Connect with us


Lesotho: What must be done



In recent times, the Lesotho government has gone through turbulence. Within five years, there were at least three elections. Each yielded hung-parliaments resulting in coalition governments with partners forever undermining each other. The challenges of HIV/AIDS and TB, coupled with a negative political environment hamper service delivery operations, adding to the difficult position. The present worldwide Covid 19 pandemic has exacerbated the already awkward dilemma we are in.

In the meantime, Lesotho remains amongst the poorest countries with about 57% of the population living in extreme poverty. Lesotho faces climate-related risks including erratic rainfall, droughts and soil erosion. These climate risks have had an adverse impact on food security resulting from the poor performance of the agriculture sector.

Lesotho’s 54th independence anniversary came and went. This year’s event was marked by a cleaning campaign led by His Majesty King Letsie III who was accompanied by the Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro on October 9 2020.

Lesotho is in the middle of national constitutional reforms under the National Reforms Authority (NRA). Organisations outside Lesotho initiated this process. SADC, the EU and the US sanctioned the commission. The reforms emanate from the Phumaphi Commission of Inquiry. Although the lawmakers regularly drew their monthly salaries, they needed to be coerced by external powers to carry out their responsibilities. The constitutional reforms provide Lesotho with an opportunity to correct their shortcomings and build on their strengths.

This is not the first time that Lesotho finds itself in a democracy entropy. This disorder was brought upon us by our inheriting a foreign system, post-1966 independence. Postcolonial Lesotho represents an accumulation of legacy of failure. To understand our propensity to hurt our democracy, we need to look at how we got into this awkward predicament in the first place.

In the meantime, postcolonial independent nations, especially in Africa, politicians continue to promise democracy. But for Basotho, ‘democracy’ continues to be an elusive Utopia. A Utopia only the elites live in at the electorate’s expense.

Instead, Basotho experience hypocrisy, sycophancy and patronage. When the election seasons approach, politicians, smear the voters’ lips with honey as the traditional folklore tale tells of Tselane coercing ‘Limo’ into carrying a bag full of bees to his detriment.

After politicians win parliamentary seats, they forget their promises to the electorate. The amnesia remains till the next elections season when they need their votes once more. Meanwhile, the Government keeps the electorate poorly educated to deny them the ability to hold the politician accountable using quid pro quo, ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’.

Quid pro quo is the best method that the electorate may make politicians account. It enables the voters to attach conditions to their votes.
I seek to explore some fundamental Achilles heels that explain why democracy remains an illusion to Basotho. I critique the form of Government that the country adopted, postcolonial independence.

Lesotho lost its independence and became a British protectorate on March 12 1868. This is the date that the future of Lesotho as a sovereign was assured. With this single act, King Moshoeshoe outsmarted the Boers. Lesotho retained the portion that today, Basotho call home.
During this period, the colonial administration ran along with the customary chieftaincy. The head of the High Commission Territory was the Resident Commissioner. At independence, the Paramount Chief became King and Head of State and the Prime Minister, Head of Government. Lesotho adopted the Westminster government system.

Lesotho inherited a ‘successful’ European colonial government system. The system was successful where it originates in Britain. The British developed these laws in line with their values and cultural heritage. The system evolved over the years.

According to Couzens in Murder at Morija, the English generally viewed Africans as enemies that are dependent and must be provided for, but who must be prevented from rising to a position which nature did not intend of him. The High Commission administration held this view about Basotho. So, the colonial government was at war with Lesotho. Yet Lesotho adopted this government system at war with Basotho.

There is no ‘one-size fits all’ government. A system that is developed and is successful for one context will fail in another. A system imported from one country will not succeed in another.
At independence, we inherited the Westminster system of government, including the legislative lawmakers and critical state institutions. The aims and purpose of this system differ from the expectations of Basotho. Some examples of the key state organs that Lesotho adopted include:

l There is a Bicameral Parliament — consisting of the Senate and the National Assembly. Senate has thirty-three senators comprising 22 principal chiefs and 11 nominated members – these are the most misused constituent of Lesotho parliamentary system. The government uses these senators to undermine the electorate and ‘sneak in’ ‘failed’ politicians into cabinet positions as ministers.

