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The art of love: a review

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“Poetry is more than just a way of expressing myself or playing with words, it is a way I get to empower or comfort people that are going through challenges that I managed to overcome or still facing”, says Mophethe David Mojau who is 22. At age three the young poet was diagnosed with epilepsy — a nerve cell activity disorder that causes seizures. At the age five he was suspected to have autism because that is only when he started talking.

But none of these conditions stopped him from thriving in what he really wanted to do.

Growing up he aspired to be a rapper but later, because of lack of access to proper recording facilities, he gave up the dream and moved to writing.

In 2017 he focused on his ability to write and would compose short verses which he shared on social media, the feedback was amazing and it motivated him to write more. Mojau who draws his inspiration from Rupi Kaur, William Shakespeare, Paulo Coehlo and Mark Manson says his first poem was inspired by young love.

In this poem that he wrote in March 1, 2018 he poured out his heart to a girl but it hanged around between just the two of them. To most men, pouring out emotions is a sign of weakness but to him this is amid his greatest strengths. It is through his emotions that he can write poetry.

Towards the end of 2018 he found himself in a dark place battling depression and anxiety to a point where he was suicidal and this inspired his second poem titled “Voices in my head” which was also never printed. Studies show that “About 8% of teens ages 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder, with symptoms starting around age 6”.

The causes range from peer pressure, the fear of missing out (drug and alcohol use), parental disapproval, issues that negatively impact self-esteem etc. What triggered this young poet’s anxiety runs somewhere along the lines of family issues, loss of a loved one and peer related issues but the outcome was beneficial for him and poetry partisans — The Art of Love: The Anthology

The Art of Love: The Anthology is a collection of poems by Mophethe David Mojau and Acid D (an anonymous South African author who addresses issues that are often overlooked) and it revolves around issues of mental health. It is based on an upcoming novel; The Art of Love (also based on mental health and teenage love) and is set to promote it.

The anthology was launched on October 29 which was the Mental Health Awareness month. The idea was not only to celebrate mental health but to also give young artistes a platform to showcase their talents.

The book is divided into six chapters and each chapter is a whole new world that the authors give you a tour around. The first chapter is based mostly on autism, epilepsy and losing oneself to depression.

It arouses your emotions and empathy as the author lays himself down and cuts himself open to give you a clear picture of his life as an autistic and epileptic child, a glimpse of what it is like to live with a certain condition.

Perhaps fate favoured him when “I was hard to comprehend, I had difficulties in speaking, But I could sing” because singing and poetry are allies and to recite a poem is like singing out song lyrics without a tune.

“I wasn’t always poetic, language wasn’t my strength. Instead, I was great at Mathematics. The tables began to turn, in terms of speaking poetry, I became fluent.”

The last three poems of this chapter are written in verse form, very short and easy to comprehend. They provide hope to those who are going through difficult times and encourage them to hold on to life.

Chapter 2 is more fixated on love and the beauty of it but this beautiful world collapses in chapter three when Nicola breaks up with Daniel (a character who is made up of the two authors’ character traits).

This is a book, in the midst of your problems, that will encourage you to hold on to life. Chapter six which is a bonus is intended to help people bounce back from overwhelming life situations such as grief, police brutality which is notorious in Lesotho and has resulted in many deaths, rejection, bullying which is overlooked and other depressing situations.

The book was rejected a couple of times but Mojau did not give up publishing his work. He came up with ideas to raise funds that would later result in a well-designed book that was finally printed out.

“Rejection does lead one to a better destination”, says the young poet who says he wishes to pursue his dreams by enrolling in film studies and already has a perfect idea for his first movie.

“I may have depression and anxiety and epilepsy but these conditions do not have me. It is a blessing to have problems. It is through challenges that we find growth but it is a curse that you have laid upon yourself if you allow your problems to have you.”

Bokang Masasa

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Shimmer Chinodya speaks

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Shimmer Chinodya’s internationally acclaimed novel published in 1989, Harvest of Thorns, was adapted for stage and presented during the 2013 Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa) as a stage drama. It was staged to a capacity crowd on April 30, 2013 at 7 Arts Theatre in Harare, Zimbabwe.

