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Observations on African Literature

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Recently I strayed upon Lewis Nkosi’s very thought-provoking views on African literature. The South African writer and academic has inspired and inspiring thoughts that led me to want to randomly revisit observations made by writers and scholars on aspects of African Literature and African writers.

“The African novel in the European languages is sometimes damned for its double ancestry which is both African and European,” begins Lewis Nkosi in one of his essays.

He proceeds and says that the African novel is “the bastard child of many cultures and genres, the accumulator of many styles and traditions… and that the African novel therefore, cannot properly reflect African reality.” Quite a mouthful.

It is in this context that the debate on the appropriate language of African literature alone is interesting. Cyprian Ekwensi, another great African writer, makes very interesting comments about this matter and others. Speaking to Bernth Lindfors way back in 1973, Ekwensi says that “the Igbo writer has the unfortunate heritage of finding himself in an atmosphere of controversy…because today the authorised form of Igbo is spoken seldom, if at all. I am free to tell a story in Igbo to my parents or my friends, but if I wrote that same story, it would not be acceptable as standard Igbo…”Ekwensi says that for that reason alone.

Many of his earliest works are in English and not his Igbo language. “My original folk tales are in Igbo but they were not acceptable without proper editing by the authorities who controlled written Igbo.” In Cyprian Ekwensi’s great English novel, Burning Grass, there is a delicious and delicate use of the supernatural called the sokugo or the wandering charm.

The story revolves around a series of adventures involving the Fulani in the Sunsaye family, particularly Mai Sunsaye, head of the household and chief of Dokan Toro.

Cyprian Ekwensi grew up in the northern part of Nigeria and as a result of his contact with the Fulani, he was able to appreciate their culture which he portrays through his first novel titled Burning Grass, one of his best novels. It was published in 1962 in the African writer’s Series Collection.

Asked on the African writer’s dilemma of trying to reach a wider audience versus the need to write in African languages, prominent Ghanaian author, Ama Ata Aidoo says that she worries a lot about writing in English, a language “that is not accessible to our people.”

Aidoo continues and says that she is, however, acutely aware that “writing in English makes it possible for me or any African writer to communicate with other people throughout the continent who share their colonial language….I have not pretended to myself that I have an answer. I have also thought that, whilst one is aware of the language issue as big, it is better for a writer to write in English, than not to write at all.”

The debate over the language of African literature has continued to generate significant interest ever since the emergence of African literary writing in European languages. The writers and critics who gathered at Makerere in Uganda in June 1962 at a conference called: “A Conference of African Writers of English Expression” faced the fundamental question of determining who qualified as an African writer and what qualified as African writing.

Was it literature produced in Africa or about Africa? Could African literature be on any subject, or must it have an African theme? Should it embrace the whole continent or South of the Sahara, or just black Africa? And then the question of language. Should it be in indigenous African languages or should it include Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Afrikaans, and so on?

A year later, a Nigerian critic, Obi Wali, writing in the famous essay “The Dead End of African Literature” in Transition 10 said:

“Perhaps the most important achievement of the conference … is that African literature as now defined and understood leads nowhere.”
He declared that the literature written in European languages did not qualify as African literature. He further pointed out that until African writers accept the fact that any true African literature must be written in African languages, they would be merely pursuing a dead end.

Although Chinua Achebe countered Wali’s position, Ngugi wa Thiongo embraced it, transforming the call for a return to African languages into a critical crusade that has lasted for more than three decades.

Achebe’s argument is as follows:
“Those of us who have inherited the English language may not be in a position to appreciate the value of the inheritance. Or we may go on resenting it because it came as part of a package deal which included many other items of doubtful value and the pos¬itive atrocity of racial arrogance and prejudice, which may yet set the world on fire. But let us not in rejecting the evil, throw out the good with it.”

However, in his book of essays called “Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature,” Ngugi describes the damaging effects of colonialism on African literature, education, and culture. Ngugi describes the conflict between the economic effects of imperialism, still present in Africa, and the need for economic and cultural independence for African people. Ngugi views language and literature as playing a central role in this struggle. He asserts that language is essential to people’s self-perception and to their view of the universe.

He laments that despite his former status as only a student with one major publication, at the time of the Makerere meeting, he was invited while all the prominent Gikuyu writers were not. He describes the ways in which the colonial education system changed African perceptions of their language, and by extension, of themselves. He recounts the divide that he and other African children experienced between the languages of their home and the language of schooling. He retells his experiences of severe punishments that were inflicted on African children for speaking their native tongues in school. Some of the most brutal instances, which Ngugi recounts, include corporal punishment, humiliation, and fines. As a result, Ngugi declared that he would return to writing only in Gikuyu.