The national assembly has 120 members of parliament (MPs). There are 80 MPs representing constituencies and 40 proportional representatives, PR.
Unfortunately, parties use the PR seats to undermine the electorate and ‘sneak in’ politicians rejected by their constituencies into parliament. It is not uncommon in Lesotho to find a minister without a constituency compromising accountability. Government reward political aspirants who fail to even stand at constituencies by making them principal secretaries or ambassadors.

Although the PR system’s introduction had good intentions, the consequences reveal otherwise. The method results with the proliferation of parties for selfish reasons.
l The judiciary is headed by a Chief Justice and other jurists comprising judges of the high court, magistrates in lower courts. The judiciary adopted a mixed legal system, the common law and Basotho customary law.

However, common law is superior. The courts administer appeals under common law. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that there were conflicts between the two practices as early as King Moshoeshoe’s time. Basotho found the system unjust. They denounced the magistrates’ system adjudicating on the matter Basotho felt were out of the colonial courts’ jurisdiction.

The Lefela brothers’ Lekhotla la Bafo campaigned for the restoration of chieftaincy powers in colonial Lesotho. They believed that the chiefs had prominent roles to play in Lesotho.
l The country’s security cluster consists of the military – the Lesotho Defence Force with about 2 300 strong forces; Lesotho Mounted Police Services with 4 700 serviceman and women; National Security Services with 1 800 intelligence personnel and Lesotho Correctional Services with about 1 800 correctional officers.

The only country that may threaten Lesotho’s sovereignty is South Africa. However, South Africa, with a population about thirty times that of Lesotho, is too vast for us to make any military challenge. Moreover, the two countries are members of the African Union and SADC. The only enemy that Lesotho has is Basotho. The politicians unleashed the army against Basotho on many occasions. In the present Covid 19 pandemic the Security Cluster enforces submission to political authority.

l The World Bank reports that Lesotho’s public healthcare system is ailing and crisis plagued. Affordable healthcare is scarce and inaccessible to the general public. Only ordinary Basotho use public healthcare facilities. In short, the Government has no faith in Lesotho’s healthcare facilities.
Around 2015, Lesotho’s opportunity to address its public healthcare challenges fell flat when the Government shut down the Lesotho Medical School initiative.

l Lesotho continues to offer an inferior education system that fails to meet the country’s needs. Only the general public send their children to these schools. Those who have, e.g., politicians, ministers send their children elsewhere.

Higher education institutions find themselves producing graduates who cannot join the economy, as employers or employees. At the same time, the country continues to hover at the bottom echelons of poverty.
Basotho are one people who embraced strangers. Moshoeshoe encouraged Basotho to welcome strangers and learn from them. Racism is a European and American construct created to demean Africans. Furthermore, while Basotho recognised chieftaincy, they had no class system.

This article shows that Lesotho adopted government systems designed to suppress Basotho. This system created the divide and rule system, ‘us’ and ‘them’. The ‘us’, the elites rule ‘them’, the objects. ‘Them’ are the ‘nobodies’ that ‘us’ use and discard. In our case, ‘them’, the ‘nobodies’, refers to the general Basotho. The politicians dehumanise the ‘nobodiness’ in’ ‘them’. The ‘us’ exclude ‘them’. The exclusion of ‘them’ by ‘us’ is similar to how the colonial Government bundled Basotho as subhuman.

A consequence of the artificial systemic segregation is creating the First-Lady’s position in a monarchy, where their Majesties are the first family. The creation came to haunt the country. The English proverb that best describes the former Government’s predicament says: ‘the chickens have come home to roost’.
Many families in rural areas own farming fields. However, these fields lay fallow. Farmers are poor, lack resources and skills to plough their fields.