I caught up with Shimmer Chinodya recently and interviewed him about the goings on behind the scenes because he had adapted his own novel to a stage play and was producing it himself.

Shimmer Chinodya himself has been one of the more outstanding Zimbabwean writers from among those who became prominent after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980. His writings tend to dwell on the space of the individual in the family in the fast-changing times in Zimbabwe.

His experimentation with form and language has drawn immense attention on a literary scene that dwelt largely on realist writing. Strife (2006) won Chinodya the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. A synopsis of the novel, Harvest of Thorns

Harvest of Thorns portrays the history of Zimbabwe from its late days as a member of the British Commonwealth through its time as an independent Rhodesia under a white minority government and the consequent Bush War to the transfer to a majority-ruled Zimbabwe; these events and their consequences are seen primarily through the eyes of the young man Benjamin Tichafa.

As the novel begins, the Bush War has ended, the new majority government of Zimbabwe has taken power, and Benjamin returns home for the first time in three years after fighting as a guerilla…a pregnant young woman appears, whom he finally introduces as his wife. He attempts to collect his back and demob pay, but because he left his last encampment without being formally discharged, he is unable to prove he’s owed the money.
The interview

Memory Chirere: Harvest of Thorns got so much international recognition, winning you The Common Wealth Prize for Literature (Africa Region) in 1990. What place does this novel hold in your life and career?
Shimmer Chinodya: It was my literary breakthrough. Mind you, I was only twenty seven when I started it but few people realise it was my fourth novel. It took me places, carved me a niche in Zimbabwean and world literature.

It was staple reading for a whole generation of Zimbabweans and foreigners. It became an ‘O’ level literature text for Zimbabwe in the 90s and was taught in universities and colleges worldwide and read by people in the street.

Harvest’s success challenged and spurred me to write more. I went on to write seven other books of fiction, and two of them, Chairman of Fools and the Noma Award winning Strife have been prescribed as ‘A’ level set texts.

The success of these and scores of my textbooks used in the SADC region made me quit my last job as Professor of Creative Writing at St Lawrence University, New York, to return home and take up full time writing as a career. And I haven’t looked back!

Chirere: But you are not known for theatre…

Chinodya: Oh, yes, I do have some grounding in theatre. With sixty published books under my belt, you bet there isn’t a literary genre I haven’t handled. In my brief high school teaching spell I directed three plays for Open Days.

Exactly thirty years ago, in 1983, I adapted my dear, beloved first novel, Dew in the Morning, into a 40 episode radio drama for the then Radio 4 and I even narrated, directed and co-produced it!

Memory Chirere: Adaptations are not common in Zimbabwe. How did you come up with the idea to adapt Harvest for the stage? And why Harvest, of all your novels?

Chinodya: There had been several offers to make a film of Harvest and in 1995, the great Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambety (of ‘Hyenas’ fame) and producer Tariq Ali had agreed to work on the project with a company called Bandung.

I even did the treatment but the fundraising hit the rocks…Now in the last two years, I have been ardently watching Zimbabwean theatre and I thought some of our theatre is so tame, fireside or sitting room affairs ‘manufactured’ for convenient NGO causes or topical interests with short life spans and I said to myself, why don’t I do something really big and beautiful and artsy with our history and our culture and our classics and

POP! Harvest came up! Because, many people say, the book is an epic and is so graphic and it already wrote itself out as a drama.

Chirere: What guided you towards which parts to bring into Harvest as drama and which sections to leave out?

Chinodya: The storyline was not difficult to maintain. It was the compressing that was difficult. When you have to tell a huge 50 year story in 90 minutes and using four different genres; theatre, music, dance and storytelling, you have to be ruthless to your own work.

Some parts that worked beautifully as prose like protagonist Benjamin Tichafa’s interior monologues or reminiscences of the 60s, for instance, had to be sacrificed to save time. Perhaps Clopas and Shamiso’s romantic comedy took up too much time.

Benjamin’s predicament and mental turmoil could have been explored more. But that is drama, you have to have a take, an angle and sacrifice some aspects. With prose the canvas is much wider and the artist is freer to indulge her/himself.

Chirere: What was it like doing the adapted script itself? Was it like a rewriting or a revision? Or, a new challenge?

