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A fading literature



What leads to the demise of any entity is the direct result of its not having inner harmony that it tears itself apart to the extent that its inner components end up so scattered they cannot be recollected and only remnants of its former being can be found. With only vestiges of the lost literature to go on with, those few scholars that do go out in search of missing literature often hit a wall so many times that they live on the verge of giving up through most of their long and lonely journey in search of those lost books and manuscripts.

The question that remains is: what leads to the decay of literature as part of not only heritage, but also as a tool that promotes the understanding of the ideals of culture? This question applies not only to the literature of this here kingdom but also to the literatures of other parts of the world. Despite its glorious writing history, the literature of this here country is fast fading into oblivion.

One would naturally assume that our literature would have advanced beyond those early writers that lit the fire of creativity that carried on for at least four generations before fading into silence. Perhaps the latter generations of literary writers can understand how they can keep the literature they received from their elders well enough for it to still have some form of meaning and relevance.

A reading of William Hazlitt’s essay The Feeling of Immortality in Youth sheds some wisdom on what could have led to the decay of Lesotho literature. The masterful essay written by this English essayist aptly begins with the words in a paragraph:
No young man believes he shall ever die. It was a saying of my brother’s, and a fine one. There is a feeling of Eternity in youth, which makes amends for everything. To be young is to be one of the Immortal Gods. One half of time is flown-the other half remains in store for us with all its countless; for there is no line drawn, and we see no limit to our hopes and wishes.

A close reading on some of the early critiques by some of the members of the pioneering class of literary writers in Lesotho reveals what the possible cause to the demise of the literature of the land could be. The rather caustic comments by some of the literary elite in the 1950’s shows to a great extent a school of writers whose confidence grew up rather too fast. It is true that they may have been prodigious, but my personal assertion is that Grade 5 children have no business comparing their writing prowess; they have yet to learn of the inner ramifications of the craft of penmanship.

This is the quality one finds in the critical essays by some of Lesotho’s early writers: many seem to have been unwittingly lured by the brightness of the lights fame promised them and forgot the simple reality that their type of literature was only in its budding stages. It was not time yet to be tearing each other’s words to shreds and singing praises on who the master of the pen is. Born circa 1850 when Tlali Moshoeshoe’s work “Litaba tsa Basutu tse Ngoliloeng Ki Tlali Moshesh.

Motseng oa Kapa. Tlakula 1858” was published, Lesotho’s modern literature was not a century old yet when the first arguments around it began within the writing fraternity. It was too early to do that for the following generations of writers had not been taught of the finer details of the craft yet.

Post-WWII for Basotho meant a more Western outlook on things fashionable, cultural and customary. The monarchy as a system of governance was in its last years (or was going through its toughest years as the events of the day prove), the country had just had its first college begun in 1945, and the cultures the soldiers had come across in the open deserts of El Alamein and Malta were slowly being assimilated into the general psyche of the land.

The average Mosotho was not the same individual he had been before the war. The ways of the West had been encountered first-hand on the various battlefields and were in a sense part of the individual that could boast about having faced ‘Hitler’ face to face in the second war of the world.

The colonial authorities’ attack on the protocol observed when it came to kingship and chieftainship became the first string to be shredded in the fabric of Lesotho literature. Without a cultural centre-point, it naturally meant that a people once united (beetled) around the image of their king/leader/ruler lost that sense of unity as their core began to scatter from being communal to being individualistic. Literature written under such circumstances tends to be of a sort that imitates without necessarily maintaining the cultural roots that got it off the ground in the first place.      

When Thomas Mofolo published Moeti oa Bochabela in 1907, it was a tribute to the western missionary school teachers that introduced the writing of such great writers as John Bunyan and his seminal work The Pilgrim’s Progress to the ‘native’ children. Taught of a new kind of heaven by the Bible-toting missionaries, the children from these under-the-eucalyptus-tree classrooms became the first authors of literature in the land of Lesotho. These ones became the people Mofolo can be grouped with and names such as DCT Bereng, Z.D. Mangoaela, Evaristus Sekese and others whose works can be lauded for being the earliest in the country.

