Only the good die young

Only the good die young

…A tribute to Pompi and Kamanga..

THE little boys and girls are engaged in a serious gun battle, oblivious to the reality of the recent deaths of two of their brothers from gunshot wounds at the hands of a criminal. The plastic air-pellet guns go pop as the little children shout violence at each other, perhaps thinking they are gunslingers in a TV show or movie that they watched at their homes.
The culture is what some of us grew up with in the village where the guns are more simplistic, just pieces of wood crudely cut into the shape of a pistol would do back then; these ones have the benefit of owning plastic replica copies of real firearms. These ‘toys’ often look like the real thing in appearance, even in terms of quality or the machining of the working parts of a real firearm.

These toy guns can be breeched as the real gun, they have magazines like the real guns, and sometimes they even bear the weight of the real pistol or rifle. It creates a virtual world of violence in which the children are afforded the opportunity to act out the violence they see on the screen.
It is a wrong culture that has been allowed to fester for too long. We raise generations of gunslingers that at the end of the day never get to see the danger in the possession and use of firearms. The guns have become an everyday object that is reminiscent to furniture by the time many of the children in our societies reach puberty. The truth of the saying, “if you sleep with the dogs, you will surely catch the fleas…” finds its full expression in the reality of the increasing gun violence in Lesotho.

It seems every Tom, Dick and Mary think they are Dirty Harry in a Western movie, pointing and fatally shooting anyone that opposes them or that they bear a grudge against. The lead reason is that children grow up in a culture that worships guns and sees no wrong in buying little children toy guns.
The question is simple: What type of attitude will these children have when it comes to the use and the handling of guns? The obvious answer is that the children will grow up thinking that it is right to point and fire a gun at the next human individual. Some may defend their position by citing increasing gun crime as the trigger to resorting to guns to defend themselves.

It is a flimsy defence, considering the simple fact that legal guns form a larger percentage of firearms used to commit violent crimes that often end up in fatalities. I would never buy my boys guns, Lego sets are the better practical option, but the foolishness of the world deems guns a more desirable option despite the increasing deaths from gunshot wounds.
We need to buy smarter toys for our children, and if we cannot afford them, rather stick to the old rag dolls and wooden cars. Guns are instruments of death, they have never been anything else and the only reason they are here is because we live in a world that worships violence.
When I first settled in the Maqalika area circa 2010 it became very easy to fit into the community because the young boys took a liking to me and embraced me into their inner circle. They became the first ones to advertise my skills as Jack-of-all-trades to their parents and from their word of mouth, their parents became my first clients.
Easy in demeanour and outlook and full of the fire of youth and ambition, I could easily relate to these young gallants of the Maqalika area right on the border between Berea and Maseru districts. They were full of fire then, and the fire’s flames were seen in the various self-help schemes they engaged in on the everyday. From painting houses to plant husbandry, construction to selling food and wares from house to house, I have watched the Maqalika boys that first welcomed me grow from boyhood to manhood to fatherhood. On the rocky shores of the Maqalika, we would often sit and talk in the late evening till the wee hours of the night when all would disperse to their homes. Those are the nostalgic first days I spent in the Litupung and Boinyatso sections of the Maqalika area.

We never actually call each other by first name here, nicknames are the preferred method of address, such is the beauty of the relationship we have, easygoing, respectful, and amicable; as real blood-brothers should be. Pompi, Kamanga, Coupon, Pajero, Timber, Bobatsi, Letata and others are my peers in life or in death. Calling me Jahman or Father Joseph Gerard on the regular day, the jovial manner with which the boys and I relate is the epitome of brotherhood.
I guess the circle of life is completed by one’s peers and neighbours, and the recent passing of the two young men Kamanga and Pompi leaves a chasm in my heart that can only be filled by the knowledge that they rest in peace. It is hard to forget any one man if they were as hardworking as these two were, it is even harder when one has to pass by their houses every morning on the way to Maseru or the shops.

I guess a little elegy for their departed goes some way in assuaging the anguish of their loss, we should sing praises for the valiant departed, those that have tasted and met death prematurely. It is a feeling with no clear definition, and one should be forgiven for rambling in this instance. We have lost dear brothers and a fifth we should pour in remembrance as a simple libation to the dear and the departed young men.
I remember Pompi (Kibiti Johannes Thaki born in 1991) and Kamanga (‘Muso Lancelot Koelane born in 1988) as the best of the best, the cream of the crop when it comes to the issue of dealing effectively with the currently prevalent scourge of poverty and unemployment.
They never cringed at the sight of poverty and unemployment but took it upon themselves to pick up the spade and the fork in the hassle to do away with the unpleasant circumstances the youth of today have to face. The two understood exactly what it means to hustle for a living and to make a profit out of it. The usual tendency is to wait for the big man to smile before one can collect their blessings, the two never waited for him but went to him to wrest their livelihood out of his hands.

