Muckraker: The last standing Bantustan

Muckraker: The last standing Bantustan

LET’s bin the tripe about national pride and face a stern fact. The fact being that this country is a wretched little Bantustan of South Africa.
Now is not the time for nauseating political rhetoric. Reality is upon us and we should smell the coffee, pronto. Feel it: the truth is dancing naked before our eyes to a jingle piercing our eardrums.

If you deny that Lesotho is under sanctions from South Africa then you are slow. Either that or you are deliberately refusing to use your God-given sense of sight, touch, hearing and smell. What is happening at our borders looks, feels, sounds and smells like sanctions. Here we are, pretending to be an independent people yet we spend hours trying to leave and enter our country. We can clamber the tables and pee in pots with anger but that is the truth.

South Africa ended its Bantustan system at independence two decades ago but it has no such noble plans for Lesotho. We are South Africa’s last standing Bantustan. But we are worse because whereas those consigned to the Bantustans hoped they would eventually be free we in Lesotho are eternally trapped in this little patch of land.

We watch as South Africa’s government play poker with our lives. We take the rubbish they fling our way with stoic resilience for we know they are the masters and we are the slaves.

As Muckraker writes this there is a long queue at the South African High Commission. Basotho are begging for documents to go back to South Africa. They want papers so that they can work in mines, farms and kitchens in South Africa. Once they get those documents they will be baked in the sun as they wait to cross the border. Meanwhile the haughty and plump immigration officials on the other side drag their feet while stuffing their mouths with makoenya. They are not lazy.

They are under instructions to implement a policy from Pretoria: squeeze those little people from that Bantustan until they admit that they are nothing without us. The goal being that at some point we will admit that we are a silly excuse of a country. A province masquerading as a sovereign nation. We should have dropped this façade a long time ago but we are a stubborn lot.

Our arrogance is not backed with substance and realism. We lack both when it comes to our ‘battle’ to be an independent state. We don’t have the means to sustain ourselves as a country. Our problem is not our size but our location. We are marooned on all ends. According to the South African thinking we are a mistake that should not have happened. On that point alone the Afrikaners and Black South Africans agree wholeheartedly.

They might hate each other’s guts but they agree that Lesotho’s destination is annihilation. Make no mistake about their policy towards this ‘country’. We are an under-utilised source of cheap labour. It irritates them that they cannot just drive us all out of this part of this earth and turn us into their dirty cheap labourers. So to frustrate our attempts to be a country they tighten the screws at the border.

We must squirm so that we admit the futility of pretending to be a country. The mission is that in the not so distant future we will run to them hands over head. Then they will relocate us to some expropriated farms in the Free State.  And then they will turn what we have always thought to be our country into one big water reservoir. That is what Lesotho is to South Africa: a dam watering their farms, cooling their industry and washing their underwear.

Katse, Mohale and Polihali are not enough to keep their toilets flushing. Given a choice they would empty this country of its inhabitants and turn this into one big dam.  Geographically it is the most ideal place for a dam. It has good streams and high mountains. All you have to do is to find a place to trap the water and plug in a huge pipe to Gauteng.

Muckraker knows these words peeve some diehard nationalists. That is their funeral. Nothing is to be gained from nursing their bloated egos.
This country is a project to South Africa. It has always been since the Boers trained their guns on Moshoeshoe and his people.
Back then they waged a relentless war on a people armed with spears and knobkerries. We put up a good fight but there is little doubt that had the war lasted a few weeks more we would have been wiped out. Not by guns but by starvation.

Our salvation came from the British who colonised us. The English had their ulterior motives for pocketing our country but history shows that there was some benevolent tangy to their act. Yet by the time they came to our rescue we had lost the most productive of our land. Bingo, a nation had survived.

But what purpose was this country going to serve if only a tenth of it was arable? We were peasants without farmland. Over the centuries our statehood has been hanging by a threat. Our forefathers slept with one eye open because they knew the Boers were still entertaining evil thoughts on their country.

In the 1900s we staggered along, praying that the Boers don’t lose their senses. In the spirit of Ubuntu we gave sanctuary to our black brothers who were fighting for their liberation but deep down we knew we were only doing it to the extent that the Boers allowed it.
And when we crossed the line the mean Apartheid machine descended on us with fury. Raids by the South African army left carnage in Maseru. In the meantime screws were being tightened on us to close our doors to the comrades. Yet their hostility did not stop them from seeking water from us.