However, these writers’ works borrowed a lot from the Western traditions as taught to the authors in the classroom, and this meant that Lesotho literature never had its true form from the onset. What the following generations have had to struggle with is establishing what can be considered a true Sesotho form of literature. The struggle is however vague because they are always compared to the pioneers, and the critiques on their works always weighed against the background of the original works published by the early group of authors.

This means that the real identity of Lesotho literature based on an oriental model has never been established. What has happened is that we as a country have always relied on an occidental type of outlook when it comes to analysing the literature of the land because the literature never actually had what can be deemed a True-Sotho form from the onset.

The passage of the years and the decline in the productivity of literature has meant that some of the finer aspects of literature such as language have been lost. The lexical ability of the language user evolves with the movement of the people, and words used in some of the old texts tend to lose their meaning as time passes. This process is natural in literature, because a word in trend in one era could be treated as taboo in the next, or, the meaning of such a word changes altogether and thus disappears from the public’s lexicon.

The literary scholar, author, or audience then have to struggle to draw any meaning or interpretation in the case where the literature read is from an earlier era. The truth about the literature in this land is that it does not seem to have held one form but has rather shifted from one social experience to the next, making it rather hard to follow or to make a clear outline of.

This coupled with the reality of the unclear form from the onset means that the literature of Lesotho has somehow been a constant search and the search somehow paused (for quite a long while) before the new-age forms of literature in the form of spoken-word poetry, feminist thought and other forms tried (rather vainly) to establish themselves as the literature of the land. They too have now faded out because of one simple fact: the quest for individual glory soon overtakes the quest for life’s different meanings that form the basis of good literature. The idea of the celebrity writer that earns big bucks has a tendency to kill the creative spirit, and as Kahlil Gibran puts it:

“Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.”
The tendency of the literary figure that focuses on fame and fortune is bound to rest on their laurels as soon as the first book review is out. One can safely guess that Lesotho literature rested on its laurels after being acknowledged as the most prolific in the early years of the last century. Instead of focusing on fanning out in the form of the lotus petal, the literature of Lesotho adopted the form of a reed. The latter form meant that the reed grew thin as the waters of the river ebbed.

The river that sustained the literature has now dried up and there is a clear lack in establishing new avenues in literary writing. The topics explored have been exhausted to the point where they actually taste like over-chewed gum; limited in flavour and lacking all the suspense needed to have the reader yearning for the next page. There is need therefore for the literary field to find new themes to explore if we are to have anything called Lesotho literature in the near future.

The old mentality that there are authorities to the art of writing should be done away with. There is the real issue of figures acting as gatekeepers ready to quash any new form of writing on the basis of its being out of sync with the expectations of the old guard. The original writers had no gatekeepers to block their path to publication. What one sees in the present moment are councils of critics on the lookout to quash any new ideas in literary thought.

There is need to change the attitude and the mentality that the previous era was better than the present. This type of outlook is similar to that of a parent seeking to live their dreams through their children without paying attention to the fact that the children do have their own dreams to fulfil without interference from the parent.

The new generation of Lesotho literary writers should be given room to explore their modes of expression without the worry that their work will be considered substandard just because it does not meet old criteria set by generations that actually never achieved anything themselves with regard to the craft of literary writing.

There is little that remains in terms of archival material on Lesotho writing and this means that the younger generations of writers have to imagine it to give it out to the rest of the nation. There has just been too much interference from irrelevant bodies that the craft has been shaped according to their wishes and not the natural path it would have followed had it been allowed to flourish as it was meant to be by nature. The questions as to the mediocrity in terms of literary output can be answered in one simple sentence: let the young writers write without interference from pseudo-authorities.

A paper on Lesotho literature by Dr. P.V. Shava of the National University of Lesotho on the paucity of Lesotho literature states:
The seeming death of the novel as an artistic form in Lesotho English writing, the preference for briefer imaginative expression such as drama and spoken word poetry mainly meant for entertainment purposes, diminished emphasis on the teaching of English literature in high school, and a low reading culture at both intermediate and tertiary levels.  

