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Tsepiso Mothibi

Last night’s sky was clear, and the waning moon, still almost full, shone bright where it hangs on the axis in the heavens. I took to watching the night sky from a really young age, and on many a night over this life have learnt how to plot the stars in their millions according to the patterns that they draw on the navy blue velvet background of the night sky. Questions as to their true purpose I have posed to myself and the answers have been many; from the real simple truths and definitions about their nature in astronomic science as balls of gas burning at tremendously high temperatures, to their actually being bigger than the sun though they seem just specks of blinking light at night.

Over the years, I have found other meanings attached to the stars, the planets, and the satellites: the simple night sky is not an easy element to fully comprehend unless one bothers to gain an in-depth understanding of its varied components. To one who does not understand the 28 day cycle of the moon, the moon is just a blob of fat that hangs in the night sky for a certain period and then disappears. Looking deeper into the waxing and the waning of the moon soon reveals to one how deep the knowledge of the astronomers of ancient times was; they knew that the moon’s crescent was directly related to the climatic changes on the earth below, and they knew that the stars and their patterns changed according to season.

From this cosmological and cosmogonic knowledge our lives and the lives of the entire universe came to be plotted and aligned, and from them life drew its patterns, thus the term or phrase, “fate in the stars”; what fate there is we do not know, but the fact remains: though high up in the netherworlds of the universe, the stars and the moons in a lot of ways determine the life we live out here on earth. They define who we are in more ways than one, and if one were to define the kind of life we live this day, one would understand that to live fully is to know in depth what meanings are attached to those aspects we live with in the everyday. I set out on an attempt to define those terms relevant to us these ‘politically correct’ days; the further meanings and definitions of these terms you shall add in your own space and time. For the moment, the focus is on getting as much of their meaning as possible, getting their full moon expression.

The commonest terms of day include democracy (which is little understood in my view), ‘rights’ (in parentheses because it is the most misunderstood aspect of our daily lives), the ideal (models of excellence), reality (known as ‘real-life’ issues), progress, basic needs, and the management of all of these aspects of our daily life. The two main words explain and define are not understood to their full, and this leads to many an individual committing the error of believing that that the two mean the same thing, that their depth of meaning is equal, or that they are relevant in similar conditions. Well, they are not similar, for one, that is, to explain, means to make plain and comprehensible; to reveal the outline and the superficial surface of the entity in question.

To explain how a gun works, one needs only show the firearm to the audience, point it at a target, squeeze the trigger and fire. There will be a report if there is a bullet in the chamber, and only a click if there is none. Defining how a gun works needs more than just a demonstration, it needs one to first teach the student the basic rules and laws related to the handling and use of firearms, the safekeep and maintenance of such an arm, to show sketches of the mechanisms of the firearm, the material used to make it, the cycling speed of its firing pin, the size of the of the magazine, the makeup of the cartridges, that is, the priming mechanism and the compounds used to make the powder, the calibre of the bullets, the type of metal used in the making of the jacket, then to take the student to the shooting range so they can get a full hands-on and practical understanding of how a firearm is operated.

The former, that is, explain, just reveals the outward and the superficial aspects of an entity, but in the latter, that is, to define an entity means that one gets to the core of its essence and being, and in the process reveals all the salient elements necessary to ensuring its peak performance. I guess that our existence is often little understood due to the simple fact that the necessary aspects related to it are often just explained instead of being defined in their full spectra of objectivity, value, quality, ideals, and activities. Let us attempt to define the terms aforementioned in their complete fullness and not just in their brevity so we can make better use of them.

Thomas Aquinas (1225?-1274) in his Essence and Being puts forward the proposition that existence has to have a certain level of essence attached to it for being (to be) to be complete. He states solidly:

Essence is found in a second way in created intellectual substances. Their being is other than their essence, though their essence is without matter. Hence their being is not separate but received, and therefore it is limited and restricted to the capacity of the recipient nature. But their nature or quiddity (uniqueness) is not received in matter.

Intelligence is not limited at the lower levels, but such intelligence has to be controlled from above, that is one of the reasons why there are laws and acts, rules and regulations that ensure that the harmony of the social strata is maintained. One is not prevented from having ideas on the progress of humanity, but such ideas should not infringe on the well-being of the earthly society as a whole. It is good to see the possibility for change, and it is not wrong to present one’s ideas about what changes can be made, but such ideas should first be presented to relevant governing authorities to discuss the possible outcomes if such ideas were to be manifested in the real life sphere where the rest of human and earthly society lives. This is due to the fact that ideas have the potential to improve human and earthly lives if they are executed with the full consideration of their impact on other beings on earth.

