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Crossing rivers

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Substance that you are popular or are followed by many does not mean that you have it, or that you have the right kind of substance that enables you to make a meaningful contribution to the progress of the human race.
For all I know, the substance one may think they have could upon close analysis or subjection to a given and specific method of testing prove to be of the same value as chaff, that is, contributing nothing to the changing of the meaninglessness of the world but instead adding to the woeful circumstances the world now finds itself in.

Far often than less, close analysis of the facts surrounding the determination of the significance of a character in the effecting of change in the world actually proves that they have none of it, possessing in terms of quality the neutral pH of a drop of clean water in a vast ocean, that is not changing either the saltiness or the sweetness of that into which it is being dropped or put into. What we do, whether we like it or not, determines our substance and in the same process reveals our significance in terms of the effect of change in the world.

We live in a time where being followed on the social media has become the main occupation for those whose faces are constantly stuck to the screens of their phones (and tablets) or their personal computer (the lap and the desktop types).
What most of those that are being followed do not seem to consider is that oftentimes, 80 percent of those that are following do not even know why they are following, that they just follow because they can follow or have only the figure they are following to follow to get out of the rut of complacency and boredom they are living in.

The follower syndrome is just plain dangerous, because the misconstrued understanding of the one noting the follower statistics just jots down the numbers and the figures tumbling in, and never records the intentions of those that are following or whether they understand what it is they are following.

I have seen women and men follow a solitary figure chasing oblivion without knowing that whoever they are following is following a meaningfulness or meaninglessness known only to their selves and are not willing to share that they are in actual fact in pursuit of ignorance.
Then we are forced to listen to the senseless haggling of the followers, some of whom have the audacity to sound auspicious and begin to falsely believe that the ‘learned’ views they give on what they do not know and understand are actually educated and should therefore be given heed.
I just often look at these ones, and silently and privately sign them off as speakers of cow dung only good to be dried and used as organic fuel to warm the house and to cook beans and likhobe on those long and cold winter nights up here in the freezing Kingdom in the Sky.

Argue not about that which you do not know, follow not that which you do not understand; for it may just prove to be the bait used to lure you in to your demise, like a hen following nubs of corn deliberately scattered in a line towards the house where the knife waits for it. Argue not, follow not, if you do not know and understand.

After the death of his childhood sweetheart, the character of Forrest Gump played by Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump begins to run across the vast United States of America to kill the pain of loss, or to honour her word for she is the one that first got him to run when he couldn’t walk due to his condition.

Soon he is followed by a band of purposeless wanderers who are looking for someone to follow, and when he stops because his period of mourning is over or that his legs cannot carry on pounding the tarmac and the gravel the poor band of followers want to protest because he stopped.
What these ones don’t know is that they were running someone’s race without knowing why they were running in the first place, and therefore, Forrest is not to blame for stopping when he did, but they are for they followed a shadow whose owner’s purpose for running was unclear to them.
As far as I am concerned, Forrest did not invite them to his one-man-dealing-with-his-own-pain-by-running club, they just chose to gatecrash and I am sure Forrest would not follow them if they decided to go on running.

What he does is to go home after his pain is gone and leaves them stuck in the middle of the road, and I am sure with many of them wondering why they had to run in the first place. Do not follow what you don’t know or understand . . . it is that simple. That is if you don’t want to get lost.
On a recent flight to somewhere, I was watching one of those boring programmes on those small overhead screens that lull one to sleep if they really put focus on them. A famous ‘celebrity’ of African descent with a European surname was making a real serious attempt at sounding smart whilst talking senseless.

I just could not pretend or feign my disdain at the utter gunk that was dribbling off the lipstick glossed lips of the speaker, “we wanted to feel like we are doing something to uplift them out of their condition… next week, we are going to make a presentation hosted at the UN headquarters in New York…”

I thought, bull-poo! That ‘we and them’ the honourable Excellency was spewing forth sounded both self-righteous and charlatan, as if those someone was taking a trip to the UN headquarters in New York about did not have their own voices or that the Medusa was in actual fact performing some kind of charity that deserved some kind of honour.

Charity is charity, and the Holy Book teaches that charity should be done as silently as possible to make it veritable enough to be considered as of the true type. The kind of charity for sale one sees these days is the dubious watered down type whose benefactors actually get paid a lot to perform. If you are getting paid in the name of performing acts of charity, just shut up and eat: for you are not doing charity but are actually employed as an aid worker.