We obliged for there was some financial benefit to the whole scheme. But even as our mountains were channelling water to their industries and toilets the Boers never forgot that we were their enemy before we became their dam. By hook and crook we held on until Apartheid collapsed on its own weight. We sighed and hoped that the government of our brothers, the ones we protected, fed and even educated when they were marked for death, would bring a better era.

We were not looking for their charity because we knew they had their own troubles. They had a battered and disenfranchised population to sort out.
What we however did not expect was for the black brothers to perpetuate the Apartheid policies towards us. We were daft to think the mentality had changed.

For that we should kick ourselves. We should have known that once a dam always a dam. Now here we are in 2018, being treated like filth. It might sound like some bitter jibe but the reality when it comes to the border issue is the Apartheid regime was much better. Did I just say that? Yep, I said it! Simple observation and a little data support this idea.  During apartheid there was never a time when there was a long queue at the border. And that is not because the then government wanted us to flood their country.

It was considered a security risk to have a long queue at the border. There was always a chance that some ANC guerrilla would be hiding in the crowd, ready to rip the whites into pieces with something explosive. In any case keeping Basotho at the border was tantamount to stopping the flow of gold into an economy suffocated by sanctions.

The mines needed their Basotho slaves back underground. Now just two decades later the queues are longer than the pee of a drunk.
A few weeks ago it used to take 90 seconds to get a passport stamped on the South African side. Then some genius in Pretoria came up with a biometric system that requires people to scan their fingers and eyes.

Yes, someone thought Basotho should have their fingers and iris checked before they enter South Africa. The result, as many might have seen and experienced, is that it now takes more than ten minutes to process a passport. Still that has not stopped Zuma’s government from claiming that this biometric system will make things faster. That’s how daft they think Basotho are: we don’t know the difference between fast and slow.

You see the contempt in the way the immigration officials deal with Basotho in the queue. They always have a frown on their faces.
They are always ready to catch a Mosotho doing something wrong. “South African passports, South African passports, South African passports,” they shout when they think their countrymen are being crowded and delayed by Basotho. It’s as if they are calling on a breed of people who bleed some precious oil when you prick there. A special people that doesn’t fart.

With a spring on their steps the South Africans will form a little queue that no alien from Lesotho is allowed to join. We Basotho have no right to fast services. Our skins are designed to withstand swithering heat. Our legs are made of iron. We stand there, facing one officer who stamps one passport and then fiddles with his phone.

Move before he says “next person please” and he will dress you down right in front of the multitude. “How many days do you want?” he asks even when you know that the days are standard. Three weeks ago Muckraker was so irritated by that question that she simply decided to be a bitch.
“Three years,” she said to the rude officer.

“Mme, don’t waste my time. You know you cannot get three years,” he shot back with a twisted face. “Well, give me forever then,” Muckraker said. “Ah, stop being funny. Akere you are only visiting for a few days. You need papers to stay forever,” he replied, now ready to dispatch Muckraker with some insults.

“So why do you ask how many days I want when you know the days I should get. Is that supposed to make you sound clever or important?” Muckraker quipped, ready for a showdown. He zipped his mouth, scribbled something that looked like seven days and threw back the passport. As she walked to her car Muckraker wondered why the man even bothered to be angry.

He did not need to be pissed because the system had already punished Muckraker. She had spent six hours on the queue and there was every chance that she would spend the same time when she comes back. So when is this going to end, you may ask. The answer is that we are probably screwed for a long time. The reason is that our politicians keep pretending that South Africa is a friend. They think Lesotho is coming to the negotiations as an equal partner.

South Africans, on the other hand, know that they just have to keep playing the game. Away from the negotiating table and behind closed doors, they laugh their heads off. They call Lesotho an irritant that refuses to accept its fate as a Bantustan. They say Lesotho is a little village taking itself too seriously.

How can they now be so crude when they are dealing with a country whose budget is only double that of one of their universities.On a different note Muckraker hopes you make it through January after the two weeks of madness in December. We all became gormandizers during the festive season.

No wonder we are broke to the bone. January is so hard that some people are getting up to weird tricks to make a few pennies. Muckraker was minding her own business when a desperate man knocked on her door. He was selling a cat, he said. Muckraker politely told him that she had no need for a cat because she doesn’t have a rat problem in her house. The man pondered for a moment before he thrust the cat on Muckraker’s lap.

“My sister, just take the cat and I will bring the rats in the afternoon. Give me M20 for the cat and the rats are free,” he said.
It’s a joke but you get the point. Next week Muckraker will tell you about Wasco’s worm scandal.

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