There are no subsidies for farming. The challenges expose them to exploitation where farmers take block farming deals, giving them 30% of their harvest proceeds. After the harvest season, the farmer remains unempowered. The vicious cycle of hunger, poverty, unemployment is maintained, forcing them to leave their fields behind to seek employment in urban centres.

In 1833, the missionaries found a nation with pride. Yet the politicians have made dependence look ‘cool’! Lesotho cannot be independent as long as she relies on donor agencies such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act. While this agreement is beneficial to Basotho, the USA determines Lesotho’s participation. She cannot claim independence if it cannot determine its future.

A myth that often accompanies foreign aid is that investors provide job creation opportunities and prosperity. A legendary Zambian politician, Kapwepwe, warned African countries that former colonial masters would return as investors. Today commentators warn African countries to guard against re-colonisation by China, who comes under an investor’s banner. The Chinese indebt African countries to gain full control of their mineral wealth. Basotho farmers are victims of such Chinese deals.

Presently, Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy. Many argue that one of the amendments of the constitution should increase the powers of the King. History reminds us of the causes of the French, Bolshevik Revolutions, and many others. There must be checks and balances to any such power.
Lesotho’s constitution provides for local Government and chieftaincy. It is an open secret that many chiefs abuse their power and the public have no recourse. The national reforms must suggest ways to address Basotho’s cries.

Some politicians, especially those in previous governments, advocate for establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). There is no evidence that the South African TRC worked. News of racial tensions continue to dominate the South African media, 26 years post 1994 elections. TRC may appeal in terms of humanity, but it fails in terms of ethics and justice tests. Justice presupposes peace and prosperity.

Lesotho adopted a government system that is brutal to Basotho. This system regarded Basotho as the enemy who must be oppressed. To enforce the oppression, the Government makes the working conditions of security clusters, military, intelligence and the police conducive to ensure their loyalty. The security clusters are not loyal to the constitution.
In the meantime, the Government and the executive cease to be accountable to the legislature and the electorate. Lack of accountability leads to tyranny, injustice and rule by a hand grenade. Party manifestos and promises are mere gimmicks used to buy the electorate’s votes.

The Government deliberately provides substandard education, at school level and beyond, to keep Basotho’s knowledge inferior so that they do not demand a quid pro quo at the end of the parliamentary term. This system is similar to that of Britain. It enables politicians to exploit taxpayers repeatedly.

Lastly, while politicians carry the blame for Lesotho’s political chaos, academics cannot be spared for their failures, too. Education is the best instrument that a country can use to dismantle the bondage of oppression. Investing in education makes sense, thus should be a priority of Lesotho. Unfortunately, those sent to obtain the best education, end up copying the ways of the former colonial masters instead of fighting the system for the benefit of the African man and woman.

The words of the high court and court of appeal of Lesotho summed why democracy in Lesotho. The High Court described the then Government Executive as a lethally toxic cocktail of unprincipled populist, demagogic whistle dog politics of crime control through state-sponsored violence. To achieve this, the police turn into instruments of oppression.
In conclusion, this article confirms that a successful government system in one country may not be so successful in another. The outcomes of importing a government system proved detrimental to Basotho.

Consequently, our government’s hallmarks are unaccountability, inequality, tyranny, injustice, sycophancy, corruption, and unstable governments.
The NRA must identify the best form of governance for Lesotho. This government structure must consolidate Basotho’s culture and customs in the best interest of all. The government, the bicameral parliament’ shape and size must be critically assessed and overhauled.

Dr Tholang Maqutu



An open letter to President Hichilema



Your Excellency,

I am certain that you are wondering where and/or how I have the temerity to write to you directly, but a recent post you put on WhatsApp piqued my interest; your meeting with His Excellency the Prime Minister of Lesotho, and his delegation. The delegation came to introduce to you and your good office the candidate of the Government of Lesotho, for the post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Joshua Setipa.

