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Let’s re-ignite the Vuka-Zenzele spirit

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Allow me to set the record straight and remind you of an interesting part of our history.

The first Mosotho to drive a Mercedes-Benz G-wagon came from a village named Mazenod, Ha Sekepe. Yes, the first Mercedes-Benz G-wagon in Lesotho.

It was in the year 1990 when I first saw a Mercedes-Benz G-wagon in Mr Kobuoe ‘Mile’s yard (our neighbour) and I thought I was dreaming.

Mr Koboue ‘Mile was a businessman and ran a local café named Vuka-zenzele café. The cafe was a second-generation café after he had inherited it from his father (Ntate Tšepiso ‘Mile).

There was always something peculiar about the name of the café and I always found it very fascinating. When loosely translated, Vuka-zenzele means, wake up and work for yourself. Tsoha u iketsetse in Sesotho.

So, Mr ‘Mile’s vehicle was a green left-hand drive ‘import’ and also had a car phone. Yes, a car phone located on the centre console and had a black coiled cord attached to it.

I remember, we would marvel at the vehicle for hours with my friends because it was something we had never seen in our lives. More especially, a car phone.

Remember this was a time before cell-phones even existed.

Those were the legends of our village named Mazenod. Yes, Mazenod was once great in one way or the other.

This past Friday, a good friend of mine and a coach of Swallows Football Club organised an inaugural Swallows Gala Dinner at Mojalefa Lephole Hall (Victory Hall in Moshoeshoe II.).

I attended the event and it was highly successful considering it was their first Gala Dinner.

Amongst the many guests that were present was the former Kaizer-Chiefs and Bafana-Bafana player, Pollen Ndlanya.

It felt good to see a lot of people that I grew up with converge in one place. It’s always funny to meet as adults. All you can talk about is how kids are doing. I used to find that a bit weird about parents.

They’d spend hours talking about their kids. But hey, here we are. We’ve joined the club.

So, Teele Ntšonyana organised the gala dinner as part of a bigger campaign named ‘Let’s make Mazenod great’.

There’s also a WhatsApp group that I’m part of, even though I hardly participate in it (I actually hate WhatsApp groups but don’t tell anyone).

The purpose of the campaign is to invoke the Vuka-zenzele spirit (tsoha u iketsetse).

It is also meant to promote a spirit of reviving the local economy by promoting cleanliness as well as promoting a culture of law and order.

What inspired the campaign you may ask? Mazenod is a very important place because it hosts the only international airport in Lesotho.

It starts there! Even if Beyonce happens to visit Lesotho, her point of departure would be Mazenod.

I love this campaign and I wish the same spirit could spread to places like Roma & TY. Jesus Christ please help Roma!

Roma looks like a shanty-town. This is a ‘town’ that hosts the National University but its surroundings look like a squatter camp named Diepsloot (Google search it).

Hao batho ba Roma! (Roma people). Why are you destroying your place like this? I say this because when you get to Roma, there is nothing that says this is a place of higher learning. Look at the Thomas Mofolo library! Ekare storo (It looks like a store room).

Why is it not a landmark building that can be accessed by the Roma community and tourists?

I bring this up after visiting an NUL lecturer named Mr Khoanyane last Saturday following the gala dinner.

My friend, Hlalele Rasephei insisted that we have to see the incredible work Ntate Khoanyane does.

Wow! I tell you Khoanyane is doing incredible stuff with fruit trees. After what I saw Khoanyane do with fruit trees, I concluded that our unemployment crisis in Lesotho is but a choice.

No, it’s a choice we have made as a country by repeatedly electing useless politicians.

We have hands, time (the same 24 hours that Beyonce has), land, over-abundance of water, a good climate and a young workforce. What more do we need? To sit in offices?

Khoanyane proceeded to take us on a study tour of his farm at Sefikeng. He showed us ways in which fruit trees are produced and can be reproduced.

There were various species of trees from, peaches, apricots, apples and pears that were all produced on the farm. Yes, apples do grow in Lesotho.

Khoanyane demonstrated that if we place all our focus on producing and growing fruit trees, we could defeat a monster named unemployment.

