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Doing away with bad habits



A long queue that stretches as far as the middle of the mall, excitement amongst those that are waiting in line to get into the liquor shop, and the realisation that this country shall never progress if it carries on with the kind of mentality it has nurtured for centuries. Morena Moshoeshoe, like many Native American chiefs, saw the danger of the fire water (whisky or brandy) before drinking became vogue. These leaders saw the social decay that came with the drinking of alcohol as a form of recreation.

Lesotho is actually the first country in the world to have a law against the drinking of alcohol enacted by Morena Moshoeshoe himself, it seems that we do not understand what he meant, or, as the current Covid-19 scenario is revealing to us: Basotho have actually never listened to the wisdom of their king with regard to the issue of imbibing alcohol for recreation. This is the lead reason why people find it sensible to wait in line for a bottle of liquor so they can go and drink themselves senseless in the middle of a plague.

These Gomorrah attitudes are what has held this country backwards in time, a little forgotten kingdom that is proudly spoken of by the ordinary inhabitants but which remains shabbily treated by those who should take the lead with regards to its upkeep as a state.
The mentor in the rehabilitation centre I attended used to repeat on several occasions that it takes only 21 repetitions to form a habit. We have had more than 21 days to rethink our ways, but some of our actions reveal that we are not learning anything from the virus experience, perhaps with the unfounded hope that the worst of the deluge will pass us over. The reality however is that we are waiting with bated breath for the first statistic, and there will be many such Covid-19 victims if the country carries on as it is doing at this point in time.

There may be arguments to the contrary, but the real truth is that Lesotho has no conception of reality; from the leader class to the commoner: there is the big brother mentality amongst Basotho. It is this inside looking outside type of attitude that has seen this country fashion the best strategies that were never properly implemented to the point where they become realities that can be enjoyed by the citizens of this country. Giving up and giving in largely hinge on the mannerism of the individual, and if a society is largely made up of pious non-believers like we have in this country, then the process of adhering to measures that at the end of the day will come to save us becomes impossible.

It is true that we whine that government is not doing this or that which they were supposed to perform. We however never question our own attitudes and mentalities with regard to dealing with the prevailing situation because deep down, a large number of us are in plain terms hypocrites. It is hypocritical to feign poverty because of the lockdown when you still find time to drink alcohol.

The attitude means that one does not think they should be serious about getting themselves out of the mire because the state should be the one being serious about it: quite nonsensical to think that the government and good Samaritans should worry about getting food parcels to the poor whilst you worry about where you will get the next bottle of lager, gin, whisky or brandy. Alcohol is the worst of the tools that tear down social relationships, drunkards can never think straight: Morena Moshoeshoe knew this when he enacted the laws prohibiting the sale of European liquor to Basotho. With the right attitude, we stand a better chance of surviving the outbreak than at this point of time where it is open season on the streets of Maseru. Victor Frankl speaks these words from the point of view of the man that survived four Nazi concentration camps in the course of WWII:     

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way…
What way we shall choose as a state cannot be based on the prevailing attitudes at this point in time, and the government should stop making promises they cannot fulfil. It is time for everyone to take the current circumstances on a more serious note, including those that put personal opinion and glory before the social realities affecting the majority.

The partisan politics and their mentalities of polarisation have ripped this country to unrecognisable shreds, as seen in the political shenanigans that find the elite fighting for positions when the concern should be strengthening the health system to the level it is ready to deal with any eventualities. We are a country that has over the years become so increasingly dependent on foreign aid that we have literally become paralysed and catatonic. Instead of sorting our national issues, political gossip becomes the distraction used to avoid getting down to addressing the real issues on the ground.

The country’s working class have fallen victim to the economic collapse that comes in the wake of the lockdowns and this means that poverty will go even deeper into the fabric of our society. The country should be worrying about how they will deal with the outbreak in the next six months instead of worrying about what they will drink or whether they will keep their seat in parliament.

In a land of the poor where pride is bigger than the wallet, it does not make sense to pretend that all is good when the world is changing faster than you can say ‘hello’. Feigning ignorance at what is panning out in the world is sure to lead us to perdition, there is need to understand that this time is not the last time and that we need to change our outlook with regard to dealing with situations. The government has not delivered on some of the promises it initially set out, and collective responsibility has become their saving grace.

