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A tribute to Don Mattera



This week started in quite an absurd way. On Monday morning, delirious and drugged because of illness and disorientation, I touched the day and pulled away in horror. I sat down to write on a topic I should know about with some measure of confidence, but barely managed to let it hang together.

I sit here, now; I cannot remember a single thing I wrote early on Monday morning. After writing, I took pills and passed out. I awoke at some point; it was dark and I did not know the time, and I read that Jessie Duarte had died.
I never knew Jessie Duarte personally. I knew her brother Achmat Dangor many years ago, and more recently got to know her other brother Zane Dangor. I have nothing to say about Jessie Duarte. I knew her only as part of the ANC… I took more pills and passed out again.

When I woke from another miserable slumber, I heard that Don Mattera had died. It was only Monday. I pulled back from the day again. It was no longer the day on which we celebrated the life and wisdom of Nelson Mandela. It was the day that Don Mattera died.

I knew Don Mattera. In fact, I knew him well. Everything I have achieved as a journalist goes back to the days when Mattera began to mentor me, and saved me, as he did many kids from the streets. Like so many coloured kids, I was his laaitie. His kid. His son. His protégé.

His underling. He followed my passage as a journalist from afar, never commented on my academic dalliances, but would call, sometimes, to tell me how I made him proud.

He is dead now. His body is returned to the earth where it is nourishing the little creatures that we, ourselves, feast on in many ways.

Death thrives at times of dying. With death dies wisdom, and we have only memories. Memories that bring other memories back to life. Some memories may last and can become weapons, or they can become keys to understanding times past, and we can better deal with the present and whatever times may yet come.

Without memories we are lost; more lost than those who have replaced intentionality with wilful forgetting…

Ask any one of the young Economic Freedom Fighters about their memories of the times, in the 1980s and early 1990s, when South Africa was burning, and they will give you a blank stare, or at best raise a string of non sequiturs and logical fallacies that tug at the emotions and present themselves with the exhilaration of philistine vulgarity.

They cannot fully understand the past and know not what to do today beyond the performativity that satisfies only their most base instincts. They have yet to understand, fully, the relationship between subjectivity, the past and intentionality.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, I would periodically climb into my battered car and visit Mattera to listen to him speak. We would walk through the streets and across the fields of Eldorado Park. He always reminded me that I had to find what it was that I wanted to make of myself, make myself over and again, and let this never end.

It is those memories that linger and have a place beside the memories of violence from Crossroads to Boipatong, Bisho to Bophuthatswana, that I treasure, and that make me tremble now. Away from the clatter of keyboards or the clicks of cameras, I would always find a stillness with Don Mattera.

I listened more than said anything. He tried to convince me that life made sense. As time went by, I lost that inspired optimism he left me with after every visit, especially when I returned to tear gas, rocks, bodies burned with flaming tyres and the noises of protest, violence, mayhem and death.

Life sometimes seems like a meaningless sequence or arrangement of events, until we lift ourselves above it, and try to make sense of it. A man so singularly principled, and so dedicated, it was Mattera, and much later TAM, in an entirely different time and place, who would teach me the value discipline of ethics.

He too, TAM, was Mattera’s laaitie — we were all his laaities. I hold on to my memories of Mattera with greater emphasis than I do the mundane, and the monotony, the absurdity of life.

Memory can be approached with indifference and abuse, or it can fire up the imagination with intentional consequences; you know what you do and know what to do next because of memory… And so memory has the power to weave the present, the past and the future into something meaningful — something less absurd than life. Like death.

Don Mattera inspired my intellect and urge to write. When I began to drift away from all that tied me to family, faith and everything that was made of me, Mattera helped me loosen those ties. He helped me realise that the rhythm and cadence, and the biological predictability — your heart that beats, your lungs that suck in, then expel air — were not life.

In some ways, I learnt from Mattera, before he became a Muslim, that life really was a series of works that together provide meaning.

It helped, then, to look back at the past to understand the present, and make more — something else — of what has been, or what has been determined.  I have learned very late in life how ageing provides meaning to my own childhood and adolescence, that period that Mattera started.

