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Middle Age Travails



WISH there could be words, well there are words, but often, more than less, they escape into the grey beyond of the thalamus where thoughts and confusion find their origin. Speculating, analysing, and presenting words; those basic units of communication that form phrases and sentences that end up corrigible or incorrigible to the audience in front of the speaker or the writer.
The thing that is most harmful to the author is the loss of the word or not finding the right word to use in a given speech episode or piece of writing. And this does come at certain points in life, forcing one to rethink their speech, to re-establish their pattern, and to look for new meanings to everyday words. It is a constant process of shifting from one style to the next; nomadic in pattern, meaning that one seasonally changes their method of writing.
There is just no fixed manner of writing, and as one ages and their writing wisdom progresses, they soon discover that oftentimes, writing is not just about writing: it is done for the benefit of the author and the audience in a symbiotic manner. One draws their story from the lives of the audience and projects it in the piece of writing they present back to the audience. In essence, the source gives to the receiver and the receiver sends it back processed to the source.

The temptation is to give in to the complacency found in sticking to one style of writing. I find it similar to leaving a piece of iron in stagnant water to rust to the point of uselessness. The writer is afforded the biggest field of options, for in the everyday occurrences that come with each passing minute are the stories that one can write about. A story can be written about a tree in bloom in spring, and another can be written about its leaves in the midst of summer. The feast of its fruits in late summer to autumn can be penned into the most romantic tale if the writer observes the occurrences of the season.
This does not mean that the bare tree in winter has no tale to tell either, it is just up to the author to observe the gnarled branches reaching out to the blue or grey sky in the winter’s barren landscape to coin a narrative or pen a poem to give life to the deadness of a season when the world and its creatures are in repose. There is always a story to tell, it is just up to the writer to go out and look for it, or they can observe from the verandah and the porch to find out what it is that they can write about the world fleeting by: for it carries within it meanings necessary to stimulate the compassion needed in the writing of any work.
The English romantic poet, John Keats, penned a letter to a friend with regard to the issue of compassion. It goes:

Men should bear with each other- there lives not the Man who may not be cut up, aye hashed to pieces on his weakest side. The best of men have but a potion of good in them- a kind of spiritual yeast in their frames which creates the ferment of existence-by which man is propell’d to act and strive and buffet with Circumstance.
It is the compassionate understanding of the foibles and maladaptive tendencies of fellow human beings that enables the author to draw a comedy out of tragic circumstances and in the process to enable the audience to deal with their own tragic circumstances.  There is an innate need to constantly change, but the change should not be attained at the expense of the sadness of others.
The author of a work should always never forget their own fallible nature; for it is only in confronting the man in the mirror (their frank opinion of themselves) that they can achieve a level of compassion suitable enough to enable them to write a good work. This compassionate nature should however not be used where it comes to chastising gallivants and pederasts who think not of the dangers of their deeds on society. A corrupt official should be frankly addressed as such to help avoid him reneging on his oath of office, for as the wizard Merlin said, “shame is the best teacher!” There is no wrong in shaming what is corrupt, there is shame in being unfeeling when it comes to dealing with certain matters and individuals whose status is vulnerable. The decision to write about something sort of returns to the ‘what would I do given the same type of situation?’ question.

With the passage of the years and maturity comes the need to grow personally. The fact of the matter is that we are constantly growing, even if it is not at the same pace. The difference comes with the decision to see one’s self and wisdom grow in a systematic manner. The decision to grow can be compared to a farmer that decides to grow their crop in a straight line instead of scattering them helter-skelter on a piece of land to increase their harvest. It is an ordered process that demands a certain degree of method, that one should keep the diary and the journal if they did not do so before. The main reason is that, as one grows the vigour with which they used to attend to issues may ebb, and the quickness of memory slows down. The cause of this is the usual human behaviour in human society that people get ‘settled’ at a certain point in their lives, giving in to complacency and killing the passion with which they used to deal with issues timeously. Ralph Waldo Emerson bears a contrary view to the idea of being settled at a certain point in life. His view on personal growth is found in the statement that:
People wish to be settled: only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.