The Vuka-zenzele spirit! Tsoha u iketsetse! (Wake up and work for yourself). Instead of waiting for the government to create jobs.

Going into this week’s topic and as a follow-up to last week’s topic, I think there is something special that we can do for ourselves as citizens of this country, instead of depending on being given hand-outs from donors. More importantly, instead of depending on politicians (professional liars).

As a follow-up to last weeks topic, imagine if we could re-name the Palace Road, that cuts across Sefikeng sa Moshoeshoe, to Serena Williams Road?

I tell you, this is an opportune time to commemorate Serena Williams for her contribution to the sports fraternity.

I bring this up because the street crosses to the National Tennis Courts and this would be a perfect opportunity to commemorate the tennis legend following her retirement last weekend.

Can you imagine how much publicity and tourism this would bring to the Mountain Kingdom?

Hotels would be packed to capacity because television crews from across the world (CNN and BBC) would come and cover the ribbon-cutting event. Serena Williams could even run tennis coaching clinics for young girls.

Imagine if the ribbon cutting event is staged in between Moposo House and the Bank Tower (Damn! The Bank Tower desperately needs a fresh coat of paint).

By the way, the Bank Tower will be turning 40 years next year but still remains the tallest building in Lesotho. This symbolises 40 years of stagnation.

So, it’s not only Serena Williams that could commemorate but I think a British Formula-One super-star named Sir Lewis Hamilton deserves one road in Maseru city to be named after him. By the way, they are friends with Serena Williams and pledged some money to buy Chelsea FC.

Why do I bring Sir Lewis Hamilton into the equation? It’s because he is currently running a campaign to support South Africa to host the African leg of the F1 race.

Sir Lewis Hamilton is running the campaign in conjunction with a global logistics company named DHL.

Why is DHL part of the campaign? Because, they are an official logistics partner to the Formula One with transporting the vehicles and equipment world-wide.

Look, sports is big business and we need to open our eyes to this big opportunity should South Africa be granted the right to host the African F1 leg.

Now, can you imagine the amount of publicity Lesotho would get if it were to re-name the Airport Road, located behind the BNP Centre and the Central Bank to Sir Lewis Hamilton Road?

This would open up investment opportunities to global giants such as Petronas, Mercedes-Benz and of course DHL. Moshoeshoe I International Airport would benefit immensely and should partner with DHL as a logistics partner.

In fact, just privatise the damn airport or sell it to Emirates instead of fighting for tenders. We are missing out on golden opportunities.

Vuka-zenzele! It’s time to wake up and do it ourselves!

‘Mako Bohloa

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The power of co-operatives

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‘To know and not to act is not to know’. This Chinese proverb relates to the predicament in which Lesotho finds itself presently. Lesotho has failed to learn from its mistakes and experiences.

Despite numerous Ministry of Economic Planning’s Five-Year National Development Plans, Lesotho hovers in the doldrums of poverty. Successful innovation depends on developing and integrating new knowledge in the innovation process.

Pointing fingers does not lead to solutions. Lesotho must focus its energies on developing endeavours that advance the livelihoods of its citizenry. For example, a government adviser suggests that Lesotho must establish a development bank.

The development bank would enable Basotho to participate in driving new investments. But we all know that Lesotho had development banks before, the likes of Lesotho Bank and Agricultural Bank. The government he advises shut down both banks.

Here, I want to pursue an idea that I brought up in the article of 18 – 24 August 2022 titled: ‘Pushing a community-based economy.’ I suggested that communities consider establishing agricultural cooperatives (co-ops) as a way toward economic emancipation.

This article reiterates the same approach. Lesotho must conquer the triple tragedy of hunger, poverty and unemployment by reverting to the basics.

Lesotho’s economic solutions lie with Basotho’s traditional communal farming practices.

So, co-ops are a solution to Lesotho’s food security crisis and can ensure that Basotho Prosper. They will ensure food and employment security for the communities they will serve. I will provide a deeper understanding of how Basotho may benefit from co-ops.

According to a local scholar, Mbata, about 13% of land in Lesotho is arable. However, Mbata asserts that during the 1920s, Lesotho’s food production began declining till 1930 when the country became a net importer of food grains.