Because of Mattera, I broke, over several years, each link in the chain of society that conspired to cast me into an eternal disposition in which I would be expected to behave, feel and think (act) in ways that made me fit into this wretched society.

When I look around, today, at this generation of thinkers and leaders, I cannot imagine Don Mattera in their pantheon. He stands, even in death, a man alone, unaffected, unperturbed, always sincere and walking softly on this earth.

We were meant to remember Nelson Mandela on Monday. I remembered Don Mattera. Through his wisdom, I came to believe that I am that which I made of myself. Although I never told him, it was because of his earliest inspiration that Don Mattera forced me to always remake myself, over and again, driven, as I always am, by my greatest fear. The fear of mediocrity.

Don Mattera is dead now. I can’t thank him again. But his silence is consequential. Daily Maverick

Ismail Lagardien

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We need a coordinated approach on youth challenges



For a number of good reasons, all of us are concerned about problems that face Lesotho’s young people, particularly youth unemployment, and the increasing tendency towards anti-social behaviour among sections of Lesotho youth including their increasing admiration for criminality.

Not only do members of such groups admire criminality and actually commit crimes but they commit crimes without much care as to the harm and other costs that their actions inflict on immediate victims and on society-at-large.

Evidence of public concern about these problems includes the fact that within society individuals, groups and public and private institutions have all expressed concerns over problems facing the youth, with some of these parties making attempts to come up with ideas and measures to assist.

However, a number of problems seem to be emerging on, at least, three fronts. Firstly, a seeming lack of coordination in addressing problems that face young people. Secondly, lack of clarity on questions of whether (a) parties that seek to assist are basing their interventions on credibly identified sources of problems that face young people; and (b) whether any credible assessments are made to ensure that interventions such parties are proposing and implementing have potential to solve problems that face Lesotho’s young people.

There are many examples of what may seem to us, members of the general public, to be lack of coordination in approaches to solve problems facing young people. One such example may be sufficient. On January 8, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast a statement in which the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) authorities announced establishment of some army facility where Basotho young people would be taught some values, including patriotism.

The very next day, on January 9, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast another statement, this time by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) authorities, announcing the LMPS’s plan to establish a police facility at which young people would be taught anti-crime and other values. In their essence, the LMPS’s plan sounded not totally dissimilar to LDF’s.
Apart from the LDF and LMPS’s plans for Lesotho’s youth, there are also public and private sector initiatives to nurture and support entrepreneurial talents of Lesotho’s youth with a view, among others, to fight youth unemployment and develop the country’s private sector.

Politicians have also been seen to sponsor football games for young people in their constituencies with a view, they say, to keep young people from crime and narcotics. These events cannot be criticised too much but given that they are one, or two-day events that take place during specific times, they look more like publicity stunts.

National sports federations are now complaining that politicians who sponsor these events put too much stress on sports as a means to fight crime. What federations want is that, if politicians want to help, they should stress the importance of sports as careers, and sponsor young people to develop their sporting talents accordingly.

Amidst expressions of concerns and various parties’ attempts to address problems facing Lesotho youth, public authorities that we have not heard from, or from who we do not hear enough, are those charged with responsibilities over precisely problems facing young people; that is, authorities at the Ministry of Youth.

Admittedly, we do not know if the initiatives of the LDF, LMPS, and others are carried out in consultation with or with the blessing of the Ministry of Youth.

The worry ought to be not only whether interventions of the LDF, LMPS, and others have the blessings of the Ministry of Youth. Instead, the worry should extend to the question of whether the Ministry has any national plan to address problems facing young people. And, if such a plan exists, we would expect that it identifies the LDF and LMPS as places where young place can be coached; and initiatives of these and other institutions would align with such a plan.

Without an identification of the army and the police as implementing agencies of the Ministry’s plan, and without the army and police’s initiatives alignment with the Ministry’s plan, at least two things are likely to result: duplication of effort — as seems to be the case with the LDF and LPMS plans; or, at worst, LDF and LMPS plans might contradict and undermine national plans entrusted to the Ministry of Youth.

In the worst case scenario that a national plan does not exist, we face the danger that anybody wishing to address problems facing Lesotho’s young people can do so, basing herself, or himself on a personal or group perception, and implementing plans and solutions based on such perception.