Let me set off by stating that I have a friendship with Setipa, for over 50 years, so I may not be the best person to give an objective appraisal or opinion of him; this I will leave to the government.

Further to that, as a citizen of Lesotho, I may embellish the information that I would provide on Lesotho, thus I will as far as possible keep to information that is contained in books. This is not a research report, but more a simplified literature review of what I have read. I shall not quote them, or reference them, thus allowing others the space to research this matter further.

First, let me state my surprise at the alignment of time that I see; Commonwealth Day in 2024 is on the 11th March, the day we celebrate a life well lived, that of Morena Moshoeshoe.

Further to that, this year also starts the 200th anniversary of the move by Morena Moshoeshoe and his followers from Menkhoaneng to Thaba Bosiu. They arrived at Thaba Bosiu in winter, circa 1824.

Next year, 2025 will also be the 100th anniversary of the ‘plenary’ that saw the birth of this Commonwealth of Nations. A handover from the bi-centenary, to the centenary celebrations.

We are all aware that the Commonwealth was started at the Imperial Conference of 1926, but it had what I call a plenary in 1925; this happened in Maseru, Basutoland. It was held at the ‘secretariat’ building on Kingsway. The building was used as the Prime Ministers’ office after independence, more recently, and to date as the Ministry of Defence.

When King George came to visit Lesotho in 1948, to thank the country and her citizens for their participation in the Second World War, High street as it was then known, had its name changed to Kingsway.

At this plenary Britain called the ANZaC states, Australia, New Zeeland and Canada, together with South Africa. It had been only 13 years (1912) since the Basotho monarch had been asked to attend the formation of the South African National Native Conference (SANNC), whose aim was to preserve African land. The SANNC was the forerunner to the African National Congress (ANC).

With the formation of the Union of South Africa, the union wanted to engulf Bechuanaland (Botswana) Swaziland (eSwatini) and Basutoland (Lesotho). This had been unsuccessful.

Next they came up with the Native Land Act of 1913, to remove African land rights. So, the conference that brought about the birth of the SANNC was a pre-emptive response to this act; an attempt to keep African land rights and traditions intact.

I would like to point out that the founding document of the Imperial Conference that brought about the Commonwealth states that all member states are autonomous and not subordinate to another.

At the time of the plenary, Basutoland was subordinate to Britain. But in a masterstoke became what I believe to be one of the founders of the Commonwealth.

Despite her subordination, Basutoland had placed so strong an objection to the presence of a representative South Africa in Basutoland, that South Africa’s invitation had to be withdrawn, and South Africa did not attend. This was the first ‘anti-apartheid’ shot, made in the world; what is more important is that it was made by an African country.

No matter how one looks at it, she may not have been a ‘founding member state’, but Basutoland was part of the founding fabric of the Commonwealth.

One just has to imagine the anger of the South Africans and their government: Dr. D. F. Malan, the first Nationalist Prime Minister of South Africa, was a minister responsible for housing at that time.

Had Basutoland’s lead been followed, spatial apartheid might never have happened. The Commonwealth would take till the 1960’s, and the formal legalisation/legislation of apartheid to remove South Africa from within her fold. A matter that Basutoland saw as far back as the 1920’s.

As shown, at the conceptualisation of the Commonwealth Lesotho was not just there, but an active and formidable participant; though one has to look further to see her relationship with Great Britain/the United Kingdom.

Basutoland/Lesotho’s history is strange, to say the least. The first Europeans to arrive here in 1833, were French Missionaries. At this time Europe was embroiled in wars, which inevitably included the French and English.

But it is these same priests, most notably Casalis, who helped steer the country to Britain, and British protection. Casalis acted almost as a foreign secretary/minister of foreign affairs at that time.

The first treaty between Basutoland and England was the Napier Treaty of 1843, though it took till 1866 to solidify this treaty into a protected land.

