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Is Lesotho serious about road safety?

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This time of the year ushers a mixed bag of news. Some good. Some bad. Some will be exciting and some very painful.
However, one thing that is guaranteed is that this time of the year is often characterised by horrific road accidents.
The question that we should be asking ourselves as “tax payers” is whether our country is really serious about road safety interventions. Or whether our country is serious about anything for that matter?
Any visitor that arrives in a place for the first time, will measure the state of that economy by observing the condition of the roads or the condition of the police uniform or even the condition of the buildings more especially, the airport.

The condition of the national road network will always be the first and simplest measure of the health and state of any economy. In fact, there is a direct co-relation between the condition and quality of a road network to the state of governance or leadership.
Allow me to go deeper: national roads that are in a dilapidated condition are usually a reflection of a dysfunctional leadership.
That is the reason why a country that loves itself (naha e ithatang) will spend hundreds of millions in US Dollars to construct state-of-the-art roads from the airport into the city-centre. The reason for that is to make a first and lasting impression.

That is why I still fail to understand the rationale behind providing a guarantee of about 2 Billion Maloti on sports facilities whilst the roads are in a shocking state. Where is the rationale? Was that decision thoroughly debated or was it just a blind political decision?
Well, that’s a debate for another day but roads are very important for any economy to function effectively. Roads function like arteries to deliver blood in our body. Clocked or thin arteries can’t deliver blood effectively which leads to organ failure. An example on the ground is the bottleneck at the Maseru Border post!
Please allow me to paint a scenario: When a visitor or investor arrives in Lesotho for the first time, their first impression will be a dilapidated airport. As the visitor drives out of the airport premises they will enter into a village named Mazenod, where I come from.

As the visitor drives through Mazenod, it will be encountered by filth made of plastic waste along the road. There are no street-lights for safety of pedestrians at night. No road markings to mark where and how the double-lane system is supposed to work. No guard rails on curves and no traffic lights at the chaotic Masianokeng intersection to Roma.
The visitor will also witness Mazenod Primary School-kids walking on the edge of the road where the yellow line is supposed to be marked. If one visits any of the classrooms at Mazenod Primary School, there isn’t even a single poster on the wall on road safety education.

What happened to road safety education at our schools? What about on the radio or Lesotho Television?
Lastly, as the visitor drives further down in Mazenod, it will witness Swallows football players sitting on crates, indulging in alcohol and urinating in full view of children and elderly citizens. This happens on the periphery of a national road.

Well, not forgetting cows and dogs crisscrossing randomly at any given time. Look, this is the reality of what the modern day Lesotho is.
I am a regular viewer of Lesotho Television news despite the crazy volume blunders. I try to watch the news every night in order to catch-up on the state of affairs in our Kingdom.
In recent times, I realised a surprising spike in road safety workshops. These were workshops held on ways to improve road safety measures and strategic plans for the festive season.
It came to my surprise on my recent trip to the Maletsunyane Braai Festival, that there is simply nothing on the ground. There is no visible implementation of road safety measures that were discussed on TV. So, what was the point of the workshops?

I am referring to simple measures like visible road markings on national roads. There are no warning signs when approaching speed humps and the humps are not marked. The guard-rails are in a rundown state.
I further saw a damaged guard-rail in Ha Thetsane, along the Kofi Annan road as you drive into the city. The guard-rails have an open space that seems to have been knocked down about three months ago.
Still, nothing has been done to repair it (refer to the picture attached). School children from Ratjomose Primary School have to walk past that danger spot, everyday.
Scenario number two: When arriving in Maseru at night from the Maseru Border post, a visitor is plunged into darkness because the streetlights along Kingsway Road hardly ever work. There are children jaywalking in and out of the road around Ha Hoohlo.

Visitors entering into the city will also see a road sign written “Kingsway Road” instead of “Road”, somewhere next to Hoohlo Primary School. That is the state of our road signs.
As the visitor drives along Kingsway Road from the Maseru border, towards the Basotho Hat, the road is characterized by damaged lamp-post. Most of them have collapsed on the roadside with exposed electric-wires.

Around the Basotho precinct, there is an abandoned structure that looks like an incomplete billboard structure. The structure has been left right in front of a national monument.
That structure is actually a hazard to both motorists and pedestrians. The question is: why would such a structure be left next to an important monument and an important arcade in our capital city?
Can anyone abandon a structure in along the Nelson Mandela Road in Bloemfontein or in front of the Union Buildings in Pretoria? They would be arrested the very same day. So, why do our road officials allow such things in Lesotho?

When driving further down into Mpilo Boulevard (Blvd), the road is marred by horrific car crashes. The intersection at Mpilo Blvd and Pope John Paul II road as well as Mpilo Blvd and the AME Hall are high accident zones. However, there is not even a single sign to warn motorists on the potential for danger ahead.
We usually see signs with a big red dot written “high accident zone” in some parts of South African roads. What is the problem with installing such signs in Lesotho? Is it a procurement issue?
When driving further into Mpilo towards IEMS one will come cross an intersection with traffic lights that hardly ever work, for one reason or another. The traffic-light intersection does not have clear road markings. In fact most intersections don’t. This has now escalated into drivers taking matters into their own hands.

Drivers usually make a left hand turn into the Main South-One Road towards Iketsetseng Primary School, even when the lights are red. It has become some sort of a sub-culture to drive when the lights are red.
When schools are open, motorists drive past Iketsetseng Primary School children sitting on the edge of the road, after school. No fence, no warning signs, no speed humps, no traffic marshals.
Further inland along the Main South One road in Borokhoaneng, one will encounter chaos of the highest order. There are no visible road markings, no visible signs, pedestrian crossings are not visibly marked and the street-lights hardly ever work. It becomes chaotic when driving on a rainy night.

To make matters worse, there is a busy warehouse (cash & carry), where trucks make illegal U-turn’s and offload goods from the main road. It is chaotic to say the least! Who in the world issued a permit for a warehouse to be built in the road reserve? Is there any law and order in Lesotho?
This is a summary of the many dangers on our roads but the biggest danger is unlicensed drivers and drivers that have bought drivers’ licences without even setting foot in a road test or exam. These are usually 4+1 and Honda-Fit drivers. They have placed lives of pedestrian more especially children, under immense danger.
This demonstrates how dangerous corruption is. Government officials that sell drivers licenses don’t realise the danger they cause on our roads. They only care about their stomachs. Those are the dangers of a cancer named corruption.

At the same time, there are civil servants on the government payroll that are being paid with taxpayers’ money for doing absolutely nothing. I know for-sure that they will blame government for lack of funds and for problematic procurement procedures.
However, taxpayers, tourists and investors face danger on a daily basis but are still expected to pay tax under the current circumstances.
The question that we must address is: Is Lesotho really serious about road safety? The answer is NO!

By: ‘Mako Bohloa

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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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