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God save the King!

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I see them march in neat formation on the parade grade, and the landscapes of summer are as dry as the barren days of deep winter. Then I get the thought that the man that is concerned and worried about the future of their land knows that the time has come, that the moment is here to understand the true meanings of the term patriotism. That the time has come when the citizens should take their white gloves off and get to work or go to war with whatever it is that is calling the vultures from their perches high on the red cliffs to circle the skies of this mountainous land.

I see the sight of the newly elevated privates on this day of the pass-out ceremony as similar to that of a woman heavily pregnant, a huge calabash of freshly drawn water on her head. She walks with the heavy gait of someone weighed down by the heavy bucket of water, weighed down by the promise of a better future slowly growing in her belly. I see a woman worn and tired by the long distance she has had to travel to get to the trickle of water whose sources are slowly drying up in the heat of the sun and the incessant sandstorms.

This is the song that drives these young men and women that have been hard at training in the Makoanyane Infantry School and other training locations for the past 11 months. One can tell from the beauty of their marching formations that they speak in one tongue; in the language of the patriot that knows unity in movement equals progress.

The wells in their home villages may have all dried up; the wells in the next village are all dried up too, so the soldiers have had to walk the many kilometres to a riverbed whose flow is a thousand trickles less than that of a weak stream in winter. I see the expression on their faces and, I realise that they are not just tired… the fiery flicker in their eyes is the same as one sees in the eyes of those that will fight to the end for their land that has been ravaged by a civil war driven by poverty and starvation.

The skies above are dotted with pale cirrus clouds scattered in patterns that promise no rain, there was just a slight drizzle on this morning of the 30th of October, 2020 when the crowds of spectators come to watch the pass-out ceremony arrive. It has not rained this year, and I frankly believe this is what the whole country should be worried about. Political rigmarole discussed by pseudo-politicians cum radio personalities just won’t help any one of us faced with the worst drought in our region this time around.

Political wrangling as hinted in the speeches of the day should not rob the young privates of their commitment to serving the country and the kingdom to the best of their ability.
Politics in Africa have generally not helped anyone with anything except to give them endless worry and uncertainty. The politicians come, and they go, and in their wake leave the problems of the previous political era. To me, the fervour and fanaticism at election time is just another badly scripted performance of a lame Scaramouch in which the actors dismally fail to understand their given parts and roles. The young soldiers burning the grade on the Makoanyane parade all understand their role and parts if the display of orderliness is to be taken to heart.

Their call is unlike the promises made at campaign rallies that are just like cotton candy; it promises to be a huge ball of sweetness that soon melts on your tongue and leaves you feeling sick… not wanting to ever eat it again. And if the campaign lasts as long as it does like it seems to be happening with some of this country’s personalities, then one is forced to take their white gloves off, and put on their steel-toed boots and knuckledusters and punch the bedevil out of a media that seems to have forgotten their right role in society.

Most of the country’s politicians disguised as radio personalities have forgotten their right role in society; they have instead bellicose political ambitions in its place. And the mantras which they chant about instability threaten the very ‘democracy’ they want to stabilise, because the institutions of security are often short-changed when it comes to compensation for efforts made. We have the most underpaid officers on average in the world, and this is not equal to the expectations we have of them to uphold law and order.

My question to the politicians in this land is: Do you know what ‘democracy’ in a kingdom means? Do you know what democracy ‘basically’ means? One has to warn these seemingly ‘war-mongering’ smart alecs that their verbose and loquacious statements on radio and other media are corrosive to the substance of our much-needed democracy. Democracy even in its simplest form is much broader than just a special political form, and it is not just a method of conducting government, of making laws and carrying on governmental administration by means of popular suffrage (poll) and elected officers.

This seems to be the religious code and belief for many of these fake dimwit politicians in the cloth of newsmakers. Democracy is much, much broader and deeper than the definition above. It is even deeper, considering that this country is a kingdom where there are voting and non-voting citizens whose interest in politics is limited and subliminal. John Dewey defines democracy in ‘human’ terms as:

“The necessity for 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 is not exclusive (it does not include only the voting citizens and party members) but involves those little children who have not reached voting age, those mentally ill individuals that walk our streets, senior citizens whose age and state prevent them from going to the polling station on election day, foreign immigrants and émigrés who cannot vote due to their state of citizenship, and those individuals who consciously choose not to be involved in the political phase of government and citizenship.

