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Killing statues



Men could build mountains just to have their names remembered if they could. In fact, they have built entire cities that are jungles of steel and concrete for the sole purpose of being remembered forever, as if there is a forever. In my opinion forever is a non-existent figment of the narcissist’s imagination that holds the false notion that eternity is a measurable entity, which it is not for nothing lasts forever. Eternity and oblivion are equidistant in the mind and in the body, and in the spirit.

The arguments from both sides of the debate on statues are valid, but the one question that nags one is: why is it that human civilisation finds human and other effigies rendered in marble, bronze and other metals bones of contention? Why should the sculpted figure of an individual be the cause to chaos as we have seen in the post-George Floyd murder by the police events? We have seen acts of pillaging and sheer rampage committed in the name of removing colonial monuments and statues, as if such figures whose statues were being attacked were actually alive or cared.

Remember the looting and uprising that followed #Rhodesmustfall in South Africa a few seasons ago, remember the toppling of the statues of Saddam and Gadaffi, remember the fall of the Berlin Wall and many other falls of statues. The demolition of monuments and statues puts into question the verity of the arguments around the erection or wrecking of statues.

The airplane that takes off from Moshoeshoe I international airport will land at O. R. Tambo International. The latter airport is still Jan Smuts Airport in my mind, though I know that calling it such could draw fire from certain quarters despite me holding the right to keep my own arguments and opinions. The basic assertion I hold is that the new post-apartheid government should have simply built their own airport and named it after their own ‘struggle’ heroes and not just usurped the name and placed their own hero’s name over that of the old.

Jan Smuts still stays as General Jan Smuts in my mind, and he did play a part in transforming the progress of the country of his birth and death into a state and a nation. Erasing his name for the sake of another is just plain vindictive self-worship on the part of the former struggle heroes.

In fact, such a name change defies the basis of the tenets of forgiveness and reconciliation many of the post-independence movements often proclaim in their lobbying speeches. Erasing a name and assuming the habit of the owner of the name simply means that there was a form of covetousness for the countenance and character somewhere deep in the psyche of whoever goes and changes street names and the names of buildings constructed in the colonial era. One who claims to hate the system of colonialism only to put their name on some colonial era infrastructure is in plain terms the expression of hypocrisy based on personal interest.

The renaming of various buildings, roads, and even spaces for the sake of ‘honouring’ certain individuals is in itself an expensive process. The exercise is a narcissistic affair executed largely for the sake of political appeasement of those supposedly hurt by the previous regimes, and a type of ‘thank you’ token done more for the sake aggrandisement than real honour. It serves the living none to change a street’s name because it actually robs them of the funds that could be better used to ease the burden of their travails in the face of poverty, disease, and unemployment.

Those who find the exercise necessary may be justified in their pursuit, with the basic argument being that the said hero or heroine needs to be honoured in one way or another. This is a valid argument in the case where the honouring of such a dead hero or heroine does not infringe on the funds of the state coffers that could be better used to serve the living, or, if such an honour does not re-ignite the pain felt by a certain section of society.

To erect monuments in memory of contested figures and to hand out posthumous honours whilst the world of the living is crumbling around the living poor is in my terms hypocrisy, for you cannot appease one side at the expense of the other if the concept of justice is followed to its core. What does a bronze statue give to the nation anyway? Only pride I guess, and pride is a dangerous vice to have.

Those figures that really understand themselves see no necessity in being epitomised after they are dead and gone, for they know that they have done enough in their lifetimes to be remembered on the lips of the people they came across. There is just no need for a plaque or epitaph on their graves or crypts, for their lives are in themselves a book that shall be read by the following generations of believers and non-believers in their cause.

The erection of a statue is just that, erection of a monument in stone or metal bearing the countenance of the figure who lived life to the full for the sake of not only himself, but for the sake of others as well. I have always been a staunch follower of the Cuban form of communism (not those other vague forms whose head and tail are found somewhere in the depths of capitalism: the masquerading type of communism without real communal love for other peoples of the world.

The Cuban doctors around the world this point in time are the direct fruits of the Cuban Revolution, and they are saving the world), and my belief in this system of social living was based in the real lives of the two leading figures in its origins, that is Commandante Fidel Castro and Commandante Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara de la Serna.

One was a lawyer and the latter was a qualified medical professional, two professions that throw man into the thick of the bane of social maladies, leading the practitioner thereof into the face of all that is bothering mankind on a daily basis, leaving him a better individual in terms of understanding humanity and humanness.

For these types of people, the idea that all we are is dust in the wind is a reality that they live to the point beyond death and that is one of the main reasons why they shun the type of praise the capitalist always showers on their most loyal dog of war. Being kind to others is not worthy of praise, and sacrifice for the sake of others is not worthy of endless honours, for then it defies the spirit with which such a deed was made, selflessness needs no motivation for it is in its makeup the very expression of who God is, that one shall love their neighbour as they love themselves, meaning that one naturally would wish no ill to fall upon their neighbour regardless of whether such an individual is not their kith or kin.

The expectation is not that they will be lauded for their act of courage in the name of the welfare of others; acknowledgement in the form of respect is enough. It is only the leader whose deeds bred emptiness, poverty, and desolation who works really hard to be honoured for doing what they took an oath to perform for the citizens of their land (with the palm on the Bible or some holy book).

These ones’ promises are as empty as the belly they often enter the seats of governance with, and their demand for praise matches their loquacity. All of us are but dust in the wind, and our acts of charity are in fact the rent we pay for our stay on earth graciously given to all of us, so said Muhammad Ali (Cassius Marcellus Clay the boxer). The modern politician needs to remember that before jumping into honours for vague glories.

An article from The Guardian (3 December 2016) published after the death of Fidel Castro and covering his brother Raúl’s declaration that his government would prohibit the naming of streets or public monuments after his brother Fidel in keeping with the leader’s (Fidel’s) desire to avoid developing a personality cult. Told to a crowd gathered to pay homage to Fidel, this declaration sealed my admiration to the man I consider to be one of the most selfless human beings I have come across in my brief lifetime. Raúl was honouring his brother’s desire that:

“Once dead, his name and likeness would never be used on institutions, streets, parks or other public sites, and that busts, statues or other forms of tribute would never be erected”.
The ‘mates’ or comrades in arms on the African mainland have a different view, naming everything in memory of their late ‘struggle’ friends and affiliates and erecting statues in the same places where those they toppled once stood.

It does not make common sense to me why other statues are not worthy of standing in given political eras when all statues stand for one thing, re-memory and history. There is no way one can erase history, and I find the exercise of speaking in the name of erasing the memory of a long gone past a futile affair (useless in fact).

Toppling a statue only removes the statue from its pedestal but does not erase its memory in the minds of those that know where it stood (see the blatant refusal by Belgium to beg for forgiveness despite the atrocities King Leopold committed in the Congo: what will toppling his statue serve when there is no acknowledgement of his heinous crimes in Africa?).

Erecting or toppling a statue does not erase or strengthen the memory of the figure in whose name it stood or will stand: what is done is done as much as what will be will be. Arguing over the toppling or the erection is a waste of valuable time for nature would still go on and do the job of toppling the statue at a lesser cost than the original erectors actually paid to have it stand on its pedestal. Occultic in nature, the practice of raising statues and changing names like they are some totemic figures actually infringes on the time that could be spent to address clear current and prevalent challenges society is facing: we could step up our fight against Covid-19 instead of focusing on killing statues of tyrants and masochists.

We cannot speak ill of the dead, it is a waste of breath and time because the dead are dead and do not have any worldly care; this is one of the reasons why one finds a known criminal named ‘an honourable man’ at his funeral. This is not done for the sake of lying to the listeners, it is so done to help them forget and to heal from the pains they felt in such a figure’s lifetime, for the future offers more promise than what is past and dead.

It is a fact that we do not honour our past, and if some country finds it suitable to honour our heroes, I find the heckling over the erection of a monument in their name insulting not only to the memory but also to the intelligence of those that see it fit to do so. We are a country that at this point needs to forget, so that we can begin to forgive, so that we can reconcile and restore our land. This is what reform is about, not statutes about statues of past leaders that actually got this country somewhere instead of the nowhere we now find ourselves in.

Dealing with pandemics needs concerted effort, perhaps some of the statues are a plague that needs to be eradicated as we are dealing with the Coronavirus. However, the current spate of attacks on monuments and statues will drain effort that could be better focused on dealing with the rising Covid-19 pandemic; we will have the time to remove the figures of tyrants, slave drivers, and megalomaniacs that dot our cityscapes.

Depleting our energy on mass protests in a time when social-distancing is encouraged as a deterrent to the spread of the virus defies the basic purpose of the campaign to rid the world of the spread of the virus. This means that the rendition of the tyrant or the slave-master may actually kill more people than he did in his lifetime. Gathered around the statue made of brass, the living actually risk raising levels of infection because of the close proximity in which they work to take the statue off its pedestal.

There shall be time to melt the statues and to remove the plaques at their feet. Throwing them into the sea like it was done in England recently means that the statue will still be there underwater. Defacing them will not erase them from the pictures. The bigger picture says we should focus on the fight against the Coronavirus. Forget the statues and stay safely indoors for now.

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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