If you have read Meja Mwangi’s Walking Down River Road you will understand that the author was himself unsettled by the circumstances on the various construction sites he laboured on with different figures. Compassionate but unsettled, he (Ben) draws a beautiful portrait of Ochola, a naughty scallywag of a man who finds representation on almost any construction site one works on or visits. There is a naughty figure that keeps the chain-gang on the site entertained enough to see the working day through, diverting their attention from the tedious toil to something else: either a tale or a series of comic antics meant for the mirth of the workers on the gloomy construction site. Often unsettled himself, this type of entertainer infects the rest of the crowd with his own unsettledness and in the process becomes the oil that lubricates the working machine that promotes industry through effort. There is not much to his acts except the constant bantering that can be seen as fickle by less humourous characters, but of course, the truth of the matter is that one can add sugar only to tea and water: sour people often stay so for the rest of their lives and they can never be sweetened.

When Gabriel Garcia Marquez penned his works, the most prominent among them being A 100 Years of Solitude, the gist of the matter was not timelessness but rather, Marquez seems to have been exploring the issue of the wheel of life and fortune and how certain events recur in the lives of individuals or the groups within which they live. In our existence, there is a need to be aware of the fact that some things actually never change but come to us time and again in different forms and norms. It is therefore imperative that one should never be scared by the passage of time as is the norm in these present times where the insistence and the emphasis is on age. People are now being classed according to age, and their levels of performance are pigeonholed on the basis of the number of years they have lived on earth; as if age determines the strength and the intelligence of one.

Personal experience has taught me that age is in truth nothing but a number, for there are pliable septuagenarians and octogenarians making decisions for the entire global economy who could not be bothered about their age. We have come to live in a world where the standards are determined by obscure authorities and this results in us feeling the pressure of the natural processes of aging. It sometimes angers one when visibly strong figures are declared unfit to carry on with their duties on the basis of the number of years they have lived. The wise author understands that timelessness is achieved only through accepting one’s human condition, changing with the times resiliently, and always remembering that one cannot rest on their laurels but should constantly be in pursuit of betterness.
The manner with which issues have been dealt with in the current times is sowing a spirit of despair amongst the ranks of citizens in the world. It is as if the best pursuits are in politics and science, as if the other fields of study cannot give answers to previously unanswerable questions. It is a fact that the most lucrative careers are found in politics and science, professionals from other fields are merely called in as honorary members to the symposiums and conferences. This has bred a spirit of complacency in the two classes (science and politics) with one proclaiming that we have to focus on treating disease instead of finding its cures and vaccines, and the other’s talk is focused only around poverty and unemployment, as if these maladies of social economy cannot be done away with. It makes one wonder why the focus cannot be shifted onto methods that actually grant the world a moment of repose so that they can focus on other things meaningful to the process of progress.

AIDS has been here for 40 or more years with no cure in sight, no medical professional is willing to provide answers as to when the cure for the virus shall be found, and Africa buckles under the weight of despair as politicians make the disease a drawcard to gain donations. It is utter rubbish to accept that there is no cure for the disease with the advancements in medical technology. If Edward Jenner introduced vaccination in the late 1700’s with the limited technology he had: how does a medical scientist in the 21st century fail to find a vaccine for a single strain of virus with all the gadgets in the lab? It sounds like a Tuskegee Project (that evil project that went on for more than 40 years even though the cure for syphilis and gonorrhoea had been found with the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928) in progress, a royal scam of gargantuan proportions where people are psychologised into accepting a zombie status on the basis of complacent scientific social theories that are debauched enough to render entire continents as experimental projects. It is a challenge we middle-aged ones have to deal with on a daily basis, the younger ones were born into it so they do not care. Those ones older than us gave in a long time ago; it is a question the writers of this era need to deal with before it engulfs humanity in liver damage caused by constant imbibing of poison in the name of treatment.