Chinodya: It was fun all the way, but very tough – rediscovering my characters and interrogating their predicaments, a quarter of a century later! The characters and issues emerged like swimmers out of the blue, clearer, sharper. The cast members immediately warmed up to their roles and I must thank them for their practical suggestions; every evening we would whittle and refine the story.

It was a real team effort. I gave them the story and they brought their various skills to nurture it to life. The real challenge was to blend in the various genres so that none of them ‘bullied’ the others, and all worked together smoothly to create a fresh and delightful product.

Chirere: Harvest of Thorns is a novel partly about war and sometimes real combat. I understand that you have never been a combatant. How did you come up with the sections on contacts? Where did you get the confidence?

Chinodya: Remember I was expelled from Goromonzi (High School) in 1976 for protesting against black call-up. I could easily have run off to Mozambique and joined the ‘boys’. We heard the propaganda. We heard vivid reports from the war zones. I heard the misplaced blasts at downtown Woolworths from the Manfred Hodson Hall, college green and saw the fuel tanks blaze in Southerton in the late 70s.

We lost relatives or family members in landmine blasts and ‘crossfire’ and witnessed atrocities from either side. When you saw in my play that old demented woman dazedly picking up children’s body parts and stuffing them into a paper bag after the Rhodesian bombings, the very next morning after the infants had been gleefully chanting ‘The Chimurenga alphabet’, that was a fusion of history and art.

Chirere: This is a novel of 1989, how did it gain or lose from being adapted in 2012/13, about 24 years later?

Chinodya: Artistes must not always push their thumbs into the bowl of history. We tried to capture things as they were right up to just after independence. The true judge of history is time. Artistic distance often sharpens perception.

I suppose some people expected the ‘thorns’ to extend from the woes of the Tichafas to our present day problems, the economic meltdown, potholes, poisoned environment, endemic corruption and protracted political strife and insipid despair. I didn’t want to overload the story.

I opted to let Hope Masike jazz up the ending with her wonderfully distilled lyrics for Benjamin’s ‘bornfree’ son, Zvenyika in the last song.

Chirere: You wrote this novel, Harvest of Thorns. You adapted this story for stage. You directed the stage play. You have done three things with this story. Don’t you think the product could have been different if somebody had adapted and directed?

Chinodya: Correction; four things. I also produced it! I admit it probably might have been a different thing if we had brought in other brains to work on it, but you don’t always get the vision and commitment – intellectual, financial and the time you envisage from your colleagues.

Besides, who says a good writer cannot try a hand at directing – many great African writers, Soyinka, Ousmane etc, have done it. An excellent script is the ultimate director. I approached quite a few people and was generally met with cynicism and indifference or lukewarm commitment. So I said, Damn, I will do this myself.

Chirere: Doing the script is one thing but working with actors is totally different. What were the challenges of identifying an appropriate cast and working with it?

Chinodya: Most of the cast was handpicked. I had seen them on the stage or knew their work. I had to charm them into believing we were onto something different. I tapped into their various talents. Everybody contributed.

The script metamorphosed, refined itself. It was a difficult and demanding script, but we argued and interacted – and hopefully came out of it better artistes ourselves. You bet after this my own writing is going to be different…

Chirere: The mbira and songs by Hope Masike and company were wonderful. How did you come up with all these?

Chinodya: Hope Masike is an absolute beauty to work with. She’s energetic, versatile, intelligent and professional. She was my first recruit for the project; as early as November 2012 we’d meet twice a week to discuss the project and I’m grateful for her enthusiasm and willingness to hear me out which gave me the confidence to think out the project to her.

She (like all the subsequent cast members) read my novel and liked it. I’d say to her, can you do these two chapters in a two minute song or do a war refrain or back up this interior monologue with sad blues mbira and she’s be back three days later with a couple of tunes.

I’d drive her out to Domboshawa or Goromonzi or Cleveland Dam and she would pluck up Nhemamusasa, chimurenga, or mbira jazz and I would hand her a plate of mazhanje and tease, “Mermaid, do you take fruit?” Her music was not merely decorational, it became part of the story, part of the drama.

Chirere: The story ends up in a happier way than the novel; a new baby, a meeting and conversation between father and son… Were you answering to some of your critics who might have told you that the novel has a sad ending?