However, such ideas uncontrolled could also have adverse effects on the harmony of the world if their execution is an uncontrolled affair. Governance was created as a control measure to the promulgation of human ideas in the public sphere, because at the end of it all, one aspect of the human race is universally paramount and appropriate: we should always be in pursuit of the ideal elements that make harmony a part of our daily living. As seems to be main reason democracy was adopted as a tool of righteous governance in the world.

John Dewey (1859-1952) deems democracy a political form and method of conducting government and administration that is much broader and deeper than it is usually conceived of as; it is a way of life adopted for, in his own words:

the participation of every mature human being in formation of the values that regulate the living of men together: which is necessary from the standpoint of both the general social welfare and the full development of human beings as individuals.

Democracy grants all the individuals in society rights and freedoms which should be used to promote the harmonious living of all individuals living within society. One of the basic rights the mature individual has is the right to be involved in the decision-making processes that affect him or her and the community within which they live. They in my opinion have this right by virtue of being citizens in a state where the decisions of the government they voted or did not vote into office have a direct or indirect effect on their lives. Attached to these rights, therefore, are responsibilities attached; like the responsibility to ensure and to value the safety and well-being of other members of society and their property as much as one would value their own.

Democracy does not just grant the rights and freedoms without responsibility being attached, because if it were not, it would in my view be one sided, it would be a wheel without an axle that would spin out of control. The post-independence view in many states across Africa is that the masses have rights and the freedoms to take action where they feel their rights are being infringed, but the question remains: should the exercise of such a freedom to ensure that the rights are respected lead to revolt, mass violent protest, and total chaos?

One is led to believe that many acts of demonstration (disguised under the mask of expression of ‘freedom’) often have no regulations governing their execution. That freedom of expression is a basic right does not mean that one should resort to violent protest, to burning and looting public and private property, to inciting violence amongst lesser concerned members of society who may or may not have vested interest in the activities related to the expression of interest. Recent developments have seen schools and private property burned in neighbouring states in the name of education which is a basic right. The weak defence has always been, ‘this is a democratic state’; what democracy is that which considers only the needs of one side and not the whole society? What then happens to the equality which forms the basis of the legal and the political aspects that govern society?

Democracy was  conceived as a form that promotes the ideal, and the idealists of our time have used it to benefit whole societies, and their ideas have gone on to become models for proper governance. Think of King Moshoeshoe I whose ideals of forgiveness, and of a sense of unity ignorant of tribe or clan formed the Basotho nation, think of Mohandas Karamchand Ghandi whose ideal of passive resistance (Satyagraha) got India her independence, think of Nelson Mandela’s ideal of racial equality, Botho/Ubuntu, and reconciliation; think of these icons and their impact on the world and you will begin to understand what the idealistic really means. It is ideal that we should live together in harmony, because it is necessary for the progress of all individuals in terms of both talent and endowment.

Where there is chaos due to lack of legal or political administration, the wealthy cannot make their lucre due to the violence,  and the poor cannot make use of the means of subsistence they have at their disposal to eke livelihoods. What is ideal in a democracy is what is beneficial to the whole society and not just some sector of society, because where it is limited only to the ‘superior’ few, the human race loses the basic ideal tenant in the basic principles of democracy: democracy holds a strong sense of faith in human intelligence and always strives to pool it so that life can become a ‘cooperative’ experience.

Without cooperation whatever realities we want to change and to achieve in our lives as a society become fantasies that will contribute nothing to the harmonious progress of the human race. In a cooperative democracy the basic needs are of paramount importance and their management is a shared affair. Where the democracy is non-cooperative supplementary wants are presented as core and the decisions are impractical, it is just like demanding a seat of power and then inciting violence in the process of its attainment, like burning a school and looting while demanding free education, in short; being unrealistic and impractical.

What counts is clear understanding by all individuals concerned (and unconcerned) that democracy should be geared towards the attainment of progress and not regress. Believing that autocracy exists only at the top is sheer fantasy, it can also exist at the bottom where those ruled believe that their word counts far more than that of the elected government, that their citizenship grants them the right to rule the government, when the inverse is true and logical. The moon may be smaller than the earth, but the moon controls the tides in the earth’s oceans, and just because she controls the tides of the oceans’ waters, the moon should never believe she is stronger than the earth; because she has no waters of her own and no gravity. Universal peace in a democracy is attained by us all understanding our limits and our responsibilities. Expectations we should have, it is true and good, but they should not sour the present moment to the extent that the future becomes an uncertainty. That, we should always strive to define as citizens (and non-citizens) living in this lovely kingdom

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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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