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Adding plums into a plum pudding



A plum pudding without plums, this is a new one! Wait a minute, does this metaphor not fit the description of the curriculum offered by many higher education institutions in Lesotho and abroad? Nonetheless, I found an article titled: ‘Botho University Commits to Giving Basotho Quality Education’ very profound in the context of our beloved country, Lesotho. The description of Botho University (BU) by its authorities fits the saying that it offers a curriculum with a plum pudding with plums.

A plum pudding without plums, this is a new one! Wait a minute, does this metaphor not fit the description of the curriculum offered by many higher education institutions in Lesotho and abroad? Nonetheless, I found an article titled: ‘Botho University Commits to Giving Basotho Quality Education’ very profound in the context of our beloved country, Lesotho. The description of Botho University (BU) by its authorities fits the saying that it offers a curriculum with a plum pudding with plums.

While addressing BU stakeholders, Dr Ram said: “Up to 82% of employers are satisfied with Botho’s fresher graduates’ ability to work with ready skills as compared to their peers.” (SIC). BU’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (deputy principal), Professor Setume, reiterates Dr Ram’s proclamation. He indicates that many companies hire their graduates straight after they have completed their internships. So, BU offers plum pudding with plums. It teaches programmes that provide real-life experiences, making their graduates ready for work upon graduation.

I commend BU for the great work they are doing and their transparency. They take Lesotho and their clients into confidence by sharing their experiences with them. BU’s story provides the country, their client, with an opportune moment to find what is good about it. This article seeks to interpret BU’s vice chancellor and pro-vice chancellor’s comments about her institution’s continued endeavours to provide quality education.

An American author and high-performance motivator, W Clement Stone, developed the habit of saying: ‘That’s good’ when anything, good, bad or near calamity happened. He would then dig to find what was good in the event. His premise was that people may find something good in any situation.

Let me introduce the reader to what Hill calls the QQS rating. The letters in QQS stand for the ‘quality’, the ‘quantity’ and the ‘spirit’ of service rendered. The term ‘quantity’ means the habit of giving all the possible meaningful services. ‘Quality’ of service refers to its performance in the most efficient possible manner. The object here is to provide the service with efficiency. The emphasis is on the word habit. In other words, the view of BU’s students’ quality means that they perform the most possible quantity of work efficiently. The spirit of service means providing agreeable, harmonious conduct and inducing cooperation from all associates and fellow employees. Workers must display the spirit of harmony and cooperation at all times.

Meanwhile, commentators and analysts continue to find faults with the higher education system’s fitness for purpose. Graduates lament their inability to find employment. Not so long ago, school teaching was the absorber of degree holders. I argue that our programmes do not evolve with time and community requirements. An issue that phenomenon brings to the fore is what we call a ‘responsive curriculum.’

To understand the meaning of ‘responsive curriculum’, one must comprehend how a university functions. Let us remind ourselves of the core functions of a university. A university has three core functions. (a) The university must produce new knowledge through research production. It is a centre of knowledge production. According to the Council on Higher Education (CHE), research output is a neglected core function of higher education in Lesotho. Whose knowledge do these institutions teach if they do not produce knowledge? Could this omission be the cause of the unemployment of graduates in Lesotho?

(b) Universities recontextualise knowledge into a curriculum for teaching and learning. They are centres that organise knowledge into teaching and learning programmes. Teaching in universities takes place in faculties and teaching departments. However, they have to produce the research output to select the best topics and areas that would be the curriculum experiences for their students.

A handicap for transformation in any society or community is ‘conformity’. The master instigator for this handicap is the so-called ‘standards’. We compare ourselves with what we conceive to be the best practices. Conformity compromises ‘creativity’ and ‘imagination’, the ability to create new ideas. The ailment of conformity deprives countries and the world of new ideas and advancement. The sources of this deficiency are a measure called ‘standards’, ‘benchmarking’ or ‘best practices.’ The best word that we must use for this practice is ‘copycat.’

The syndrome of copycats does not end with the curriculum these institutions teach. It continues with the conduct of African or Basotho professors and doctoral graduates. After acquiring the knowledge and experience, these scholars become assimilated into the system. They conduct, behave and treat their communities and students with contempt. They make the people they serve inferior and distance themselves from the communities they must serve. The cause of this awkward behaviour of these elites is ‘conformity.’

