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Dealing with ‘it’

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It is a beautiful Tuesday morning, the last day of the second phase of the Covid-19-related lockdown. My neighbour is up there in his yard cleaning the pigsties as he does every morning, for the sounder of swine mean some kind of financial and nutritional return once they reach maturity. There is some effort one needs to put in to reap the rewards, there is just no law of nature that says anyone or any creature shall get sustenance without putting in effort in one or the other form.

Lockdown means that some of us are limited to the menial tasks, but they are still honourable efforts, even if it means one has to do the lazy teacher’s job on a daily basis. The children are at home, and some of us as parents are the only tutors available for the developing minds. We therefore chin on despite being unfamiliar with the new indoor environment, because some of us are actually meeting our children for the first time, having been preoccupied with our daily jobs and other commitments while they keep their teachers busy at school. There is no other way but to deal with the new broke world at home that comes in the wake of the Coronavirus ghost-ship.

In repeat: time adds up (for it is a progressive entity) in seconds that add up to minutes, the minutes that add up to form hours, the hours that add up to make a day, the day and its fellows become a week, the weeks turn into months, the months constitute a season, the seasons become parts of a year, the years become an era, the eras become history (his-story), and the life of man and life on earth goes on in an endless continuum towards that vague point of argument many choose to call progress, civilisation, or, if one may say clearer words in the tongue of the mundane and the common; humanity is over time striving towards an elusive sense of refinement.

The current year means that the claims mankind goes by with regard to the management of time have been removed. We had been progressing towards a more refined expression of character as wished by those that came before us. We had dismally failed at progress before the advent of the plague as evidenced by the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the increasing unemployment, endless war and strife in different parts of the world and other negative and undesirable elements of the human character. The virus outbreak could well prove to be a blessing in disguise, for forced to limited movement; we now have more time to reflect on what the next step is going to be with regard to global human progress.

The flu outbreak has forced us to adopt a more peaceable, more communal, more cooperative sense of interaction with fellow human beings and the other peripheral citizens of the earthen and earthly environs. Time is always at the head of every new plan, and we have it in barrels this time around. What shall count is what we shall do with it, and fortune shall favour those that listened to the global call to limit movement. Limited movement affords us the opportunity to think and look inwards to reflect and to introspect.

This simple spin of the wheel of progress as has been brought by the Coronavirus is what the wise Ecclesiast saw in its full expansive reality. So clear was his revelation of the true futility and pleasure of the nature of time that he declared in chapter 3 verse 15 of his 12 Ecclesiastes: “That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been…” as aforesaid, dealing with a plague or drought is nothing new to humanity, and no disease outbreak has ever gotten to the point where it threatened humanity with extinction. We have always managed to pull through and come out better on the other side of the storm. This time around, it shall be the same and we will have but forgotten by the time the next tide comes along.

Time passes, and things associated with it too come to pass to form part of the past. As Virgil puts it in his Georgics ‘Tempus fugit (Time flies)’, and a humanity that chooses to ignore the reality of its steady progress sooner than later discovers that they are living in the latter days when they thought their first era had just begun. We have no confirmed case yet in this country, and one would think that we would all use our time re-arranging our scatteredness into something presentable instead of having to listen to selfish political battles and regime changes.

Those ones busy trying to ensure the safety of their seat in parliament do not realise one simple fact; your hypocrisy is coming to the light as a poisoned rat often does when the pain of the poison gets too heavy in the belly. There was never any sense of patriotism in the political class of Lesotho, self-interest has been steadily increasing since the coup that saw Morena Leabua Jonathan lose power in 1986. Now is the most convenient time to get the messed up political scenario in order.

It has become clear as a mole on a flea’s behind that the political class in this country largely focus on the self rather than on the needs and interests of those poor citizens that vote them into power. Autocratic and self-serving, the political governance in Lesotho has dismally failed to the extent that talk about monarchical rule is presented as an alternative. It may not be bad after all to be ruled by the king once again. The smart alecs in parliament have done nothing to see the progress of the state become a reality, only the ideals and the opinions of the political class have formed the mainstay of the discussions since 1986.  

This world has places against whose names is attached a strange expression, “the people that time forgot,” and these places are often those whose progress does not match the global trends of the moment economically, socially and otherwise. These are countries where the rich ‘tourists’ from the first world come to view life at its most ‘primitive’ and ‘simple’. We the aboriginal natives of this netherworld grin with glee when a picture of our backward selves is taken by a passing tourist for publication for profit in some first world magazine.