As in the case of too many people stirring the same cooking pot without coordination, undesirable consequences can be expected from a situation where just about anybody can apply a solution to a public problem.

As hinted above, a good national plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people would have two characteristics, at least. First, it would be based on our assertion of the kind of society we want to be; an investigation of problems that stand in the way of achieving such a society; how such problems can be overcome, say, through school curricula; and how, in general, from Early Childhood Care & Development (ECCD), young people can be brought up and socialised in ways that ensure they will be useful members of a society we wish to be.

Any action that is not based on an investigation of the problems that stand in the way of achieving a society we want to be has little chances of success. Such action would be based on some understanding that the young who are anti-social, unpatriotic and criminals are naturally bad people.

It is, of course, not as simple as that. For example, one possible explanation for the absence of patriotism among young people may have something to do with socio-economic inequality in Lesotho: those who are closed out of, and excluded from, benefiting from Lesotho’s wealth and power cannot be expected to be patriots.

A second characteristic of a plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people is that, such a plan should identify and/or establish institutions designed — and with appropriate skills — to implement ideas and proposals that come out of credible investigations.

It is unclear whether the LDF and LMPS plans have resulted from something like considerations suggested above. While it is admitted that these institutions’ initiatives are limited to addressing problems of lack of patriotism and criminality among the young people, one clear problem with their plans and solutions is that, it might be the case that they are catching young people a little late, when schooling and general socialisation have already entrenched anti-social values that we see among sections of young people; namely, individualism and the inability to think of others.

In one word, these institutions catch these young people when tendencies towards criminality, anti-social behaviour, and lack of patriotism might have already hardened.
Perhaps the biggest hope we should have is that the army and the police will have full complement of resources necessary for providing full and wholesome mentoring to young people who undergo army and police mentoring.

Short of adequate resources necessary for achieving what the army and the police have in mind, we might end up with cohorts of young people with a faulty army and police culture that may come back to haunt us. Inserting a faulty army culture among a section of young people brought us bitter results in the 1970s and 1980s that should not be repeated.

To conclude, no one can argue against all of us being concerned with problems of youth unemployment; increasing tendencies of young people’s admiration of criminality and their participation in crime. And no one can argue against all of us coming up with ideas and proposals of how to address these problems.

However, our concerns and proposals ought to be based on:
a nationally-agreed assertion of society we want to be;
a credible investigation of difficulties that stand in the way of us becoming society we want to be;

and coordination of proposals and ideas aimed at becoming society we want to be.

As with other specific instances of socio-economic development in Lesotho, problems facing the country’s young people cry out for the long-neglected establishment of the National Planning Board, as prescribed in Section 105 of the Constitution of Lesotho.

Prof Motlatsi Thabane

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Call that a muffin?



In Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Canterville Ghost” (1887) one of the characters says about the British, “We have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” Between American English and British English there are many, many differences. Which is not to say that either American or British English are standardised; there are multiple varieties within each. As a south-western Brit I can find it difficult to fully understand what someone from Liverpool or Newcastle is saying.

I remember one year during the NUL’s International Theatre for Development project we had a student from the islands of Scotland. She was brilliant and hard-working and full of good ideas — if only one could understand the ideas when she introduced them. The NUL students grouped together and asked me: “Chris, can you translate what Kirsty is saying for us?” and I replied: “I’m as lost as you are.”

Between American and British English it’s not just a matter of pronunciation but also of vocabulary (I’ll be coming to muffins — see the title of this piece — in a while) and spelling.
In the biographical film Prick Up Your Ears British, dramatist Joe Orton shares a room with Ken Halliwell and they decide to write a novel together. Ken asks Joe “can you spell?” and Joe replies “yes, but not accurately.”

This is hardly a surprise, given that he’s a Brit. The American spelling system is far more regular and rational than the British. (Readers with laptops will have noticed that your spell-check gives the option of British or American spelling, but that doesn’t help you as in Lesotho the British system is used, so for the time being you’re stuck with it).

