grave and be at peace. Hear his voice and be calmed.”
Once all was done and he was ready to put the story together he realised he had to get himself a good director. He found one in Hollywood and Broadway director Omar Sangare, who is legendary for his work with top actors.
The intrigue and appeal of the story was the fact that this was supposed to have been the time Seretse was happiest in love and yet had to justify it. Why the name? “The blue depicts the turmoil that Seretse and Ruth had to go through. At first it was just my artistic way of playing with colours and ultimately it dawned on me that these were also colours of our national flag.”
Another closer matter increased Molosi’s interest in Seretse the person and character. “As a 12-year-old people started talking to me about how much I resembled Khama. This was to become a call for me to learn more about my history. When I acted the role, I worked hard to give it my all so that people would not accuse me of being an impersonator.”
He relishes in the Khama family support, having created a person and character that some of the grand children never knew. “One of Seretse’s daughters in law has personally thanked me for bringing alive the father-in-law she never knew,” he says.
“They came to watch me when I played the Seretse for the first time in August 2012. I am thankful that they see honesty and love from me. They have allowed me to continue to write and play Seretse as much as I can. They even involve me in Seretse’s remembrance occasions.”
Yet the question of whether he earned him vast economic benefits is met with a modest reply. “I am not looking at a quick buck.” He has written a screen play that is yet to be filmed. “Timing of this is key- 2015 into 2016 coincides with 35 years since Seretse died and it is 50 years of independence for the country. I am aware that there is a Hollywood movie coming on Sir Seretse and I will be determining how my project will be handled,” he says.
This looks more like the beginning of a new phase for him where he will be moving into creating screenplays of his theatre works. All he has produced so far exist in short YouTube recordings as teasers to attract curious theatre lovers to his shows.
His future plan also includes setting up a production company for film and theatre and a school to train artists. He hates borders and restrictions which is well encapsulated in his Motswana production. He would prefer that his theatre school attract people from across the globe and not Botswana alone. He is a citizen of the universe. “I don’t want to be in any area for good. I am in constant motion and belong to different arts economic areas. Wherever a good story calls I go,” he says, confirming an interest from Ghana for him to explore a similar play like the one he did for Sir Seretse.
His immediate performances are in Kenya and Botswana. He will be playing Blue, Black and White in Kenya in late March and May and feature in the Maitisong Festival with his ensemble presentation of Today It’s Me with a cast that includes American actor Donn Swaby and locals Kgomotso Tshwenyego, Lebogang Motubudi, Teto Mokaila and Zanele Tumelo.