Efforts by good Samaritans and other non-governmental organisations have gone a long way towards dealing with the repercussions of the lockdown that include increased vulnerability amongst the poorer sections of society. It is only right this time for government to take the baton they failed to pass on to the masses in the form of needed aid and financial support to the sectors that need it. The eroded sense of comprehension with regard to the true essence of duty and obligation on the part of the government needs to be recouped well in time to be able to deal with any new statistic of the Coronavirus if it so happens that anyone becomes infected.

The current realities that include relative disregard for the seriousness of the outbreak have largely been caused by the brevity of the authorities when it comes to defining the core issues related to the stemming of the virus. This has led to the uncontrolled movement of people from outside the borders of Lesotho that come from Covid-19 hit South Africa and people gathered en masse on the streets of Maseru as is seen everyday. The buoying mentality is based on the thin hope that none of those that enter shall bring the virus with them.

The question however remains: what if some of those that enter the borders illegally bring it with them? Will the health system be able to deal with the results of the outbreak? It seems that the reality that the virus could hit us any day has conveniently been hidden behind the façade of normalcy despite the times being abnormal. One can attribute it to human attitude, but it could be the result of people trying to find the meaning to their human lives in these abnormally hard times.

Economic depressions have come before and people did quite a lot to gain some semblance of meaning in their everyday lives. Some actually gain their meaning to life just by walking in the melee in the city centre. It seems that this is the leading attitude which is fostered by the illogical “it won’t happen to us…” assumption. However, when logic is sacrificed for the sake of convenience, the life we live loses its meaning.

Viktor Frankl insists that the human’s primary concern is not to search for enjoyment, or supremacy, but to discover the meaning of existence (Ponsaran, 2007). He denies that humans can be reduced to what he calls, “the Freudian life and death drives” but promotes the idea that humans have the “freedom of response,” even if the situation is calamitous (Cowen, 2005).

A statistic of the Holocaust, Frankl understood in clear terms the benefit of keeping the right attitude regardless of the hard times. There is the real fear of tomorrow beginning to set in amongst the members of Lesotho society. It could have set as soon as the lockdown was announced and it keeps increasing as the poverty sinks its claws deeper into the lives of the ordinary people. It will become harder for us to keep up with the fast-changing realities in our everyday world as the virus progresses.

The only fortune we have is that there is ‘maybe’ still time to change our tendencies and habits to enable us to deal with the virus if it does come along at any point in the near future. The kind of response we have so far expressed is one of individuals gathered in a state working hard to wish away a novel reality unfolding. This means that all our interests, all our passions, all our commitments and other human attributes will come out changed on the other side of the future. There will be new habits formed after this deluge because we will perish if we carry on pretending that nothing is happening just because no case of the Coronavirus has been confirmed.

Victor Frankl speaks of this type of detachment in his Man’s Search for Meaning. We now conveniently pretend the virus won’t hit us despite its being on our doorstep and carry on with old bad habits. It is not right to pretend that nothing will hit you just because you did not see the thrower, or that it will not rain because the skies are still blue. As Victor Frankl puts it:

Such detachment is granted to the outsider, but he is too far removed to make any statements of real value. Only the man inside knows. His judgments may not be objective; his evaluations may be out of proportion. This is inevitable. An attempt must be made to avoid any personal bias…
The real difficulty of dealing with an outbreak of this kind lies in people being or acting noncommittally when it is convenient for them that results in their being unprepared when that which they were forewarned about becomes a reality. It is no use running helter-skelter when one can wait the storm or its advance, but right now, one cannot ignore the fact that there are hard times ahead with or without the Coronavirus.  At times it will be necessary to have the courage to tell of very intimate experiences, just so that the people can understand the full extent of the danger the virus poses to the citizens of this here country.

It is natural to want to get some pleasure, but pleasure is not a need, it is a mere want that can be shoved to the back of the line when the demands of the moment dictate so. This is one of the reasons why I could not understand the reason for the long drunkard line at the shopping mall. A bottle of wine will chase away the blues, for sure, but it cannot do away with the flu: money used to buy this lie (wine) posing as the truth could be put to better use helping those that really need help or the imbiber to fulfil some of his or her obligations.