The history of the cavalry in Lesotho, the only African cavalry south of the Sahara, is quite long. It starts in about 1825, when F. D. Ellenberger in his book ‘History of the Basutho’, states that Morena Moletsane had come across gun powder quite by mistake.

They had been raiding a missionary’s home and came across a strange powder, which they found useless, so they threw it into a fire, which ‘exploded’. Thus, to his people called European style housing, ‘Ntlo-ea-thunya’, a house that shoots. But after having his people ravaged/savaged by Mzilikazi, he sent his best warriors to work on Boer farms, and with their remuneration purchase arms and horses.

We are often told of a ‘battle of/at Berea’. My answer is that it was not a battle but a cattle raid. Its importance is not just in the battle, but in democracy. The British called Morena Moshoeshoe ‘paramount chief’, a first amongst the others. The time before Berea shows something slightly different.

As Casalis writes in ‘My life in Basutoland’, the British had demanded 10,000 head of cattle, for stock theft. A great ‘pitso’ was called and all eligible men, those who owned land, were called.

At the end of the pitso, after many votes, the citizens refused to give their cattle to pay the demand of the British. The significance herein is that there was a plebiscite, a vote. Morena Moshoeshoe lost the backing of the people and thus the vote; the British then attacked to ‘collect’ the cattle themselves.

Both Morena Moshoeshoe and Morena Moletsane were heavily involved in the ‘battle’ which was won by the strength of the Basutho cavalry. Looking forward to the gun wars, it was most fortuitous that Morena Moshoeshoe’s ally, Morena Moletsane would outlive him, till the end of the gun wars.

After annexation in 1866, in the mid 1870’s the British, citing distance and as such expense, ceded Basutoland to the Cape, which was what the Basotho had been fighting against for a long time; they wanted direct British rule. They wanted to be ruled by Mofumahali Queen Victoria.

The first, and most critical mistake that the Cape made was, not so much in attacking Morena Moorosi, accusing his son of cattle theft, but in beheading him.

So, when some years later they wanted to disarm the Basutho, and they found those of the south of Basutoland who knew of the beheading, reluctant to go with the plan. The Cape decided to go ahead with disarmament forcefully and met equal if not greater force.

The Basutho were better armed, more knowledgeable on the terrain and better supplied. Helped by his father’s long-standing ally, Morena Moletsane, Morena Lerotholi was able to field a well-armed strong cavalry, which inflict great pain to the Cape.

This led to the Cape defeat. Together with the number of other wars that the Cape was fighting, there was fight fatigue among her people.

So bad was it, that they did not come and collect their fallen troops; in Mafeteng there is a cemetery called ‘mabitla-a-makhooa’, or graves of the white men. The SA Military History Society has a ‘roll of honour’ for some of the dead, as not all were buried in Basutoland.

There are two significant outcomes of the war. In his book ‘The Mabille’s of Basutoland’, Edwin W. Smith states that there was a fact-finding mission to Basutoland by members of the Cape parliament, including Rhodes. Their conclusion was that the Basutho should be handed back to Britain for direct rule; which was the original wish of the Basutho.

As Whitehall was reluctant to take this role back, Basutoland spent a period of close to two years of self-rule. Thus it became the first African country (only?) to unshackle itself of colonial rule. And became the first African country to get the colonial rule it wanted; and re-shackled itself to Britain.

The second is how Britain agreed to go back and rule Basutoland. In his book, Rhodes Goes North, J. E. S. Green shows how the Prime Minister of the Cape went to Britain to sue for peace, and eventually agreed to give Britain 20 000 pounds per annum, of her import tax revenues to govern Basutoland.

Whilst not a founding member of the Commonwealth, Basutoland has carried her fair weight in the battle to save both the Commonwealth, and together the rest of the Commonwealth, the world at large.