The basic reality we face is one of despair, where the rich gain all the glory and the poor have to deal with all that is gory, scrabbling for scraps that are growing more minute with each passing season. The individualistic tendencies of the present times foster a spirit of futile crab-in-a-bucket competition where the ultimate result shall be a sour one for everyone living in the world. It is a lie that prisons shall be built that are large enough to house all the inmates that end up as felons due to the increasing levels of hunger and poverty in the world. It is already a struggle to deal with patients in hospitals due to a lack in facilities and equipment, mollycoddling a disease means that soon enough, it will be back to the Stone Age clinic; unless the disease is a tool meant to cull certain sectors of the world’s population.
The challenge one meets in the middle age as an author is one where the needs outweigh the gains, meaning that for one to survive, they have to be constantly on their feet as a caveman used to do in a land full of beasts and predators in the Stone Age. It is a lie sold to the complacent that things will get better, they never will, unless human beings stop their hyper-capitalist projects that benefit a few whilst disenfranchising the larger majority of the world’s population. It is in the middle age that one begins to understand the truth in Karl Marx’s words: we need a Utopia if humanity is to survive the next century.

Tsépiso Mothibi

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Harnessing imagery in writing



All writing is imaginative. Every piece of writing reflects the artistry and mental resourcefulness of the writer.

Effective writing also reflects the colourfulness of the writer’s mind and heart; their ability to paint the world to the reader and their capacity or facility of taking the reader with them to beautiful mental and physical and picturesque journeys.

In this piece we focus on how we can hone our creative abilities through the use of imagery and the effect of using colourful and evocative imagery in writing. Let’s go! What if I say, “Learn to prepare wisely and meticulously in time,” you will still grasp the message in a very clear way, isn’t it? But would that be interesting and colourful?

But what if we put it in a colourful manner, “Make hay whilst the sun still shines,” you really grasp the colour and the full import of the message, isn’t it? That’s what imagery does to your writing; it allows you to feel, touch and smell what you are reading.

There is no doubt that the proverb, “make hay whilst the sun still shines” has taken you to the countryside, in a farming community. You hear the bleating of sheep and the neighing of horses.

At the same time, you visualise the good farmer gracefully at work, cutting grass which he is piling in orderly stacks, preparing fodder for his animals in the future. The sun’s rays buoy his attempts and ensure that the hay is prepared with care and colour.

Thus, the point of good imagery is to capture in full detail a world that allows the reader to grasp and enjoy using their five senses. Let me give you a small but beautiful extract which further drives home the point.

“With his machete he detached a brittle clod, broke it on a stone. It was full of dead twigs and the residue of dried roots that he crushed in his fingers.

“Look, there isn’t anything left. The water has dried up in the very entrails of the mountain. It’s not worth while looking any further. It’s useless.” Then, with sudden anger, “But why, damn it! Did you cut the woods down, the oaks, the mahogany trees, and everything that grow up there? Stupid people with no sense!”

Thando struggled for a moment to find words. “What else could we do, brother? We cleared it to get new wood. We cut it down for framework and beams for our hearts. We repaired the fences around our fields. We didn’t know ourselves. Ignorance and need go together, don’t they?”

The sun scratched the scorched back of the mountain with its shining fingernails. Along the dry ravine the earth panted. The countryside, baked in drought, began to sizzle.”

What a colourful piece! The extract aptly paints a countryside’s pulse and the rhythms of seasonal and climate change and how that affects the livelihood patterns of the inhabitants. Have you seen how the sun has been endowed with human-like features?

And the description of the earth assuming human-like features, for instance, “the earth panted.” No doubt, you have seen the earth subdued by the intensity of heat in a way that is similar to a person who is panting.

To paint excellent images the writer needs to have the gift of observation. He/she should be able to observe quite a panorama of things around him and immerse them in the soil of their imagination. Let’s see another good extract where you can discern the link between good images, excellent description and the power of observation.

“It’s in the morning, the fourth watch, to borrow from biblical discourse. It’s damp outside. I brace the slicing chilly weather to go outside. There is a drizzle, constant showers seeping deep down. I pace up at least 400 metres from my hood. I see lined-up, almost cubicle-like houses.

I keep walking, with a spring in the step buoyed by the damp aura wrought by the incessant downpours. I take a deep breath, and step back as it were.