Democracy includes all, considers all… if it is executed the right way. That some individuals feel or behave in a manner that says only their political will needs to be expressed in any manner they wish at any moment is at best obtuse and unpatriotic. Such is the behaviour of individuals that believe more in the colours of their political party than in the colours on the flag of our sacred kingdom; lacking in honourable essence as human beings and as good citizens.

The separatist manner in which politicians conduct their interviews or talk-shows is full of divisive ideas and attitudes that sow seeds of dissent in their supporters. And they are executed in a manner that is condescending to those that happen to disagree with them. In blunt terms; what these personalities air as political view is insulting to the political intelligence/s of those that understand the true gist of political democracy in a monarchy like ours. Political opinion, thought, policy and philosophy should never be seen as surpassing the authority of the kingship that in reality begot us this beautiful kingdom under the perilous circumstances of the Lifaqane wars and marauding gangs of greedy colonisers.

Morena Moshoeshoe oa Pele and his progeny (which amazingly includes all citizens of this here land of Lesotho) must not be harangued and abused by ‘celebrity’ radio and media ‘personalities’ that celebrate not the sanctity of political freedom or the persons of the king and his subjects. Political democracy and its personages is a temporal affair (it lasts a mere five years or less) that should not in any way threaten the guiding wisdom of a kingdom and a monarchy that has lasted close to two centuries.

That some plebeian riff raff who has read an obscure passage in a book by some charlatan philosopher of vague and questionable origins thinks they can impose some inane political view as change is an insult to Basotho. It is also against the spirit of patriotism that is fostered by believing in oneness as the soldier boys and girls have always held since the inception of the current defence force in 1978.

Basotho do not need a change that will lead to their separation as a tribe, nation, or people; not when so many of their true patriotic forefathers bled and sweated to keep this kingdom united.
The countenance of Moshoeshoe I should be the only totemic figure we should revere as a people (if we are true to our Bosotho). His all-embracing leadership formula and the basic but universal philosophy of true forgiveness he taught and acted in his lifetime, should be what guides the thought, the act and the interaction of his Basotho people and those who come to visit Lesotho.

Be aware that King Moshoeshoe had no concept of the ‘other’ guiding his sacred kingdom in his lifetime. He saw all men as equal and the same no matter their place of origin or tribe; he taught and acted out the fact that all of us are at the end of the day just human, human enough to live in peace if we stopped denigrating each on the basis of origin, religious tenet, or belief.
Politics have taught polarisation from the first day they began in this country; politics have taught that party colour, emblem, and slogan makes men different;take the ‘congress and national’ debate that is now 54 years old as a living example. I choose not to believe this lie, because I have seen the real truth, and the truth is that the essence of my Bosotho may lie in watching how united in formation and discipline the soldiers of this here land are when it comes to dealing with safety and security issues of our land.

Any and every politically driven fanatic must remember a few things first before giving their half-baked and untested view. First, they should remember that this is the land of our forefathers who had King Moshoeshoe I as their sovereign king. Morena Moshoeshoe oa Pele and his progeny in the royal house are of more relevance to the Basotho than the passing five-year (or less) political term in office or government. Third, politics in Lesotho are really (not relatively) young and can therefore not inform the proper essence of the government of the Basotho.

If we go on raving and ranting about freedom but starve our soldiers, correction service officers and the police, our words are reminiscent to the screams of a hypocrite.
Fourth, we have an ‘established’ system of social hierarchy which politics has managed to desecrate to the shabby state it is now in; where disorder in many social practices is now a ‘new usual’. We have children to protect from future hopelessness, and we have a social system under the guardianship of our king and the security forces under his watch. There is need therefore to prevent further damage by politics because the value of the security forces to our democracy is priceless.

Our sense of patriotism should teach us that they should be addressed or referred to in a manner appropriate to their status in society or family.
Remember that politics as mentioned earlier is in reality a new method and practice of governance to the Basotho. Thinking and believing that it will erase the essence of Bosotho from the Basotho is as futile as thinking that a toddler can relate a better life story than a 70-year-old grandfather.