The current generation of writers learned of their craft through the reading of the novel and the newspaper before the advent of the multimedia age in the country. There are now ten thousand ways to access any kind of writing, and this means that we can come up with broader perspectives and new themes more easily than the author who had to go out in search of material to read. If there were writings on space and the seasons in the early part of the last century, there is no reason why the current crop of writers cannot find new topics and themes to explore on the now common World Wide Web and other forms of media platforms.

The book as an entity is now not limited to the bound-leaf as it was in the past. One can now read their work on a smart-phone, tablet, laptop, and other devices available. There is need to save Lesotho’s fading literature, and the only way we can go about  doing this is to foster a culture of reading that is more open to new ideas that are not limited by bureaucratic red tapes from pseudo literary authorities that have actually never penned a page in their production-less years of critiquing new works.

There is need to mentor the younger generations on the beauty of the craft of literary writing. The political lie is that the arts and the humanities have no value to this land. Those same politicians wish to see Hollywood one day, and the question is: who made Hollywood? Screenwriters penned those scripts of shows and movies and series… they had open minds supporting them in their quest to pen the best tales on the human condition.

Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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Harnessing imagery in writing



All writing is imaginative. Every piece of writing reflects the artistry and mental resourcefulness of the writer.

Effective writing also reflects the colourfulness of the writer’s mind and heart; their ability to paint the world to the reader and their capacity or facility of taking the reader with them to beautiful mental and physical and picturesque journeys.

In this piece we focus on how we can hone our creative abilities through the use of imagery and the effect of using colourful and evocative imagery in writing. Let’s go! What if I say, “Learn to prepare wisely and meticulously in time,” you will still grasp the message in a very clear way, isn’t it? But would that be interesting and colourful?

But what if we put it in a colourful manner, “Make hay whilst the sun still shines,” you really grasp the colour and the full import of the message, isn’t it? That’s what imagery does to your writing; it allows you to feel, touch and smell what you are reading.

There is no doubt that the proverb, “make hay whilst the sun still shines” has taken you to the countryside, in a farming community. You hear the bleating of sheep and the neighing of horses.

At the same time, you visualise the good farmer gracefully at work, cutting grass which he is piling in orderly stacks, preparing fodder for his animals in the future. The sun’s rays buoy his attempts and ensure that the hay is prepared with care and colour.

Thus, the point of good imagery is to capture in full detail a world that allows the reader to grasp and enjoy using their five senses. Let me give you a small but beautiful extract which further drives home the point.

“With his machete he detached a brittle clod, broke it on a stone. It was full of dead twigs and the residue of dried roots that he crushed in his fingers.

“Look, there isn’t anything left. The water has dried up in the very entrails of the mountain. It’s not worth while looking any further. It’s useless.” Then, with sudden anger, “But why, damn it! Did you cut the woods down, the oaks, the mahogany trees, and everything that grow up there? Stupid people with no sense!”

Thando struggled for a moment to find words. “What else could we do, brother? We cleared it to get new wood. We cut it down for framework and beams for our hearts. We repaired the fences around our fields. We didn’t know ourselves. Ignorance and need go together, don’t they?”

The sun scratched the scorched back of the mountain with its shining fingernails. Along the dry ravine the earth panted. The countryside, baked in drought, began to sizzle.”

What a colourful piece! The extract aptly paints a countryside’s pulse and the rhythms of seasonal and climate change and how that affects the livelihood patterns of the inhabitants. Have you seen how the sun has been endowed with human-like features?

And the description of the earth assuming human-like features, for instance, “the earth panted.” No doubt, you have seen the earth subdued by the intensity of heat in a way that is similar to a person who is panting.

To paint excellent images the writer needs to have the gift of observation. He/she should be able to observe quite a panorama of things around him and immerse them in the soil of their imagination. Let’s see another good extract where you can discern the link between good images, excellent description and the power of observation.

“It’s in the morning, the fourth watch, to borrow from biblical discourse. It’s damp outside. I brace the slicing chilly weather to go outside. There is a drizzle, constant showers seeping deep down. I pace up at least 400 metres from my hood. I see lined-up, almost cubicle-like houses.

I keep walking, with a spring in the step buoyed by the damp aura wrought by the incessant downpours. I take a deep breath, and step back as it were.

