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Common themes and change

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Up the passage, throngs of little school children are heading off to school where they shall be taught to be; like others. It is the pattern of the continent and the world, where the conqueror defeats the masses not through brute force, but it is through the inculcation of the tenets of the conqueror into the minds that are to be subjugated to the levels where the conquered are pliant and pliable tools in the hands of the oppressor. Up the passage, throngs of little school children are heading off to school where they shall be taught to be; like others. It is the pattern of the continent and the world, where the conqueror defeats the masses not through brute force, but it is through the inculcation of the tenets of the conqueror into the minds that are to be subjugated to the levels where the conquered are pliant and pliable tools in the hands of the oppressor.

I think not that the children know why they go to school, and why they have to race the clock to get into the classrooms where they shall be conformed to a certain manner and pattern of living and dreaming, to patterns of existence that are considered as ‘civilised’ or educated. We hardly ever bother to ask what it is that our children’s minds are being fed by the school guard with their blackboards and chalk, their red pens and canes: it is a hardly questioned profession whose main battle cry is that, “teaching gives birth to all the other professions…” True that, but then, does teaching teach the self-taught? Do the teachers see that the world is transforming into the DIY era where the profession may lose relevance? I spent the first three years of school getting my lessons in classrooms under the trees, and back then, all seemed normal and it was a pride to carry the blackboard for the ‘madam’, cleaning the chalk-script off the board, and being the model student in khakis and grey-flannels. School lasted until lunch, after which we would run home or start a miniature battle of stones with boys from other villages

. It was not a hard knock kind of life where there are ten thousand worries as to how one shall make enough money for bling to please the girls, as is seen in the children of today (funny, I never thought I would grow up to be this old, that is, so old that I would utter the statement, “the children of today”). Their pressures are different from what we experienced in those days of half-day class and the rest of the day adventures in the ravines and the gorges, the streams and the rivers that we would fly to soon as we kicked our khaki shorts off. There was no social media back then and no five year-olds with boom boxes prowling the neighbourhoods. These are the dog eat dog days, and the teacher better change his or her lessons to suit the moment that renders all those nostalgic days of teaching a classroom under a tree in the 1980’s obsolete.

I grew up to be a writer that is familiar with the essence of the plot and the theme, the climax and the peroration. What I have grown to realise over the years is that themes do change from time to time, in fact, certain themes actually pass with the age they were birthed in and are thereafter forgotten until they resurface a thousand years later by a writer who bothered to search his old man’s trunk (chest) full of musty smelling old books. A lot of times, one meets the question: what is the theme in the story? Sadly, the answers to this question often refer to trends rather than themes. A trend is what is popular but it is not necessarily the theme of the story, kind of like just the currently loved colour on a portrait than the essence of the portrait itself.

The theme of the story is the meaning behind the portrait and it serves as the guide to the plot set out in the story. To achieve a certain colour (which we can compare to the plot), the artist mixes various colours from the palette, dabbing here and dipping in there, mixing reds and blues to get purples, yellows and greens to bright lime greens or Celtics. The final colour of the portrait is the theme which governs the mood of the picture, and it is actually that which draws the audience to the portrait in the first place.

Desolation, betrayal, loyalty, trust, and others are virtues and vices in the human condition and they lie there as the sources to the themes the writers of the world set out to explore in their writing. This is the style of writing where the themes are drawn from life and living and they are so selected to help the writer (and the audience) to try and find the roots of the kind of human behaviour that is subtle or prevalent in acts of human interaction and cooperation in society.

We are by nature curious beings drawn to entities we have a little understanding of, would like to get familiar with, and to understand something we did not know more deeply than we do at the present moment in time. The theme is set out in the story to answer the basic questions on an existing phenomenon that arouse the curiosity of whoever comes across them on a frequent basis. Questions such as: why are people jealous? Why do the rich seem proud? Why is so and so humble and so and so full of himself? Why is Africa not progressing? These questions in actual fact serve as the primer that ignites the writer’s mind to explore a given question/s more closely and to provide the possible answers.

The writer sets out to answer the questions on real issues of our daily life, and those issues contain in themselves the themes that the writings (of the literary kind) explore in different forms and manners.Of the first writings in the world (those found on the walls of the caves where the prehistoric peoples lived), one finds the common theme to be that of curiosity with the world around the writers/ painters of the time. These types of writers recorded their curiosity and their experiences as they unfolded around them.