\I have never heard a plumber boast about how good he is by unblocking blocked drains spewing forth rivers of turd. He knows to shut up because he is getting paid for doing it, it is his job and place of employ. Frankly speaking, there is plainly too much talk about charity these days, and the providers thereof often remember to bring their own camera crews to record the acts of ‘charity’ for the ‘poor’ and ‘marginalised’.
If one were to ask the simple question: Who impoverished and marginalised them in the first place? The answer would be simple: the same benefactors posing in front of the cameras with them did.

I have today read the sweet sad tale of the Bang Bang Club’s Kevin Carter and Kevin Oosterbroek, two news photographers who died in the early 1990s after a life of maverick-style of presenting the world to the world through the lenses of their cameras.
As photographers, they covered scenes from South Africa’s violent township battles between the members of IFP and the ANC, and they went as far as the Sudan where they covered scenes of famine and, as is stated in www.100photos.time.com:

Kevin Carter knew the stench of death. As a member of the Bang-Bang Club, a quartet of brave photographers (with Greg Marinovich, João Silva and the late Ken Oosterbroek) who chronicled apartheid-­era South Africa, he had seen more than his share of heartbreak.
In 1993 he flew to Sudan to photograph the famine racking that land. Exhausted after a day of taking pictures in the village of Ayod, he headed out into the open bush. There he heard whimpering and came across an emaciated toddler who had collapsed on the way to a feeding center. As he took the child’s picture, a plump vulture landed nearby.

Carter had reportedly been advised not to touch the victims because of disease, so instead of helping, he spent 20 minutes waiting in the hope that the stalking bird would open its wings. It did not. Carter scared the creature away and watched as the child continued toward the center.
He then lit a cigarette, talked to God and wept. The New York Times ran the photo, and readers were eager to find out what happened to the child — and to criticize Carter for not coming to his subject’s aid.

His image quickly became a wrenching case study in the debate over when photographers should intervene. Subsequent research seemed to reveal that the child did survive yet died 14 years later from malarial fever.

Carter won a Pulitzer for his image, but the darkness of that bright day never lifted from him. In July 1994 he took his own life, writing, “I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain.”
The photographers were ostracised for not taking action to save the victims they came across, but the question remains: have those that sponsored the wars ever been questioned?

Do we ever ask the reason why there are famines in the first place? Do we ever show our discontent at constant empty political promises used to garner votes on the African continent?
It seems that the only thing we are actually fascinated with is being the Good Samaritan in front of the cameras. Of the disease that causes the rot, we pretend to know nothing of, but the fact is that all of this rigmarole is what has landed the continent in the mud it is now in. Africa reacts and does not prevent and the latter is the better cure to the disease.
Alternatively, confronting issues with mutual respect in mind could prove to be the better solution instead of this game of lying to ourselves we seem to enjoy playing.

I honestly care not (from now on) what my being frank about issues that need to be confronted will do to disturb the fake peace that benefits the politician whilst enslaving the masses in the clutches of poverty and unemployment.
That we are poor is only the result of some character flaw we should have long ago been rid of: we are too polite when we should address issues as they are, and we are led by groups of colonised individuals. Cap in hand, they have managed to drag this continent to the bottom of the abyss.
The sad thing is that somehow, they have managed to teach a new class of girls and boys to sing the old-fashioned tunes that never helped anyone except those close to the table where the big fish drink from the cups of bureaucracy.

We shall never take this continent or country forward by being polite, we can never walk a step by letting fear cloud our judgement and we can never progress if we keep on rehashing old arguments.
Mandela could see the uselessness of reverting to old arguments on mundane issues that are best left alone in the past. They are never-ending stories carried from one generation to the next if allowed to thrive.

So, when my age-mates discuss issues such as land reform and such issues, I think of how Zimbabwe was, and I think of how it is now. Marechera was a saint, Lumumba was a god, Sankara was a saviour, and Gaddafi was Africa’s own guardian angel.
Of the smartest in the room, none remain, only a bunch of actors and posers pretending that this world is their cake and that we are all here to serve them like serfs did in medieval times.

Wake up dear lewd ‘lawds’, we can now see through your hashish smokescreens. Change your act because we are about to cross many rivers to get to a future Moshoeshoe oa Pele envisioned for us all.  This political Scaramouch messed up the country. Bafo ha e be bafo, marena rene joale ka ha e le tšoanelo (Servants should serve and rulers should reign as is the rightful custom). That the clock is turning the other way round is wrong. Let us right its hands if needs be as it is now…

By: Tsepiso S Mothibi

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We need a coordinated approach on youth challenges

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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?

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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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Insight

Lessons from Israel: Part 3

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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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