Pompi and Kamanga hustled, and the world around them came to respect them for their efforts. Similar in a lot of ways and character, the passing of the two heroes leaves a clearly visible gap in the community. What they did affects the broader youth community in Lesotho, for many that could have gotten a tip or two from their efforts in dealing with the prevalent unemployment amongst the ranks of youth will miss it now that they are gone.
Pompi is the best storyteller that I have come across in my entire life. It is true that novelists and writers are venerated for their technique, but the oral storyteller is often not acknowledged for their finesse in recounting events. The storyteller Pompi was of the sort that could draw a clear picture in motion of the events he was recounting; all things came to life when he told a story about them, and we would listen not only because we had to: we listened because he told it in a manner that flowed and entranced with its clarity and beauty.

In the twilight, we would sit in a group on the rocks that form the retainer wall of the Maqalika dam, listening to Pompi’s jovial voice telling us of events from the far and recent past. The storytelling would go on till late at night and through the stories, I came to know and understand the community within which life had me put into. It is not easy losing a brother, even harder to lose a whole library of local tales that the oral storyteller is to those that have the opportunity to listen to. A storyteller of note is gone and the evenings are going to be pretty lonely.
This is the season Pompi would be busy pruning trees and tending his greenhouse full of roses, mop tree saplings and various other plants in his husbandry project. This was a self-initiative, started a few years ago and one could see his love and pride at a project that put food on the table for his family as the breadwinner. His parents passed on a few years ago and he dug his hands into the soils of the land to eke a living to support his siblings.

Circumstance forced him into farming and it turned out to be a passion that made him the darling of the Maqalika and Mabote communities, this heard in the councillor’s eulogy at the funeral. The greenhouse stands lonely for its tender is gone, the gardens next spring will be less lustrous for there will be no Pompi to tend to them and to provide the roses and mop trees he understood with a sense of clarity unequalled amongst his peers. From the dust we spring and to the dust we shall all return, hard to swallow now that the sower has returned to the dust from whence he sprung. It is a lonely view of the Maqalika without him amongst the group that sits in a group on the shores.

Kamanga would sell his pork trotters in special sauce, would sell grilled chicken from a dish, and would hustle for a living harder than a lot of our mates. Ever soft-spoken and jovial, here was a young man who understood the true meaning of virtuous living, highly neighbourly, and a man that understood the true meaning of honouring and respecting one’s peers regardless of age.
Kamanga is a figure who understood that circumstances do not make the individual but that the strong individual actually fashions them to suit their needs. On the several occasions that we spoke, he became a mentor and guide that helped me understand the true meaning of keeping on despite prevailing circumstances. Younger than I am by a margin, he however made a lot of sense, more sense because he actually acted out what he believed in and did not wait for a better day. Into the storm many of us have gone to confront life, and the comrades and the peers one goes with into battle actually count for more than enough in terms of the guidance support they offer one.

My basic feeling is that ‘Muso is a soldier whose life enriched those of the people that he came across in his various pursuits. Life is a constant battle, a war that the youth of today are programmed to lose if they follow the cap-in-hand mentality of those that are looking for employment in the public service. Kamanga never waited for a stint in public service but kept on hustling until the man called, just for a while before his fateful passing.
The stint in public service never changed the man he had been before, for he still remained the humble figure he had been before. The only description I have of my brother is that of a humble man for all seasons, never changing for the worse, but always growing better with the passage of time. Such are the types of figures the world misses, whose passing leaves a cold emptiness in one’s heart. There is only one question: why is it that only the good die young?
It was on campus that I first really listened to Tupac Shakur and the song in late 1990s was Life Goes On.  It is playing on in my head as I type and muse on the passing of my two brothers:

How many brothers fell victim to the streets, rest in peace young nigger, (there’s a heaven for a G)
Be a lie if I told you that I never thought of death, (my niggers), we are the last ones left…
The funeral was befitting, the cortège unrivalled, we met long-lost friends, and we gathered as the elephant herd in your honour brothers. Long remembered shall be your names, though it hurts to wonder how it could have been had that fool not pressed the trigger when he did. But such might have beens will kill the spirit of the hustle you epitomised in the brief years you spent in this world, and like Tupac would say, one has to understand one thing: Life Goes On. We now understand that the passing of any one man occurs on a day scattered among the rest of the other days without no clear pattern or sign that can be foretold or portended. All we can say is “So long, you will be missed, and rest in peace brothers”. Meet you on the other side some day brothers.

Tsépiso Mothibi 

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