I want to be deliberate. I want to take in everything in my environment; the colours, the diverse hues and plethora of landscape contours. I notice a woman, almost in her forties, from my eye-view assumptions. She is grabbing a basket clutched tenaciously almost close to her big bosom.

She is going to Mbare Musika, the famous agricultural market wherein she intends to buy items for her stall. Behind her, there is a big strapped baby covered in velvet. As she briskly walks, I see her jumping a poodle of water as she observes her stall. I also observe a man, clad in sportswear running trying to cure a big belly.

As I keep watching, I see a woman sweeping her small veranda. I keep walking. I see a woman, plump tending to her garden. She seems animated by the drizzle, thanks to the rains.

I hear another woman, especially her piercing voice, she is selling floor polish. Her voice fills the air. As I drown in the sweet voice, I notice a man staggering. He is filthy. He could have calloused the whole night. He is holding a Black Label quart, speaking gibberish in the air. I keep watching.”

So here were are! Writing is a matter of painting with words, carving images and allowing the reader to experience the impact of all the senses so as to fully grasp the sense of what is put across.

Vuso Mhlanga teaches at the University of Zimbabwe. For almost a decade and half he taught English language and Literature in English at high school.

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Politicians’ propensity to score own goals



Lesotho politicians are often in the habit of scoring own goals. For example, look at the circus that took place in the country at the opening of parliament after the winter break. These events remind me of the article that I wrote with the title ‘Scoring own goals’.

This article appeared in this publication dated March 18 – 24, 2021. It argued that Lesotho’s politicians had a propensity to score own goals.

Many say that education and academia should not involve themselves in politics. This belief is a fallacy. The two are intrinsically intertwined. Education and politics link in a complex way.

For instance, parliament is an organ that passes laws that govern and guide national education policies. The interconnectedness includes the curricula that educational institutions and schools teach. Now, if the National Assembly’s focus is misplaced, important legislative decisions may stall or be derailed by lack of action.

I must make a disclaimer though. I am not promoting any view about a political party. I am writing this article purely as a concerned citizen.

I revisit the own goal tendency of those in authority by assessing the drama that unfolded in politics and governance. I review the recent events that culminated in the failed vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Sam Matekane and his government.

I use arguments from research to demonstrate the fluidity of Lesotho’s democracy. Some politicians often take advantage of this fluidity for selfish gain. I contest that the Prime Minister and his government should treat their adversities as stepping stones to meeting their targets.

A constitution is a living document. Accordingly, to keep Lesotho’s constitution alive, current and relevant, parliament should regularly amend it.

However, in so doing, parliament must be careful that tinkering with the country’s constitution does not compromise the essence of democracy they champion. National and democratic principles must form the dogma that underpins the improvements and amendment exercises.

Personal aspirations, ambitions and creed must not underpin the amendments.

The recent events in and out of the National Assembly make one question the perceptions of the different roles players in the democratic playground in Lesotho have.

First, there was a vote of no confidence that the Speaker ruled to defer subject to the high court’s decision.

Second, there was the allegedly drunken MP’s own goal.

The third is the press conference led by the Commissioner of the Lesotho Mounted Police Services flanked by the head of the Lesotho Defence Force and the Director General of the National Security Services.

It is already a hat trick of own goals. Fourth, there was the statement of the Prime Minister claiming an attempted coup.

The fifth own goal is the moratorium that prevented parliament from holding a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister before the lapse of three years of his inauguration.

The sixth is the practice of shirking responsibility by MPs. MPs often refer political matters to the national courts for decisions. The seventh, and the mother of all own goals, is the electoral system that Lesotho elected to pursue. The National Assembly has 120 MPs. There are 80 MPs representing constituencies and 40 proportional representatives.

The Commonwealth suggested that Lesotho review the modalities of the PR nominations. Sekatle and the Commonwealth agree that the PR system introduced plurality but at a cost. The cost is what scholars and commentators term minority rights and coalitions.

Also, it compromises accountability and transparency. It undermines the collective intelligence of the voters. Chief Jonathan warned against coalition governments by citing their instability. Political instability plagues Lesotho today.
Sekatle and the Commonwealth cited the overreliance on a threshold in awarding PR seats in parliament, cheapening them.

The PR system ballooned parliament unnecessarily. By comparison, Botswana had a population of 2.6 million in (2021). Lesotho had 2.3 million (2021). Botswana parliament currently has 65 seats, and Lesotho has 120.

A consequence emanating from the PR system in Lesotho is a hung parliament. Since 2012, there has not been an outright majority in the National Assembly. The results yielded chaos. Over that period, PMs constantly look over their shoulders. All these coalitions imploded.

Democracy is about the majority. Politicians must be persuasive to attract votes to achieve the majority. In other words, the PR system rewards failure.

The own goals cause stagnation. MPs score these own goals by serving their selfish interests. They waste time and energy on trivial things. And yet, they receive full-time salaries and earn allowances such as sittings and petrol allowances. How, then, would one explain that the external urging of parliament had to engage in the reforms exercise?

Today, reforms are lying latent. Politicians use the reform programme as an excuse for ensuring that they retain or access power. In the recent correspondences to SADC, the government and the opposition cite reforms and democracy to justify their actions. But as I write this article, there is nothing much that is happening along the lines of these very reforms. Why?

The starting point of any achievement is desire and definitiveness of purpose. The definitiveness of purpose is more than goal setting. It is one’s roadmap to achieving the overall objectives. Elsewhere, I took the definition of desire as explained by the author, Wallace Wattles.

According to Wattles, ‘Desire is possibility seeking expression, or function seeking performance’. All desires began as a thought. Expressing their desires through a manifesto is a means by which parties attempt to concretise them (their desires).

The starting point of an election campaign is the expression of political intentions and goals through manifestos. A manifesto is a public declaration of aims and policy by a political party or candidate. Political parties express their desires for what they will do in their manifestos.

After elections, these desires become the guiding principles and laws. Politically mature voters would then elect political candidates based on these manifestos.

Who instigated and drove the reforms in Lesotho? The contemporary history of Lesotho reveals that external forces pushed the reforms. Basotho merely reacted. They do not own the reform process. High on the list of their drivers are SADC, the US through AGOA and the European Union.

The practice contradicts Wattles’ definition. According to Wattles definition, desire must emanate from inside the individual, or in our case, from Basotho and be expressed outward through actions.

I do not want to comment too much about the involvement of the security agencies in politics. In my view, the relevant bodies, namely, the Law Society of Lesotho, the media and the opposition parties dealt with their involvement adequately.

Former PM Leabua Jonathan often described democracy as the government of the people by the people. But, the meaning of the construct of democracy is fluid and elusive, depending on the position of governance in Lesotho’s political arena.

Authors Hughes, Kroehler and Vander Zanden explain that democracy is a system in which the powers of government derive from the consent of the governed, namely the masses who vote, in which regular constitutional avenues exist for changing government officials.

The authors characterise the system as one which permits the population a significant voice in decision-making through the people’s right to choose among contenders for political office. Also, the system allows for a broad, relatively equal citizenship among the populace.

Lastly, it affords the citizenry protection from arbitrary state action.

Now, the question is whether the recent activities fit all the three criterias. Are the actions of the MPs who moved for the vote of no confidence in the PM’s government acting in line with Lesotho’s constitution and democracy?

This definition of democracy says that regular constitutional avenues exist for changing government officials. The no confidence vote exists in Lesotho’s constitution. But the PM and his security agencies questioned this. They claim the move by the members of the opposition to dethrone the government was a coup attempt.

The drama began when an MP from the ruling Revolution for Prosperity (RFP), Thabo Moea MP, sought an order from the High Court to delay the motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister until after the completion of the reforms process.

The opposition contests that the prayer by Moea stifles a democratic process for self-serving ends. Subsequently, the Speaker cited this impending case to defer the matter.

The constitution of Lesotho stipulates that the legislature is to pass laws, the executive is to approve and execute them, and the judiciary is to expound and enforce them. But a scholar, Nwafor, claims that the courts in Lesotho often intrude into the functions of the other arms of government.

Lesotho ‘s constitution confers powers on three arms of government in such a manner as would ensure cooperation and coordination in governance. The courts ought to bear in mind that the effective discharge of the responsibilities of the courts largely depends on the effectiveness of the other arms of government.

Nwafor brings up the issue of encroachment. He asserts that the powers of the different arms of government in such a manner would guarantee a coordinated discharge of government responsibilities to the nation. But, parliament overly relies on the courts to make political decisions. The practice encourages the risk of overreaching.

The PR electoral system denies Basotho the right to choose their representatives among contenders for political office. Instead, parties ‘hand pick’ these representatives in the pretext of the constituency elections outcomes. Often, these PR members are the ones who lost their constituency elections.

These are the politicians whose constituencies rejected them. They represent their parties and not the voters. They do not account to the voters.

Both the PM and the opposition made presentations to SADC. They overlooked the electorate. Why would SADC have power and not the electorate that elected the politicians to office? Running to SADC, an outside organisation, to settle Lesotho’s internal problems is not a solution. It is scoring an own goal. Lesotho, with its 57 years of independence, should be able to solve its internal problems.

Nonetheless, I have a completely different take from Mokhothu on the issue of the protest march by the RFP. It is unimportant to find the instigator of the protest march. The people to persuade are the voters, the people who put governments into power in a democracy, not external bodies such as SADC.

Napoleon Hill’s creed reads: ‘Every adversity brings a seed of equivalent or more benefit’. Any business person knows that business is a solution to an economic problem. So, the PM and his colleagues in his party who are business people must look at the adversity emanating from the opposition as a seed of equivalent or better benefit.

The government must dig deep to find how the problem may benefit them.
They must identify their failures and use them as stepping stones to success.

Elsewhere, I presented the views of an American scholar and activist, Anderson, who suggested that marginalised communities must cease granting candidates blank cheques. Instead, the electorate must draw their expectations and demand the campaigning party or candidate promise to meet them.

This practice is called quid pro quo. It enforces accountability and transparency.

You scratch my back, and I scratch yours. Quid pro quo is an example of one of the universal laws that demonstrate reciprocity. Reciprocity is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. The universal law is the Law of Cause and Effect. It means that for every effect, there is an equal cause. You plant a seed, so shall you reap.

Both the government and the opposition ran to SADC for help. Remember, Matekane is a successful businessman. He has, on more than one occasion, explained that he wanted to use his prowess in business to take Lesotho forward. As a businessman, Matekane has faith in his ability.

Words that come to mind here include self-confidence and trust in himself. He believes in himself. Running to SADC does not display this faith in his ability to deal with problems emanating from his opposition.

Hill argues that riches, or any form of success and achievement, begin with a thought. Faith removes limitations. Matekane must apply his faith as a businessman to become a successful politician.

To summarise, the article explores the events emanating from the fiasco of the no-confidence motion. The individuals who ought to champion constitutional democracy in Lesotho betrayed Basotho by scoring hordes of own goals.

I explored the meaning of concepts that helped me unpack some of these own goals. These were democracy, faith and desire. Also, I coupled these with scholarly research views on the constitution of Lesotho.

I contest that while the opposition may argue that they are within their rights to ruffle the government, the PM must use different tactics. He must display faith and confidence in himself and trust Basotho.

The move to influence the voters to back him deserves a big WOW! He must hold more campaigns to persuade voters to support his government. Voters may make or break him.

MPs waste time in discussing trivial issues that have no bearing on the national agenda. Often, they focus on self-serving matters. The RFP promised to refocus Lesotho towards national development and improving the quality of life.

The article also shows that the PR system does not benefit Lesotho. It diminishes accountability and the principle of quid pro quo. Also, it ballooned the numbers in parliament unnecessarily. It increased political instability by forging formations of coalition.

Politicians must refrain from abusing the judiciary by making them make political decisions. Involving the courts in making political decisions leads to encroachment. Encroachment defies democracy.

In conclusion, Matekane must not allow his detractors to derail his mandate. The same is true for the opposition leaders who attempt to dethrone him. No party campaigned on removing sitting PMs.

Also, the MPs must take the responsibilities that Basotho entrusted them with. It is high time that they make the political decisions instead of shifting them to the judiciary or external bodies.

Matekane, his business associates and technocrats in his government should revisit attributes that made them successful. One such attribute is their faith in their abilities. They must remember that riches (and success) begin with a thought, and faith removes limitations.

Dr Tholang Maqutu


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Painting mood effectively



Writing is not different from beautiful artwork. Just like a skilled painter holding a brush with its broad strokes, the writer occupies the same place and vocation in life. Writing is a work of painting life’s experiences, its hues and beautiful unfolding internal journeys. In this piece we focus on mood and how it can be achieved. Many students struggle with understanding and contemplating the scope and ambit of mood in writing.
It is hard to define and frame the scope of mood in writing. What really constitutes mood? Generally, mood encapsulates the totality of the “air” or “spirit” or “aura” that a certain work of art evokes in the human mind, feeling or sensibility. There is a certain dominant feature or streak associated with a certain work of art, place or person.

There is something which is evoked in our hearts which is associated with a certain place, person or event. Every place or event or person carries or imbues with him or her a certain mood or sensibility; and there is a panorama of sensibilities; for instance, a happy or sombre or whimsical mood. We will now focus on a certain extract and discern how it paints mood.

“He quickly rights himself and keeps walking, but there is an unsteadiness to his knees. He has been given many looks in this quarter – dirty ones, blank ones, sympathetic ones, annoyed ones. For the most part, he had learned to tolerate those than can be tolerated, and ignore those that should be ignored, but the look this woman gave him is not a look one gives to humans but to flies, ticks, cockroaches, fleas…Thato feels anger, then humiliation, then something nameless. If he were in his own country he would turn and confront the woman; but now he’s hurt, wounded, a part of him wishing he were invisible. Breathing evenly, he walks with care, only lifting his eyes once he reaches his own quarters, among his own people. He proceeds to his shack. He could stop by Thapelo’s, his neighbour, where he knows that men and women are already congregated to watch videos from home. Yet, no matter the promise of good fellowship and laughter, Thabo does not join them. Watching videos is a form of forgetting; the 2008 elections, the police with batons, the soldiers with guns, the militia with machetes. Do you remember? Limbs broken. Roofs blazing. I remember.”

This extract is characterised by the intensity of feeling and evokes feelings of sadness, despair and pain. The excerpt paints a harrowing and blood-curdling account which produces a sombre, dull and subdued mood. Thato, the protagonist in the story is in a foreign land. He was impelled to leave his country as a result of political violence which saw many people lose limbs and lives. He feels lonely and unwanted in the foreign land. He feels lost and alienated.

There are sentiments of xenophobia expressed through the glances of citizens of the foreign country he is in. Even if he were to entertain himself together with his countrymen residing in that foreign land, Thato still felt a deep and nagging feeling of being an outcast. Thus, we have made very deep and broad descriptions of the circumstances in which the protagonist finds himself with a view to demonstrate how mood is created in a narrative. The creation of mood feeds into the description of the character’s circumstances, his mindset and the space and place in which he finds himself.

Mood, as we have demonstrated from the portrayal of Thato’s experience, has a link with pathos. Pathos is that streak of sadness which pervades a story and creates empathy in the reader. The aim of effective writing is to move the reader and to impel him towards certain sensibilities which are of an affective kind. Mood, when effectively created, allows the reader to grasp meaning which is not directly said in the story or composition.

Meaning in a story is an interaction between the words in a text as read together with the effect of the words, the tone used and the created mood. There are certain words in a text which do not just communicate, but etches in the reader’s mind certain thoughts, viewpoints and feelings. These words would be so evocative. One such word describes Thato’s deepest sense of alienation in the extract given above.

The word describes him as nursing a wish of invisibility, he felt or wished he were ‘invisible.’ His wish for invisibility is of great importance. It portrays how he was deeply affected by the loathing expressed in the eyes of those looking at him with hate and disdain.

So, here we are! Creating a mood is a craft which takes time to acquire and hone. But when achieved, it makes effective reading and allows the reader to get meaning which goes beyond the text.

Vuso Mhlanga teaches at the University of Zimbabwe. For almost a decade and half he taught English language and Literature in English at high school. Send your comments and questions to:

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