How taboo kills the transfer of information

How taboo kills the transfer of information

Even as I stare at the thick mists covering the mountains just above the wine-lands to the east of the city of Cape Town, I know that there are mountains beyond the mist, and though I cannot see them for the thick mists; I know that they are there, for they have always been there even before the advent of human history, and possibly will still be there after mankind somehow manages to wipe itself off the face of the earth.
I at the moment may argue on the basis of previous knowledge based on previous sight and be right, but the process of gathering information reveals to me that what is known often has to be proven even though its previous or usual presence has been confirmed before, in short, there is a constant need to confirm presence or absence of the entity under investigation to avoid the commission of the wrong conclusion, that is: concluding in misinformation that is based on lack of evidence.

I cannot see through the thick mists, but I saw mountains yesterday and, I can therefore conclude that there are still mountains present beyond the mists (unless mountains grow legs and wander off to the sea or some other part of the world).
My conclusion however, is not permissible in certain circles where the verification of information before its presentation to the public is the basic rule.
In such circles (academic research, journalism, etcetera, etcetera), I would be forced to take the bus ride to the wine-lands, go past the wine farms,

walk through the mist until I reach a point where I can confirm that there are indeed mountains beyond the mist, after which I will have to take apicture or make sketches thereof as evidence that there are indeed mountains beyond the mist.

If I have to make a conclusion based on a different premise, then I would perhaps have to wait until such a moment that may or might not come; I would have to wait for the sun to vaporise the mists and reveal the craggy mountain range, but this waiting in reality wastes time.
And so I walk to the mountain to confirm that the mountains are still indeed there. It is a long walk to confirm the presence of an entity; an entity of whose presence I have previously been affirmed, but which cannot at the moment be confirmed due to the misty blanket that prevents the confirmation of its presence.

It is wrong to speak ill of the dead, but it is right to keep their mummified remains in some museum’s lab for purposes of research.
The entire history of the African continent is shrouded in mysteries, thick dark fogs of taboo that prevent the writing thereof in accurate terms that are specific enough for the future generations to understand with exactitude how things happened at the given point in history of the country or the continent.

Our citizens shamelessly refrain from divulging in full exactly what happened five minutes ago, due to a lot of factors at whose peak is the belief that some truths are better not told as they are, that the teller being interviewed should instead of telling facts as naked as they are in their stark detail should add their own spice to make the story more ‘tolerable for public consumption’.

Many died in the initial 30 years of HIV/AIDS because the very mention of the condition as it was had come to be considered taboo.
In hushed tones, the cause of the deaths of individuals from the effects of the syndrome were instead of being proclaimed as they were, were termed as being from other more ‘tolerable’ diseases such as cancer (which is actually more scary), Tuberculosis, and others.
And those initial deaths, which could have served as a clarion call for all to be cautious when it comes to dealing with the syndrome, were forgotten like the hushed wrongs they were made out to be through the refrain of their true identity.

And look at where the country is now with regard to the condition.
The public bears the brunt of the withholding of vital information for, many think that keeping the secret will benefit or stands them in good stead in society.

The reality is that the secret may seem to be of benefit in the short term; the long-term suffering born of the secret that was kept for the benefit of its keepers wreaks havoc when it comes out into the light and is no longer a secret but public knowledge.
I had the opportunity to work for a period of three months in an epidemiological institution, and our team’s task was to arrange documents of HIV/AIDS patients and those that had done tests to establish whether they had the syndrome or other diseases.

Many of the reports revealed many of those that had taken the tests were ‘negative’ but had not bothered to come get their results for reasons unknown to the authorities at the institution.
Others had more serious conditions that were more of a threat to their health and well-being than the then feared immunity deficiency syndrome.
Had they come for their results, they would have known how to deal with their unknown conditions, found effective ways to deal with them, or at least become better at conducting themselves in terms of the treatment and prevention of their conditions.

For the systematic denial of truth in its true form, the country has thus far managed to regress to the hinterlands of underdevelopment.
We are in reality a nation that clings to the false notion that information should be kept away in a closet instead of being dispersed for the benefit of all.

This kind of attitude means that what could in essence free a certain or all sectors of society cannot be achieved just on the basis of not having access to the information necessary to executing the basic tasks paramount to the attainment of a goal.
A street vendor will hardly share information on where he stocks their wares (because then they cannot inflate the prices to the illegal levels they often sell them at) for fear of competition in the local ‘copy-cat’ market, where any ware that seems to churn out a profit is soon seen all over town.