The 1959 work by Viktor Frankl states that the basic reality is that life has meaning in all circumstances, even despondent ones if we apply the right principles. The second motivational force is the desire to find meaning in life because humanity has the freedom to choose the right attitude even in situations of unchangeable affliction. Frankl in short purports that people can discover meaning through creative, experiential, and attitudinal values. Our creative values consist of achievement of tasks (however mundane) such as painting a picture or tending a flowerbed.

Experiential values consist of encountering another human, such as a loved one, or by experiencing the world through a state of receptivity such as appreciating natural beauty in moments of solitude and reflection.  Attitudinal values speak of the potential to make meaningful choices in situations of suffering and adversity like we are going through at this point in time.

It will take a reading of similar experiences others went through to understand why we should do away with habits that might lead to our demise. Frankl lived through the Holocaust, we are going through one now (we will come to understand this the day after the vaccine establishes the first proven cure). For now, we need to hold back a bit and retreat back to the safety of our homes and observe the guidelines provided by the authorities.

Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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Harnessing imagery in writing



All writing is imaginative. Every piece of writing reflects the artistry and mental resourcefulness of the writer.

Effective writing also reflects the colourfulness of the writer’s mind and heart; their ability to paint the world to the reader and their capacity or facility of taking the reader with them to beautiful mental and physical and picturesque journeys.

In this piece we focus on how we can hone our creative abilities through the use of imagery and the effect of using colourful and evocative imagery in writing. Let’s go! What if I say, “Learn to prepare wisely and meticulously in time,” you will still grasp the message in a very clear way, isn’t it? But would that be interesting and colourful?

But what if we put it in a colourful manner, “Make hay whilst the sun still shines,” you really grasp the colour and the full import of the message, isn’t it? That’s what imagery does to your writing; it allows you to feel, touch and smell what you are reading.

There is no doubt that the proverb, “make hay whilst the sun still shines” has taken you to the countryside, in a farming community. You hear the bleating of sheep and the neighing of horses.

At the same time, you visualise the good farmer gracefully at work, cutting grass which he is piling in orderly stacks, preparing fodder for his animals in the future. The sun’s rays buoy his attempts and ensure that the hay is prepared with care and colour.

Thus, the point of good imagery is to capture in full detail a world that allows the reader to grasp and enjoy using their five senses. Let me give you a small but beautiful extract which further drives home the point.

“With his machete he detached a brittle clod, broke it on a stone. It was full of dead twigs and the residue of dried roots that he crushed in his fingers.

“Look, there isn’t anything left. The water has dried up in the very entrails of the mountain. It’s not worth while looking any further. It’s useless.” Then, with sudden anger, “But why, damn it! Did you cut the woods down, the oaks, the mahogany trees, and everything that grow up there? Stupid people with no sense!”

Thando struggled for a moment to find words. “What else could we do, brother? We cleared it to get new wood. We cut it down for framework and beams for our hearts. We repaired the fences around our fields. We didn’t know ourselves. Ignorance and need go together, don’t they?”

The sun scratched the scorched back of the mountain with its shining fingernails. Along the dry ravine the earth panted. The countryside, baked in drought, began to sizzle.”

What a colourful piece! The extract aptly paints a countryside’s pulse and the rhythms of seasonal and climate change and how that affects the livelihood patterns of the inhabitants. Have you seen how the sun has been endowed with human-like features?

And the description of the earth assuming human-like features, for instance, “the earth panted.” No doubt, you have seen the earth subdued by the intensity of heat in a way that is similar to a person who is panting.

To paint excellent images the writer needs to have the gift of observation. He/she should be able to observe quite a panorama of things around him and immerse them in the soil of their imagination. Let’s see another good extract where you can discern the link between good images, excellent description and the power of observation.

“It’s in the morning, the fourth watch, to borrow from biblical discourse. It’s damp outside. I brace the slicing chilly weather to go outside. There is a drizzle, constant showers seeping deep down. I pace up at least 400 metres from my hood. I see lined-up, almost cubicle-like houses.