Urbanisation and migrant labour came at acost to farming in Lesotho. Today, capable men leave their fields and flock to Maseru urban in search of work. The closure of mines in South Africa worsened the already awkward predicament.

Unemployment grew. In the meantime, people continue to migrate to cities leaving their fields unattended.

I will use the importation of pork to highlight Lesotho’s food shortage plight. Big retail businesses do not buy pork from Basotho piggery farmers because there is no hygienic slaughtering facility.

Moreover, the farmers do not possess the farming management technological know-how. Therefore, these shortcomings compromise the quality of local pork.

Lesotho’s annual pork import was 7 133 tonnes in 2020. According to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade, the imports were worth US$3.1 million. There is a need to reform agriculture and food production in Lesotho.

First, I will discuss the principle that grounds cooperatives; namely crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is not a new concept to Basotho.

Basotho, who have one goal come together to form groups like burial societies, stokvels and cooperatives. Organisations such as churches or schools use concerts as functions for raising funds.

In 2006 the Oxford English Dictionary coined this new term, ‘crowdfunding’. ‘Crowdfunding’ is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising money from a large number of people who each contribute a relatively small amount, typically via the internet.

Musicians, filmmakers and artistes successfully raised funds and fostered awareness through this initiative. Crowdfunding established the Lesotho Bank. It enables the masses to raise funds as a collective. As an individual, these people would not raise enough funds. Crowdfunding may work as a revenue stream for the individual.

Two Basotho proverbs echo this phenomenon. One proverb reads, ‘lets’oele le beta poho,’ meaning: working together gives a group power to get the job done quickly. The other reads: ‘ntja-peli ha e hloloe ke sebata’, meaning: two or more people conquer impossible situations.

This article focuses on a certain form of crowdfunding, agricultural cooperatives. Co-ops facilitate business access for ordinary field owners, and small-scale farmers make inputs that could promote their development.

For example, while individual smallholder farmers may not access bank funding, co-ops may enable them to bargain as a collective. In so doing, the farmers access facilities they would otherwise not be able to. Co-ops help reduce dependence on foreign investment.

Sikwela, Fuyane and Mushunje assessed the probability for South African agricultural cooperatives to engage in collective marketing activities over time, given market and institutional characteristics.

They observed that smallholder farmers benefit from market-oriented agriculture when they get support from various institutions and operate in organised groups such as co-ops.

Market access is critical to smallholder farming.

Market access improves productivity of subsistence agriculture.

First, it alleviates food deficiency at the household level of the rural population. Secondly, it improves the incomes of farmers. Co-ops’ collective action reduces transaction costs and boosts the bargaining power of farmers concerning markets.

Smallholder farmers are subsistence farmers. Subsistence farming is predominant in Lesotho.

Cooperatives, being a collective group, have the potential to penetrate high-value markets or better-paying markets to improve their living standards. Co-ops are the best way of converting employees and buyers into business owners through shareholding.

The concept of ‘cooperatives’ is not new to Basotho. Records show that co-ops existed in Lesotho by 1931.

However, they experienced avalanches of managerial problems. There was no regulatory framework for their operations.

By 1933, co-ops thrived through promotion and information sharing. In 2019, Lesotho had 99 co-ops with 9 092 members and 320 employees.

But Noko blames the demise of the co-op movement in Lesotho on the lack of supportive legislation and excessive regulation.

First, let us understand the legislative imperatives of co-ops in Lesotho.

Although 1947 saw the enactment of their formal registration, the Cooperative Society Act of 2000 and the Cooperatives Societies (Amendment) Act of 2014 unified the legal regime for different kinds of co-ops.

The Cooperatives Societies Act, 2000 describes Cooperative Societies as private business organisations of exceptional nature. Cooperatives register under this act and operate according to their listed principles and practices (Sic).

Lesotho participates in International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) initiatives. Accordingly, ICA brings together co-op organisations worldwide. It promotes and enhances collaborations in regions.

The Cooperative College actively participated in these initiatives. But its closure is an example of Lesotho scoring its own goals against itself.