I want to be deliberate. I want to take in everything in my environment; the colours, the diverse hues and plethora of landscape contours. I notice a woman, almost in her forties, from my eye-view assumptions. She is grabbing a basket clutched tenaciously almost close to her big bosom.

She is going to Mbare Musika, the famous agricultural market wherein she intends to buy items for her stall. Behind her, there is a big strapped baby covered in velvet. As she briskly walks, I see her jumping a poodle of water as she observes her stall. I also observe a man, clad in sportswear running trying to cure a big belly.

As I keep watching, I see a woman sweeping her small veranda. I keep walking. I see a woman, plump tending to her garden. She seems animated by the drizzle, thanks to the rains.

I hear another woman, especially her piercing voice, she is selling floor polish. Her voice fills the air. As I drown in the sweet voice, I notice a man staggering. He is filthy. He could have calloused the whole night. He is holding a Black Label quart, speaking gibberish in the air. I keep watching.”

So here were are! Writing is a matter of painting with words, carving images and allowing the reader to experience the impact of all the senses so as to fully grasp the sense of what is put across.

Vuso Mhlanga teaches at the University of Zimbabwe. For almost a decade and half he taught English language and Literature in English at high school.

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Politicians’ propensity to score own goals



Lesotho politicians are often in the habit of scoring own goals. For example, look at the circus that took place in the country at the opening of parliament after the winter break. These events remind me of the article that I wrote with the title ‘Scoring own goals’.

This article appeared in this publication dated March 18 – 24, 2021. It argued that Lesotho’s politicians had a propensity to score own goals.

Many say that education and academia should not involve themselves in politics. This belief is a fallacy. The two are intrinsically intertwined. Education and politics link in a complex way.

For instance, parliament is an organ that passes laws that govern and guide national education policies. The interconnectedness includes the curricula that educational institutions and schools teach. Now, if the National Assembly’s focus is misplaced, important legislative decisions may stall or be derailed by lack of action.

I must make a disclaimer though. I am not promoting any view about a political party. I am writing this article purely as a concerned citizen.

I revisit the own goal tendency of those in authority by assessing the drama that unfolded in politics and governance. I review the recent events that culminated in the failed vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Sam Matekane and his government.

I use arguments from research to demonstrate the fluidity of Lesotho’s democracy. Some politicians often take advantage of this fluidity for selfish gain. I contest that the Prime Minister and his government should treat their adversities as stepping stones to meeting their targets.

A constitution is a living document. Accordingly, to keep Lesotho’s constitution alive, current and relevant, parliament should regularly amend it.

However, in so doing, parliament must be careful that tinkering with the country’s constitution does not compromise the essence of democracy they champion. National and democratic principles must form the dogma that underpins the improvements and amendment exercises.

Personal aspirations, ambitions and creed must not underpin the amendments.

The recent events in and out of the National Assembly make one question the perceptions of the different roles players in the democratic playground in Lesotho have.

First, there was a vote of no confidence that the Speaker ruled to defer subject to the high court’s decision.

Second, there was the allegedly drunken MP’s own goal.

The third is the press conference led by the Commissioner of the Lesotho Mounted Police Services flanked by the head of the Lesotho Defence Force and the Director General of the National Security Services.

It is already a hat trick of own goals. Fourth, there was the statement of the Prime Minister claiming an attempted coup.

The fifth own goal is the moratorium that prevented parliament from holding a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister before the lapse of three years of his inauguration.

The sixth is the practice of shirking responsibility by MPs. MPs often refer political matters to the national courts for decisions. The seventh, and the mother of all own goals, is the electoral system that Lesotho elected to pursue. The National Assembly has 120 MPs. There are 80 MPs representing constituencies and 40 proportional representatives.

The Commonwealth suggested that Lesotho review the modalities of the PR nominations. Sekatle and the Commonwealth agree that the PR system introduced plurality but at a cost. The cost is what scholars and commentators term minority rights and coalitions.

Also, it compromises accountability and transparency. It undermines the collective intelligence of the voters. Chief Jonathan warned against coalition governments by citing their instability. Political instability plagues Lesotho today.
Sekatle and the Commonwealth cited the overreliance on a threshold in awarding PR seats in parliament, cheapening them.

