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Molele the interminable sculptor trader

16 Aug 2023

At around 9:00 am, his usual spot is still so empty, but his fellow hawkers urged patience as they indicated that he will arrive in about an hour.

He does not usually come to work early, so they said, and true to their word, a few minutes after 10:00 am he arrived laden with three large bags.

Taking his time, he neatly lays down his rag, and from his bags, he removes his artefacts and slowly displays them. As if running impatiently for their turn, a family of tiny wooden dogs ogles out an opening from one bag, seemingly ready to bolt out.

The way he diligently lays out his artefacts is a testament to the importance that the arrangement plays in attracting potential customers; a number of elephants in trumpet are grouped on the edge of the mat. Right in front of them, three baboons sit in concert at the corner of the rag, one with its hands covering its mouth, the other its ears while the last one covers its eyes.

“This symbolizes a symbiotic relationship, each baboon depends on the others for a sense they do not have. It’s one for all and all for one,” he explained with a rare moment of a smile, obviously deriving pleasure in his self-perceived wisdom of unravelling the meaning of the sculpture.

“A piece similar to that one was sold last week,” said a neighbouring female hawker, pointing to a Maasai warrior that was sculpted in Kenya.

George Molele, a 78-year-old native of Ramotswa has been going about the same routine since the 1980s in the Main mall, and behind him is the Botswana Book Centre, a stationery shop that together with Molele has similarly seen the transformation of the mall over the years.

“I have been here for as long as I can remember. We used to be a handful of guys selling artifacts here but some have since departed, either through death or relocation to other towns,” he said. Molele is a man of few words, and chatting with him requires one to be so close to him as he is also hard in hearing.

He said his business of selling artefacts has sustained him over the years despite profits waning over the years as competition between hawkers increased at the main mall.

He, however, said the profit he makes was still enough to sustain him, including rentals where he resides at Old Naledi. Now that old age has caught up with him, he said he was planning to relocate to his native village but the only thing holding him back was that he still had to build a house of his own.

Molele attributed his longevity in the business of selling sculptures to patience, indicating that one can go for the whole day having sold only a few, yet they still had to come back the next day. “Lack of patience is the reason most sellers come and go. They will come for a few months, then lose patience and either relocate to other areas or quit altogether,” he said.

Having been in the business for so many years, one would assume that Molele sculpted his own artefacts, but he conceded that the craft has eluded him.

“I have tried my hand at sculpting, but I have never mastered it. I only make a few decors but not sculptures. I then resorted to buying from foreigners such as Zimbabweans, Malawians and Kenyans who visit this side more often,” he said.

A few metres away from him operates one Baeti Ramodise who also sells similar sculptures, albeit at a much larger scale than Molele. The Lecheng native is the closest of buddies to the old man. “Whenever I run out of cash for basics, he is the first person I seek help from, and he similarly does the same if he is financially challenged,” Molele had earlier whispered about Ramodise.

Ramodise also has some friendly fire to return about Molele. “I came here about 15 years back and the old man was already here long before. I found him with others who have since passed on. He is a good chap who is easier to work with, and despite us trading in similar items, there has never been any rivalry between us, but just mutual friendship,” he said.

Ramodise also noted Molele’s hard of hearing and low voice, saying that oftentimes, they have to assist him in selling his artefacts when there is a challenge of communication between him and his customers. He said other customers have even come to think that he was actually mute.

As a result of having been in the business for so long, Ramodise said Molele has made good friends, both foreigners and locals, who often just gave him money freely when he was in need. A diehard Gaborone United supporter, Molele said he has seen much of the transformation of the main mall, with only a few structures such as the Presidents Hotel, Post Office and the Book Centre, while the bulk of the others erupted under his watch.

At the end of the interview, a request for his contact number hits a snag.

“I have never owned a cellphone in my life ever since the gadgets were introduced, even the cheapest of them, never,” he smiled to the shock of our ears but indicated that should a Good Samaritan gift him one, he would gladly accept as the gadget could actually come in handy for the running of his business. Ends

Source : BOPA

Author : Olekantse Sennamose

Location : GABORONE

Event : Interview

Date : 16 Aug 2023