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Li Chun and Communist literature

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What literature does in any given field is to offer the audience the sense of perspective needed to make the right judgement when dealing with any issue pertinent to the understanding of the topic under discussion, or the lead argument that is in fashion in any given era of human history. From the discussions by classical writers that include Aristotle, Plato, Plutarch, Persius Flaccus and others, it seems that the salient question has always been the relationship between the individual with the cosmos or the immediate environment.

The main relationships explored in literature include the relationship one has with their family, the relationship one has with other families in the immediate place of habit, the relationships one has with their livestock, the relationship with the land and its plant and animal creatures, the relationship with the mountains, the streams, the hills, the rivers, and the relationship with the world unseen, that is, that aspect of human character that takes stock from the mythology primal and taught.

The core to the understanding of literature lies in one being able to establish the points of relationship between man and nature, for therein lies the source to understanding all the knowledge gathered and its basic purpose in advancing the world and the human inhabitants.

When Chinese communism began on July the 23rd, 1921 with Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao forming the primary leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) it would take until October the 1st, 1949 for Chairman Mao to declare China a People’s Republic. The civil wars and the uprisings of the country that go as far as 1911 and then went on until 1949 are a little understood part of what led to the formation of the current modern republic.

This is largely due to the simple fact that historical detail often does not play that much of a role in the understanding of current challenges. This is the attitude of the common folk; they are not interested in how things ended up as they are, only how they can get out of the mess they might find themselves in.

Only a close reading of the reality literature of a given era brings to light exactly how people think, how they thought, and a comparison of these two aspects brings to light the core aspect of the human condition, that is: how people act like they do given different circumstances. A close reading of a short story collection published in Peking in 1962, Not that Road and other stories by Li Chun reveals the beginnings of the communist thought and principle that got China to the point of being the superpower it is today.

It seems that the Chinese have always had some stoic element in their pattern of thought and relationship, that is, there has always been a tendency to look on the bright side of life and to achieve it at all costs. As it is, the Chinese mind has always somehow seemed to avoid following the pattern of that stoic quote by Persius Flaccus which goes, “We consume our tomorrows fretting about our yesterdays.”

It has always been forward from the days of Mao’s Tapoti and the long march to the current days of Xi Jinping’s Up and Out of Poverty type of thought he and the Chinese people seem willing to share with the rest of the world.

The usual tendency in a capitalist economy is to focus on history because to a large extent, many work towards being remembered after they are dead and gone. So deeply ingrained is this mentality that began with the advent of colonialism that the real concerns of the people like dealing with hunger and poverty, health and welfare have been sacrificed on the altars of self-interest where the main concern is being remembered as the greatest in the history of a given society when the achievements of one have in essence not contributed anything to the advancement of the society and the state.

Li Chun’s 1953 story, Not that Road, begins with the sentence, “When Chang Shuan decided to sell his land, it was the talk of the village.” It is a simple sentence on a literal level, that is, we hear of one selling their assets on a daily basis, and the intended sale is talked about only for a while in the gossip circles. However, the sentence is not simple on a metaphorical or economic level.

The ownership of land does not just entail ownership by the given individual because it is directly connected to the family history of the individual. Land is also the basis of the relationships of production, the sole means of production that grants one the opportunity to produce either for self-sustenance or to sell in the market.

Almost supernatural, the relationship between man and land is one part of human history that became the basis for wars and conflicts. The earth like the mother provides the sustenance for entire communities; the sole means and livelihood for those who are not in possession of the modern economic means of living that solely rely on cash exchanges for goods. Chang Shuan becomes a candidate for failure after several wrong financial investment choices that seem to have their root in the tendency to look for quick riches instead of focusing on building wealth gradually.

Warned several times about his impulsive investing in failed projects, Chang Shuan somehow takes no heed to the advice given. An adage in the third paragraph goes, “You can be too clever by half! Try to cut a long gown longer and you’ll only get a lined jacket!” and it is in a lot of ways a piece of advice that should be given to those in our state whose sense of investment is not guided by the need to make the lives of the others but to gain power on an individual level.

So great is his ambition to make profits that he ignores the simple fact of making investments, they do not get financial support to carry them through the early phases. He sells off assets to sponsor his investments but is forced to make further debts to support the poor choices he has made and so he is in the process forced to sell more pieces of land to pay off the debts and the line, “Go a-borrowing, go a-sorrowing, a debt is like sticking plaster on your back!”

This explains the danger of focusing on making debts to use as capital for one’s projects. Many states on the continent seem to have fallen prey to the habit of servicing debts using other debts in a Rob-Peter-to-Pay-Paul type of fashion. This does not seem to be the case with China that seems to have been willing to go back to the drawing board and to find out the source to the poverty and economic regression to establish decisive means to deal with the maladies to economic development processes.

The bane of Africa post-independence has been over-dependence on former colonisers without effort to establish the means to sort the local challenges to economic and other forms of development. A Xinhuanet 12 January, 2021 article covering President Xi Jinping’s position on sustainable development at a G20 summit states:

Calling for adopting comprehensive and balanced policies, Xi said targeted measures must be taken to tackle poverty caused by COVID-19.
He stressed efforts to alleviate developing countries’ debt burden, continue to provide them with necessary financing support, as well as boost infrastructure construction and connectivity.

Underscoring the role of digital technology in poverty alleviation, Xi urged efforts to create more opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises, women, youth and other vulnerable groups to move from poverty to prosperity.

He stressed that China is about to achieve the goal of eliminating absolute poverty, 10 years ahead of the schedule set by the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Over the past 40-plus years of reform and opening up, more than 700 million people in China have been lifted out of poverty, contributing more than 70 percent of the global poverty reduction, Xi added.

There is a sense that the communist leader of the China kind echoes the sentiments expressed in the Li Chun short story collection published almost 60 years ago in 1962. The China of that time had just experienced liberation for a mere 12 years (if one is to note 1949 as the year of PRC’s liberation), but the people had a vision to lift each other out of poverty. This is seen in the conversation between Lao-ting and Tung-shan on the plight of the impulsive Chang-Shuan not being able to pay off his mounting debt and being forced to sell his land to pay off the debt:

“Not going to sell?” Lao-ting smiled back complacently. “And who’s going to pay that huge debt for him?”
“It isn’t a very big one,” Tung-shan rejoined. “I had a talk with Chang Shuan this afternoon. I told him it wasn’t the right way to sell that land. He doesn’t have thirty or fifty mou. He only has those ten odd. What will he do if he sells? We were all poor peasants once, before the liberation. Now he’s in trouble, we should give him a helping hand. How can we buy his land off him?”

This shows that the crab-in-a-bucket tendency that began in post-independence Africa was steadily being weeded out in the early years of the post-liberation era in China. Whilst we became divided into classes of the educated and the illiterate, the rich and the poor on this continent, it seems that this was not the initial ethos of the PRC’s communist thought. Compassion and understanding on the conditions of others within the community formed the core of the thought.

This behaviour could have contributed to the rise of the PRC as a superpower in global economy terms. Doing away with old behaviours of the pre-liberation (that is, the empire state ideology) led to China being the united front it is at this point in time. We seem to have kept our colonial lord mentalities that find people still wanting to sound important even in the face of disaster.

We know as fact that there is no united front whenever there is some policy presented because the ‘we and them’ mentality was never actually rooted out at the point of independence. The status of the country changed from colony or protectorate, but the minds of the people have stayed colonised to the benefit of those that make their profit by dividing and ruling.

The short story has different turns, but the most interesting aspect about it is the fact that it focuses on the individual members of the community and how they relate with each other despite the difference in character. What unites them are the core aspects of livelihood, that is, food, clothing, shelter and shared prosperity. It is not the case of the native wanting to seem better in the light of the other natives just because their children go to private schools or that they can afford a better house than their neighbour.

This is old thought the figures in the story Not That Road want to do away with because as a line goes, “We were all poor together once.” This is what we seem to forget that, “We were all under bondage together once,” otherwise we would be striving for equality in the real sense of the term and not on the standards and principles of the people that put us in chains those many years ago in 1884. We go on to live on the principles of the people that subjugated us as a continent, still go on living on feudal terms like the oppressors of our forefathers.

The short story perorates in the month of August with the figures of Chang Shuan and Lao-ting speaking:
Lao-ting burst out. “I want to give you three hundred thousand Yuan!”
“What! You mean you’ll lend me all that?” asked Chang, wide-eyed with surprise.

“Do you think I’d refuse to lend it to you and keep it to buy land? But just you remember: From now on you must really work with a will! Otherwise, you’ll not be doing justice to your friends.” And having said that with great earnestness, Lao-ting walked on with firm steps towards the east where the red sun was rising.

A close reading of a short story explains why PRC is as far as it is; the simple village people with a like mind must have sent their like-minded sons and daughters into the city and the world with a united mind for the benefit of the entire community. From this premise begun one of the best success stories of post-independence or liberation era where the power of unity was displayed for the whole world to see.

What have we done with our liberation? Go white and poor? Snickers in the background as we go complicated again trying to explain what tomorrow will be like the day after Covid-19 has passed. It is no use racking one’s brains looking for “progressive terminology” when the hands are loathe and the mind is full of self-interest. The Chinaman proved it does not work like that for the world to see the reality of the world for real this time around.

Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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An open letter to President Hichilema

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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

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Culture quibbles

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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.

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The Joker Returns: Conclusion

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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

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