The PR system ballooned parliament unnecessarily. By comparison, Botswana had a population of 2.6 million in (2021). Lesotho had 2.3 million (2021). Botswana parliament currently has 65 seats, and Lesotho has 120.

A consequence emanating from the PR system in Lesotho is a hung parliament. Since 2012, there has not been an outright majority in the National Assembly. The results yielded chaos. Over that period, PMs constantly look over their shoulders. All these coalitions imploded.

Democracy is about the majority. Politicians must be persuasive to attract votes to achieve the majority. In other words, the PR system rewards failure.

The own goals cause stagnation. MPs score these own goals by serving their selfish interests. They waste time and energy on trivial things. And yet, they receive full-time salaries and earn allowances such as sittings and petrol allowances. How, then, would one explain that the external urging of parliament had to engage in the reforms exercise?

Today, reforms are lying latent. Politicians use the reform programme as an excuse for ensuring that they retain or access power. In the recent correspondences to SADC, the government and the opposition cite reforms and democracy to justify their actions. But as I write this article, there is nothing much that is happening along the lines of these very reforms. Why?

The starting point of any achievement is desire and definitiveness of purpose. The definitiveness of purpose is more than goal setting. It is one’s roadmap to achieving the overall objectives. Elsewhere, I took the definition of desire as explained by the author, Wallace Wattles.

According to Wattles, ‘Desire is possibility seeking expression, or function seeking performance’. All desires began as a thought. Expressing their desires through a manifesto is a means by which parties attempt to concretise them (their desires).

The starting point of an election campaign is the expression of political intentions and goals through manifestos. A manifesto is a public declaration of aims and policy by a political party or candidate. Political parties express their desires for what they will do in their manifestos.

After elections, these desires become the guiding principles and laws. Politically mature voters would then elect political candidates based on these manifestos.

Who instigated and drove the reforms in Lesotho? The contemporary history of Lesotho reveals that external forces pushed the reforms. Basotho merely reacted. They do not own the reform process. High on the list of their drivers are SADC, the US through AGOA and the European Union.

The practice contradicts Wattles’ definition. According to Wattles definition, desire must emanate from inside the individual, or in our case, from Basotho and be expressed outward through actions.

I do not want to comment too much about the involvement of the security agencies in politics. In my view, the relevant bodies, namely, the Law Society of Lesotho, the media and the opposition parties dealt with their involvement adequately.

Former PM Leabua Jonathan often described democracy as the government of the people by the people. But, the meaning of the construct of democracy is fluid and elusive, depending on the position of governance in Lesotho’s political arena.

Authors Hughes, Kroehler and Vander Zanden explain that democracy is a system in which the powers of government derive from the consent of the governed, namely the masses who vote, in which regular constitutional avenues exist for changing government officials.

The authors characterise the system as one which permits the population a significant voice in decision-making through the people’s right to choose among contenders for political office. Also, the system allows for a broad, relatively equal citizenship among the populace.

Lastly, it affords the citizenry protection from arbitrary state action.

Now, the question is whether the recent activities fit all the three criterias. Are the actions of the MPs who moved for the vote of no confidence in the PM’s government acting in line with Lesotho’s constitution and democracy?

This definition of democracy says that regular constitutional avenues exist for changing government officials. The no confidence vote exists in Lesotho’s constitution. But the PM and his security agencies questioned this. They claim the move by the members of the opposition to dethrone the government was a coup attempt.

The drama began when an MP from the ruling Revolution for Prosperity (RFP), Thabo Moea MP, sought an order from the High Court to delay the motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister until after the completion of the reforms process.

The opposition contests that the prayer by Moea stifles a democratic process for self-serving ends. Subsequently, the Speaker cited this impending case to defer the matter.

The constitution of Lesotho stipulates that the legislature is to pass laws, the executive is to approve and execute them, and the judiciary is to expound and enforce them. But a scholar, Nwafor, claims that the courts in Lesotho often intrude into the functions of the other arms of government.