Chinodya: Art must ultimately uplift the human spirit. The happy ending grew out of the comical slant of the play, the celebratory reminiscences of the 60s, of the kwela dances, the ability of the soul, particularly the Zimbabwean psyche, to heal itself and regenerate. The last jazz song united the whole cast, and jazz is not always happy or sad music, rather it is mumhanzi wekugaya, a thinker’s music, just like Zimbabwe is a thinker artist’s terrain.

Chirere: I saw that most of your cast are generally below age 40 and they didn’t directly experience the war of liberation and the music and dress of the 1960s. How much work was done and what were the challenges?

Chinodya: Most of the cast members had read the novel. The material was mostly alien to them and I had to explain to them some aspects of the war, for instance, the political ferment in the 60s, the war effort itself, Chinese torture, the Chimoio bombings, the treatment of traitors and the human foibles of the combatants. For nearly all the cast, the material was an education.

Chirere: Why was there a decision for Hope Masike and band to be visible throughout when the band was not physically interacting with the acting? Why didn’t you keep the band behind the scene?

Chinodya: That was a technical decision, Memory. We decided that curtaining off the band every time they stopped playing, or having them slip off stage would be too cumbersome, so we had them blacked out and the lights on the action on the front stage when the band was not singing.

Chirere: You will agree with me that we need more of these adaptations. What would you say to other writers who would want to do this with their novels?

Chinodya: It’s easier said than done. It’s damn expensive, a no go area for ‘pump price’ artistes. For the record, our revered Culture Fund gave me not a cent – I have half the mind to approach and co-opt a committee of established artistes from across the arts to fund the Fund itself! I am very grateful to HIFA, to Gavin Peter and Elton Mjanana, in particular, for their generous vision, for believing in the project as something that could showcase combined Zimbabwean talent and underwriting the bulk of the budget.

Adaptations need blocks of time – solid months of sheer hard work – not the sort of thing to try when you have been grading seminar papers all day, shuffling legal files or balancing company financial sheets or running a multiplicity of small time errands like every other Zimbo.

And you need a broad enough vision and knowledge to see the interconnectedness of the arts – music, drama, visual art, dance, literature and how one art form ultimately feeds on the other.

Memory Chirere

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Resuscitate economic labs

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I think there is a civil servant living in my house because every time I buy a box of biscuits, the contents inside suddenly disappear without any trace. But the box will still be neatly placed in the cupboard, yet completely empty. Well, with a few crumbs left.

When I open the fridge and try to pour some juice, the box will still be there, where I last placed it but it will be completely empty. “Hao banna! Okay let me rather have a slice of cake left-over from last night outing”.

The box will still be there but the cake will have walked out of the box. These are character traits of civil servants from a certain country, e nkhakang ka lebitso. And I am convinced that I am co-habiting with a civil servant.

In any case, one of the many initiatives that I believed could have brought rapid economic transformation was the programme/strategy that was introduced by the Malaysian Government named the economic transformation labs or ‘economic labs’ in short.

I caught this initiative in motion in the year 2018 and was driven by the previous Ministry of Development Planning and I thought, what an excellent strategy.

So, what had happened was that, the previous Ministry of Development Planning invited representatives from the Malaysian Government to introduce the strategy called the ‘Economic Transformation Labs’.

This initiative/strategy was meant to accelerate implementation of programmes and projects that aligned with the National Strategic Development Plan, Part-two (NSDP-Two).

Of course, I’m not the biggest fan of the NSDP strategic plan because, in my view, it is a copy and paste of a strategic plan that was compiled by the BNP-led government, in 1976 (le hopole ha ke le-neshenale hohang. Ebile ke le-RFP).

This was a five-year development plan and I tell you, you’ll be amazed at the level of detail and meticulous typesetting that was used to compile the document. Excellent! Note: There was no Microsoft word at the time.

The chapters were short and paragraphs brief and straight to the point. It could be understood by almost anyone and this is where the NSDP-Two document falls short.

By the way haesale Ntate Mahloko a nka copy eaka ea 1976 Development plan, a re o ilo e bonts’a Ntate Majoro. Ntate Mahloko, please return the document ke lo bonts’a Ntate Matekane. Maybe there’ll be progress this time around.

