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Dealing with a pandemic

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The understanding of epidemiology as a branch of medical science dealing with the transmission and control of disease needs one to focus on the understanding of diseases prevalent among a community at a given point in time. The route to the understanding of the epidemiological aspects of a disease needs those concerned (and unconcerned) to fully be cognizant with the inner ramifications of the given disease in a literal or figurative way.

Through hands on tactics that are practised in the face of any disease breakout, the literal side to understanding how the control and the treatment of a disease is carried out is put into action. The figurative simulation exercises also play a significant role in the understanding of epidemic breakouts in that they prepare the population in terms of dealing with the breakouts at a regional or international level. Dealing with disease breakouts is a human society’s necessity, for dealing with diseases is a fact we can never ignore, a fact we cannot deny unless we want to die out as the human race.

It could be that disease breakouts are often ignored affairs until they go rampant and the masses begin to panic and everyone then begins to run helter-skelter. It need not get to this phase where people are emptying shelves and stocking up on goods and foodstuffs as is the case now unfolding in neighbouring South Africa. The Coronavirus (One of a group of RNA (RiboNucleic Acid) viruses that infect animals and humans, primarily the upper respiratory and gastrointestinal tract) was discovered in December 2019, but the sluggish manner in which the authorities handled the whole issue led to its current pandemic status.

The lack of authoritative common-sense chose to put the blame on the country where the breakout was first spotted. It did not make sense to assume that the virus was the People’s Republic of China’s problem, it was not humanely sensible to do so, it was not scientifically sensible to do so. What should have been done from the onset was to aid China contain the virus before it spread, but the loquacity got the better of the political leadership of the world, in the process putting the vulnerable masses of the world at risk.

It is a fact that loquacity gets the better of common sense and hampers movement of the hand. Speaking does not equal action, it is in actual fact the weaker and the more useless of the two deeds. Those that talk cannot move hands or walk, do not work and can therefore not make the world well.

That old adage, “empty vessels make the most noise,” has been proven true over the past three months with political leaders wanting to sound smart instead of taking relevant action when it comes to dealing with the virus breakout before it reached the level of a pandemic. The glare of the flashlight became the focus of the moment when what should have been done could have been to highlight the core definitions of what the virus is about. Casualties are increasing on a daily basis, but one does not see any decisive action taken to quell the spread of the virus.

There are only councils of speculators and pseudo-experts speculating on the disease without actually giving the inner details of what the Corona virus is, how it spreads, and what simple ways can be adopted to deal with it. Not everyone can afford the sanitizers, not everyone can access medical help in Lesotho, and we should therefore be looking for simple ways to deal with the breakout.

I personally have not heard what the virus is from the relevant authorities. There are only short clips and snippets on the Coronavirus, the rest of the conversation is scattered amongst the useless social media speculations and videos of figures in protective suits spraying disinfectant or water or whatever it may be they are spraying. We first have to know and to understand what it is we are dealing with to take the relevant action to quell its advance. The two most important aspects of the epidemic, the prevalent and the impending should be well inculcated into the minds of the general population before resorting to political speech.

All of us old ones know how useless and ineffective political speech is when it comes to dealing with crises. It is a fact that the political class on the continent are not the smartest individuals, they are voted on the basis of popularity and not practicality. Political figures are therefore not the right people to address the pandemic or endemic challenges posed by disease breakouts. Medical experts could actually do a better job considering their familiarity with the viruses.

A look at the epidemiological history of disease breakouts reveals a clear pattern of increased fatalities where a lot of speculation was done instead of actually dealing with the breakout. Plagues or pandemics spin out of control whilst we talk and speculate, they actually seem to decrease when there is less talking and more action. There have been flu breakouts of pandemic proportions before in history; all were decisively dealt with because there was more action and less talking.

The Spanish flu killed so many (over 50 million) only because of the noise of the guns of World War One, it was beaten the second time in the new millennium because the world acted in concert to deal with its consequences. There have been recorded influenza epidemics from as far back in history as 400 BCE, and the most decisive action ever taken is found in those that took the time to develop vaccines for the different virus strains in the course of occurrence.

There could be action taken at this point in time, and it demands of the medical fraternity to stop speculation and begin to fashion the vaccine. It is not as if this Wuhan influenza is a new flu virus strain to come out of China, the Influenza A subtype H2N2 of 1952 in Guizhou went on to kill close to 4 million people and in the process went on to attain a category 2 pandemic severity index status. All the accusation at this point in time might mean more casualties.

There are three components of epidemiology; the agent, the host, and the environment. The agent is the micro-organism that actually causes the disease in question; the host is the organism that carries the disease passed on by the agent in the given environment within which the agent and the host live. What I believe should have been the question from the onset should have been: What is Coronavirus? And one should have gotten the simple definition that Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that range from the common cold to MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARs (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).