Whilst SA will hype the losses during the maritime accident of the SS Mendi in the English Channel, Lesotho is less inclined to speak of the losses on the SS Erinpura. The Erinpura was sunk by German war planes in the Mediterranean Sea. Though I should say that, the prayer of the men on the Mendi would resound so well with those who lost their lives on the Erinpura.

When British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill said; never was so much owed by so many to so few, I am certain he was speaking not just of the people of the British Isles, but the broader community within the Commonwealth, that stood together at this time of international need.

But having heard Sir Winston, there is a special bond of Basutoland within, and with the Commonwealth, that I would like to highlight. Apart from the ANZaC countries and South Africa, there were no air squadrons from other Commonwealth countries that I am aware of; except for Basutoland that is.

They paid for 12 or so Spitfire aircraft that would form the 72nd Basutoland, which flew in the Battle of Britain. No moSotho actually flew (in?) them, but they had been financed by the Basotho.

For all the prowess of a moSotho man with arms, in his book ‘Basotho Soldiers in Hitler’s War’, Brian Gary not only writes about the gift of aircraft that fought in the Battle of Britain, he also shows that Basotho soldiers, who were hauling various ordinances through the Italian Alps, were allowed to carry arms.

Aircraft and carrying arms for an African in World War II; Lesotho is not just a pioneer member of the Commonwealth, but a beacon.

As Lesotho many of these pioneering attributes continued. Whist South Africa was banned from sports and entertainment, Lesotho filled the gap for her. Exiles like Hugh Masekela and Mirriam Makeba were hosted for sell out concerts in Lesotho. South African interracial sports, with matches between the likes of Orlando Pirate, Wits University, Kaiser Chiefs, to name those I remember, started in Maseru.

I have touched on politics and war, sport and entertainment; let me go to superstition. It would go against what is expected of me not to go without anything superstitious.

Britain has given the world three major sporting codes. Rugby, which is dominated by the big three of New Zeeland and South Africa. Cricket, which expands from the rugby three to include India, Pakistan, most of the Caribbean states and a few African counties.

These sports are obviously ‘Commonwealth Sports’, as they are dominated, or played predominantly by Commonwealth countries. They have also given us football. This is a truly global sport, the largest sport played across the world, on all types of surfaces, with all types of round looking objects. We can’t call all of these footballs.

The last time a Commonwealth country won the World Cup it was England in 1966; the year Lesotho gained her independence.

The next World Cup is in 2026, the millennium celebrations of the Commonwealth; who will head the Commonwealth then? Will a Commonwealth team have the necessary ‘juju’ to make it?

Your Excellency, this is but a brief note on Lesotho, and it is my way of using the words attributed to Morena Moshoeshoe, when asking for protection from Queen Victoria that say; take me, and all the lice (those that are symbiotic to me) in my blanket. I do hope that these words will be of use to you as seek consensus on Lesotho and her candidate for the post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth.

Yours truly

Khasane Ramolefe

Continue Reading


Culture quibbles



A few weeks ago these pages carried a substantial piece by Mokhosi Mohapi titled “A reversal of our traditions and culture”, written in the form of an open letter to the government of Lesotho. The first sentence of Mohapi’s article took me by surprise, as he stated: MPs and Senators’ primary role is to protect and preserve the traditions and culture of the Basotho people. I would have thought the primary role of MPs and Senators would be to ensure that Basotho are secure (being protected, for example, from criminals), that they have adequate access to social services such as education and healthcare, that the economy is sufficiently stable to offer citizens some chance of employment, and so on. Fat chance, you might scoff.

But then I realised that Mohapi had a more specific contention in mind, as he stated: The Laws of Lerotholi were set to protect social order, traditions and culture of Basotho. Mohapi’s immediate concern is with the 2024 Estates and Inheritance Bill, which proposes radical changes to the existing order of things. (See the article in last week’s thepost, “MPs bulldoze through Inheritance Bill”, which gives a good idea of the background).