(c) The third and last core function is community outreach. It is the contribution that universities make to communities. The Institute of Extra Mural Studies is an arm of the National University of Lesotho (NUL). NUL Innovation Centre combined community outreach, research output, patenting and intellectual property rights. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 advent revealed the dark side of government interference in academia in a country such as Lesotho.

University education must transform the communities they serve. In other words, if the research takes place in the context of the communities and institutions recontextualise knowledge, provide teaching and learning would also be in the context of the students. The context in this case is that in which students live.

Therefore, the curriculum of these students’ experiences responds to the local communities’ needs. The curriculum is responsive. Research takes place in all three core spheres of university business. Accordingly, Ameyaw and her team define responsive curriculum as the ability of curriculum developers to translate knowledge about new developments into curriculum content and structure. It addresses the changing needs of students, bridging the gap between universal knowledge and theories on one hand and contextual, continuously changing realities of everyday life and the world of work. These arguments show the need for our graduates to obtain knowledge, comprehend it and apply it in their contexts. In this way, our graduates would easily find jobs or create jobs where the need exists.

Remember, there are two commodities that people and communities buy or pay for the two commodities. These are (a) services or (b) products they need. Our graduates must identify the commodities communities need and supply the best quality of the items.

Botho University customer satisfaction is astounding. The university shows their work is not just about ‘theories’ and ‘-isms’. Botho University is not teaching its students new knowledge for their paper qualifications, degrees and social status. Hill and Stone wrote: “Too often what we read and profess becomes a part of our libraries and our vocabularies, instead of being a part of our lives.” They do not assimilate the knowledge they acquire into their lives. So, their knowledge remains in the conscious mind. Their knowledge does not empower them. Hill argues that this type of knowledge is not power. It is potential power unless organised into definite plans and directed into a definite purpose.

Dr Ram and Setume infer BU graduates can translate knowledge into their work environment. Knowledge translates into bread on the table. Others will call this employability of the graduates.
The industry absorbs its graduates on completion. That’s good! I introduce the term Work Integrated Learning (WIL) here. Lerotholi Polytechnic. WIL is a programme that links university education with workplaces in the related field.

Transferring university teaching and learning knowledge into WIL is not a simple process. WIL theorises knowledge transfer and recontextualisation as it moves in complex ways between university and workplace settings. Recontextualisation of knowledge means classifying, selecting and ordering topics from research findings into the teaching and learning through the university curriculum. WIL aims to combine theoretical learning with practice at work through a specific programme. Medicine law and teacher education degrees commonly incorporate WIL in their study programmes. Traditional universities offer some of these programmes.

WIL may provide feedback data to the institution providing students and the workplace. Scholars call this phenomenon the law of reciprocity. Reciprocity is a product of the Law of Cause and Effect. The Law of Cause and Effect decrees: ‘Whatever you send into the Universe comes back.’ The action and re-action are equal and opposite. It means that if you accept a service or something material, you must part with something of equal value back. In other words, you reap what you sow.

For example, Dr Ram states that 82% of industries gave positive data about the quality of their students. In other words, the clients (industry) evaluated the quality of their curricula. BU uses WIL to assess the quality of the industry’s services or products.

A limitation often highlighted about the traditional higher education system is the employability of their products, the graduates. Also, most companies do not only look at academic performance when they appoint new potential employees but also look at a graduate’s activity record and personality as a student. This limitation brings to question the graduateness of the products. The conversations of Dr Ram and Prof Setume confirm that BU helps their students convert classroom experiences into plans of action and implement them through WIL.

Hill argues that an educated person has so developed the faculties of their mind that they can acquire anything they want without violating the rights of others.
Traditional universities have a challenge of employability of their graduates. This limit brings to question the graduateness of the products. The fitness of their qualifications is questionable. Yet, one parameter that the Council on Higher Education (CHE) uses for approval of programmes is the market survey and employability of graduates on completion.

Hill questions the quality of university education. He points out that an educated person has so developed the faculties of their mind that they can acquire anything they want without violating the rights of others. On the other hand, the faculties and departments of universities specialise in teaching general knowledge. General knowledge has little impact on accumulating money or achievement. According to the Central Bank of Lesotho, over 4 000 university graduates were unemployed in 2014. This figure has increased over the years. All these graduates had never worked since completing their studies. Why is this the situation? The comments of the administrators of BU, as I quoted here, suggests otherwise to this institution.