I mean, what can you say about a spelling system where “plough” rhymes with “now”, but “tough” rhymes with “stuff”– and “now” doesn’t rhyme with “low.” Yipes (as the Americans say). When I was lecturing in Lesotho and in Nigeria and marking assignments I was always very lenient over spelling, because I know what a mountain it is to climb (the latter word rhyming with “time”, of course).

Then there is the matter of vocabulary or denotation (a term I hope readers remember from a few weeks back). There are many examples of things that are denoted by different words in British and American English: lift / elevator; pavement / sidewalk; windscreen / windshield; petrol / gas; cinema / movie theater (and look at the American spelling of (Brit) “theatre”– a lot easier). And some of these reflect our different histories.

For example, there’s a vegetable, a kind of small marrow, the British call it a courgette (one of my favourite vegetables, in case any of you are planning to invite me for dinner). That’s a word that British English has borrowed directly from French — that is, a loan word (I’m not sure we plan to give it back).

The Americans on the other hand call it a zucchini, a loan word from Italian, which I guess reflects the size and influence of the Italian community in the USA. (Speaking of vegetables, I can’t give you an explanation for why the Brits call an aubergine an aubergine — another loan word from French — but the Americans call it an egg-plant).

Next week I’ll get around to muffins — a sore point — and I’ll move on to differences between English and French and between Sesotho and Setswana. Bet you can’t wait.

Chris Dunton is a former Professor of English and Dean of Humanities at the National University of Lesotho.

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Lessons from Israel: Part 3



I shall round off my account of my 1995 trip to Israel by putting on my tour guide cap. Staying in Tel Aviv, most days were fully taken up by the conference, which was my reason for being there. Tel Aviv in July is scorchingly hot, so there were walks along the beach only before breakfast and after sunset. I did take a little time off to go with South African author Stephen Gray to an art gallery that had a painting he wanted to see (a portrait by Modigliani of Beatrice Hastings, whose biography Stephen was then writing).

I wasn’t especially keen on the hotel restaurant, where dinner comprised meat served by the ton (surprisingly little fish, given that we were on the coast. By contrast, I had always been surprised and happy that Maseru restaurants are so good on fish, despite the fact that Lesotho isn’t exactly maritime). But I discovered a little Russian Jewish restaurant that offered Beluga caviar at an amazingly cheap price. I suspect it had fallen off the back of a lorry, as we say in the UK — i.e. that it was contraband, acquired illegally. I just blinked innocently and enjoyed myself. I can’t think of a more delicious way of starting a meal than with caviar, freshly-made blinis and a large glass of deeply chilled Wyberowa vodka — no ice, please. (I only say all this to show you what a very cosmopolitan chap I am).

The conference ran to a packed schedule and we worked hard (no, really). Half-way through we were given a day off and taken to Jerusalem. On arrival I teamed up with an old Nigerian friend and a friend of his from Senegal and we took ourselves first to the Dome of the Rock, the main mosque, which is splendid and radiant (wow, the mosaics!) Then we saw the Wailing Wall.

Then we trudged up the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Via marks the route along which Christ was forced to carry his cross on the way to his crucifixion (dolorosa means something like “of miseries”). I had expected it to be lined with sculptures showing the Stations of the Cross (rather like the lovely ones at Fatima, near Ramabanta).

Instead it was one tourist gift shop after another. Here I came across one of the most repugnant things I’ve seen in my life. Proudly displayed for sale, a wall clock with the face adorned with the image of the head of Christ, the two clock hands protruding from his nose.

At the top of the Via Dolorosa, the fourth century Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in the world for Christians, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The interior is (not visibly) divided into sections, the upkeep of each of which is the responsibility of one of the major denominations: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Greek Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, and so on. I had had the impression this was an arrangement worked out under the colonial regime of British Palestine, but Google tells me it dates back to the Status Quo of 1757.

My companions had done their homework and suggested we head first for the roof, which had been allocated to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (dare one possibly suggest a tinge of racism in this marginalisation?). There we found a cluster of monkish cells, each inhabited by an elderly Ethiopian monk, at least two of whom spoke English or French. They were delighted to see us, and utterly sweet, hospitable, and in their accounts of their pastoral work spellbinding.

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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