We live in such a country, and we got forgot by time whilst we preened as felines do at our educational achievements, and time fleeted away. We therefore find ourselves at odds with the laws, rules, and regulations related to the control of the Covid-19 pandemic. The need to be seen has taken over common sense and we gather in droves at shopping malls and centres despite the incessant call to observe social distancing. Coronavirus has for the moment given us temporary repose, we should take advantage of this and move towards a more progressive approach when it comes to dealing with familial, communal, societal, and national issues. The dilly-dallying for the sake of being heard and heard on national radio and television shall not serve us beneficially in the long run. And we cannot at this point in time rest assured on the assumption that the virus shall not come our way.

Humility is the first step toward time management. The pompous tend to arrive late as a sign of status (I think), or they may be just hooked on the sight of their plump selves in the eyes of swooning fans standing behind the cordons whilst they saunter or strut on the red carpet. Lateness for these kinds of figures may therefore be just a deliberate act; a peacock’s strut and not a necessary aspect.

Over these COVID-19 holidays, I met bigger men than my humble self, and I was rewarded for arriving on time; it is the basic rule of every kind of business to arrive on time if you are the kind of individual that believes in striking the hammer while the iron is hot. Punctuality affords one the comfort of changing or modifying decisions that affect the amount of work being done or discussed at the table.

I never really thought of time until I started to paint professionally for, under normal circumstances, paint dries in its own time, and the only way it can dry according to your wish is if you arrive early enough to start. Arriving late often means that the paintjob will not be dry to allow for the client to move freely in their own house. One has to be ahead of time to give the finished paintwork enough time to dry to allow for the homeowner to sleep in their own quarters.

Humility begets punctuality which gets comfort which gets the next point of discussion; resilience, which in brief means being able to deal with varying or different kinds of situations, individuals, and challenges that may present themselves in the course of an ordinary day at work or over an extended period of time. The versatile are always on time because where others see problems that cannot be solved, they scout the immediate vicinity of the problem to find the solution for the immediate problem.

An old late friend of mine once gave this piece of advice to me, “where tools to finish a job be lacking, make your own and use them… but make sure to stay within the basic rule to avoid disappointment later!” Senegal and Madagascar have taken his advice to heart and have found success in their fight against the virus because their lack of tools was never a deterrent but an inspiration to make them out of whatever materials they find.

Resilience offers new dimensions of practical thought; it gave the man stuck in the middle of the desert because of a torn fan-belt the wisdom to know that his wife’s pantyhose could do the fan-belt’s job long enough to get them to a service station where their car could be fixed whilst they waited in the shade with daiquiris in their hands.

The proud politicians are often obstinate in their opinions and acts, and they would rather fail a thousand times when they could get the true answer from a fellow human being close by.

Experience has taught me that even the most simple minds are good enough to show one the right way to carry out the needed task. The truth of the matter is that one need not be proud of who they are when it comes to dealing with the world, for the citizens of the world have their own kinds of understanding on the functioning of the world which may turn out really helpful if one is humble enough to ask for it. Recent encounters over these COVID-19 holidays revealed to me the fact that; the deepest kind of knowledge belongs to those that are in constant touch with the problem or the issue being dealt with, this granted by the virtue of their constant proximity to the source of the problem or the issue that needs to be tackled.
The wise one always asks for directions and follows them as guided by the guardians of the territory they just entered, this done in order that they finish their journey within time or before time. The obstinate one thinks to carve their own path regardless of the glaring reality in prevailing circumstances that are in the contrary to closely held notions. The smart leader is one that follows existing roads to get to their destination quicker than the stubborn one who gets stuck to the man in the mirror.

We cannot hope to win the battle against the Coronavirus if the leadership dilly dallies on a daily basis, hopping from one plan to the next like kangaroos in search of an elusive waterhole in the deserts of Australia. Staying ahead of time first means that one should be humble enough to acknowledge the full impact of the prevailing circumstances rather than obeying long-held visions about what reality should be like. African time is the result of the obstinate local wanting to prove a point, and the only point proven so far is regression, regression, and regression.

We do not progress as a continent because we hold the false notion that tide and time wait for man. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is waking up to the reality that one cannot pause time, for it runs at a heartbeat for those that respect it and soon fleets away if one ignores the reality of the ticking of the clocks on the walls.

The political fool thinks they can buy time, but only bread can be bought for a coin: not life as the reverend Bob Marley said to his son at the point of death. Time maintains its constant ticking and tocking and does not care how we use it. It only demands that we respect it as we should, by using it wisely and striving to always be ahead of time. The current outbreak only proves that our attitudes have always been wrong with regard to the issue of time and response. We should change for the sake of our global survival.

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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