By constantly observing the world and writing on that which they saw, they gained a deeper understanding of the world around, and the themes they discussed were explored to a point where they became the first guiding lights to the themes of the writings of the world. These include man’s basic fear of the unknown, first meetings, and nature in general behaviour and composition. What bothers man becomes a question to be pondered and mused over in those moments of repose, and what is questioned becomes the theme in the work is the question why such a theme resurfaces ignorant of time and age and epoch and era.

These types of themes are drawn from everyday life experiences, human emotion, human volition, decision, indecision, and such other characters and behaviours. The truly timeless classics of the world explored those qualities that are basic to life and not the super themes the modern writers of the day pursue in the name of trend and fashion. The truth of the matter is that there will always be ablutions and all of us shall have to go there at some point in the day, for going the toilet is as sure as going to the grave, and is therefore a pertinent issue to explore as a theme. The deviation from the truly meaningful themes in current writing is largely due to shifts in patterns of thought and the emergence of the self-delusion that one has grown as a writer and can therefore fashion one’s own themes.

There is no way one as a writer can fashion their theme due to the simple fact that themes are always there for one to pick and choose which one to explore or to follow. Those writers whose stories end up as bestsellers often have works that explore lasting themes that are not affected by the passing of time and age or fashion, and an example can be made of the human vice of greed. There will always be greed in human society, and this means that it would be a good theme to explore in the writing of the work to establish ways to deal with it. Choosing a theme that is particular to a given human condition limits the reading of work because they are relevant only to a limited audience. This means, in short, that a work that explores a theme that is common to the larger part of the human society actually has more chances of making it big in the reading fraternity.

The temptation is often to take the road less travelled and to look for peculiar themes, but this does not help the writer anyhow because people are more interested in what is familiar to them than what is strange. The writer is compelled to forget the audience for a while and to focus on what may be problematic for the writer as a researcher,  which helps one in getting some of the core details to such a story that may prove to be travail.

It is just not worth it to go through extensive research only to come up with a tepid tale. In a world full of nonsense in terms of writing, it would serve the writer in good stead to always go out in search of relevant themes instead of being tempted by what is trending due to the simple fact that trends and fashions are writing mayflies, that is, they only come for a while but soon fizzle out when new ones come. Pursuing short-term themes often means that the work written shall last only as long as the particular theme is relevant after which it loses its relevance and is thus rendered useless. When Shakespeare penned his Macbeth, jealousy and hunger for power were the main sails of the story and they sustained the play to the present day due to the fact that they are common traits of the human being. Jealousy and hunger for power shall never change their quality because it is a certain era, they stay the same throughout the entire length of human time on earth, and that is, they will always be there for as long as the human race is resident here.

The pursuit of the theme that never ages or will always be present in human society stands a better chance of delivering a work that will be relevant, useful and meaningful to any reader that picks it off the shelf to rest after the weariness of the rush in the world or to gain insights into some issue peculiar to the human condition and human living in the ever-changing world. That the writers of past eras wrote works that still carry meaning until the present day is largely due to the fact they focused on themes that are relevant in the everyday lives of the ordinary people of the world.It is a fact that there are changes in the way that people behave under different circumstances, and it means that one should learn to adapt to the new changes as they come. It means that one as a writer should always move with the trends as they occur but to always be aware of the true essence of the core themes that clarify human understanding in terms of knowledge gained with regard to a given matter.

There may seem to be obvious changes on the surface, but the truth of the matter is that the core stays the same, that is, jealousy stays as it is despite the plastic surgery people may try to apply in the form of justification. Hard as one may try to defend jealousy, it would be quite hard to justify it except if one attempts to define and express it in a story where it can be given a human face and character. Themes are there to guide the story, and they are there to help readers read/find a part of themselves as is seen in the content of the story. There are characters whose lives match those of the readers who get to pick the book and read of it.

This is not an accident, but is actually the writer writing on what he or she has actually seen that is common to society. We can write from outside the box, but the wise writer knows the true essence of doing something they know, that they have experience in and understand its inner workings. This enables one to actually express the real life of the moments about issues that affect the people. The basic view that I carry when it comes to writing is that each and every story that one writes should carry meanings that are relevant to all the people that get to read them. After all, writing is about passing the message that help the world to progress, and asking questions that improve the human race’s understanding of self for the sake of being understood by others. It is only through the pursuit of relevant themes that the world shall become a better place for all to live in.

By: Tšepiso S Mothibi

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An open letter to President Hichilema

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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

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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

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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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