ICA defines cooperatives as autonomous associations of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled model. Gordon-Nembhard explains that members of co-ops meet their needs and earn returns on their investments.

Hence, co-ops fill market failures ignored by private businesses and governments ignore. These gaps include affordable housing, healthy organic food, credit and banking services.

Co-ops are similar to Anderson’s communities in that they are oriented toward solving their problems. Co-ops aggregate communities’ resources and capital into economic units overcoming historical barriers to development.

Co-ops increase economic activities in communities. For instance, they contribute to the national fiscus through taxes and job creation.

Noko analysed Lesotho’s legal framework for co-ops in 2021. According to Noko, co-ops do not feature in Lesotho’s Constitution. Nonetheless, the constitution provides for and protects citizens’ rights to free association.

Noko’s analysis concluded that the cooperative movement experienced setbacks for many years because of unsupportive legislation and excessive regulation. He suggested areas that need urgent attention by legislation if cooperatives are to flourish in Lesotho.

On the other hand, a supportive regulation may allow their development. Here, I can cite two examples. King and Ortmann reported that the South African government committed to providing a supportive legal environment for co-ops.

Again, according to Gordon-Nembhard, the USA’s co-ops enjoy enabling conditions. Federal and state agencies support co-op development.

As a result, co-op start-up costs are low. Non-governmental financial institutions like co-op banks provide low-cost loans to co-ops. These banks function to assist co-op organisations.

Agricultural co-ops are critical to economic empowerment and poverty eradication. Studies in the developing world show that co-op societies play an important role in developing and enhancing the economic conditions for the unemployed educated youth.

Co-ops are critical in developing and improving economic conditions for unemployed educated youth by providing work. So, they help level the playing field for the privileged ‘haves’ and the underprivileged.

They are crucial in promoting economic and social development, creating employment and generating income. In doing so, they will economically empower the marginalised poor and eradicate poverty.

In the article: ‘Pushing a community-based economy’, I interrogated Anderson’s definition of a community. Anderson says a community is the ability to pull resources and power to produce and distribute consumption in a way that creates goods and wealth under its control.

But, Gordon-Nembhard showed that communities’ co-ops combine consumers with owners and sellers in democratic structures. So, co-ops are collective problem solvers. Their purpose is to meet members’ needs and enable them to earn returns on investments. In other words, co-ops will empower communities to develop independent sustainable economies.

Alternatively, co-ops are businesses where some or all the employees are owners.

Members produce and, or sell different goods and services and share profits. Worker members play direct roles in decision-making. For instance, workers participate in setting hours of operation and decide membership eligibility criteria.

The two South African studies on co-ops made profound findings. They found that co-ops supported by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have a longer life span than government-controlled co-ops. Gordon-Nembhard reported similar results in the US.

She also found out that community co-ops stay longer. According to her study, community ownership of co-ops promotes community growth.

Consequently, I propose a co-ops model that brings farmers and business owners together. They will collectively buy goods and services that would otherwise be too costly for an individual business owner to buy alone.

Thus, they will eliminate the middleman. Co-op businesses serve members’ marketing, processing and purchasing needs.

I propose forming a co-op model comprising three subsidiaries. The first arm will be the farmers’ co-op.

The primary purpose of the farmers’ co-op will be food production. To achieve this function, the Farmers Co-op will need to undertake the production, marketing and processing of agricultural products.

The farmers’ co-op will seek to produce crop and meat products. Their goals will include supplying meat produce that meets world standards in terms of slaughtering and quality control.

The long-term goal of the farmers’ co-op will be to cut food imports into Lesotho.

Presently many fields lie fallow, with able people migrating to towns looking for jobs. Farmers’ co-ops must invite the owners of these fields to join. Simultaneously, they must negotiate with the owners to have their fields surveyed to establish their surface areas.

The co-op with the field owners must cultivate all the fields. For the fields whose owners cannot till, the co-op must negotiate contracts for block farming. Farmers’ co-op will arrange favourable prices directly with the food market, cutting the middleman.

With time, the farmers’ co-op will acquire, let, sell or otherwise supply requisites necessary for farming operations.