Lesotho ‘s constitution confers powers on three arms of government in such a manner as would ensure cooperation and coordination in governance. The courts ought to bear in mind that the effective discharge of the responsibilities of the courts largely depends on the effectiveness of the other arms of government.

Nwafor brings up the issue of encroachment. He asserts that the powers of the different arms of government in such a manner would guarantee a coordinated discharge of government responsibilities to the nation. But, parliament overly relies on the courts to make political decisions. The practice encourages the risk of overreaching.

The PR electoral system denies Basotho the right to choose their representatives among contenders for political office. Instead, parties ‘hand pick’ these representatives in the pretext of the constituency elections outcomes. Often, these PR members are the ones who lost their constituency elections.

These are the politicians whose constituencies rejected them. They represent their parties and not the voters. They do not account to the voters.

Both the PM and the opposition made presentations to SADC. They overlooked the electorate. Why would SADC have power and not the electorate that elected the politicians to office? Running to SADC, an outside organisation, to settle Lesotho’s internal problems is not a solution. It is scoring an own goal. Lesotho, with its 57 years of independence, should be able to solve its internal problems.

Nonetheless, I have a completely different take from Mokhothu on the issue of the protest march by the RFP. It is unimportant to find the instigator of the protest march. The people to persuade are the voters, the people who put governments into power in a democracy, not external bodies such as SADC.

Napoleon Hill’s creed reads: ‘Every adversity brings a seed of equivalent or more benefit’. Any business person knows that business is a solution to an economic problem. So, the PM and his colleagues in his party who are business people must look at the adversity emanating from the opposition as a seed of equivalent or better benefit.

The government must dig deep to find how the problem may benefit them.
They must identify their failures and use them as stepping stones to success.

Elsewhere, I presented the views of an American scholar and activist, Anderson, who suggested that marginalised communities must cease granting candidates blank cheques. Instead, the electorate must draw their expectations and demand the campaigning party or candidate promise to meet them.

This practice is called quid pro quo. It enforces accountability and transparency.

You scratch my back, and I scratch yours. Quid pro quo is an example of one of the universal laws that demonstrate reciprocity. Reciprocity is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. The universal law is the Law of Cause and Effect. It means that for every effect, there is an equal cause. You plant a seed, so shall you reap.

Both the government and the opposition ran to SADC for help. Remember, Matekane is a successful businessman. He has, on more than one occasion, explained that he wanted to use his prowess in business to take Lesotho forward. As a businessman, Matekane has faith in his ability.

Words that come to mind here include self-confidence and trust in himself. He believes in himself. Running to SADC does not display this faith in his ability to deal with problems emanating from his opposition.

Hill argues that riches, or any form of success and achievement, begin with a thought. Faith removes limitations. Matekane must apply his faith as a businessman to become a successful politician.

To summarise, the article explores the events emanating from the fiasco of the no-confidence motion. The individuals who ought to champion constitutional democracy in Lesotho betrayed Basotho by scoring hordes of own goals.

I explored the meaning of concepts that helped me unpack some of these own goals. These were democracy, faith and desire. Also, I coupled these with scholarly research views on the constitution of Lesotho.

I contest that while the opposition may argue that they are within their rights to ruffle the government, the PM must use different tactics. He must display faith and confidence in himself and trust Basotho.

The move to influence the voters to back him deserves a big WOW! He must hold more campaigns to persuade voters to support his government. Voters may make or break him.

MPs waste time in discussing trivial issues that have no bearing on the national agenda. Often, they focus on self-serving matters. The RFP promised to refocus Lesotho towards national development and improving the quality of life.

The article also shows that the PR system does not benefit Lesotho. It diminishes accountability and the principle of quid pro quo. Also, it ballooned the numbers in parliament unnecessarily. It increased political instability by forging formations of coalition.

Politicians must refrain from abusing the judiciary by making them make political decisions. Involving the courts in making political decisions leads to encroachment. Encroachment defies democracy.

In conclusion, Matekane must not allow his detractors to derail his mandate. The same is true for the opposition leaders who attempt to dethrone him. No party campaigned on removing sitting PMs.

Also, the MPs must take the responsibilities that Basotho entrusted them with. It is high time that they make the political decisions instead of shifting them to the judiciary or external bodies.