It is true that the copy-cat attitude of the Basotho when it comes to the vending of wares could be a cause for concern to anyone venturing out into the street market, but by withholding information on where to get stock for sale items, we encourage the copy-cat attitude that stagnates the market with singular wares and hampers the progress of market diversity.

We are thus stuck in one economic moment we cannot get out of, remaining stingy when it comes to the sharing of vital economic development information.  Those who come to trade from foreign lands do not have this attitude; and they prosper right in of front of our eyes because they share information on where to get stocks at profitable prices.

Taboo has to do with the sacred, the exclusive, the prejudiced, and the forbidden. It is with a sense of despair that I observe my colleagues’ frustration when they are denied pieces of information that they by default and basic right should have access to, because some individual deems such information as ‘top-secret’ (a term which I find to have lost its essence in the light of prevailing policies of globalisation and the now proliferative internet and social media culture).

Government information is by default public property, for it is the public that is in actual terms the main sector that votes the democratic government into power.  Why some individuals that were once members of the public before their polled ascent to the house on top of the hill then feel they should withhold information the media needs to pass on to the public vexes my understanding.
On certain occasions, the media has to kill the story because of lack of confirmation on the part of the source treating the piece of news as private property instead of the public piece of interest it actually is.

One sees certain pieces of news being excluded only to a select few individuals deemed suitable to spread them. What if they are not present to present such news?
Vital pieces of information have over time been lost for reasons varied, reasons accidental, and reasons malicious.
For these reasons, what was supposed to be known by the public was lost forever, what could help the current generation to figure out exactly where things went wrong in the past to solve prevalent problems is often suppressed, and the mists of history darken, meaning that at a certain point in the future; we shall have no sense of identity as a people.

There is utter disregard for the value of information new and old in this country. The argument is the lame old excuse, “we have a poor reading culture . . . Basotho just don’t read . . . ” Well, there are people who really read, and those neglected and often moth-eaten pieces of old paper mean something in terms of garnering the understanding of how this enclave came to be what it is in the present day.
That the archives are at best piles of old volumes stashed in corners where they cannot be reached is a shame.

There is a lot of history in them volumes that could help an obviously polarised state to salvage whatever remaining remnants of nationhood it has.
The new social media star in reality only lasts less than a week in public interest then fades. Reclaiming their records is impossible, unless anyone can prove otherwise.
The need is for the state to share information across all platforms in all forms; there is nothing sacred about being neighbours and compatriots: no one should be excluded when it comes to the issue of access to information.
I am working on a paper on the life of one of the most brilliant poets of the early years of Lesotho, and finding information on some of his works and life is proving a hard task.

There are many reasons why such treasures as he is fade into oblivion despite their immense contribution to the history of this kingdom.
The main reason however, is simply because that the heart has always tended to be the repository of preference in this country, and the main excuse is always, “The English took those documents away when they left. . . ” this is in truth a blatant lie because whatever the English have taken can somehow still be accessed on open sources or at a cost.

Whatever it is that remains as part of our history will in reality fade into oblivion if it continues to be treated as the private property of some individual; the right thing to do would be to share it with the world so that the world knows of it and can therefore acknowledge us as they rightly should.  The government should sponsor such efforts as those that are geared toward the preservation of our now fading past, archives should be well kept and the workers thereof should be well-paid.

Why a party follower will be paid only for following when they do not understand what it is they are following is a travesty.
I am because they were (the forefathers and foremothers); I can only reach the future if I understand why they did things like they did them.
A fool once used the books he found as fuel for heat in a long winter instead of venturing out in search of firewood. What the fool did not know is that those leaves he burnt actually contained instructions on how to deal with the heat of the summer.

The sun is shining, but the mists of misunderstanding are still thick on the mountains, we cannot see the mountain for the fog, and by the time it clears, we might be gone; having drawn no pictures of the majestic mountains or having left any poems of the mountains for our children to read.
Nothing is sacred, all is futile, and the only thing that gives it meaning is if we understand it through the tales told, the pictures shared, and the poems read of it. There is just no taboo that is sweet. No beauty in silence. No glory in hiding news from the public.

Tsepiso S Mothibi

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