I keep walking, with a spring in the step buoyed by the damp aura wrought by the incessant downpours. I take a deep breath, and step back as it were.

I want to be deliberate. I want to take in everything in my environment; the colours, the diverse hues and plethora of landscape contours. I notice a woman, almost in her forties, from my eye-view assumptions. She is grabbing a basket clutched tenaciously almost close to her big bosom.

She is going to Mbare Musika, the famous agricultural market wherein she intends to buy items for her stall. Behind her, there is a big strapped baby covered in velvet. As she briskly walks, I see her jumping a poodle of water as she observes her stall. I also observe a man, clad in sportswear running trying to cure a big belly.

As I keep watching, I see a woman sweeping her small veranda. I keep walking. I see a woman, plump tending to her garden. She seems animated by the drizzle, thanks to the rains.

I hear another woman, especially her piercing voice, she is selling floor polish. Her voice fills the air. As I drown in the sweet voice, I notice a man staggering. He is filthy. He could have calloused the whole night. He is holding a Black Label quart, speaking gibberish in the air. I keep watching.”

So here were are! Writing is a matter of painting with words, carving images and allowing the reader to experience the impact of all the senses so as to fully grasp the sense of what is put across.

Vuso Mhlanga teaches at the University of Zimbabwe. For almost a decade and half he taught English language and Literature in English at high school.

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Politicians’ propensity to score own goals



Lesotho politicians are often in the habit of scoring own goals. For example, look at the circus that took place in the country at the opening of parliament after the winter break. These events remind me of the article that I wrote with the title ‘Scoring own goals’.

This article appeared in this publication dated March 18 – 24, 2021. It argued that Lesotho’s politicians had a propensity to score own goals.

Many say that education and academia should not involve themselves in politics. This belief is a fallacy. The two are intrinsically intertwined. Education and politics link in a complex way.

For instance, parliament is an organ that passes laws that govern and guide national education policies. The interconnectedness includes the curricula that educational institutions and schools teach. Now, if the National Assembly’s focus is misplaced, important legislative decisions may stall or be derailed by lack of action.

I must make a disclaimer though. I am not promoting any view about a political party. I am writing this article purely as a concerned citizen.

I revisit the own goal tendency of those in authority by assessing the drama that unfolded in politics and governance. I review the recent events that culminated in the failed vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Sam Matekane and his government.

I use arguments from research to demonstrate the fluidity of Lesotho’s democracy. Some politicians often take advantage of this fluidity for selfish gain. I contest that the Prime Minister and his government should treat their adversities as stepping stones to meeting their targets.

A constitution is a living document. Accordingly, to keep Lesotho’s constitution alive, current and relevant, parliament should regularly amend it.

However, in so doing, parliament must be careful that tinkering with the country’s constitution does not compromise the essence of democracy they champion. National and democratic principles must form the dogma that underpins the improvements and amendment exercises.

Personal aspirations, ambitions and creed must not underpin the amendments.

The recent events in and out of the National Assembly make one question the perceptions of the different roles players in the democratic playground in Lesotho have.

First, there was a vote of no confidence that the Speaker ruled to defer subject to the high court’s decision.

Second, there was the allegedly drunken MP’s own goal.

The third is the press conference led by the Commissioner of the Lesotho Mounted Police Services flanked by the head of the Lesotho Defence Force and the Director General of the National Security Services.

It is already a hat trick of own goals. Fourth, there was the statement of the Prime Minister claiming an attempted coup.

The fifth own goal is the moratorium that prevented parliament from holding a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister before the lapse of three years of his inauguration.

The sixth is the practice of shirking responsibility by MPs. MPs often refer political matters to the national courts for decisions. The seventh, and the mother of all own goals, is the electoral system that Lesotho elected to pursue. The National Assembly has 120 MPs. There are 80 MPs representing constituencies and 40 proportional representatives.

The Commonwealth suggested that Lesotho review the modalities of the PR nominations. Sekatle and the Commonwealth agree that the PR system introduced plurality but at a cost. The cost is what scholars and commentators term minority rights and coalitions.