The campaign trails blazed by politicians should at some point be forgotten and the focus should be on progress. Incessant screaming and raucous caucuses on the air about political injustices must be forgotten this time, for they are futile, futile as spitting into the wind and expecting the wind to be disgusted by your spit. Believe me, the wind will just blow that spit back into your ungrateful face.

Incessant bickering is similar to the proverbial whining of a stooge; it is soon dismissed as the nagging of the foolish that should be forgotten for sake of our national sanity and integrity as per the call of the security services officer and the structures that command him.

It is time that we reflect on how we will support the campaign known as national reforms for the sake of the spirit of patriotism. God save our king and the Basotho people from this spirit of dissent sown by political corruption that has given birth to the poverty and starvation we see.

Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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Insight

We need a coordinated approach on youth challenges

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For a number of good reasons, all of us are concerned about problems that face Lesotho’s young people, particularly youth unemployment, and the increasing tendency towards anti-social behaviour among sections of Lesotho youth including their increasing admiration for criminality.

Not only do members of such groups admire criminality and actually commit crimes but they commit crimes without much care as to the harm and other costs that their actions inflict on immediate victims and on society-at-large.

Evidence of public concern about these problems includes the fact that within society individuals, groups and public and private institutions have all expressed concerns over problems facing the youth, with some of these parties making attempts to come up with ideas and measures to assist.

However, a number of problems seem to be emerging on, at least, three fronts. Firstly, a seeming lack of coordination in addressing problems that face young people. Secondly, lack of clarity on questions of whether (a) parties that seek to assist are basing their interventions on credibly identified sources of problems that face young people; and (b) whether any credible assessments are made to ensure that interventions such parties are proposing and implementing have potential to solve problems that face Lesotho’s young people.

There are many examples of what may seem to us, members of the general public, to be lack of coordination in approaches to solve problems facing young people. One such example may be sufficient. On January 8, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast a statement in which the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) authorities announced establishment of some army facility where Basotho young people would be taught some values, including patriotism.

The very next day, on January 9, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast another statement, this time by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) authorities, announcing the LMPS’s plan to establish a police facility at which young people would be taught anti-crime and other values. In their essence, the LMPS’s plan sounded not totally dissimilar to LDF’s.
Apart from the LDF and LMPS’s plans for Lesotho’s youth, there are also public and private sector initiatives to nurture and support entrepreneurial talents of Lesotho’s youth with a view, among others, to fight youth unemployment and develop the country’s private sector.

Politicians have also been seen to sponsor football games for young people in their constituencies with a view, they say, to keep young people from crime and narcotics. These events cannot be criticised too much but given that they are one, or two-day events that take place during specific times, they look more like publicity stunts.

National sports federations are now complaining that politicians who sponsor these events put too much stress on sports as a means to fight crime. What federations want is that, if politicians want to help, they should stress the importance of sports as careers, and sponsor young people to develop their sporting talents accordingly.

Amidst expressions of concerns and various parties’ attempts to address problems facing Lesotho youth, public authorities that we have not heard from, or from who we do not hear enough, are those charged with responsibilities over precisely problems facing young people; that is, authorities at the Ministry of Youth.

Admittedly, we do not know if the initiatives of the LDF, LMPS, and others are carried out in consultation with or with the blessing of the Ministry of Youth.

The worry ought to be not only whether interventions of the LDF, LMPS, and others have the blessings of the Ministry of Youth. Instead, the worry should extend to the question of whether the Ministry has any national plan to address problems facing young people. And, if such a plan exists, we would expect that it identifies the LDF and LMPS as places where young place can be coached; and initiatives of these and other institutions would align with such a plan.

Without an identification of the army and the police as implementing agencies of the Ministry’s plan, and without the army and police’s initiatives alignment with the Ministry’s plan, at least two things are likely to result: duplication of effort — as seems to be the case with the LDF and LPMS plans; or, at worst, LDF and LMPS plans might contradict and undermine national plans entrusted to the Ministry of Youth.

