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Nhlanhla Maake’s epistolary novel



South African writer, Nhlanhla Maake’s novel, Letters to My Sister, is what is called an epistolary novel. This is a novel told through the medium of letters written by one or more of the characters.
This term comes from the word ‘epistle’ which means letter. Some speak more broadly and say an epistolary work of literature is one written through a series of documents. Most often, these documents are letters, though they can also be diary entries, newspaper clippings, and, more recently, blog posts and emails.

Pamela by Samuel Richardson (1740) is considered one of the earliest epistolary novels in English. In African literature, Mariama Ba’s So Long a letter is a famous example of an epistolary novel. It is written in the voice of Ramatoulaye who is a school teacher in Senegal. It is addressed to her friend called Aissatou. The letters relate Ramatoulaye’s emotional experiences after her husband’s second marriage and his death.
The advantages of the novel in letter form are that it presents an intimate view of the character’s thoughts and feelings without interference from the writer and that it conveys the shape of events to come with dramatic immediacy. Also, the presentation of events from several points of view lends the story dimension and credibility.

In other words, epistolary novels do not need omniscient narrators to explain what every character is thinking and living through, because we as readers get access through their own words.
Epistolary novels can be further classified into three very broad groups. First, there is the monologic epistolary novel which is made up of letters or diary entries from only one person throughout, with no responses from the recipient as in The Colour Purple and Letters to My Sister.
The second type of the epistolary novel is the Dialogic epistolary which is a novel with letters between two characters as in David Mutasa’s Nyambo Dzejoni. The third type of epistolary novel is called the Polylogic which is a novel with three or more characters who write letters to one another in no particular order.

It is known that other epistolary novels may combine all or some of the above techniques. Some of the novels like Charles Mungoshi’s Branching Streams Flow in the Dark are partial epistolary novels as the letters form may not be sustained throughout the novel.
Letters to My Sister was first published by Heinemann in the Sesotho language as Mangolo a Nnake. It was later translated to English by the author and became republished 2012.

In this novel, Ntšebo, who lives with her husband in the area around Thokoza and Katlehong in Johannesburg, South Africa. The woman writes letters capturing the turmoil in these areas towards the 1994 watershed election. She is writing these very personal letters to her sister, ’Masechaba who is in their home country, Lesotho.
In 1990 the National Party government entered into negotiations with opposition groups and liberation movements leading to South Africa’s non racial elections in April 1994, however that four year period sparked maybe the bloodiest political violence in South Africa. This is the period that this novel covers.

Through these letters the reader notices that there is very chilling violence between black people of different politics and tribes and between people of the hostels against those who stay in the proper residential location. They appear to be instigated by the apartheid system to kill each other. The system is also arming one group against the other.
In the most horrendous letter of 1 June 1991 Ntšebo indicates that a woman of the proper township is dragged from a taxi by a hostel mob who keep her for weeks in the hostels as they gang rape her. They sometimes take her to the city to buy her groceries and return to the hostels to eat and gang rape her again. One day she escapes through the back door of a city shop where they have taken her to buy the groceries.

Sometimes they enact unlawful roadblocks and take dozens of people from the taxis to go and slaughter them en masse. At a funeral, when the burial rituals were completed, before the coffin descends into the grave, the hostel mourners draw their spears and rush into township to avenge the death of their friend and after sometime they return to the cemetery with their weapons dripping human blood.

After the funeral, they return to the hostels to wash hands in the bath tub and a man sees that the tub does not contain only water but also blood and human parts cut into pieces. He also sees a human ear floating in the water.
In these letters to ’Masechaba, Ntšebo does not write about the violence visited on the residents by people from the adjacent hostels only. She also chronicles how her relationship with her husband, Abuti Molemi, is faltering. Eventually they separate. The unequal relations between men and women in African society, comes to the fore through this novel.
Ntšebo’s Sesotho world view also comes out clearly in all these letters as she throws in Sesotho proverbs and sayings.

Since time immemorial, the epistolary novel allows a novelist to create a character who is at a moment of pouring out with no inhibitions. It is assumed that the character is writing in the personal and intimate situation that only a letter provides. As you read, the letter form allows you to snoop into the supposedly unedited materials. Confidential space also becomes public.

Ntšebo writes letters to ’Masechaba for two years. She starts from 2 January 1991 to 11 August 1993, sometimes once a week, then once a month and eventually once in two months. In this book, you sense Ntsebo’s heart beat even when she sometimes receives no responses from her sister in Lesotho.
Her first letter begins with: “’Masechaba, My dear sister. I am writing this letter in bed, without anyone looking after me…I don’t want to bother you with my problems, because I know that you have your own difficulties…”
The above takes you to how the epistolary has capacity to employ verbal irony. If Ntšebo does not want to bother ’Masechaba, then exactly why does she write all these letters? What could be her intention of writing, if it is not to share her problems? She is the skillful and folkloric African narrator with capacity for double talk too.

