Connect with us

Insight

Multiple citizenship in Lesotho

Published

on

Some of the causes of political instability in Lesotho are related to the fact that secure livelihood is very difficult for majority of Basotho because Lesotho is a small country with limited natural resources. Against this background, allowing Basotho to gain access to citizenship of South Africa and other countries has been touted as one of the ways in which socio-economic well-being can be secured for majority of Basotho, and, thereby, political stability established in the country.

At present, Section 41 of Lesotho’s Constitution bars citizens of Lesotho from simultaneously holding citizenship of Lesotho and that of another country. This paper discusses legal and political issues pertaining to multiple-citizenship in Lesotho.
Primarily, the paper looks at the legal position regarding multiple-citizenship in Lesotho; the stance of Lesotho’s political elites on the subject; and examines the potential of multiple-citizenship to reduce political instability in Lesotho.

Background

Lesotho is a small overcrowded country with a small economy that cannot support the well-being of society as a whole. Majority of the population are concentrated on the country’s ecological zone known as the ‘lowlands’, a small, arable but agriculturally-marginal and intensively cultivated strip of land that constitutes 17 percent of the country’s land mass.

Seventy-four per cent of the country’s topography comprises of the ‘foothills’ and ‘highlands’ where even more reduced capacity to grow food combines with other conditions, such as harsh climate and other inhospitable conditions, to make human habitation very difficult. Countrywide, in areas that are habitable, population density is estimated at 59 inhabitants per square kilometre.
Both under colonial rule (1868-1966) and after independence, economic survival has greatly depended on, and benefited from proximity with, more endowed South Africa. For society in general, Basotho’s ability to enter South Africa legally and illegally in search of jobs and necessities has provided a lifeline to many households in Lesotho.

For the Lesotho state, an old South Africa-dominated Customs Union, established during colonial rule, has been a major source of income and basis of national budgeting.
On both fronts, however, changes have occurred; two of these are worth mentioning. First, Basotho’s ability to move freely into South Africa in search of jobs has become increasingly restricted, as South Africa tightened its immigration controls, over the years. Second, Lesotho state’s income from the Customs Union, which contributes 44% of public spending,1 has fallen by close to 45%, from 29.2% of GDP, in 2014/2015, to 16.4% of GDP, in 2016/2017.2

This unfolding situation has contributed significantly to economic insecurity in Lesotho. Restrictions on Basotho’s cross-border movement into South Africa has increased their inability to access employment in South Africa, and has, thereby, increased unemployment in Lesotho, and intensified struggles for decent livelihood.

For many Basotho, the option has been to cross illegally, or to cross legally but end up violating South Africa’s immigration laws by overstaying, or working illegally. Cases of South African police’s arrests of Basotho found residing and working illegally in South Africa are quite frequent. They are sources of state-to-state tensions between governments of Lesotho and South Africa.
The view of South African government officials is that, Lesotho government do not do enough to help South Africa enforce its immigration laws. For their part, Lesotho government officials have to make representations, to the South African government, on behalf of Basotho who complain about ill-treatment and harassment, including deportations, by South African immigration officials.

Success and failure in struggles for power in Lesotho — which have increased in intensity, since 1993 — are, in large part, dependent on, first, the political elites’ access to public resources which they use to dispense patronage, and, second, on availability of an electorate rendered amenable to patronage because of its economic circumstances. On the one hand, dwindling income from Customs Union has meant that, the political elites do not have, at their disposal, enough means by which to dispense patronage; on the other hand, increased poverty and unemployment among the electorate has greatly increased the amenability of society to patronage.

This breeds political instability in that, the larger society is easily drawn into the intense struggles for state power between factions of the political elites.  Sections of the larger population participate in these intense fights for state power hoping that victory of the sides they support will guarantee patronage from dwindling state resources.

Crucially, sections of larger society that become drawn into these struggles include elements in groups such as the army, and quasi-militarised groups of youth allied to different political parties and supported by elements in the army. It is in these ways that, intense struggles for state power that take place within a small section of society — that is to say, the political elite — become generalised throughout larger society and assume character of national political instability.

