From initiation school to the pulpit

From initiation school to the pulpit

MASERU – WHEN the subject of a general amnesty is brought up during our interview, Dickson Monaheng, speaks passionately about the need for “forgiveness”. Monaheng, who served as mayor of Maseru between 1993 and 1994, says while he agrees in principle with the concept of a general amnesty, “people must earn that forgiveness”. “Forgiveness must not be thrown on you like a blanket,” he says. He adds that “forgiveness is no justice if it leaves the element of justice.” He believes if there is to be any true healing, those accused of human rights violations must own up to their deeds. Only then can Lesotho deal with the demons of the past and move the country forward, he argues. “The victims will experience a degree of healing if the culprits are brought to a point of confession and repentance publicly,” he says. Monaheng spoke amid serious overtures by the government led by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili to declare a general amnesty under the Amnesty Bill 2016. The Bill seeks to grant a blanket amnesty for offences committed by soldiers between January 2007 and December 2015. But much more worrying for the opposition and the international community is the fact that the amnesty will extend to soldiers who were involved in an operation that killed former Lesotho army commander Maaparankoe Mahao in June 2015.

A SADC commission of inquiry has already recommended that all soldiers who were involved in the killing of Mahao must face justice. The United States and the European Union have both rejected the Amnesty Bill claiming it promotes impunity. Monaheng says it would be tragic if Basotho were to merely turn a “blind eye to the injustices of the past as if those things did not happen”.  He says a competent body, preferably made up of judges from outside Lesotho, must be constituted to deal with the issues of a general amnesty. What is striking is the fact that the subject of repentance and forgiveness keep on popping up during the two-hour interview. That came as a no surprise because Monaheng is a deeply devout man.  In fact, he is a pastor and founder of ZOE Bible Church, an indigenous Pentecostal religious group whose core belief focuses on the attainment of eternal life in the hereafter. He says it would appear Basotho have failed to deal with historical issues that have promoted hatred and divisions over the last 50 years. “Our politics have been a great source of hatred and divisions. That has to be rescued. Our politics must change,” he says. Monaheng argues that since independence in 1966, “our politics were marked by antagonism”. “Children were taught to hate from a very young age,” he says.

He says even when they were young, boys would take their cattle to graze in the unharvested fields that belonged to BNP (Basotho National Party) people.
The parents would conveniently turn a blind eye. We have not moved an inch from that era of antagonism and hatred, he says. “There is a lot of polarization,” he says. Monaheng says Lesotho needs to set up a competent body to deal with issue of amnesty in a “non-threatening manner”. “This issue must be handled with great sensitivity and wisdom without threatening anybody,” he says. He says the issue of the unfortunate killing of Mahao in June 2015 must be “handled amicably”. Monaheng suggests the government should seriously explore the issue of monetary compensation for the Mahao family for their loss.
But how do we take Lesotho forward given the toxic relations between the political leadership across parties?

For Monaheng, the key to unlocking the political logjam lies in a drastic ideological repentance, a form of political re-education. The idea is to teach “political tolerance”, he says.
Our political leadership must be advised and encouraged to see all Basotho as one people, he argues. He says Mosisili’s talk that the two main political formations in Lesotho, the Congress and Nationalists, are like oil and water and therefore cannot work together will only serve to drive a wedge between us. “The solution lies in working together. We need to redeem the past by forgiving each other and committing to our ancestral roots.  “We are a country founded on unity, patriotism and tolerance as taught by our founder Moshoeshoe I,” he says. Monaheng, who says he was a card-carrying member of the Democratic Congress (DC) until the split late last year, says while Mosisili has proven over the years to be a political chess player, he is of the opinion that he “handled the split with Moleleki (former deputy DC leader Monyane) emotionally”.

“You cannot say you are putting the leadership out of functional politics for six years. You are actually killing them politically. Mosisili forced them to form a party,” he says.
“The DC leader failed in his leadership of the congress movement. There have been so many splits under his leadership.” Monaheng says his sympathies now lay with Moleleki and his Alliance of Democrats (AD) adding he finds Moleleki to be a man of “tolerance who promotes forgiveness and patriotism”. While he is happy to have found God late in life, Monaheng says that has not always been the case.  That is precisely because his father was an unapologetic traditionalist and was vehemently opposed to the Church and what it stood for. In fact, his father ran a traditional circumcision school in Qalo in Butha-Buthe, setting himself on a collision course with the Church which considered such practices “satanic”. As a result, the Church considered his father “the source of darkness in Qalo”. “Circumcision schools were considered taboo by the Church. If any children were enrolled at the circumcision schools, they were promptly expelled from school and their parents excommunicated from Church,” he says.

Monaheng says this issue brought a lot of friction and antagonism between his family and the Church. “I knew they were them and we were us. That distinction was very clear to us, we were the circumcision guys,” he says, with a smile. He describes his father as a “no nonsense man” who took on the Church on his own terms. Yet despite such a very traditionalist background, Monaheng had a deep longing for spiritual fulfilment. But it was only after his father had died in 1978 that he was he able to seek and find God, whom he calls “the God of the Book”. “I needed to know whether there was a personal God who could relate to man, who could see, hear and have compassion. I wanted to compare that with our ancestral spirits,” he says. “Eventually I challenged this God and told him that if you are real and have a personage please reveal yourself to me; make me know you.” That was how Monaheng came into contact with his God.

In 1979, Monaheng says he finally became a Christian although he was not affiliated with any organised religious group. But like most Basotho his age, Monaheng took the long trip to the gold mines in Welkom, South Africa, toiling there as a migrant worker. That unforgettable experience made him come face-to-face with the vagaries of life in the mines in South Africa.“That was a very hard life,” he says.“I got married to my wife while I was working there but I could not stay with her. Women could not even enter the premises. It was a place for men. Even the cooks were men.”The mining environment dehumanised Basotho mineworkers and brought a lot of social ills like prostitution and the gang culture among Basotho.
It also had a devastating impact on Lesotho’s economy.

“That killed our economy,” he says.  “Prior to mining Basotho were self-sufficient. When men go and spend years in the mines children grow up without a father figure. The hard work at home is left for the women.” Monaheng says he quickly realized mining work was never meant for him and immediately began making plans to return home to Lesotho.
But to satisfy his religious thirst, Monaheng says he decided to go to Bible school after a bruising discussion with Jehovah’s Witnesses that left him convinced he needed to beef up his religious education. So in 1980, Monaheng enrolled for a four-year theological course at the Word of Faith Bible College in Welkom. “The God of the Book had made an indelible mark on me to the extent that I had Bible discussions with the miners that made me join the Bible school.” Besides being a pastor Monaheng runs two schools, ZOE Praise Primary School in Ha-Seoli and another primary school in Thaba-Tseka. He also runs ZOE Secondary School in Lithabaneng in Maseru. “We seek to promote a good environment that is based on a commitment to Christian values and good ethics.” Monaheng is married to M’e Mathabo Monaheng and the couple has three children.

Abel Chapatarongo

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