I’m aware that this Bill has provoked considerable controversy, and that is not my topic in this article. Nor do I wish to contest what Mohapi was saying in his piece — this is by no means a case of Dunton v Mohapi. But I did take note of the way the phrase “traditions and culture” kept resounding in Mohapi’s article, rather like a cracked bell, and what I want to do is open up those terms for examination.

Please bear with me as I slip aside for a moment with a little academic stuff. Back in 2006 I published an article titled “Problematizing Keywords: Culture, tradition and modernity.” For those of my readers with a scholarly bent and who might want to hunt it down, this was published in a journal called Boleswa Occasional Papers in Theology and Religion 2:3 (2006), pages 5-11. There I made a number of points I want to bring up in what follows.

The first fallacy I tackled in that article was the tradition/modernity binary — the notion that in Africa there was tradition and then, wham!, the white man arrived and there was modernity. Are we seriously to believe there were no great cities in Africa before the white man landed, that the peoples of a whole continent lived entirely in villages? Nigeria tells a different story.

Are we to believe there were no great libraries? Mali and Ethiopia tell a different tale. No writing systems? No medicine? I’m not saying that if I’m in pain I don’t prefer a dose of oramorph to an infusion made from some leaves picked off the slopes of Thaba Bosiu, but the point remains: the tradition/modernity binary is crude and crass and it’s demeaning about Africa.

We cannot get very far with simplistic ideas about where we are coming from and where we are at. And yet of course we do come from a past. I’ll quote — or, rather, paraphrase from memory, as I don’t have the work to hand — an observation made by T.S Eliot in his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent”: We know so much more than those who came before us. But they are a large part of what we know.

But of those who came before who is it, exactly, that we know? When Mohapi repeatedly uses the phrase “the traditions and culture of the Basotho people” I take it he is thinking of the Basotho as constituted under Moshoeshoe I and the descendants of those generations.

For how much do we know about the “traditions and culture” of the various Sotho-speaking groups let’s say two hundred years before Moshoeshoe gathered them together to form the modern Lesotho state? Isn’t it likely there were significant differences between the “traditions and culture” of these groups, differences that were later rationalised or homogenised?

Two points here. First, we mustn’t forget what an extraordinary innovator Moshoeshoe was —and I guess that might be said also of Lerotholi, whose laws are the chief focus of Mohapi’s article. Second, culture is not static, it is not immutable. It evolves all the time.

For example, for how long has it been the case that adherence to the Christian faith could be said to be part of the culture of Basotho? (Or, for how long has football been part of the culture of the English? We are credited with the invention of football, but that doesn’t mean it’s been part of who we are since time immemorial).

That brings me to my next point, or a string of points, moving from England back to Lesotho. When I was a schoolboy I bought myself a copy of the book Components of the National Culture (1968) by the great British Marxist Perry Anderson. One of my schoolmasters — one of the few who didn’t like me — caught me with it and said “just the sort of book I’d expect a troublemaker like you to be reading. Just don’t show it to anyone else!”

The significant term in Anderson’s title is “components.” Culture is put together — it is an assemblage — and its components may have different sources.
That leads me on to the invention of tradition, and an example for Basotho.

I guess all my readers know Qiloane, the sandstone pillar at Thaba Bosiu the distinctive peak of which is said to be the inspiration for the shape of the traditional Basotho straw hat. Well, that notion is dubious to say the least; there were hats of the same shape from elsewhere in the region long before the Basotho got hold of the design.

Does this really matter? Well, no, because even if a tradition is invented, it still has the persuasiveness of a tradition. It’s just that knowing this might dissuade us from making big claims about the unchangeable nature and sanctity of tradition.

And the same goes for culture. I leave you with a quotation from the Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah (it’s from his terrific book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers): We do not need, have never needed, a homogenous system of values, in order to have a home. Cultural purity is an oxymoron.