Because the persistent political instability that results from the economic and political contexts described above is ascribed, at least, in part, to Basotho’s being overcrowded on small, marginal territory with bleak current and future economic prospects, the search for ways of achieving political stability in Lesotho has focussed on areas, including: abolition of immigration controls on the border between Lesotho and South Africa, freedom for Basotho to work in South Africa, and repeal of Section 41 of Lesotho’s Constitution to enable Basotho to acquire citizenship of other countries in order to gain access to economic benefits that can accrue from citizenship of such countries.

This chapter discusses legal and political issues pertaining to multiple-citizenship in Lesotho. Primarily, the paper looks at the legal position regarding, and examines the stance of Lesotho’s political elites on, multiple-citizenship.

Evolution of Citizenship Legislation in Lesotho: Citizenship Legislation as a means to persecute Political Opponents

Among pre-colonial Basotho, bases of senses akin to ‘citizenship’ included membership of, or being born in, or having blood relations with members of, a community that formed a chiefdom; subjecthood to a particular chief; and having rights to territory claimed by that community, and ruled by the particular chief.

In law, the former — sense of belonging based on community and kinship — is called jus sanguinis, or ‘right of blood’; while the latter — that is, a sense of belonging based on birth and other rights to particular territory — is called jus soli, or ‘right to the soil’.
Basotho chiefdoms were small, largely autonomous, and loosely connected to each other by kin and other socio-political ties. In this arrangement, individuals and groups were free to choose which chiefdom they attached themselves to, or territory where they wanted to live.

As in notions of citizenship, as understood today, belonging to a community that occupied a particular territory, under a particular chief, carried with it obligations and rights. Individuals and groups could not be members of more than one community, or subjects of more than one chief, or enjoy right-to-territory in more than one territory; as a Sesotho saying goes, ‘no-one can be a subject of two chiefs’.
Those who preferred to live in a different territory could easily leave their current territory to go and make a living in another territory, under a different chief, or perhaps, found a new chiefdom.

Equally, individuals and groups who became unhappy under their current chief could easily leave him, and attach themselves to another chiefdom of their choice. In those cases, such individuals and groups lost, in particular, rights to land and resources of land that belonged to the previous community.

This ability of individuals and groups to leave a bad leader for a good leader put limits on the tendency of chiefs to abuse their powers: good chiefs attracted adherents, and bad chiefs lost adherents — or retained their allegiance by incurring costs on means of force by which to secure disgruntled subjects allegiance.

With colonisation, and in typical practices of empires, Basotho were regarded as subjects of the British Empire, and accorded some citizenship rights of the Empire, or the Commonwealth. These were mainly legal rights, and excluded Basotho from many political and social rights that were availed to European citizens of the Empire in England and in the colonies.

Within the region, modern Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa, and Swaziland were British colonies. For much of the colonial period, the British had a plan by which territories of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland were to be incorporated into South Africa.
This plan informed much colonial policy-making for the envisaged future relationship between South Africa and the other territories. It was partly in accord with the incorporation plan that, the British managed a largely relaxed regime of people’s movement and residence rights within the four colonies, which continued for over fifty years after South Africa gained independence under white minority rule, in 1910.

Because of this relaxed regime of people’s movement and residence in the four colonies, where people called home was determined more by where people with whom they had strongest ties lived, than by membership of a nation and a country. Border restrictions between South Africa and Lesotho were introduced in July, 1963. That gave Basotho a sense of being excluded from South Africa, and, arguably, crystallised a sense of being ‘citizens’ of Lesotho, and not South Africa.