Also, it compromises accountability and transparency. It undermines the collective intelligence of the voters. Chief Jonathan warned against coalition governments by citing their instability. Political instability plagues Lesotho today.
Sekatle and the Commonwealth cited the overreliance on a threshold in awarding PR seats in parliament, cheapening them.

The PR system ballooned parliament unnecessarily. By comparison, Botswana had a population of 2.6 million in (2021). Lesotho had 2.3 million (2021). Botswana parliament currently has 65 seats, and Lesotho has 120.

A consequence emanating from the PR system in Lesotho is a hung parliament. Since 2012, there has not been an outright majority in the National Assembly. The results yielded chaos. Over that period, PMs constantly look over their shoulders. All these coalitions imploded.

Democracy is about the majority. Politicians must be persuasive to attract votes to achieve the majority. In other words, the PR system rewards failure.

The own goals cause stagnation. MPs score these own goals by serving their selfish interests. They waste time and energy on trivial things. And yet, they receive full-time salaries and earn allowances such as sittings and petrol allowances. How, then, would one explain that the external urging of parliament had to engage in the reforms exercise?

Today, reforms are lying latent. Politicians use the reform programme as an excuse for ensuring that they retain or access power. In the recent correspondences to SADC, the government and the opposition cite reforms and democracy to justify their actions. But as I write this article, there is nothing much that is happening along the lines of these very reforms. Why?

The starting point of any achievement is desire and definitiveness of purpose. The definitiveness of purpose is more than goal setting. It is one’s roadmap to achieving the overall objectives. Elsewhere, I took the definition of desire as explained by the author, Wallace Wattles.

According to Wattles, ‘Desire is possibility seeking expression, or function seeking performance’. All desires began as a thought. Expressing their desires through a manifesto is a means by which parties attempt to concretise them (their desires).

The starting point of an election campaign is the expression of political intentions and goals through manifestos. A manifesto is a public declaration of aims and policy by a political party or candidate. Political parties express their desires for what they will do in their manifestos.

After elections, these desires become the guiding principles and laws. Politically mature voters would then elect political candidates based on these manifestos.

Who instigated and drove the reforms in Lesotho? The contemporary history of Lesotho reveals that external forces pushed the reforms. Basotho merely reacted. They do not own the reform process. High on the list of their drivers are SADC, the US through AGOA and the European Union.

The practice contradicts Wattles’ definition. According to Wattles definition, desire must emanate from inside the individual, or in our case, from Basotho and be expressed outward through actions.

I do not want to comment too much about the involvement of the security agencies in politics. In my view, the relevant bodies, namely, the Law Society of Lesotho, the media and the opposition parties dealt with their involvement adequately.

Former PM Leabua Jonathan often described democracy as the government of the people by the people. But, the meaning of the construct of democracy is fluid and elusive, depending on the position of governance in Lesotho’s political arena.

Authors Hughes, Kroehler and Vander Zanden explain that democracy is a system in which the powers of government derive from the consent of the governed, namely the masses who vote, in which regular constitutional avenues exist for changing government officials.

The authors characterise the system as one which permits the population a significant voice in decision-making through the people’s right to choose among contenders for political office. Also, the system allows for a broad, relatively equal citizenship among the populace.

Lastly, it affords the citizenry protection from arbitrary state action.

Now, the question is whether the recent activities fit all the three criterias. Are the actions of the MPs who moved for the vote of no confidence in the PM’s government acting in line with Lesotho’s constitution and democracy?

This definition of democracy says that regular constitutional avenues exist for changing government officials. The no confidence vote exists in Lesotho’s constitution. But the PM and his security agencies questioned this. They claim the move by the members of the opposition to dethrone the government was a coup attempt.

The drama began when an MP from the ruling Revolution for Prosperity (RFP), Thabo Moea MP, sought an order from the High Court to delay the motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister until after the completion of the reforms process.

The opposition contests that the prayer by Moea stifles a democratic process for self-serving ends. Subsequently, the Speaker cited this impending case to defer the matter.

The constitution of Lesotho stipulates that the legislature is to pass laws, the executive is to approve and execute them, and the judiciary is to expound and enforce them. But a scholar, Nwafor, claims that the courts in Lesotho often intrude into the functions of the other arms of government.