You even ask yourself, why doesn’t Ntšebo phone and chat? Why write all these letters? But you recall that this is South Africa of 1991 and there is no easy phone technology like we have now in 2021. But, as if anticipating this question, the author causes Ntšebo to write: “I would call you if I could, but the phone line was disconnected in the year just gone by, during the month of August. He has been promising that he would settle the bill so that they should reconnect it, but up to this day he has done nothing about it.”
From the very start, this epistolary novel continues to be aware of the existence of the phone as a competitor to the letter form and insists on finding technical reasons why Ntšebo is using the letter and not the phone.

In her third letter, Ntšebo says that the phone is not yet fixed and that is why she is not phoning and resorting to writing letters. In the fifth letter, she admits that at least she had phoned and spoken to ’Masechaba but she failed to phone again hence writing the fifth letter.
When Ntšebo writes the seventh letter, she says it is necessitated by the fact that she does not know if her previous letter reached ’Masechaba and that many things have taken place in the interim, forcing her to write again.

Two letters down the lane, Ntšebo gives another very technical reason for writing instead of phoning: “I wonder whether you received the last two letters that I wrote you last month? I am so broke that I can’t even go to the post office to phone you. I have to save every cent that I have for food.”
The epistolary also continues to defend itself by explaining why Ntšebo continues to write instead of visiting family in Lesotho. Sometimes she explains why she has taken too long without writing another letter or why she has written again just within two days of the previous letter. All these are some of the key demands of the epistolary novel because all the gaps and silences or omissions have to be explained to the reader.

The relationship between Ntšebo and her husband runs parallel to their unpredictable relationship with the low life people of the hostels. When the killings perpetrated by hostel people start, Ntšebo’s husband and colleagues like abuti Lefosa, form special community based patrol groups to protect their residential area. Molemi and Lefosa appear like decent and well to do men who are lawful and responsible.
But as time goes on, Ntšebo notices that the respectable Lefosa is being supported by Ntšebo’s husband to conduct an illicit love affair with a lady whom he calls “my uncle’s daughter.” Soon Lefosa disappears with no explanation. Ntšebo soon notices that her own Molemi is also having lots of love affairs instead of being just on patrol.

At that level, we might say that this epistolary novel operates also as a detective novel. First; Ntšebo notices that Molemi comes home with his underwear worn inside out! She writes: “As soon as he came in, I put his food in the oven…He said no thanks, he was still ok…when he came to the bedroom and prepared to go to bed, I was surprised to see his underpants inside out and one of his socks was also inside out…I remembered that when he left in the morning I was awake and saw that he was properly dressed.”

All this hints to the fact that Molemi must have had taken off his pants and stockings somewhere away from the home! Ntšebo also starts to notice that her husband is now falling asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow. He no longer has his usual sex drive. She also observes that the car windscreen sun flaps are always down on the passenger seat side. This means that there is now some woman sitting on that place in the car at sunset every day with Molemi.

Ntšebo also notices that when her husband gets home in the night, he leaves the car several blocks away and walks into the yard to have sex with the woman in their outer house. After the game, she notices that he then goes back stealthily to the road and drives the car into the yard, pretending to just having arrived!
Eventually Molemi is over-excited about the sex he receives from the woman in the outer house that he buys a bed for the woman. But those who deliver the bed thinks it is for Ntsabe and take the bed to Ntsabe in the main house yet the name indicated in their papers is of the woman in the outer house.

Finally Ntsabe cannot stand it and she moves out of the house to find a shack in a different location. By the time the story ends, they are staying apart. But Ntšebo goes to school to learn to design and make clothes. Finally she is able to look after herself. She has found her freedom at last.
The author of this novel, Nhlanhla Maake, was born in Eastwood (1956). He grew up in Thokoza, attended primary school there and in Eastwood and matriculated at Immaculata High School in Soweto.

He took degrees at the University of the North, University of the Wits and others. His novels won the Erns van Heerden Creative Writing Award, MNET Book Prize and the African Heritage Literary Award. Maake has published more than twenty books of fiction and non-fiction in Sesotho and English. He is married and is a grandfather.

Memory Chirere



An open letter to President Hichilema



Your Excellency,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours truly

Khasane Ramolefe

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Culture quibbles



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Joker Returns: Conclusion



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Dunton

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