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Erotica in Setswana: Tuelo Gabonewe’s “Dinotshi” proves that every language has all the words in needs


Understandably there is a lot of excitement around the new book by Tuelo Gabonewe. “Dinotshi” (Xarra Books, 2021) is the first full length erotica novel in Setswana. This is huge and exciting.

The story is set in Joburg. Characters are young, adventurous, they get caught up in webs, they are stung by bees while enjoying honey. Professor Shole Shole uses the word “mejolakako”. However, what excites me the most is the opportunity the author has given this Southern African language to grow. There is no language that grows without it being written.

Now here, in the year 2021, we have a young and daring novelist who writes a book that he hopes his mother would not read. (I doubt he is going home this coming Christmas). In the process of writing this novel he creates new words, new terminology, he normalises calling things by their own names, he distigmatises sex.

When we, Setswana-speaking people, talk about how one feels before having sex, we would talk about “maikutlo a seeng” meaning foreign or unusual feelings. This novelist disagrees. In his novel, sex is as natural as breathing and can no longer be called “maikutlo a seeng”.

In this case Gabonewe is liberating a language that calls reproductive organs “mapele” or “matlase” (basically talking about where the organs are located instead of what they are). This reminds me of an article written by our brother, Professor Thapelo Otlogetswe where he is arguing that “lefoko ‘masepa’ ga se tlhapa/thogano”.

Gabonewe writes well, but in this case the biggest achievement, at least from where I stand, is how he has stretched the language and given it an opportunity to grow.

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