Immediately after independence, Lesotho parliament passed Lesotho Citizenship Act of 1967.
The Act was intended to “ . . . make provision, to the extent permitted or required by the Constitution, for the acquisition, deprivation and renunciation of citizenship of Lesotho . . . ” and “to specify, in relation to persons, by what date those persons shall have done what is required by the Constitution in relation to dual citizenship, and to make provision for related and connected matters.”5

The 1967 Act described, and allowed, citizenship by naturalisation and by registration. Beyond this, it seemed to assume jus soli and jus sanguinis citizenship rights; that is, other than those who could acquire citizenship by naturalization and registration, the law recognised, and the state could grant, citizenship rights to anyone born in Lesotho, and anyone with blood relatives in Lesotho could claim citizenship rights in the country. Applications, or claims, of citizenship could be made on the strength of a male, not female, parent’s citizenship of Lesotho.

Passage of the Act can be seen more as part of process of acquisition of trappings of nation-statehood at independence, and less as an instrument to deal with any political, social or economic problem that the new country was facing.
The 1967 Act was succeeded, only four years later, by Lesotho Citizenship Order No. 16 of 1971. The 1971 Order was substantially similar to its predecessor. Coming, as it did, in the aftermath of Chief Leabua Jonathan’s seizure of power by force, and his suspension of the Constitution, after losing elections of January, 1970, the Order seems more to have been intended as a means to circumvent constitutional requirements that the government needed to meet in its actions regarding recognising, granting, or depriving citizenship rights. Importantly, the Order made it possible for the regime to persecute its political opponents under the catch-all phrase ‘national security’.

Lesotho’s Citizenship Legislation and Multiple Citizenship

A primary relationship that states and rulers seek to establish and maintain with their subjects and citizens is one in which states and rulers exercise complete and undivided sovereignty over their citizens and subjects. However, objective political and economic conditions of human existence have always been such that, individuals and groups often find themselves having to break away from oppressive rulers, or to seek making a living in other ‘greener’ territories.

Attempts may be of a complete break, in which individuals and groups permanently renounce territorial rights and rights of membership to a particular nation, or community; or an incomplete break in which individuals and groups maintain, or wish to maintain, rights in previous territory and previous community.

This tension—between states and rulers seeking to establish and maintain complete and undivided sovereignty over subjects and citizens, on the one hand, and individuals and groups seeking to break away, partly or completely, and establish themselves in politically less oppressive, and economically more beneficial circumstances, on the other — has a long history and continues in modern times.
Responses of states and rulers have varied. Some have hung steadfastly to laws that prohibit multiple citizenship; while some have made adjustments that give ‘non-citizens’ varying degrees of rights, from outright citizenship, at one extreme, to limited rights of movements, civic participation, and socio-economic rights, at another. Such is the case, for example, in the European Union, whose member countries practise what is called disaggregated citizenship.

Lesotho’s Citizenship Act of 1967 made reference to ‘dual citizenship’ with an intention to eliminate it. Sections 4, 5 and 7 of the Citizenship Order of 1971 required applicants of Lesotho citizenship to be “willing to take an oath of allegiance”, and to be “willing to renounce any other nationality or citizenship” that they might be enjoying at time of applying for citizenship of Lesotho.
With intention to prohibit dual citizenship, Section 41(1) of Lesotho’s 1993 Constitution clearly states that “[a]ny person who… is a citizen of Lesotho and also a citizen of some country other than Lesotho shall cease to be a citizen of Lesotho… unless he has renounced his citizenship of that other country, taken the oath of allegiance…”9

Lesotho Political Elites’ Attitude Towards Multiple Citizenship

There are not clearly-stated reasons why Lesotho political elites — writers of the Constitution, legislators, cabinet ministers, etc. — are opposed to dual citizenship. It can only be surmised that, the bases for their objections include fears of state’s loss of complete rights to its citizens and, perhaps, issues of national security.

However, as with Citizenship Order of 1971, it can be said with certainty that, citizenship legislation enables whoever is in power to persecute political opponents. Thus, when, in 2007, officials of the government of Lesotho sought to deport Adam Lekhoaba — a broadcaster who had run programmes critical of the ruling party — they accused him of both being an alien and of causing political instability in the country.

This section of the paper discusses some of the publically-stated concerns against changing Section 41 of the country’s Constitution with a view to allow the holding of Lesotho’s citizenship with that of another country, or other countries.
Being words by individuals who write and enact Lesotho’s laws, and rule the country, the statements reported here, and the attitudes of those who made them towards multiple citizenship, can be taken as some explanation of prohibition of multiple citizenship in Lesotho’s Constitution and subordinate laws.