Lesotho ‘s constitution confers powers on three arms of government in such a manner as would ensure cooperation and coordination in governance. The courts ought to bear in mind that the effective discharge of the responsibilities of the courts largely depends on the effectiveness of the other arms of government.

Nwafor brings up the issue of encroachment. He asserts that the powers of the different arms of government in such a manner would guarantee a coordinated discharge of government responsibilities to the nation. But, parliament overly relies on the courts to make political decisions. The practice encourages the risk of overreaching.

The PR electoral system denies Basotho the right to choose their representatives among contenders for political office. Instead, parties ‘hand pick’ these representatives in the pretext of the constituency elections outcomes. Often, these PR members are the ones who lost their constituency elections.

These are the politicians whose constituencies rejected them. They represent their parties and not the voters. They do not account to the voters.

Both the PM and the opposition made presentations to SADC. They overlooked the electorate. Why would SADC have power and not the electorate that elected the politicians to office? Running to SADC, an outside organisation, to settle Lesotho’s internal problems is not a solution. It is scoring an own goal. Lesotho, with its 57 years of independence, should be able to solve its internal problems.

Nonetheless, I have a completely different take from Mokhothu on the issue of the protest march by the RFP. It is unimportant to find the instigator of the protest march. The people to persuade are the voters, the people who put governments into power in a democracy, not external bodies such as SADC.

Napoleon Hill’s creed reads: ‘Every adversity brings a seed of equivalent or more benefit’. Any business person knows that business is a solution to an economic problem. So, the PM and his colleagues in his party who are business people must look at the adversity emanating from the opposition as a seed of equivalent or better benefit.

The government must dig deep to find how the problem may benefit them.
They must identify their failures and use them as stepping stones to success.

Elsewhere, I presented the views of an American scholar and activist, Anderson, who suggested that marginalised communities must cease granting candidates blank cheques. Instead, the electorate must draw their expectations and demand the campaigning party or candidate promise to meet them.

This practice is called quid pro quo. It enforces accountability and transparency.

You scratch my back, and I scratch yours. Quid pro quo is an example of one of the universal laws that demonstrate reciprocity. Reciprocity is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. The universal law is the Law of Cause and Effect. It means that for every effect, there is an equal cause. You plant a seed, so shall you reap.

Both the government and the opposition ran to SADC for help. Remember, Matekane is a successful businessman. He has, on more than one occasion, explained that he wanted to use his prowess in business to take Lesotho forward. As a businessman, Matekane has faith in his ability.

Words that come to mind here include self-confidence and trust in himself. He believes in himself. Running to SADC does not display this faith in his ability to deal with problems emanating from his opposition.

Hill argues that riches, or any form of success and achievement, begin with a thought. Faith removes limitations. Matekane must apply his faith as a businessman to become a successful politician.

To summarise, the article explores the events emanating from the fiasco of the no-confidence motion. The individuals who ought to champion constitutional democracy in Lesotho betrayed Basotho by scoring hordes of own goals.

I explored the meaning of concepts that helped me unpack some of these own goals. These were democracy, faith and desire. Also, I coupled these with scholarly research views on the constitution of Lesotho.

I contest that while the opposition may argue that they are within their rights to ruffle the government, the PM must use different tactics. He must display faith and confidence in himself and trust Basotho.

The move to influence the voters to back him deserves a big WOW! He must hold more campaigns to persuade voters to support his government. Voters may make or break him.

MPs waste time in discussing trivial issues that have no bearing on the national agenda. Often, they focus on self-serving matters. The RFP promised to refocus Lesotho towards national development and improving the quality of life.

The article also shows that the PR system does not benefit Lesotho. It diminishes accountability and the principle of quid pro quo. Also, it ballooned the numbers in parliament unnecessarily. It increased political instability by forging formations of coalition.

Politicians must refrain from abusing the judiciary by making them make political decisions. Involving the courts in making political decisions leads to encroachment. Encroachment defies democracy.

In conclusion, Matekane must not allow his detractors to derail his mandate. The same is true for the opposition leaders who attempt to dethrone him. No party campaigned on removing sitting PMs.

Also, the MPs must take the responsibilities that Basotho entrusted them with. It is high time that they make the political decisions instead of shifting them to the judiciary or external bodies.

