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Let’s establish a national airline

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Sesotho se re, mokopi ke mokokomali. Hee feela Basotho ba rata liphallelo. Hell! U fumane ba se ba kokometse ha hothoe liphallelo li teng. Feela, ha u ka re, lemang Basotho, u tla fumana masimo a omme ngo!

I’m referring to a news item I saw on Lesotho Television last week. The American Embassy had invited Basotho to apply for grants for various projects. This was held at the State Library in a section of the library called the American Corner.

Jesus! When the state library appeared on TV, it looked like a slaughter-house from a horror movie or a haunted house from one of those novels written by Stephen King. It looks very dingy for a ‘National Library’.

But I’m sure that five containers of paint (20 litres buckets) could have, at the very least covered the grime on the face of the State Library before it appeared on TV. Television is a very powerful medium.

Look, one bucket (20 litres) of paint costs about M895 and the library needs about five buckets for a face-lift at a cost of M4,475.00 (in total), instead of appearing on TV looking so scary. These are some of the fallen fruits that new RFP administration should have started with. Or should I donate some paint to facelift the library? Do I see any hands/volunteers?

In any case, I’m sure we all remember how our old primary and high school teachers used to embarrass us. They’d hit you with a duster on the forehead and sometimes you’d find you have a new GF in the same classroom and they would see you being smacked on the forehead. With all the chalk-dust landing on the face. The eyes would be red and full of tears due to the embarrassment.

But hey, the dusters seemed to do the work especially when the head refused to dispense correct answers. But we need to bring those dusters back. Ekare boroko bo bongata ka hara ‘muso oa RFP.

We need a teacher with a duster in one of the cabinet meetings. A re wake-up! Wake-up! Wake-up! On the forehead.

But I must be frank though, Ntate Lebona seems to be the only one carrying the entire weight of the new government on his shoulders. That man is a hard worker. He seems to be the only one with a sense of direction and vision.

No, seriously. I don’t know if I’m the only one, but things seem to be pretty much the same under the ‘new’ RFP administration. One doesn’t really get a sense that there’s a new government in charge. Yes, a new broom.

I mean, Kingsway Street is still dirty, filthy and dark at night (Yes, some of the lights are working). The Cathedral Circle precinct is still dirty and filthy. Grown men still urinate on the fence of the Cathedral. The flood-light (Apollo-light) located at the cathedral circle still doesn’t work (Yes, it doesn’t work).

The flag-poles around the Cathedral-Circle are still without the national flags. Guys! How much does it cost to put-up flags around this national monument?

Where are national flags at the border post? Where are the national flags at the entrance of the airport? These are fallen fruits and they don’t cost much to implement.

Why don’t they reinstate the tree-planting day? When was it held? 21st March? This should be a national tree-planting and cleaning day. Baitšukuli should also be forced to clean the Kingsway Road where they work. It’s only fair. This is the main artery of the capital city. This has to be our cleanest street. Let’s just keep it clean!

But I want to talk about a very sensitive issue. The use/usage of Ntate Matekane’s Jet for official trips. Is it right or wrong?

This issue has split opinion on so many levels. Especially when the jet is used by His Majesty for official trips. Now, this always give me shivers down the spine. Kee ke utloe ‘mele oaka o baleha.

You see, the nature of politics is that at one point, you become the most loved person in the world. Then suddenly, you become the most hated person on the face of the earth. Ask Ntate Tom or Ntate Majoro. They can tell you a story or two.

Knowing how the minds of Basotho work, there’ll come a time when Basotho are fed up with Ntate Matekane and want him gone as in yesterday. You’ll hear them all over the radio saying, “Hee rona re khathetse ke ‘muso ona oa barui.”

Now, you don’t want people to bring uncomfortable issues when they want them out of the office. You’d rather play your cards openly and above the table. Unfortunately, this issue of the usage of the private aircraft, is not as transparent as we’d want it to appear.

But Ntate Matekane actually has an opportunity to turn things around. Why not establish a national airline/carrier so that things are above board?

This will also give His Majesty an opportunity to board the ‘national plane’ with a clear conscience. It will also relieve us (the general public) the burden of carrying uncomfortable questions that we’re too afraid to ask.

As a matter of fact, there’s one journalist, Lekhooa Tšolo (Mlani) from Harvest FM that got ridiculed for asking whether Ntate Matekane paid for the recent trip to Mozambique from his pocket or whether the state was taking care of the bill.

In other words, did the Lesotho government lease Ntate Matekane’s jet for the trip to Mozambique? These are obviously, very uncomfortable questions hence the hostility from one of the cabinet ministers. “Ha re’a tla ka taba eno mona”, was his response.

This issue of using private assets also places the army in a very compromised situation. I mean, once you become a Prime Minister, you become an asset of the State and who is in charge of the safety and security of the Prime Minister? My hero, Major General Letsoela.

Now, should anything happen (God forbid) to Ntate Matekane, the sword falls on Ntate Letsoela. He’ll have to account and all eyes will be on him. Unfortunately!

And this reminds me of the stunts that Donald Trump tried to pull when he became president of the US. Yes, Donald Trump has it all. All the riches of the world. He even said, “No, I don’t need your money. I’m here to provide a service and I will work free of charge.”

The State said, Butle Buti. Remember, once you assume office, you become a public servant. And you have to appear on the government/state payroll. We have to comply with the rules and regulations. That is the reason why Donald Trump ended up being paid $1 as monthly salary from the state.

Donald Trump had to use state vehicles and a state owned jet (Air-force-One). Despite owning his own private jets and helicopters. Even now, during his retirement, he’s still a property of the state. Those are the rules and regulations.

In closing, like Major General Lekhanya did with purchasing a jet named Lengau, maybe it is an opportune moment for the state to establish a national airline that will also be used for cargo purposes as well. It could also help to boost the tourism sector.

In fact I have an idea on how we can establish an airline. Why not lease one jet from the Emirates or Qatar Airlines and operate it as Lesotho Airlines (with a national flag/colours), on the Maseru, Johannesburg, Dubai, Beijing/China Route? Do you see the reason why I added Beijing on that list?

And it should be managed and operated by Emirates or Qatar. In that way, we minimise the risk of losses, risk of corruption and we get international exposure. Maybe route-two could be Maseru-Johannesburg-Dubai-New York. For AGOA exports.

And I don’t think the Emiratis would say no to this proposal. So, the China route could also bring a lot of tourists into the Mountain Kingdom. For a new trend in tourism named: Digital detox Resorts (Google search it).

Even here, Dr Matlanyane should negotiate this deal for us as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. It will restore a sense of national pride.

Remember the embarrassment and torment that our army had to face when they had to ship their cargo to Mozambique. Ba tlameha ho kopa lift fofaneng sa Angola. Sesotho se re, mokopi ke mokomali!

‘Mako Bohloa

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Insight

We need a coordinated approach on youth challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prof Motlatsi Thabane

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Insight

Call that a muffin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Insight

Lessons from Israel: Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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