It will ensure that members of the co-op and communities will benefit from its activities. Members must benefit from all proceeds of the food supply chain.

The second arm will be the food co-op. It will focus on providing local, organic, free-range, natural and healthy foods to all the members and surrounding communities. Subsequently, the food co-op will be the sole supplier of food products produced and processed by our farmer members.

In this way, they will eliminate the middleman in the food supply chain and give members affordable fresh food direct from the farm.

The food co-op will include food processing. For instance, the food co-op will process pork meat into polony, ham, etc. The food co-op must work directly with the farmers for their products.

The third and last arm of the co-op model will focus on capacity building and human development. I call this arm the Academy.

The Academy will provide academic and training services for the co-op. The Academy will offer training and short-courses in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security and the Ministry of Education and Training.

So I suggest the co-op model run under the stewardship of an elected board. The co-op membership must be open to people over the age of 18-years. People must apply for membership. The 2000 Act mandates that the minimum number of members in a co-op is ten.

Moreover, the co-op must agree on joining and membership fees. Members have the right to do business with or through the co-op.

Each member carries one vote in the co-op. The co-op shares will all be of the same class, ranking and nominal value. Members may apply for additional shares from the co-op.

In summary, this article scans the agricultural demise of Lesotho and suggests an approach to follow. I cite the pork import to concretise Lesotho’s food shortage plight. Lesotho is a net importer of grain crops.

I argue for a community-level approach. The solution to Lesotho’s economic problem lies with Basotho and its communal farming tradition. Accordingly, I propose that communities must establish cooperative enterprises.

Co-ops have existed in Lesotho from the second decade of the 20th century. However, they experienced numerous setbacks. These includes unsupportive legislature and excessive regulation.

Evidence from other countries show that supportive legislation enables greater co-op development.

These studies reveal that community-owned cooperatives are successful. They help ordinary people access banking services. Also, they help communities grow. At the same time, co-op members will participate in the economy and lead quality lives.

Thus, I propose establishing a three-pronged co-op model. The first is the farmers’ co-op.

This co-op’s primary task is fresh food production. They ensure that communities benefit from their activities.

The second arm is the food co-op. The food co-op shall negotiate prices directly with farmers.

So the co-op will generate affordable prices for the communities they serve by eliminating the middleman from the supply chain. Also, they will process the meat into other products.

The third and last arm is the Academy. The Academy will be responsible for human development and cutting-edge information sharing.

They will ensure that the co-op model remains on top of innovations in the food production industry.

In conclusion, our ailing economy adversely impacts economic development aggravating the triple tragedy of hunger, poverty and unemployment.

Thus, many citizens cannot participate in economic activities. Moreover, the low agricultural production and excessive food import exacerbate the awkward predicament. Community-owned cooperatives are an obvious solution. The country’s economic redemption lies firmly with Basotho communities.

Dr Tholang Maqutu

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The battle against ovarian cancer

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Once upon a time. There once existed a kholumolumo (dinosaur) who swallowed all the people in the world except one pregnant woman.

She eventually gave birth to a baby boy whom she named Senkatana. In time, the boy became a mighty hero when he confronted this monster with his shield and spear and freed all the people.

When the people met their young rescuer, they were thrilled and asked him to be their ruler. But the question that remained was how long they would be satisfied with his rule.

September is marked the National Ovarian Cancer Month on the calendar and it’s during this time that many organisations and other women, myself included, honour the courage of those affected by ovarian cancer and renew the commitments we once made to fight this disease that takes the lives of far too many women.

Cancer is defined as a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to spread to other parts of the body.

So, ovarian cancer is the growth of cells that form and multiply quickly in the ovaries and like all cancers, it is brutal and cruel, inflicting pain and suffering for women and their families.

Treatment of this cancer usually involves surgery and chemotherapy. Its symptoms may include abdominal bloating, weight loss, discomfort in the pelvic area, back pain and changes in bowel habits among others.

It is still not clear what causes this cancer but doctors have identified things that may increase the risk of the disease such as old age, inherited gene changes, post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy, endometriosis and never having been pregnant.

Even though doctors managed to pick a few risk factors that may increase the chances of acquiring this cancer, they do not have a sure way to prevent it. But taking birth control pills may help reduce its chances with you, many women have confirmed this.

The latest WHO data published in 2020 reported 0.07% of total deaths by ovarian cancer in Lesotho and the age adjusted death rate of 3.01 per 100,000 of population ranked Lesotho number 145 in the world.

It was also rated the No 4 cause of cancer deaths in women between 2003 and 2007 and the median age of women diagnosed with it was 63.

This cancer is very rare and deadly and because of its rarity many women are diagnosed with it at an advanced stage.

Research shows that despite ovarian cancer rates being highest among white women, black women are more likely to die from this disease because of lack of access to health care centres.

In the past years many initiatives have been implemented to raise awareness and improve healthcare capacity to mobilise funds to strengthen interventions on breast, prostate and cervical cancer but ovarian cancer has always been left out although it may hinder “nation building”.

Former First Lady Maesiah Thabane during her time in office swore to establish a fully equipped cancer centre that would provide improved care for Basotho diagnosed with cancer.

Today we have the Senkatana Oncology Centre (name inspired by the tale at the beginning of this article) and this is all thanks to the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation (BMSF), Ministry of Health (MoH), the National University of Lesotho (NUL) and Dr Kabelo Mputsoe, the Mountain Kingdom’s very first Oncologist.

Dr Mputsoe is a Clinical Radiation Oncologist and the first Specialist in Clinical Radiation Oncology in Lesotho. She holds a managerial position as Head of Non-Communicable Diseases Section Focal Person in Cancer Prevention and Control Programmes.

Some of her responsibilities include leading the NCD section with strategic objectives such as to raise the priority accorded to the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases in Lesotho agendas and internationally agreed development goals through strengthened international cooperation and advocacy.

The new Senkatana Cancer Clinic is manned by Dr Kabelo Mputsoe, the oncologist, Dr ‘Maseabata Ramathebane who is representing the NUL, Dr Pearl Ntšekhe of the MoH and Phangizile Mtshali representing the BMSF.

I was very fortunate to talk to one ovarian cancer survivor who was diagnosed with this disease at 35. She is now 62. She told me that after so many screening tests the results came back and she was told she had stage four ovarian cancer.

What traumatised her most was when they put a timeline on her life and said she had six months left before she could die. She went to see one top gynaecologic-oncologist who performed a radical hysterectomy and at his suggestion underwent six rounds of chemotherapy.

Although she beat the cancer, she lost the ability to bear any more children. Hysterectomy is a surgical operation to remove all or part of the uterus. Most women find it hard to conceive after undergoing this surgical procedure.

Though it may be possible, it is very rare (to fall pregnant) for the uterus is removed and there’s nowhere to house the baby. Such pregnancies often result in ectopic pregnancy because the embryo would implant in some place most likely the fallopian tube.

My message to women this month is: please make it a must to know your bodies and be observant with any changes you may notice, both normal and abnormal. Cancer screening is essential and never miss any session because early detection and proper treatment are significant factors in the battle against ovarian cancer.

“It is therefore imperative that all of us become familiar with the symptoms of ovarian cancer and the conditions that place us at an increased risk”.
May we remember to make good use of the Senkatana Oncology Centre so that we can lead healthy, happy, and full lives, cancer-free.

Bokang Masasa

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Difficult works of literature

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When I first read TS Eliot’s iconic poem called ‘The Love songs of J Alfred Prufrock’, I was in school.

I must confess that I understood nothing even with a re-reading and a third and even fourth reading!

I have always known that some works of literature, passages or whole books, can be very difficult to comprehend. I now know that difficult literature is sometimes referred to as opaque, inaccessible, obscure etc.

Much later and with a lot of hand holding from my mentors, I gradually woke up to the realisation that ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ by T.S. Eliot is the inner monologue of a city gentleman who is stricken by feelings of isolation and inadequacy and incapability of taking decisive action.

He goes through community, through rooms full of women as if he is about to declare his love but rambling on and on about either his memories or his expectations. The difficulty is that the unwary reader does not know what exactly this man’s journey is about. The poem begins:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

You read and say, why is the voice in the poem inviting us to make a visit that leads us into asking the so-called “overwhelming questing.”

As the poem continues, you find out that ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’ is driven by a persona who is constantly very self-conscious with his thoughts flowing forward, backwards and sideways, sparking various psychological associations.

He goes to and fro the streets insisting that there will be time to do virtually all things that we want done in life but you wonder what all these things would be. There are also here obscure yellow smoke revisions and revisions:

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

When you eventually get used to it, you may find out that this poem is an examination of the tortured psyche of the prototypical modern man—overeducated, eloquent, neurotic, and emotionally stilted.

Prufrock, the poem’s speaker, seems to be addressing a potential lover, with whom he would like to “force the moment to its crisis” by somehow consummating their relationship.

You may actually start to like the so called Prufrock and feel that he is in fact an aged man who is very concerned with the way people may think about what he thinks is his not so appealing appearance.

Meanwhile he is thinking about proposing love to a woman. He constantly addresses himself while he is in one spot.

He imagines himself straying into various rooms where there are many women who could easily pass negative comments about him. Finally he undertakes no physical journey at all, having already travelled mentally.

At that point you notice that had this poem not been part of your school set texts, you may not have travelled this far listening to a narrator who appears dreamy and hesitant.

You go back to this difficult poem simply because of the examination in the end. You plod and suffer.

Prufrock finally goes out to the beach and takes a restless walk, still holding mental debates within himself.

It is apparent that the use of the interior monologue in this instance is difficult to a new reader as it captures the mind of the individual who fails to come to terms with a practical reality and ends up living in his mind. In literature this tends to dramatise the neurosis of the individual in modern society.

Christopher Okigbo (born August 16, 1932, Ojoto, Nigeria—died August 1967, Nigeria), is considered one of the best and most widely anthologized African poets.

But his poetry is sometimes considered dense and inaccessible.

You learn that he is what is called a poet’s poet! Okigbo’s blending of Western ideas and techniques with a Nigerian perspective has distinguished his work from that of his contemporaries but also making it difficult and impenetrable to many others.

You eventually learn that despite his father’s devout Christianity, the late great Nigerian poet, Christopher Okigbo had an affinity with traditional Igbo Gods or deities.

You are told that he actually came to believe later in his life, that in him was reincarnated the soul of his maternal grandfather, a priest of Idoto, an Igbo deity.

Idoto is personified in the river of the same name that flows through Okigbo’s village, and the “water goddess” figures prominently in Okigbo’s work. In his poem ‘Heavensgate’, Okkgibo writes that:

Before you, mother Idoto, naked I stand
When you read that poem Heavensgate away from the concept of Nigerian Gods, you may actually get lost. It is a poem that has to be read with the use of footnotes so that you don’t bring in the wrong meanings! Your teacher tells you that this is a re-incarnation of Okbibo’s maternal grand-father, who used to be the priest of the shrine called Ajani, where the Idoto, the river goddess, is worshipped and that Okigbo, should carry on his duties. In most of his poems, Okgibo takes a deep religious stance and it is after a re-reading that you access all this crucial information. Left on your own, you may put Okigbo aside and find other things to read.
In another of Okigbo’s poems, “The Passage” the reader meets the “oil bean” symbol. You are told that among the Igbo traditions, the oil bean tree is regarded as a totem, and legend has it that the spirits of little children stay there to wait for kind women that would become their earthly mothers. It is a sacred tree found in most shrines in Igbo land. There are some other trees which are equally considered sacred. In this poem, the protagonist is seen:
leaning on an oil bean,
lost in your legend
under your power wait I
on barefoot,
watchman for the watchword
at Heavensgate.

You also learn that Okigbo death came when he was very young during the Nigeria/Biafra Civil War (July 6, 1967 – Janaury 12, 1970) in the service of Biafra soon after enlisting in the secessionist army.

You then realise that Okigbo was blamesd for being inaccessible and he even once remarked sulkily to delegates that, “I don’t read my poems to non-poets!”

Another difficult poem is by an English poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. He uses what is called “sprung rhythm,” making it sometimes elusive.

His poem called “The Windhover” is written in the “sprung rhythm,” a metre in which the number of accents in a line are counted but the number of syllables does not matter.

This technique allows Hopkins to vary the speed of his lines so as to capture the bird’s pausing and racing. Hopkins goes:

I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

With lots of assistance, you eventually learn that the windhover is a bird with a rare ability to hover in the air, essentially flying in place while it scans the ground in search of prey.

Much like the African eagle! The poet describes how he saw (or “caught”) one of these birds in the midst of its hovering!

The bird strikes the poet as the darling (“minion”) of the morning, the crown prince (“dauphin”) of the kingdom of daylight, drawn by the dappled colours of dawn. It rides the air as if it were on horseback, moving with a steady control like a rider whose hold on the rein is sure and firm.

In the poet’s imagination, the windhover sits high and proud, tightly reined in, wings quivering and tense.

Its motion is controlled and suspended in an ecstatic moment of concentrated energy.

The other poem of Hopkins called “God’s Grandeur” begins with the surprising metaphor of God’s grandeur as actually an electric force!

The figure suggests an undercurrent that is not always seen, but which builds up a tension or pressure that occasionally flashes out in ways that can be both brilliant and dangerous:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

Hopkins is defiantly affirmative in his assertion that God’s work is still to be seen in nature, if men will only concern themselves to look.

Refusing to ignore the discoveries of modern science, he takes them as further evidence of God’s grandeur rather than a challenge to it.

Dambudzo Marechera of Zimbabwe’s novella of 1978 called House of Hunger is an iconic piece of work in African literature. But it can make your head spin, if you read it unaided for the first time.

The novella is about an extremely sensitive young black man growing up in colonial Rhodesia with its racist laws and its oppression that gave black folk very limited space. Doris Lessing says reading The House of Hunger is “like overhearing a scream.” It is very dense and impenetrable.

House of Hunger is also about the struggle for physical and spiritual spaces. That is why; maybe, the word ‘house’ is used in various ways in that book. House means the physical home and its troubles.

It also stands for the mind of the individual as that space with turmoil. Finally ‘house’ could stand for troubled Rhodesia which is permanently in the background to this story.
In this book, Marechera adopts a style that is modernist and not linear.

Which really makes reading difficult. The story shifts constantly and in a seemingly irregular manner between home, school, home and bar. If you manage those sudden shifts, you will be able to enjoy and understand the story.

The only physical space that is travelled realistically is the journey from the point the nameless major character (who is the narrator throughout) packs all his things, leaves the house in anger and goes to the nearby bar and you may fail to come to terms with this story.

From that point onwards, the story goes ahead in series of the narrator’s reminisces, colliding in and out of one another.

At each point when an old acquaint comes into the pub, Marechera’s narrator takes us back to his old days with him or her, but always comes back to the present.

This demonstrates Marechera’s very close experience with modernist literature especially with the writings of T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Kafka and others, who felt that only a disjointed style would best describe a disjointed experience.

Throughout the novella, we observe that the nameless narrator is a vulnerable individual.

At home he is a victim of the violence of the father, mother, brother and others.

He is also morally assaulted by the township experiences for example his observation with other children of the man who rapes his wife openly and in broad daylight.

The narrator’s response to this violent society is to write. He tries to respond creatively and his first short story is about the prostitute with the drip.

The prostitute is, for the author,a symbol of Rhodesia.

Difficult texts make some people give up on a story.

When I first read Soyinka’s novel, Season of Anomy, I actually could read and comprehend the simple words but I felt the ennui or boredom underlying the text.

Its essentially a feeling of detachment from the surrounding society and its mores, often due to living in a period and or place where things are stagnating, often coupled with a general boredom with everything and everybody.

The ennui in that novel was so overpowering that I almost dropped the book.

I could only continue when a colleague told me that the novel was written in such a way that the reader should feel the anomy in the society itself and that this was actually deliberate on the part of the author and not an artistic fault! Ah, the difficult texts of literature!

Memory Chirere

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