In the worst case scenario that a national plan does not exist, we face the danger that anybody wishing to address problems facing Lesotho’s young people can do so, basing herself, or himself on a personal or group perception, and implementing plans and solutions based on such perception.

As in the case of too many people stirring the same cooking pot without coordination, undesirable consequences can be expected from a situation where just about anybody can apply a solution to a public problem.

As hinted above, a good national plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people would have two characteristics, at least. First, it would be based on our assertion of the kind of society we want to be; an investigation of problems that stand in the way of achieving such a society; how such problems can be overcome, say, through school curricula; and how, in general, from Early Childhood Care & Development (ECCD), young people can be brought up and socialised in ways that ensure they will be useful members of a society we wish to be.

Any action that is not based on an investigation of the problems that stand in the way of achieving a society we want to be has little chances of success. Such action would be based on some understanding that the young who are anti-social, unpatriotic and criminals are naturally bad people.

It is, of course, not as simple as that. For example, one possible explanation for the absence of patriotism among young people may have something to do with socio-economic inequality in Lesotho: those who are closed out of, and excluded from, benefiting from Lesotho’s wealth and power cannot be expected to be patriots.

A second characteristic of a plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people is that, such a plan should identify and/or establish institutions designed — and with appropriate skills — to implement ideas and proposals that come out of credible investigations.

It is unclear whether the LDF and LMPS plans have resulted from something like considerations suggested above. While it is admitted that these institutions’ initiatives are limited to addressing problems of lack of patriotism and criminality among the young people, one clear problem with their plans and solutions is that, it might be the case that they are catching young people a little late, when schooling and general socialisation have already entrenched anti-social values that we see among sections of young people; namely, individualism and the inability to think of others.

In one word, these institutions catch these young people when tendencies towards criminality, anti-social behaviour, and lack of patriotism might have already hardened.
Perhaps the biggest hope we should have is that the army and the police will have full complement of resources necessary for providing full and wholesome mentoring to young people who undergo army and police mentoring.

Short of adequate resources necessary for achieving what the army and the police have in mind, we might end up with cohorts of young people with a faulty army and police culture that may come back to haunt us. Inserting a faulty army culture among a section of young people brought us bitter results in the 1970s and 1980s that should not be repeated.

To conclude, no one can argue against all of us being concerned with problems of youth unemployment; increasing tendencies of young people’s admiration of criminality and their participation in crime. And no one can argue against all of us coming up with ideas and proposals of how to address these problems.

However, our concerns and proposals ought to be based on:
a nationally-agreed assertion of society we want to be;
a credible investigation of difficulties that stand in the way of us becoming society we want to be;

and coordination of proposals and ideas aimed at becoming society we want to be.

As with other specific instances of socio-economic development in Lesotho, problems facing the country’s young people cry out for the long-neglected establishment of the National Planning Board, as prescribed in Section 105 of the Constitution of Lesotho.

Prof Motlatsi Thabane

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Insight

Call that a muffin?

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In Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Canterville Ghost” (1887) one of the characters says about the British, “We have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” Between American English and British English there are many, many differences. Which is not to say that either American or British English are standardised; there are multiple varieties within each. As a south-western Brit I can find it difficult to fully understand what someone from Liverpool or Newcastle is saying.

I remember one year during the NUL’s International Theatre for Development project we had a student from the islands of Scotland. She was brilliant and hard-working and full of good ideas — if only one could understand the ideas when she introduced them. The NUL students grouped together and asked me: “Chris, can you translate what Kirsty is saying for us?” and I replied: “I’m as lost as you are.”

Between American and British English it’s not just a matter of pronunciation but also of vocabulary (I’ll be coming to muffins — see the title of this piece — in a while) and spelling.
In the biographical film Prick Up Your Ears British, dramatist Joe Orton shares a room with Ken Halliwell and they decide to write a novel together. Ken asks Joe “can you spell?” and Joe replies “yes, but not accurately.”

This is hardly a surprise, given that he’s a Brit. The American spelling system is far more regular and rational than the British. (Readers with laptops will have noticed that your spell-check gives the option of British or American spelling, but that doesn’t help you as in Lesotho the British system is used, so for the time being you’re stuck with it).