According to Hill, knowledge will not attract money or success unless organised and deliberately directed through practical plans for action as a definite end. Faculties and departments classify research knowledge but do not teach students how to arrange and use knowledge after they acquire it. BU’s provision of WIL enables students to organise and use knowledge in a work situation.

Elsewhere. I spoke of this measure as the graduate attributes. Research suggests that we may understand graduateness as an attribute that graduates acquire during their university studies. We may look at graduateness about employability. You will note Dr Ram’s assertion about the readiness of Botho University’s graduates for employment. The interface between higher education and the world of work requires defining and understanding employability about graduateness. To understand graduateness, universities must establish the employer and industry requirements, needs and expectations.

In summary, I premise this article on the article in a local Nnewspaper titled: ‘Botho University commits to giving Basotho quality education’. Both leaders of BU argue that their institution provides quality education. Both agree that the world of work absorbs BU’s students soon after completion.

I introduced the numerous constructs to highlight that I use to unpack the quality these top officials refer to. BU uses Work Integrated Learning (WIL) to recontextualise its theoretical teaching into students’ practical experiences. The constructs that I used to understand the role of WIL in empowering students are: ‘conformity’, ‘graduateness’, the ‘core business of a university’, ‘responsive curriculum’, the ‘QQS’ and ‘power’ of organised knowledge. I also added the Law of Cause and Effect to the bouquet. I used the law to show the reciprocal benefit of WIL to UB and industries.

The article argues that the failure of university education is due to ‘conformity’ in the pretext of ‘standards’ and rankings. I pointed out that this pair subjugate creativity and imagination. Instead of creating an African university for Africa, we duplicated Western university education.
BU curriculum is responsive, as shown by its clients, namely industry. The evidence of this assertion is the high employability rate of BU’s graduates. The two administrators confirm the responsiveness of their curricula.

Hill contradicts the saying that knowledge is power. He specifies that knowledge is power only if graduates organise it into a definite outcome. One acquires power through highly organised and intelligently directing for a definitive purpose.

Although I did not fully explore this matter, CHE shows that BU and all other higher education institutions in Lesotho do not produce research. BU and the higher education industry must act now to address this deficiency.

In conclusion, this article shows that teaching knowledge for the sake of knowing is inadequate for preparing students for life after university studies. Universities must teach students how to organise and implement their acquired knowledge to a specific goal and act accordingly. WIL enables BU to offer plum pudding with plums, which is good!

Dr Tholang Maqutu


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An open letter to President Hichilema



Your Excellency,

I am certain that you are wondering where and/or how I have the temerity to write to you directly, but a recent post you put on WhatsApp piqued my interest; your meeting with His Excellency the Prime Minister of Lesotho, and his delegation. The delegation came to introduce to you and your good office the candidate of the Government of Lesotho, for the post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Joshua Setipa.

Let me set off by stating that I have a friendship with Setipa, for over 50 years, so I may not be the best person to give an objective appraisal or opinion of him; this I will leave to the government.

Further to that, as a citizen of Lesotho, I may embellish the information that I would provide on Lesotho, thus I will as far as possible keep to information that is contained in books. This is not a research report, but more a simplified literature review of what I have read. I shall not quote them, or reference them, thus allowing others the space to research this matter further.

First, let me state my surprise at the alignment of time that I see; Commonwealth Day in 2024 is on the 11th March, the day we celebrate a life well lived, that of Morena Moshoeshoe.

Further to that, this year also starts the 200th anniversary of the move by Morena Moshoeshoe and his followers from Menkhoaneng to Thaba Bosiu. They arrived at Thaba Bosiu in winter, circa 1824.

Next year, 2025 will also be the 100th anniversary of the ‘plenary’ that saw the birth of this Commonwealth of Nations. A handover from the bi-centenary, to the centenary celebrations.

We are all aware that the Commonwealth was started at the Imperial Conference of 1926, but it had what I call a plenary in 1925; this happened in Maseru, Basutoland. It was held at the ‘secretariat’ building on Kingsway. The building was used as the Prime Ministers’ office after independence, more recently, and to date as the Ministry of Defence.

When King George came to visit Lesotho in 1948, to thank the country and her citizens for their participation in the Second World War, High street as it was then known, had its name changed to Kingsway.

At this plenary Britain called the ANZaC states, Australia, New Zeeland and Canada, together with South Africa. It had been only 13 years (1912) since the Basotho monarch had been asked to attend the formation of the South African National Native Conference (SANNC), whose aim was to preserve African land. The SANNC was the forerunner to the African National Congress (ANC).