Matekane, his business associates and technocrats in his government should revisit attributes that made them successful. One such attribute is their faith in their abilities. They must remember that riches (and success) begin with a thought, and faith removes limitations.

Dr Tholang Maqutu


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Painting mood effectively



Writing is not different from beautiful artwork. Just like a skilled painter holding a brush with its broad strokes, the writer occupies the same place and vocation in life. Writing is a work of painting life’s experiences, its hues and beautiful unfolding internal journeys. In this piece we focus on mood and how it can be achieved. Many students struggle with understanding and contemplating the scope and ambit of mood in writing.
It is hard to define and frame the scope of mood in writing. What really constitutes mood? Generally, mood encapsulates the totality of the “air” or “spirit” or “aura” that a certain work of art evokes in the human mind, feeling or sensibility. There is a certain dominant feature or streak associated with a certain work of art, place or person.

There is something which is evoked in our hearts which is associated with a certain place, person or event. Every place or event or person carries or imbues with him or her a certain mood or sensibility; and there is a panorama of sensibilities; for instance, a happy or sombre or whimsical mood. We will now focus on a certain extract and discern how it paints mood.

“He quickly rights himself and keeps walking, but there is an unsteadiness to his knees. He has been given many looks in this quarter – dirty ones, blank ones, sympathetic ones, annoyed ones. For the most part, he had learned to tolerate those than can be tolerated, and ignore those that should be ignored, but the look this woman gave him is not a look one gives to humans but to flies, ticks, cockroaches, fleas…Thato feels anger, then humiliation, then something nameless. If he were in his own country he would turn and confront the woman; but now he’s hurt, wounded, a part of him wishing he were invisible. Breathing evenly, he walks with care, only lifting his eyes once he reaches his own quarters, among his own people. He proceeds to his shack. He could stop by Thapelo’s, his neighbour, where he knows that men and women are already congregated to watch videos from home. Yet, no matter the promise of good fellowship and laughter, Thabo does not join them. Watching videos is a form of forgetting; the 2008 elections, the police with batons, the soldiers with guns, the militia with machetes. Do you remember? Limbs broken. Roofs blazing. I remember.”

This extract is characterised by the intensity of feeling and evokes feelings of sadness, despair and pain. The excerpt paints a harrowing and blood-curdling account which produces a sombre, dull and subdued mood. Thato, the protagonist in the story is in a foreign land. He was impelled to leave his country as a result of political violence which saw many people lose limbs and lives. He feels lonely and unwanted in the foreign land. He feels lost and alienated.

There are sentiments of xenophobia expressed through the glances of citizens of the foreign country he is in. Even if he were to entertain himself together with his countrymen residing in that foreign land, Thato still felt a deep and nagging feeling of being an outcast. Thus, we have made very deep and broad descriptions of the circumstances in which the protagonist finds himself with a view to demonstrate how mood is created in a narrative. The creation of mood feeds into the description of the character’s circumstances, his mindset and the space and place in which he finds himself.

Mood, as we have demonstrated from the portrayal of Thato’s experience, has a link with pathos. Pathos is that streak of sadness which pervades a story and creates empathy in the reader. The aim of effective writing is to move the reader and to impel him towards certain sensibilities which are of an affective kind. Mood, when effectively created, allows the reader to grasp meaning which is not directly said in the story or composition.

Meaning in a story is an interaction between the words in a text as read together with the effect of the words, the tone used and the created mood. There are certain words in a text which do not just communicate, but etches in the reader’s mind certain thoughts, viewpoints and feelings. These words would be so evocative. One such word describes Thato’s deepest sense of alienation in the extract given above.

The word describes him as nursing a wish of invisibility, he felt or wished he were ‘invisible.’ His wish for invisibility is of great importance. It portrays how he was deeply affected by the loathing expressed in the eyes of those looking at him with hate and disdain.

So, here we are! Creating a mood is a craft which takes time to acquire and hone. But when achieved, it makes effective reading and allows the reader to get meaning which goes beyond the text.

Vuso Mhlanga teaches at the University of Zimbabwe. For almost a decade and half he taught English language and Literature in English at high school. Send your comments and questions to:

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