In Sesotho, the language of Lesotho, the words “Ba re e ne re…” mean “They say it was said…” Similar to “once upon a time,” this is how folktales begin in Sesotho. The words have another deeper meaning however, they represent the life and legacy of a phenomenal spirit called Liepollo Rantekoa.
Liepollo was born in Lesotho, though she did much of her schooling in South Africa, first in Bloemfontein, then in Cape Town at the University of Cape Town. Her parents wanted her to study accounting, but she was a creative type who had no time for a safe and practical career. On the contrary, she wanted to better understand and critique history, politics and culture so she switched to sociology, taking classes from UCT’s Centre for African Studies.
The classroom couldn’t contain her, however, and she found greater stimulation in the arts and literature world, eventually joining the team at Chimurenga Magazine, the rabble rousing pan-African journal. With Chimurenga she found a family that challenged her intellectually, offered her creative freedom and helped her unlearn and dream.
Yet home has a way of calling and Liepollo felt a responsibility to bring back to Lesotho all the energy she felt about literary culture and the importance of reading and writing for a society’s growth. It was with this energy that Liepollo organised the Ba re e ne re Literature Festival in March of 2011 with guests that included Keorapetse Kgositsile, Lesego Rampolokeng, Njabulo Ndebele and many others. She had never done anything this big on her own before and she wanted to prove to herself what she was capable of. The first of it’s kind in Lesotho, the festival turned out to be a great success, attracting people from a variety of backgrounds and ages including writers, editors, publishers, poets, students, professors and ministers.
It was Liepollo’s desire to continue with the evolution of Ba re e ne re. She dreamt of community literacy centers, book publishing and more. Though stories, as she knew well, wind and bend. One morning in September 2012, while working on another project, the vehicle in which she rode rolled off the road and tumbled down a hill. She died in the accident, just two days after her 29th birthday. The driver of the vehicle was a young German volunteer, who had been driving recklessly and not heeding his passengers’ requests to be cautious and slow down. He sustained only minor injuries but was flown back to Germany for “medical treatment” and never held accountable.
In response to this tragic end to an incredible life, we, her friends and family found catharsis in working to establish a legacy for Liepollo and to continue the important work she had started by reviving the Ba re e ne re Literature Festival. Our new festival team, led by Lineo Segoete, experienced many challenges including planning via different time zones, delayed funding and more recently Lesotho’s political impasse. Nevertheless, through creative tenacity all roadblocks were overcome and the Ba re e ne re Literature Festival was finally reborn September 5-7, 2014. Here’s the festival trailer:
Joining our conversations about how to cultivate a new generation of readers and writers in Southern Africa were fantastic international guests Niq Mhlongo, Yewande Omotoso, Keamogetsi Molapong and the team from Chimurenga, as well as great local authors and poets such as Mpho Makara, Patrick Bereng, Motebang Sekhohola and Teboho Rantsoabe. We didn’t know what to expect, but the audience turned up ready to engage and the festival proved to be a truly valuable experience (plus sessions were broadcast live on Chimurenga’s www.panafricanspacestation.org.za). Young people especially, demonstrated that they have beautiful stories to tell and the will to share them.
At the end of the final day of the festival, the organizing team and the guests created a new ritual by visiting Liepollo at her place of rest. With the setting sun blazing on the horizon, we cleansed her stone and gave thanks. Liepollo, the road was long and rough, but inspired by you we persevered. Ba re e ne re lives on and will continue to evolve with new chapters, as the tales of the storyteller. Ba re e ne re.