With the formation of the Union of South Africa, the union wanted to engulf Bechuanaland (Botswana) Swaziland (eSwatini) and Basutoland (Lesotho). This had been unsuccessful.

Next they came up with the Native Land Act of 1913, to remove African land rights. So, the conference that brought about the birth of the SANNC was a pre-emptive response to this act; an attempt to keep African land rights and traditions intact.

I would like to point out that the founding document of the Imperial Conference that brought about the Commonwealth states that all member states are autonomous and not subordinate to another.

At the time of the plenary, Basutoland was subordinate to Britain. But in a masterstoke became what I believe to be one of the founders of the Commonwealth.

Despite her subordination, Basutoland had placed so strong an objection to the presence of a representative South Africa in Basutoland, that South Africa’s invitation had to be withdrawn, and South Africa did not attend. This was the first ‘anti-apartheid’ shot, made in the world; what is more important is that it was made by an African country.

No matter how one looks at it, she may not have been a ‘founding member state’, but Basutoland was part of the founding fabric of the Commonwealth.

One just has to imagine the anger of the South Africans and their government: Dr. D. F. Malan, the first Nationalist Prime Minister of South Africa, was a minister responsible for housing at that time.

Had Basutoland’s lead been followed, spatial apartheid might never have happened. The Commonwealth would take till the 1960’s, and the formal legalisation/legislation of apartheid to remove South Africa from within her fold. A matter that Basutoland saw as far back as the 1920’s.

As shown, at the conceptualisation of the Commonwealth Lesotho was not just there, but an active and formidable participant; though one has to look further to see her relationship with Great Britain/the United Kingdom.

Basutoland/Lesotho’s history is strange, to say the least. The first Europeans to arrive here in 1833, were French Missionaries. At this time Europe was embroiled in wars, which inevitably included the French and English.

But it is these same priests, most notably Casalis, who helped steer the country to Britain, and British protection. Casalis acted almost as a foreign secretary/minister of foreign affairs at that time.

The first treaty between Basutoland and England was the Napier Treaty of 1843, though it took till 1866 to solidify this treaty into a protected land.

The history of the cavalry in Lesotho, the only African cavalry south of the Sahara, is quite long. It starts in about 1825, when F. D. Ellenberger in his book ‘History of the Basutho’, states that Morena Moletsane had come across gun powder quite by mistake.

They had been raiding a missionary’s home and came across a strange powder, which they found useless, so they threw it into a fire, which ‘exploded’. Thus, to his people called European style housing, ‘Ntlo-ea-thunya’, a house that shoots. But after having his people ravaged/savaged by Mzilikazi, he sent his best warriors to work on Boer farms, and with their remuneration purchase arms and horses.

We are often told of a ‘battle of/at Berea’. My answer is that it was not a battle but a cattle raid. Its importance is not just in the battle, but in democracy. The British called Morena Moshoeshoe ‘paramount chief’, a first amongst the others. The time before Berea shows something slightly different.

As Casalis writes in ‘My life in Basutoland’, the British had demanded 10,000 head of cattle, for stock theft. A great ‘pitso’ was called and all eligible men, those who owned land, were called.

At the end of the pitso, after many votes, the citizens refused to give their cattle to pay the demand of the British. The significance herein is that there was a plebiscite, a vote. Morena Moshoeshoe lost the backing of the people and thus the vote; the British then attacked to ‘collect’ the cattle themselves.

Both Morena Moshoeshoe and Morena Moletsane were heavily involved in the ‘battle’ which was won by the strength of the Basutho cavalry. Looking forward to the gun wars, it was most fortuitous that Morena Moshoeshoe’s ally, Morena Moletsane would outlive him, till the end of the gun wars.

After annexation in 1866, in the mid 1870’s the British, citing distance and as such expense, ceded Basutoland to the Cape, which was what the Basotho had been fighting against for a long time; they wanted direct British rule. They wanted to be ruled by Mofumahali Queen Victoria.

The first, and most critical mistake that the Cape made was, not so much in attacking Morena Moorosi, accusing his son of cattle theft, but in beheading him.

So, when some years later they wanted to disarm the Basutho, and they found those of the south of Basutoland who knew of the beheading, reluctant to go with the plan. The Cape decided to go ahead with disarmament forcefully and met equal if not greater force.