Matekane, his business associates and technocrats in his government should revisit attributes that made them successful. One such attribute is their faith in their abilities. They must remember that riches (and success) begin with a thought, and faith removes limitations.

Dr Tholang Maqutu


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Painting mood effectively



Writing is not different from beautiful artwork. Just like a skilled painter holding a brush with its broad strokes, the writer occupies the same place and vocation in life. Writing is a work of painting life’s experiences, its hues and beautiful unfolding internal journeys. In this piece we focus on mood and how it can be achieved. Many students struggle with understanding and contemplating the scope and ambit of mood in writing.
It is hard to define and frame the scope of mood in writing. What really constitutes mood? Generally, mood encapsulates the totality of the “air” or “spirit” or “aura” that a certain work of art evokes in the human mind, feeling or sensibility. There is a certain dominant feature or streak associated with a certain work of art, place or person.

There is something which is evoked in our hearts which is associated with a certain place, person or event. Every place or event or person carries or imbues with him or her a certain mood or sensibility; and there is a panorama of sensibilities; for instance, a happy or sombre or whimsical mood. We will now focus on a certain extract and discern how it paints mood.

“He quickly rights himself and keeps walking, but there is an unsteadiness to his knees. He has been given many looks in this quarter – dirty ones, blank ones, sympathetic ones, annoyed ones. For the most part, he had learned to tolerate those than can be tolerated, and ignore those that should be ignored, but the look this woman gave him is not a look one gives to humans but to flies, ticks, cockroaches, fleas…Thato feels anger, then humiliation, then something nameless. If he were in his own country he would turn and confront the woman; but now he’s hurt, wounded, a part of him wishing he were invisible. Breathing evenly, he walks with care, only lifting his eyes once he reaches his own quarters, among his own people. He proceeds to his shack. He could stop by Thapelo’s, his neighbour, where he knows that men and women are already congregated to watch videos from home. Yet, no matter the promise of good fellowship and laughter, Thabo does not join them. Watching videos is a form of forgetting; the 2008 elections, the police with batons, the soldiers with guns, the militia with machetes. Do you remember? Limbs broken. Roofs blazing. I remember.”

This extract is characterised by the intensity of feeling and evokes feelings of sadness, despair and pain. The excerpt paints a harrowing and blood-curdling account which produces a sombre, dull and subdued mood. Thato, the protagonist in the story is in a foreign land. He was impelled to leave his country as a result of political violence which saw many people lose limbs and lives. He feels lonely and unwanted in the foreign land. He feels lost and alienated.

There are sentiments of xenophobia expressed through the glances of citizens of the foreign country he is in. Even if he were to entertain himself together with his countrymen residing in that foreign land, Thato still felt a deep and nagging feeling of being an outcast. Thus, we have made very deep and broad descriptions of the circumstances in which the protagonist finds himself with a view to demonstrate how mood is created in a narrative. The creation of mood feeds into the description of the character’s circumstances, his mindset and the space and place in which he finds himself.

Mood, as we have demonstrated from the portrayal of Thato’s experience, has a link with pathos. Pathos is that streak of sadness which pervades a story and creates empathy in the reader. The aim of effective writing is to move the reader and to impel him towards certain sensibilities which are of an affective kind. Mood, when effectively created, allows the reader to grasp meaning which is not directly said in the story or composition.

Meaning in a story is an interaction between the words in a text as read together with the effect of the words, the tone used and the created mood. There are certain words in a text which do not just communicate, but etches in the reader’s mind certain thoughts, viewpoints and feelings. These words would be so evocative. One such word describes Thato’s deepest sense of alienation in the extract given above.

The word describes him as nursing a wish of invisibility, he felt or wished he were ‘invisible.’ His wish for invisibility is of great importance. It portrays how he was deeply affected by the loathing expressed in the eyes of those looking at him with hate and disdain.

So, here we are! Creating a mood is a craft which takes time to acquire and hone. But when achieved, it makes effective reading and allows the reader to get meaning which goes beyond the text.

Vuso Mhlanga teaches at the University of Zimbabwe. For almost a decade and half he taught English language and Literature in English at high school. Send your comments and questions to:

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