It is often stated that the Zimbabwean writer, Dambudzo Marechera looked down upon his mother tongue, Shona. On 6 May, 1982, it appears as if Marechera put his so-called diatribe against Shona into context. He is quoted by Veit Wild in 2004 as having said at a gathering:

“In Zimbabwe,” he declared, “we have these two great indigenous languages, ChiShona and SiNdebele”…”Who wants us to keep writing these ShitShona and ShitNdebele languages, this missionary chickenshit? Who else but the imperialists?”
Marechera could have been putting forward the argument that the kind of Shona and Ndebele narratives churned out from the 1950’s to 1980, were heavily manipulated by the establishment through the Southern Rhodesian Literature Bureau. A thorough study on this matter reveals that the Bureau was created in 1956 as part of the Ministry of Information. Its salient objective was to direct the novel along “the path of least ideological resistance to the Rhodesian government.”

Its founding director, a Mr. Krog, set out to search for subversive material in every manuscript before it was published. This was counterproductive to the development of the novel in Shona and Ndebele rendering it generally ‘silent on contemporary socio-political crises’ and having characters who are ‘neutral on colonial economic policies.’ It is also argued that this saw the development of fiction ‘dabbling in stereotypes based on idealistic morality and caused ‘a dearth of exploratory historical fiction.’

As a result of these influences, the Shona novel is torn between protesting against colonialism and, ironically, persuading the reader that colonialism delivered the black folk into modernity and a higher plane of existence.

The new urban setting is portrayed as destroying the Shona people’s well being, their harmony and decency. Patrick Chakaipa’s Garandichauya (1963), for example, operates in the same mode. In this novel, the rise of the urban centre is the rise of wildness and immorality.

However, the veiled suggestion (in such works) that the black people should remain in the tribal trust lands, if they are going to make real sense of their lives, is rather startling.

Asked on what he thinks is the role of the African writer and African literature itself, Cyprian Ekwensi says, “I believe that the role of the writer is dictated by the social and political atmosphere in his country. If all the writers were locked up…they would find it difficult to do anything. But if writers were listened to as a voice, the warning voice or the voice of the prophet, Africa might benefit.”

This is more or less in line with Chinua Achebe’s views on the role of a writer in society. Achebe considered himself a teacher and lawgiver. He was aware that he was not just an artist but a cultural activist too. He felt deeply about the way Africans were looked down upon. He always hoped that maybe his books could straighten that up.

Achebe’s actual words are:

“The (African) writer cannot expect to be excused from the task of re-education and regeneration that must be done. In fact he should march right in front . . . I for one would not wish to be excused. I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones set in the past: Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God) did no more than teach my readers that their past – with all its imperfections – was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them. Perhaps what I write is applied art as distinct from pure art. But who cares? Art is important but so is education of the kind I have in mind. And I don’t see that the two need be mutually exclusive…”

Kenyan writer Micere Mugo makes very critical observations on certain issues in African Literature. Through her scholarship and poetry, you quickly see that Micere Githae Mugo is an avowed Marxist, feminist and nationalist. Her position is informed by a nuanced understanding of African women in the context of history.

Talking to Adeola James in 1986, she says, “The kind of writer that I have a lot of time and respect for is a writer like Alex La Guma. I admire the fact that his writing was not only talking about struggle, but he was part and parcel of the struggle in South Africa. I admire somebody like Ngugi wa Thiongo, whose example and position in life has demonstrated his commitment to the struggle of the Kenyan people. This kind of writer I want to identify with.”

About women and feminism, Mugo says, “The African woman occupies the lowest rung of the ladder.” She clearly states that women in Africa are oppressed by both African patriarchy and colonialism. To her, they bear the double yoke. Mugo says that as feminists, we must know that not all women are oppressed because some women are part of the oppressive capitalist class because of their own historical positions and race. More specifically, Mugo says, “There is nothing wrong in singing about women but I think we must be careful to define and specify which women we are singing about…”

On the question of whether the African woman writer is muted or not, Ama Ata Aidoo says that the question of the African woman writer being muted has to do with the position of women in society in general.

She feels that African women writers are just receiving the general neglect and disregard that women in the larger society receives. Aidoo says she understands the concern that in African Literature maybe there is no woman writer who has risen to the stature of Achebe or Ngugi or Soyinka.

She indicates that this could be because the assessment of a writer’s work is in the hands of critics and it is they who put writers on pedestals or seep them under the carpet.

There are so many key issues to be dealt with; beginning with simply defining African Literature itself, there is the unresolved issue of which language to use and even on the direction that African literature ought to take. All these random observations could be useful to students of African Literature.

Memory Chirere

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An open letter to President Hichilema

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Your Excellency,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours truly

Khasane Ramolefe

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Culture quibbles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Joker Returns: Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Dunton

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