The Basutho were better armed, more knowledgeable on the terrain and better supplied. Helped by his father’s long-standing ally, Morena Moletsane, Morena Lerotholi was able to field a well-armed strong cavalry, which inflict great pain to the Cape.

This led to the Cape defeat. Together with the number of other wars that the Cape was fighting, there was fight fatigue among her people.

So bad was it, that they did not come and collect their fallen troops; in Mafeteng there is a cemetery called ‘mabitla-a-makhooa’, or graves of the white men. The SA Military History Society has a ‘roll of honour’ for some of the dead, as not all were buried in Basutoland.

There are two significant outcomes of the war. In his book ‘The Mabille’s of Basutoland’, Edwin W. Smith states that there was a fact-finding mission to Basutoland by members of the Cape parliament, including Rhodes. Their conclusion was that the Basutho should be handed back to Britain for direct rule; which was the original wish of the Basutho.

As Whitehall was reluctant to take this role back, Basutoland spent a period of close to two years of self-rule. Thus it became the first African country (only?) to unshackle itself of colonial rule. And became the first African country to get the colonial rule it wanted; and re-shackled itself to Britain.

The second is how Britain agreed to go back and rule Basutoland. In his book, Rhodes Goes North, J. E. S. Green shows how the Prime Minister of the Cape went to Britain to sue for peace, and eventually agreed to give Britain 20 000 pounds per annum, of her import tax revenues to govern Basutoland.

Whilst not a founding member of the Commonwealth, Basutoland has carried her fair weight in the battle to save both the Commonwealth, and together the rest of the Commonwealth, the world at large.

Whilst SA will hype the losses during the maritime accident of the SS Mendi in the English Channel, Lesotho is less inclined to speak of the losses on the SS Erinpura. The Erinpura was sunk by German war planes in the Mediterranean Sea. Though I should say that, the prayer of the men on the Mendi would resound so well with those who lost their lives on the Erinpura.

When British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill said; never was so much owed by so many to so few, I am certain he was speaking not just of the people of the British Isles, but the broader community within the Commonwealth, that stood together at this time of international need.

But having heard Sir Winston, there is a special bond of Basutoland within, and with the Commonwealth, that I would like to highlight. Apart from the ANZaC countries and South Africa, there were no air squadrons from other Commonwealth countries that I am aware of; except for Basutoland that is.

They paid for 12 or so Spitfire aircraft that would form the 72nd Basutoland, which flew in the Battle of Britain. No moSotho actually flew (in?) them, but they had been financed by the Basotho.

For all the prowess of a moSotho man with arms, in his book ‘Basotho Soldiers in Hitler’s War’, Brian Gary not only writes about the gift of aircraft that fought in the Battle of Britain, he also shows that Basotho soldiers, who were hauling various ordinances through the Italian Alps, were allowed to carry arms.

Aircraft and carrying arms for an African in World War II; Lesotho is not just a pioneer member of the Commonwealth, but a beacon.

As Lesotho many of these pioneering attributes continued. Whist South Africa was banned from sports and entertainment, Lesotho filled the gap for her. Exiles like Hugh Masekela and Mirriam Makeba were hosted for sell out concerts in Lesotho. South African interracial sports, with matches between the likes of Orlando Pirate, Wits University, Kaiser Chiefs, to name those I remember, started in Maseru.

I have touched on politics and war, sport and entertainment; let me go to superstition. It would go against what is expected of me not to go without anything superstitious.

Britain has given the world three major sporting codes. Rugby, which is dominated by the big three of New Zeeland and South Africa. Cricket, which expands from the rugby three to include India, Pakistan, most of the Caribbean states and a few African counties.

These sports are obviously ‘Commonwealth Sports’, as they are dominated, or played predominantly by Commonwealth countries. They have also given us football. This is a truly global sport, the largest sport played across the world, on all types of surfaces, with all types of round looking objects. We can’t call all of these footballs.

The last time a Commonwealth country won the World Cup it was England in 1966; the year Lesotho gained her independence.

The next World Cup is in 2026, the millennium celebrations of the Commonwealth; who will head the Commonwealth then? Will a Commonwealth team have the necessary ‘juju’ to make it?

Your Excellency, this is but a brief note on Lesotho, and it is my way of using the words attributed to Morena Moshoeshoe, when asking for protection from Queen Victoria that say; take me, and all the lice (those that are symbiotic to me) in my blanket. I do hope that these words will be of use to you as seek consensus on Lesotho and her candidate for the post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth.

Yours truly

Khasane Ramolefe

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Culture quibbles



A few weeks ago these pages carried a substantial piece by Mokhosi Mohapi titled “A reversal of our traditions and culture”, written in the form of an open letter to the government of Lesotho. The first sentence of Mohapi’s article took me by surprise, as he stated: MPs and Senators’ primary role is to protect and preserve the traditions and culture of the Basotho people. I would have thought the primary role of MPs and Senators would be to ensure that Basotho are secure (being protected, for example, from criminals), that they have adequate access to social services such as education and healthcare, that the economy is sufficiently stable to offer citizens some chance of employment, and so on. Fat chance, you might scoff.

But then I realised that Mohapi had a more specific contention in mind, as he stated: The Laws of Lerotholi were set to protect social order, traditions and culture of Basotho. Mohapi’s immediate concern is with the 2024 Estates and Inheritance Bill, which proposes radical changes to the existing order of things. (See the article in last week’s thepost, “MPs bulldoze through Inheritance Bill”, which gives a good idea of the background).

I’m aware that this Bill has provoked considerable controversy, and that is not my topic in this article. Nor do I wish to contest what Mohapi was saying in his piece — this is by no means a case of Dunton v Mohapi. But I did take note of the way the phrase “traditions and culture” kept resounding in Mohapi’s article, rather like a cracked bell, and what I want to do is open up those terms for examination.

Please bear with me as I slip aside for a moment with a little academic stuff. Back in 2006 I published an article titled “Problematizing Keywords: Culture, tradition and modernity.” For those of my readers with a scholarly bent and who might want to hunt it down, this was published in a journal called Boleswa Occasional Papers in Theology and Religion 2:3 (2006), pages 5-11. There I made a number of points I want to bring up in what follows.

The first fallacy I tackled in that article was the tradition/modernity binary — the notion that in Africa there was tradition and then, wham!, the white man arrived and there was modernity. Are we seriously to believe there were no great cities in Africa before the white man landed, that the peoples of a whole continent lived entirely in villages? Nigeria tells a different story.

Are we to believe there were no great libraries? Mali and Ethiopia tell a different tale. No writing systems? No medicine? I’m not saying that if I’m in pain I don’t prefer a dose of oramorph to an infusion made from some leaves picked off the slopes of Thaba Bosiu, but the point remains: the tradition/modernity binary is crude and crass and it’s demeaning about Africa.

We cannot get very far with simplistic ideas about where we are coming from and where we are at. And yet of course we do come from a past. I’ll quote — or, rather, paraphrase from memory, as I don’t have the work to hand — an observation made by T.S Eliot in his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent”: We know so much more than those who came before us. But they are a large part of what we know.

But of those who came before who is it, exactly, that we know? When Mohapi repeatedly uses the phrase “the traditions and culture of the Basotho people” I take it he is thinking of the Basotho as constituted under Moshoeshoe I and the descendants of those generations.

For how much do we know about the “traditions and culture” of the various Sotho-speaking groups let’s say two hundred years before Moshoeshoe gathered them together to form the modern Lesotho state? Isn’t it likely there were significant differences between the “traditions and culture” of these groups, differences that were later rationalised or homogenised?

Two points here. First, we mustn’t forget what an extraordinary innovator Moshoeshoe was —and I guess that might be said also of Lerotholi, whose laws are the chief focus of Mohapi’s article. Second, culture is not static, it is not immutable. It evolves all the time.

For example, for how long has it been the case that adherence to the Christian faith could be said to be part of the culture of Basotho? (Or, for how long has football been part of the culture of the English? We are credited with the invention of football, but that doesn’t mean it’s been part of who we are since time immemorial).

That brings me to my next point, or a string of points, moving from England back to Lesotho. When I was a schoolboy I bought myself a copy of the book Components of the National Culture (1968) by the great British Marxist Perry Anderson. One of my schoolmasters — one of the few who didn’t like me — caught me with it and said “just the sort of book I’d expect a troublemaker like you to be reading. Just don’t show it to anyone else!”

The significant term in Anderson’s title is “components.” Culture is put together — it is an assemblage — and its components may have different sources.
That leads me on to the invention of tradition, and an example for Basotho.

I guess all my readers know Qiloane, the sandstone pillar at Thaba Bosiu the distinctive peak of which is said to be the inspiration for the shape of the traditional Basotho straw hat. Well, that notion is dubious to say the least; there were hats of the same shape from elsewhere in the region long before the Basotho got hold of the design.

Does this really matter? Well, no, because even if a tradition is invented, it still has the persuasiveness of a tradition. It’s just that knowing this might dissuade us from making big claims about the unchangeable nature and sanctity of tradition.

And the same goes for culture. I leave you with a quotation from the Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah (it’s from his terrific book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers): We do not need, have never needed, a homogenous system of values, in order to have a home. Cultural purity is an oxymoron.

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

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The Joker Returns: Conclusion



Last week I was talking about how jokes, or humour generally, can help get one through the most desperate situations (although it’s like taking a paracetamol for a headache; a much, much stronger resort is faith). I used the example of how Polish Jews, trapped and dying in the Warsaw ghetto, used humour to get them through day by day.

A similar, though less nightmarish, situation obtains in today’s Nigeria. Conditions there are less hellish than those of the Warsaw ghetto, but still pretty awful. There are massive redundancies, so millions of people are jobless. Inflation is at about 30% and the cost of living is sky-rocketing, with the most basic foodstuffs often unavailable. There is the breakdown of basic social services.

And endemic violence, with widespread armed robbery (to travel by road from one city to another you take your life in your hands) and the frequent kidnapping for ransom of schoolchildren and teachers. In a recent issue of the Punch newspaper (Lagos) Taiwo Obindo, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Jos, writes of the effects of economic hardship and insecurity on his people’s mental health.

He concludes: “We should see the funny side of things. We can use humour to handle some things. Don’t take things to heart; laugh it off.”

Professor Obindo doesn’t, regrettably, give examples of the humour he prescribes, but I remember two from a period when things were less grim. Power-cuts happened all the time — a big problem if you’re trying to work at night and can’t afford a generator.

And so the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was universally referred to as Never Expect Power Always. And second, for inter-city travel there was a company called Luxurious Buses. Believe me, the average Lesotho kombi is a great deal more luxurious (I can’t remember ever having to sit on the floor of one of those).

And because of the dreadful state of Nigerian roads and the frequent fatal crashes, Luxurious Buses were referred to as Luxurious Hearses.

Lesotho’s newspaper thepost, for which I slave away tirelessly, doesn’t use humour very much. But there is Muckraker. I’ve always wondered whether Muckraker is the pen-name of a single person or a group who alternate writing the column.

Whatever, I’d love to have a drink with him / her/ them and chew things over. I like the ironic pen-name of the author(s). Traditionally speaking, a muckraker is a gossip, someone who scrabbles around for titbits (usually sexual) on the personal life of a celebrity — not exactly a noble thing to do.

But thepost’s Muckraker exposes big problems, deep demerits, conducted by those who should know and do better — problems that the powerful would like to be swept under the carpet, and the intention of Muckraker’s exposure is corrective.

And I always join in the closing exasperated “Ichuuuu!” (as I do this rather loudly, my housemates probably think I’m going bonkers).

Finally I want to mention television satire. The Brits are renowned for this, an achievement dating back to the early 1960s and the weekly satirical programme “TW3” (That Was The Week That Was). More recently we have had “Mock the Week”, though, despite its popularity, the BBC has cancelled this.

The cancellation wasn’t for political reasons. For decades the UK has been encumbered with a foul Conservative government, though this year’s election may be won by Labour (not such very good news, as the Labour leadership is only pseudo-socialist). “Mock the Week” was pretty even-handed in deriding politicians; the BBC’s problem was, I imagine, with the programme’s frequent obscenity.

As an example of their political jokes, I quote a discussion on the less than inspiring leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer. One member of the panel said: “Labour may well have a huge lead in the polls at present, but the day before election day Starmer will destroy it by doing something like accidentally infecting David Attenborough with chicken-pox.”

And a favourite, basically non-political interchange on “Mock the Week” had to do with our former monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Whatever one thinks about the British monarchy as an institution, the Queen was much loved, but the following interchange between two panellists (A and B) was fun:

A: Is the Queen’s nickname really Lilibet?
B: Yes, it is.
A: I thought her nickname was Her Majesty.
B: That’s her gang name.

OK, dear readers, that’s enough humour from me for a while. Next week I’m turning dead serious — and more than a little controversial — responding to a recent Insight piece by Mokhosi Mohapi titled “A reversal of our traditions and culture.” To be forewarned is to be prepared.

Chris Dunton

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