I understand that the five-year development plan that I’m referring to was compiled by Ntate Sam Monts’i. Nalane! But the interesting part is that, the book (document) was passed-on to me by my closest friend Ts’epo Thabisi around 2015. He said, “A ko bone na batho bana na ba ne ba se ntse ba nahanela pele joang”.

Well, the 1976 development plan still had a stamp from the Agric-Research Library so I don’t know how it landed in Mr Thabisi’s hands. Let’s leave it there.

So, this five-year strategic plan covered almost all the big projects due to be implemented from 1976 to 1981 and in the document, there were projects such as the construction of Hilton Hotel with a budget allocation of M30 million. 30m!

There was also a chapter on the implementation of the Moshoeshoe One International Airport. The most interesting part is that there was an industrial park proposed on the periphery of the airport in a village called Ha ‘Masana. Eaba?

There was also a chapter on Mining and Lesotho was preparing to open the Liqhobong and Kao mines. Surprise, surprise! And finally, there was a chapter on Lesotho Bank and the construction of the tallest building in Lesotho. Haesale re ema moo ka litumeliso! Almost 40 years later!

So, there was sense of direction in 1976 and I think the new RFP government needs to revisit the strategic development plan, hence my advocacy for a retention and remodelling of the Ministry of Economic Development, Planning and Monitoring. It would be very useful for compiling a new strategic plan.

In my view, the current NSDP-Two document is a mockery of the 1976 Strategic plan because it’s just a cut and paste of the old document. The current one is too long, difficult to read, too sophisticated for an ordinary Mosotho on the street. But Basotho don’t like to read.

Now, let’s talk about the economic labs. So, when the Malaysian government realised that it needed to graduate to become a high-income country, the problem of running a government resulted in constant crisis management.

Hee, borokho bo oele. Hee, bese e phethohile. Hee, shopo e ntse e cha Kingsway.

So, the Malaysian government devised a strategy to execute/deliver projects using a focused method called ‘economic labs’. How does it work? A government identifies key projects that can be key economic drivers.

In our case, there were five, key strategic areas for economic growth in Lesotho as per the NSDP-Two document and they were as follows: 1. Tourism 2. Mining 3. Agriculture 4. Science and Technology and hana what was the fifth sector? Yes, manufacturing.

The economic labs were meant to put stringent focus on each and every project that was meant to create economic change.

That meant all ministers in the cabinet had to focus on one project and remove all the obstacles (red-tape) until the project was implemented. Wow! Highlight the words, to remove all the red-tape and government bureaucracy!

This was the essence of the economic labs in summary. So it means, if government identifies a project to build a new factory that is going to manufacture and export i-Phone 15 phones, it would mean, all ministers in the cabinet converge and focus all their energy and resources on that particular project, until it is implemented. They remove all the red tapes and roadblocks.

The system worked for some time. Hey, Ministers had to report back on progress in every cabinet meeting.

There was a system that the Malaysian consultants introduced to grade progress on the projects.

A green light meant there was progress, orange meant you had to give some attention and red meant things were not going right. So, Ministers were working hard to avoid the red light at all cost. Bona bana ba hae mona, nakong ea puso ea Ntate Tom. Well until the system was scraped for obvious reasons because Ministers don’t want to account for anything. Ke bahlompehi.

This is how Malaysia was able to accelerate its economic growth because there was better focus on implementing key economic projects.

Now, I bring this topic to the agenda because my fear is that the RFP could find itself in a very compromised position where it is overwhelmed by the day-to-day business of running government.

The busy-ness of running government and this could come at a heavy cost of implementing projects that are meant to create economic change, create tax-revenue and create jobs.

Now, I participated in those economic labs and it was quite an interesting and vigorous exercise. I presented a project named the Lesotho-Sky mixed-use development and was one of the biggest projects in the economic-labs at a budget of 1-Billion Maloti.

Quite an exciting project but was destroyed by a jealous civil servant from a certain corporation that I won’t mention by name.

I have since relocated the project to Durban where people move with speed and agility without jealousy and red-tape.

I would strongly advise Prime Minister Matekane to compose a new five-year development plan (2022-2027) and re-introduce the economic labs for swift implementation.