I mean, what can you say about a spelling system where “plough” rhymes with “now”, but “tough” rhymes with “stuff”– and “now” doesn’t rhyme with “low.” Yipes (as the Americans say). When I was lecturing in Lesotho and in Nigeria and marking assignments I was always very lenient over spelling, because I know what a mountain it is to climb (the latter word rhyming with “time”, of course).

Then there is the matter of vocabulary or denotation (a term I hope readers remember from a few weeks back). There are many examples of things that are denoted by different words in British and American English: lift / elevator; pavement / sidewalk; windscreen / windshield; petrol / gas; cinema / movie theater (and look at the American spelling of (Brit) “theatre”– a lot easier). And some of these reflect our different histories.

For example, there’s a vegetable, a kind of small marrow, the British call it a courgette (one of my favourite vegetables, in case any of you are planning to invite me for dinner). That’s a word that British English has borrowed directly from French — that is, a loan word (I’m not sure we plan to give it back).

The Americans on the other hand call it a zucchini, a loan word from Italian, which I guess reflects the size and influence of the Italian community in the USA. (Speaking of vegetables, I can’t give you an explanation for why the Brits call an aubergine an aubergine — another loan word from French — but the Americans call it an egg-plant).

Next week I’ll get around to muffins — a sore point — and I’ll move on to differences between English and French and between Sesotho and Setswana. Bet you can’t wait.

Chris Dunton is a former Professor of English and Dean of Humanities at the National University of Lesotho.

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Insight

Lessons from Israel: Part 3

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I shall round off my account of my 1995 trip to Israel by putting on my tour guide cap. Staying in Tel Aviv, most days were fully taken up by the conference, which was my reason for being there. Tel Aviv in July is scorchingly hot, so there were walks along the beach only before breakfast and after sunset. I did take a little time off to go with South African author Stephen Gray to an art gallery that had a painting he wanted to see (a portrait by Modigliani of Beatrice Hastings, whose biography Stephen was then writing).

I wasn’t especially keen on the hotel restaurant, where dinner comprised meat served by the ton (surprisingly little fish, given that we were on the coast. By contrast, I had always been surprised and happy that Maseru restaurants are so good on fish, despite the fact that Lesotho isn’t exactly maritime). But I discovered a little Russian Jewish restaurant that offered Beluga caviar at an amazingly cheap price. I suspect it had fallen off the back of a lorry, as we say in the UK — i.e. that it was contraband, acquired illegally. I just blinked innocently and enjoyed myself. I can’t think of a more delicious way of starting a meal than with caviar, freshly-made blinis and a large glass of deeply chilled Wyberowa vodka — no ice, please. (I only say all this to show you what a very cosmopolitan chap I am).

The conference ran to a packed schedule and we worked hard (no, really). Half-way through we were given a day off and taken to Jerusalem. On arrival I teamed up with an old Nigerian friend and a friend of his from Senegal and we took ourselves first to the Dome of the Rock, the main mosque, which is splendid and radiant (wow, the mosaics!) Then we saw the Wailing Wall.

Then we trudged up the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Via marks the route along which Christ was forced to carry his cross on the way to his crucifixion (dolorosa means something like “of miseries”). I had expected it to be lined with sculptures showing the Stations of the Cross (rather like the lovely ones at Fatima, near Ramabanta).

Instead it was one tourist gift shop after another. Here I came across one of the most repugnant things I’ve seen in my life. Proudly displayed for sale, a wall clock with the face adorned with the image of the head of Christ, the two clock hands protruding from his nose.

At the top of the Via Dolorosa, the fourth century Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in the world for Christians, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The interior is (not visibly) divided into sections, the upkeep of each of which is the responsibility of one of the major denominations: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Greek Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, and so on. I had had the impression this was an arrangement worked out under the colonial regime of British Palestine, but Google tells me it dates back to the Status Quo of 1757.

My companions had done their homework and suggested we head first for the roof, which had been allocated to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (dare one possibly suggest a tinge of racism in this marginalisation?). There we found a cluster of monkish cells, each inhabited by an elderly Ethiopian monk, at least two of whom spoke English or French. They were delighted to see us, and utterly sweet, hospitable, and in their accounts of their pastoral work spellbinding.

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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