A dif­fer­ent class

Award-win­ning ac­tor, writer and play­wright Don­ald Molosi (35) is lev­er­ag­ing his tal­ents to trans­form ed­u­ca­tion in his na­tive Botswana


Tell us about your up­bring­ing and the im­pact it had on your ca­reer.

I grew up in Ma­ha­lapye, a small town in cen­tral Botswana, in a closely-knit, sin­gle­mother-headed house­hold along­side my el­der brother. It wasn’t a typ­i­cal Tswana home – our mom was a lin­guist and we al­ways had a great ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the is­sues of the day and healthy de­bate. I knew I wanted to be an ac­tor at the age of four and while at high school in Gaborone, I got the op­por­tu­nity to per­form at the UN head­quar­ters in New York City and be men­tored by Nel­son Man­dela and Graça Machel. That ex­pe­ri­ence has re­mained with me.

You stud­ied drama and theatre in the USA and the UK. How did you ad­just to those en­vi­ron­ments?

I was es­cap­ing an artis­tic vac­uum – Botswana didn’t even have a TV chan­nel back then. Spencer Clark from Gla­di­a­tor wand Christine Baran­ski’s (Chicago, The Big Bang The­ory) daugh­ter were my class­mates at high school in Con­necti­cut. Later, I was men­tored by the likes of David Oyelowo and Chi­we­tel Ejio­for at the Lon­don Academy of Mu­sic & Dra­matic Art and learnt about the in­dus­try be­yond act­ing tech­nique. David and I spoke the same “lan­guage” when we ap­peared to­gether in A United King­dom.

The West ac­knowl­edges the arts as a way of pre­serv­ing mem­o­ries and hold­ing a mir­ror to so­ci­ety. With­out re­flec­tion, we can’t move for­ward. In Botswana and other parts of Africa, how­ever, cre­atives are still treated as pari­ahs. We need to con­front that boldly, as I’ve been do­ing through my TedX talks and es­says. Too of­ten, cor­po­rates bring in per­form­ers as hu­man juke­boxes – merely sideshows for en­ter­tain­ment.

Tell us more about Dear Up­right African, your move­ment for ed­u­ca­tional change in Botswana.

What started out as a TedX talk and es­say has now be­come a fully-fledged move­ment to lobby for cur­ricu­lum change in Botswana to re­flect African his­tory more ac­cu­rately. I’ve ob­tained the sup­port of Botswana lead­er­ship and the likes of Graça Machel and Arch­bishop Emer­i­tus Des­mond Tutu are also back­ing it. Any move­ment needs a man­i­festo, so when I lobby in Par­lia­ment, I have a list of con­cerns on hand. This is why I’ve writ­ten a book, which is set for re­lease in North Amer­ica shortly. I’m not a full-time ac­tivist, but I’m not go­ing to give up un­til change has been ef­fected. Lib­er­ate the class­room and maybe they’ll even start teach­ing drama and mu­sic, which will seed my vo­ca­tion. Botswana is the only African coun­try with­out a na­tional theatre. There’s a lack of po­lit­i­cal will and a fear that artists might speak truth to power. Maybe that will change too. I love Botswana, but it’s a heart­break­ing place. It’s the lead­ing di­a­mond pro­ducer in the world, but there’s crush­ing poverty every­where. I want to hold a mir­ror to this rigid, cor­rupt so­ci­ety.

How have you man­aged to bal­ance your var­i­ous in­ter­ests?

My mom died when I was 16. I knew I had to pur­sue my dream, while feed­ing my­self when I wasn’t per­form­ing. That turned me into a metic­u­lous plan­ner. I have three ca­reer tracks – film, theatre and writ­ing. Noth­ing in my ca­reer has been co­in­ci­den­tal, as I work to­wards tar­gets con­sis­tently. Plan­ning my life up to 10 years in ad­vance has been in­cred­i­bly ben­e­fi­cial.

You’ve ap­peared on Broad­way and in Hol­ly­wood block­busters. Do you pre­fer film or theatre?

They strengthen each other. I like do­ing theatre be­cause of the dif­fi­culty of per­form­ing live and of­ten alone, along with the thrill of in­stant feed­back from the au­di­ence. With film, I en­joy hav­ing to think about how the cam­era captures me be­fore­hand and its global reach and po­ten­tial to build my brand.

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