The songs that won the struggle

The songs that won the struggle

MASERU – SEBILI Sebili is more than a singer. He is a teller of fortunes of some sort too, especially for those in the roller coaster called politics.
Life is a rolling wheel, you are currently on top and the next time you will be crushed under it, he sings. It’s a popular melody with a profound warning.

This is how Sebili, a popular All Basotho Convention (ABC) political singer, warns political elites against being “full of themselves”.
Many in his ABC party love the song, Phelo bona kelebili, but only a few seem take to heed the message conveyed – the rapid change of fortunes in politics.

An underdog today can be tomorrow’s Prime Minister. Next, they are down again.
“If you listen to this song thoughtfully, not just dance to the tune, you will not behave like you will be in power forever,” Sebili says.
“They should keep in mind that tomorrow they will be the ruled,” he says.

Although Sebili composed the song as a reminder to then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili while the ABC was still in opposition, current Prime Minister Thomas Thabane should know better than ignore those lyrics. Thabane and then fellow opposition leaders Thesele ’Maseribane of the Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho’s Keketso Rantšo had fled the country claiming their lives were in danger when Sebili composed the song in 2015.

The three leaders blamed Mosisili for their troubles, claiming he was using the army to persecute them and they were afraid that they would be murdered. It was during this time that many ABC, BNP and RCL members took solace in Sebili’s song.
The song, a re-composition of a Catholic Church hymn about a troubled wanderer turning to God for comfort and guidance, was like a joint anthem for the parties.

Father, as I wander far away from my home, help me to say it is alright, it is alright. During Thabane’s exile in 2015, Sebili composed a song calling on God to conceal him atop a mountain fortress, far away from his enemies. He sung Mpateqhobosheaneng as if he was the one calling for his own personal protection yet the song was actually composed for Thabane, whom he felt should be kept away from those baying for his blood.
The song became a hit even among members of the then ruling parties.

It is the song that Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki, leader of the Alliance of Democrats (AD), asked ABC members to sing for him when he joined forces with Thabane to push for Mosisili’s ouster last year. Sebili says time has come for Mosisili and former government officials he led to feel the pinch.

He however says as the wheel keeps rolling forward, the incumbent government should either find means to remain on top or prepare to be crushed under. “The short message of this song is that the rulers should make peace with the ruled because tomorrow the ruled will be the rulers,” he says.
Sebili, a gifted singer with a huge following within and outside the ABC, says his 20 years of active participation in politics through song has given him enough knowledge to be cautious when dealing with political opponents.

Today’s enemy can be tomorrow’s ally. “One must be sensitive enough not to make anybody an arch-enemy. They are just political opponents,” he says. Sebili entered active politics in 1996 when he joined Setlamo Band, which was led by Chaltin Tsatsanyane in the then ruling Basutoland Congress Party (BCP).

It was two years after then Deputy Prime Minister Selometsi Baholo was assassinated by Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) soldiers and senior members of the party were pointing fingers at each other. The party was at the brink of a split, which it finally did in 1997 when the leader Ntsu Mokhehle formed the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) in parliament and took over government, with the BCP becoming the opposition.

The root cause of the BCP’s fall was that its leaders had turned their backs on the people who sacrificed their freedoms to take up arms against Leabua Jonathan’s government, which had suspended the constitution and banished Mokhehle and other party leaders.
Sebili and the band felt that those who crossed to the LCD were not necessarily loved by the people but were just lucky to be near Prime Minister Mokhehle who had a massive following.

They composed a song referring to party bigwigs who crossed the floor to form the LCD as lazy hunters. Sebili says the song is still relevant today. He says his song Ntate Thabane hopola baitseki, hopola mekopa-kopa, advises that the premier should look back over his shoulder and see men and women who struggled together with him for the sake of the party.

“He must feel pity for them and stretch his hand to pull them closer to him or else when he needs them most they will be far away from him because he will have left them behind, far away behind,” he says. He says these are the people who sacrificed their comforts and toiled for the party, resulting in many of them becoming jobless.

“These are the people who gave him power,” he says. “As a politician he should not forget his past,” he says.
In another, he sings Ntate Thabane, u hate ka bohlale, mona ke majoeng. He is figuratively saying Thabane is in a journey on foot and he should tread carefully because the path is full of loose stones that can cause a fall.
“The path we are referring to here is the government,” he says.

Sebili, with a husky voice that adds emotion to his intense political songs, was born in 1968 in Qobong, Phamong, in Mohale’sHoek.
His father, Thabo, was a well-known lead singer during a special initiation school ceremony (lelingoana) and he was also famous for his mohobelo traditional dances.

Sebili delayed going to initiation school, where his mates were the late popular famo musician Mosia and Abiel Hatlane in 2011, because he was not directly raised by his father. He says his parents separated when he was a small boy and his mother, ’Mathapelo, took him to his maternal uncle Nako Lekoetje, who was also a good singer at the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Although his father and uncle were good singers, Sebili says his childhood music mentor was his mother, who was a lead singer at the Zion Apostolic Church. “She allowed me to beat the drums at church and soon I was the admired drummer and a vocalist,” he says.
“I grew up in noise, in song.”

When he joined Tsatsanyane’s Setlamo Band, he was introduced to a music accompanied by accordion, guitars and more advanced drums.
Now he was singing with a renowned band throughout the country, moving BCP members into action.
It was in this band that Tsatsanyane noticed his potential when they sang Siloe, a mournful song about BCP members who were killed during the BNP and military regimes.

Sebili’s rough voice leads the song, Moeklesia (Ecclesiastes) – to everything there is a time – composed during the 1998 political upheavals.
It has become like an anthem song for all political parties. They sing it when their opponents fall so that when they too fall it will be sung for them.
Sebili is expected to release a new song today – a tribute to slain Police Constable Mokalekale Khetheng.

Caswell Tlali

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