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

Continue Reading


The Joker Returns: Conclusion



Last week I was talking about how jokes, or humour generally, can help get one through the most desperate situations (although it’s like taking a paracetamol for a headache; a much, much stronger resort is faith). I used the example of how Polish Jews, trapped and dying in the Warsaw ghetto, used humour to get them through day by day.

A similar, though less nightmarish, situation obtains in today’s Nigeria. Conditions there are less hellish than those of the Warsaw ghetto, but still pretty awful. There are massive redundancies, so millions of people are jobless. Inflation is at about 30% and the cost of living is sky-rocketing, with the most basic foodstuffs often unavailable. There is the breakdown of basic social services.

And endemic violence, with widespread armed robbery (to travel by road from one city to another you take your life in your hands) and the frequent kidnapping for ransom of schoolchildren and teachers. In a recent issue of the Punch newspaper (Lagos) Taiwo Obindo, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Jos, writes of the effects of economic hardship and insecurity on his people’s mental health.

He concludes: “We should see the funny side of things. We can use humour to handle some things. Don’t take things to heart; laugh it off.”

Professor Obindo doesn’t, regrettably, give examples of the humour he prescribes, but I remember two from a period when things were less grim. Power-cuts happened all the time — a big problem if you’re trying to work at night and can’t afford a generator.

And so the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was universally referred to as Never Expect Power Always. And second, for inter-city travel there was a company called Luxurious Buses. Believe me, the average Lesotho kombi is a great deal more luxurious (I can’t remember ever having to sit on the floor of one of those).

And because of the dreadful state of Nigerian roads and the frequent fatal crashes, Luxurious Buses were referred to as Luxurious Hearses.

Lesotho’s newspaper thepost, for which I slave away tirelessly, doesn’t use humour very much. But there is Muckraker. I’ve always wondered whether Muckraker is the pen-name of a single person or a group who alternate writing the column.

Whatever, I’d love to have a drink with him / her/ them and chew things over. I like the ironic pen-name of the author(s). Traditionally speaking, a muckraker is a gossip, someone who scrabbles around for titbits (usually sexual) on the personal life of a celebrity — not exactly a noble thing to do.

But thepost’s Muckraker exposes big problems, deep demerits, conducted by those who should know and do better — problems that the powerful would like to be swept under the carpet, and the intention of Muckraker’s exposure is corrective.

And I always join in the closing exasperated “Ichuuuu!” (as I do this rather loudly, my housemates probably think I’m going bonkers).

Finally I want to mention television satire. The Brits are renowned for this, an achievement dating back to the early 1960s and the weekly satirical programme “TW3” (That Was The Week That Was). More recently we have had “Mock the Week”, though, despite its popularity, the BBC has cancelled this.

The cancellation wasn’t for political reasons. For decades the UK has been encumbered with a foul Conservative government, though this year’s election may be won by Labour (not such very good news, as the Labour leadership is only pseudo-socialist). “Mock the Week” was pretty even-handed in deriding politicians; the BBC’s problem was, I imagine, with the programme’s frequent obscenity.

As an example of their political jokes, I quote a discussion on the less than inspiring leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer. One member of the panel said: “Labour may well have a huge lead in the polls at present, but the day before election day Starmer will destroy it by doing something like accidentally infecting David Attenborough with chicken-pox.”

And a favourite, basically non-political interchange on “Mock the Week” had to do with our former monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Whatever one thinks about the British monarchy as an institution, the Queen was much loved, but the following interchange between two panellists (A and B) was fun:

A: Is the Queen’s nickname really Lilibet?
B: Yes, it is.
A: I thought her nickname was Her Majesty.
B: That’s her gang name.

OK, dear readers, that’s enough humour from me for a while. Next week I’m turning dead serious — and more than a little controversial — responding to a recent Insight piece by Mokhosi Mohapi titled “A reversal of our traditions and culture.” To be forewarned is to be prepared.

Chris Dunton

Continue Reading