The second question could have been: Where do Coronaviruses come from? And the answer could have been; Corona viruses are circulating in animals and some of these Coronaviruses have the capability of transmitting between animals and humans in a spill-over event (for example, sharing the same environment with such animals or eating them).

The third and most important question would be: How can I help protect myself from a Coronavirus? The Coronaviruses typically cause respiratory symptoms and the lead recommendation is that basic hand hygiene, such as washing your hands with soap and water should be observed at all times.
Respiratory hygiene, such as properly covering your face when you sneeze, or sneezing into your elbow must be practised at all times. Other ways include protecting one’s self against a potential animal source by avoiding unnecessary unprotected contact with live animals and making sure that you wash your hands thoroughly after contact with animals and also to make sure your meat is cooked thoroughly before consuming.

The last question would be: Is there treatment? And the answer based on the current circumstances reveals that there are no specific treatments for Coronaviruses, but symptoms can be treated. This is all that should have been told from the onset, not the panic mechanic talk we have been getting from politicians. The need for unavailable masks is emphasised and I think this a noble suggestion, but the question remains: when will governments make them available to all the citizens?

Talk without deeds is a piss in the wind, a nuisance  that messes up with the minds of the already panicking masses in Africa and many other parts of the world, and many of them cannot afford a R2 meal. There is in frank terms no united commitment from the governments of the world because the focus is still more on the economic than on the pandemic. I guess the honourable thing would be to focus on the illness and living for tomorrow, the expense can always be dealt with in the aftermath.

An article 1918 Influenza: the Mother of All Pandemics by Jeffery K. Taubenberger and David M. Morens shows that before and after 1918, most influenza pandemics developed in Asia and spread from there to the rest of the world. The article further goes on to show that:

Confounding definite assignment of a geographic point of origin, the 1918 pandemic spread more or less simultaneously in 3 distinct waves during a 12-month period in 1918–1919, in Europe, Asia, and North America (the first wave was best described in the United States in March 1918). Historical and epidemiologic data are inadequate to identify the geographic origin of the virus, and recent phylogenetic analysis of the 1918 viral genome does not place the virus in any geographic context.

Further evidence in historical records since the 16th century suggests that new influenza pandemics may appear at any time of year, and not necessarily in the familiar annual winter patterns of inter-pandemic years. This is presumably due to the fact that newly shifted influenza viruses behave differently when they find a universal or highly susceptible human population. Thereafter, confronted by the selection pressures of population immunity, these pandemic viruses begin to drift genetically and eventually settle into a pattern of annual epidemic recurrences caused by the drifted virus variants.

This means that the current Coronavirus pandemic may actually trace its roots to some distant point in history, or, it may be that current human travel patterns do actually have a role to play in the spread of the virus. The virus as an agent could be from anywhere in the world, but it could be found that the environment in China was conducive to its mutation and final dispersion to the rest of the world.

How we deal with the current epidemiological scenario needs not any deviation from the necessary. There is the need to be cautious about one’s hygiene at all times, but the prevalence at this point in time has made it all the more necessary to be extra cautious when dealing with potential and obvious cases of the Coronavirus in terms of keeping high levels of personal hygiene.

Technological advancement and a relative atmosphere of peace in the world means that we can deal with the virus better than it was dealt with in the years of the Spanish influenza.
Taubenberger and Morens further show that the 1918 influenza pandemic had another unique feature, the simultaneous (or nearly simultaneous) infection of humans and swine. The virus of the 1918 pandemic likely expressed an antigenically novel subtype to which most humans and swine were immunologically naive in 1918.

There is something not new about the current pandemic if it has been treated at this point in time and there are actually statistics of people that have been ‘cured’ of its effects. There is the need for world bodies to work hand in hand, but more importantly, individual states should not consider themselves exempt from the effects of the disease because they shall end up late starters in the fight against the Coronavirus.

It is in the past week that I got the understanding that influenza pandemics in general require a basic understanding of the previous pandemic in all its historical, epidemiological, and biological aspects. It is only until we can ascertain which of these factors gave rise to the mortality patterns observed that we can learn more about the formation of the pandemic, because our predictions are only educated guesses if the basic factors are not adequately noted and understood.

We can therefore only conclude that since it happened once, similar conditions could lead to an equally devastating pandemic, thus the need to understand the conditions more than to make guesses and point fingers. It is a fact that our chance of winning even with modern antiviral and antibacterial drugs, vaccines, and prevention knowledge, the return of a pandemic virus equivalent in infectiousness to previous strains would likely kill more people worldwide if not adequately dealt with.

Whether because of viral, host or environmental factors, the Coronavirus causing mayhem in the world may not be associated with previous pandemics. Identification of what it really is first could point to a genetic basis for its uniqueness which will leave room for its differences with previous strains to be highlighted. Speculation and panic attacks will not at this moment save us. We have to be practical in our approach. More than we have ever been before.

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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