Invite the Malaysian consultants for a refresher presentation.

Interesting enough, Minister Mochoboroane seemed to be passionate about the economic labs and seemed to understand how they operate.

Well, but the fact that he once ate biscuits and sipped tea in front of us, whilst we were busy presenting our projects and I was so hungry that day. Khilik!

‘Mako Bohloa

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Deportations are a wake-up call

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Last week South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motswaledi, ordered a crackdown against all undocumented foreigners staying in the country. He said all the foreigners who were in the country illegally should be expelled by January next year.

This is a very sad development for our brothers and sisters in Durban and other parts of South Africa who are trying to fend for their families.

It is a very sensitive matter and it should be treated carefully but then again scolding adult people who know the difference between legal and illegal and right and wrong will not help the situation.

It was very wrong for our people to cross borders to seek jobs in a foreign country without proper and legal documentation.

Yes it is a world-wide fact that for many years multitudes of people from different parts of the African continent have been moving from their countries of origin to South Africa in search of employment.

This is one other reason that resulted in South Africa being a multi-ethnic country encompassing a wide variety of Africa’s largest communities.

But these anti-migrant sentiments, because of South Africa’s dire economic situation of late, has resulted in accusations that migrants take jobs from locals amid increased poverty and scarcity of resources and they fuel crime activities.

That can however not be argued even though crime rates have been intensifying over the years in South Africa and after every prosecution it is always a “local” that ends up in a prison cell.

These indictments then build up and birth xenophobia/ anti-African sentiments — a social struggle about who has the right to be cared for by the state and a fight for the collective balance of rights and economic resource allocation by the state.

Police brutality is a second cousin to them. Alongside these three global phenomena are racism, discrimination and intolerance which are problems prevalent in all societies globally but in South Africa they are major conundrums bigger than the issue of unemployment.

Perhaps foreigners, as people who do not hold South African documents are called, pose a bigger threat to South Africans but what is the point of having economic boosting facilities as a state when your people lack skills, because skills are all that foreigners bring?

I am not advocating for what Basotho did nor am I supporting the raids that will see many jobless but everything has consequences and unfortunately for Basotho in Durban it is a sad ending.

When the Covid-19 broke out, many factories had to close down and many people were left jobless. Some companies retrenched people and salaries were not paid in full.

The only option was to leave for South Africa to seek proper paying jobs and for experienced factory workers the Durban and Newcastle were the perfect place to land such jobs.

But hunger and poverty had been the driving forces and people stopped thinking with their minds and started thinking with their stomachs – they never bothered to apply for work permits.

Our one problem is that we are used to doing as we please in our country that we think we can carry the same behaviour anywhere. We are used to getting away with so much in our state that we tend to forget that some countries are law-driven.

Many of us take the work permit thing as just a formality and we are such an informal people even legal documents aren’t a “must” carry for us. We are even experts at pointing fingers when things do not go our way and it perfectly works wonders for us, all the time.

When the raids started, people were so quick to blame everything on the past government led by the ABC, the DC and a few other parties. Yes the past government neglected the people’s needs and had poor service delivery but its home affairs doors were always open for anyone that needed its services.

Nobody in the past government ever tried stopping anybody from going to work anywhere in the world for as long as everything was legit and proper measures were taken. Now when the current government is trying to help those that had gone into hiding to come back home people are asking “what should they come home to because there are no jobs”.

These unfortunate incidents are similar to telling a black person not to cross the road at a highway and they ask you why. Culturally it is immoral for a black person to ask “why” when they are warned against something because apparently it invites bad luck.

Now give them some pep talk on traffic rules violations and they will assure you that they will be careful and it will not get to anything that will land them in a hospital or morgue and the vehicle driver behind bars.

Now when the hard headed pedestrian is lying in the middle of the road and the vehicle that hit them fled the scene do you whisper “I warned you against this” to their flaked out body or do you dial up the emergency number and report the unfortunate incident?

You will not hesitate but do the right thing; call for help and when they recover from the accident do not forget to remind them the importance of abiding by the law to avoid future misfortunes.

It is sad that the raids are happening at a time when the factory workers are supposed to come home for Christmas holidays but it is probably the wake-up call most of us needed.

Bokang Masasa

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