One of the most powerful voices that have publically expressed fears and concerns about changing Section 41 of Lesotho’s Constitution to make dual citizenship possible is that of Dr Pakalitha Mosisili, several times Prime Minster of Lesotho.
Dr Mosisili has expressed concern that, changing Section 41 of Lesotho’s Constitution will make it possible for South Africans to vote in Lesotho’s national elections. As can be seen, below, he persuades his followers to join his opposition to dual citizenship by invoking the ‘spectre’ of Lesotho’s incorporation into South Africa. The rhetoric lacks either any nationalist substance, or logic, of any type.

Speaking during a brief period when he was out of power, in April 2013, he told his followers:

There are 46 million people in South Africa comprising Basotho, Shanganis and Zulus. If we were to allow for dual citizenship, they would swallow us raw because they will also seek Lesotho citizenship . . . This is one way this… government is intending to hand us over to South Africa. I therefore urge you people to be careful, very careful.

Beyond glib references to a “ . . . danger lurking on the horizon . . . ” if Lesotho allows dual citizenship; equating dual citizenship to “ . . . selling out Lesotho to South Africa . . . ”; and sowing fears of Lesotho being “ . . . swallowed by South Africa”, politicians opposed to dual citizenship, such as Dr Mosisili, are not able to state clearly what is wrong with dual citizenship.
Contrary to their views, participation of South Africans who hold Lesotho’s citizenship in Lesotho politics may, indeed, be a good thing for Lesotho democracy in that, Lesotho’s politicians and their parties will have to think about an electorate with a different political consciousness in their attempts to gain power.

Anyhow, for anyone to vote in Lesotho’s elections they have to be citizens. As things stand, it is more likely that people from Lesotho will apply for South African citizenship than South Africans apply for citizenship of Lesotho.
Seemingly, this opposition to dual citizenship is not limited to Lesotho’s political elites but it exists among other sections of Basotho society. Thus, in 2013, a survey conducted for AfroBarometer found that “ . . . a majority of survey respondents — 60% — said people do not have a right to be citizens of Lesotho and a second country.” Significantly, however, the survey found that, of the six southern African countries where similar surveys were conducted, even at 33%, support for dual citizenship in Lesotho was the highest, surpassing that of the next country, South Africa, by ten percentage points. Of the other countries, Zimbabwe scored 22%, Namibia 20%, Botswana 13%, and Malawi 11%.

Even more significant, perhaps, is the fact that, research evidence has been presented showing various levels of support for an even more contentious idea of incorporation. According to this research,

. . .41% of Basotho migrants continue to favour integration. Within Lesotho, 46% of respondents also support incorporation. But residents in the North appear most interested in the prospect of becoming part of South Africa, in contrast with the inhabitants of the Maseru region (56% against it), where the interest of many lies in preserving the status quo.

Some of the opposition to the idea of dual citizenship, such as that attributed to Prime Minister Mosisili above, gives the impression that, if the law is changed, all Basotho will be required to apply for dual citizenship from, in particular, South Africa. First, the changed law would not prescribe countries from which Basotho should apply for dual citizenship.

Secondly, and, perhaps, more importantly, changing Section 41 of Lesotho’s 1993 Constitution will not force all Basotho to apply for South African citizenship, or any other country’s citizenship. Those who will not want to do so will be free to remain with Lesotho’s citizenship alone, and, by doing so, they will not be breaking any law.

 

Majority of Basotho may opt not to apply for dual citizenship, but, like all Basotho, they will enjoy the freedom of choice that will result from removal of constitutional prohibition against dual citizenship.

By: Motlatsi Thabane

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Insight

We need a coordinated approach on youth challenges

Published

on

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

Continue Reading

Insight

Call that a muffin?

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Insight

Lessons from Israel: Part 3

Published

on

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

Continue Reading
Advertisement

ADVERTISEMENT

Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending