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Lesotho needs to invest in quality assets

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My friend, Ts’epang Ledia, has so many funny stories about his childhood. The funniest of them all are stories of his primary school days at St James Primary School. There is one story in particular that left me laughing for days.

He once narrated a story of how corporal punishment used to be the order of the day and mostly embarrassing. In most cases, their teacher, Madam, as they were referred to in those days, would get so frustrated because they couldn’t grasp simple things.

So, Madam would take a duster and knock it onto the forehead with words that say, “u hlooho e thata”. “U hlooho e thata” simply means your brain doesn’t work. Each word of that phrase would be accompanied by a bang from the duster and all the chalk dust from the board would land straight onto the face.

The end result would be a white face full of chalk and teary eyes blinking uncontrollably. This would be more of an embarrassment to guys that had girlfriends or “cherries” in the same classroom.
Those were the good old days when commonsense could be manually induced into the head. Sometimes, I wish I could drive to St. James and borrow one of the dusters to knock some sense into a few individuals especially our politicians and lazy PS’s. Jesus, please help us!
Our people fail to grasp basic concepts of saving and investing. They don’t understand a basic concept of creating value and building wealth. They don’t understand the art of investing in long-term assets that will leave a legacy.

Our people believe in consumption. Their philosophy is that money has to be spent until there is nothing left.
My mentor always emphasized the need for Lesotho to invest in quality assets. He would say, “Invest in quality assets. The problem is that our leaders never understand the importance of investing in quality assets. They live from hand to mouth (Ba khabella hanong)”. The message didn’t really click at the time until the current crop of politicians and PS’s assumed power.
We live in a frustrating country. A country made up of men and women that don’t want to work hard for their country to be a better place. They are content with earning good salaries and driving nice cars. No aspiration to leave a legacy.

We live in a country that is surrounded by world-class infrastructure but fails to even copy and paste on the successes that its neighbour has achieved. It is like failing an open book examination. The answers are right there in front of you.

If there is one thing that I will always admire about the apartheid regime was the emphasis on investing in high quality assets. The road infrastructure is by far the most impressive. As well as various buildings such as the University of South Africa campus in Pretoria, as well as the Hillbrow Tower in Johannesburg.
Those buildings were meant to make a statement and to create a lasting legacy for generations to come.

Coming back home, there was once a move to invest in quality assets. We have in the past managed to invest in buildings that are still standing to date.
I am referring to buildings such as the Lesotho Bank Tower, Hilton Hotel/Avani Lesotho Hotel and the Post Office buildings amongst others. Of-late, the new pension fund building has managed to make a very good impression of how small sites can be used optimally.

Even though we have a track-record of assets that are still standing, they certainly didn’t come easy. Some of them faced fierce opposition before they were built.
I remember when the Post Office Building was still in a planning phase and there was heavy opposition to scrap the project. Well, of-course, without valid and sound reasons. It needed a considerable amount of political-will to bulldoze the red-tape until the buildings came into fruition, in 1998 and 1999, respectively.
Here we are, twenty years later, with assets with a combined value of about a billion maloti.

The same can be said about Pioneer Shopping Centre/Mall. The development faced opposition from all quarters before it was built. Some people claimed that the development failed Environmental Studies and was built on a wet land. Some claimed that the site was not adequate for a mall and should have been built somewhere in Masianokeng or Mazenod.
Here were are ten years later with an asset that demonstrated how well the private sector can work collectively, given a conducive environment. The development also “pioneered” modern

shopping centers in Lesotho and further created over 500 sustainable jobs.
Where are the sceptics now? I saw one of them that was against the Pioneer Mall development, busy shopping in Pick’n Pay last Sunday.
If there is one weakness/disease that Basotho people have, is to shoot down ideas without even fully understanding what is being said. Their favourite phrase is, “no, it won’t work”. That is the reason why Lesotho is so under-developed.

Let me make a short example of what I am talking about: In 2016, I approached an enterprise development corporation that deals with development of small and medium enterprises for Basotho (name withheld). The corporation had a vacant site somewhere next to Lakeside hotel in Sebaboleng.

I pitched a mixed-use development worth about M350 million. The development was made up of retail space on the first two levels and offices on the third to the fifth level.
The idea was to position the new development as a small business center in order to cater for small business incubation amongst other activities.
At the time, Honourable Selibe Mochoboroane was the Minister of Small Businesses. From what I was told, he was sold and really applied some political-will for the development to see the light of the day. Unfortunately, the regime changed and ushered in, very questionable characters with it. Very questionable indeed!

The development was then met with political meddling, lack of political will, timid executives, indecisive board members and very greedy individuals that claimed to be politically connected. There was one individual who even tried to hijack the project with a “Chinese businessman”. Yes, that one!
The major problem that I picked up was that, most of our executives are not clued up with Public, Private, Partnerships (PPP). The pitch was a simple and straight-forward BOT model (Build, Operate, Transfer).

However, I was told a long story of how the parastatal/corporation does not have governing laws on PPP’s. I was also told that there has to be a study tour to Botswana to get ideas on how PPP transactions are structured. Well, we all know that the study tour to Botswana was just meant for per-diem allowances, nothing else.
That is the end of the story and the development died a slow and peaceful death.

I recently drove past the site and to my shock, I saw park-homes (mek’huk’hu) that seem to have been erected there about a month ago. It made me wonder how the corporation could opt to utilize a prime site for park-homes instead of a development worth 350 million Moloti.
Well, my guess is as good as yours but I’ve recently learnt that park-homes have become the latest gold mine in Lesotho.

Our country is going nowhere unless we have people that are focused, determined and dedicated. We need long-term thinkers that are pro-development, especially in executive positions. More importantly, in Government structures.
Lastly, we can’t afford to have board members that only attend board meetings in order to feast on sandwiches and snacks. We need people that contribute meaningfully in meetings instead of chasing board fees. Otherwise, we are simply going nowhere as a nation.

‘Mako Bohloa

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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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