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On vigilantes and mob justice



A FEW years ago in my home village, a middle aged man quarreled with his childhood friend at a local shebeen after a day-long binge drinking. Absurdly, the quarrel was over a cigarette. In our Basotho villages, it is not uncommon for two or more people to share a cigarette, pulling in a few ‘puffs’ and passing it on from one set of lips (however they look) to another until the cigarette is finished. The original owner of the cigarette had not lived by the code by refusing to share his. This proved to be a fatal mistake as this unfortunate incident ended in murder as the other man drew out a knife and stabbed his friend to death.

I cannot confirm this, but I understand more often than not, a drunken person would lose a lot of blood from such a wound more than he/she would if they were sober. I know that this type of a senseless fight over something trivial as a cigarette is not peculiar to my village. Similar occurrences, with slight differences here and there have been experienced in villages around the country. For fear of reprisal and a very possible forced restitution of some sort, the assailant fled the scene right away. Word about the incident spread around like wild fire and in no time, an irate group of people from the community armed to the teeth with sticks and other weapons had descended on the place.

When they could not find their target, the group went to the man’s house, where they of course did not find him. Using petrol, which I understood was initially going to be used to burn the attacker to death, the house was torched and reduced to rubbles. Fortunately, his family had seemingly fled in fear and trepidation too. Now of course people kill one another all the time and one may wonder if this is the reaction in my village each time someone is killed or generally take the law into their hands. Not necessarily so. This incident was distinct in that the killer had earned for himself a reputation of being a murderer and this time, he had killed someone who was considered by many to be a good man.

Again, this is not unique to Lesotho either. We frequently see these assaults in the news in our neighbouring South Africa and other African countries as well. In a country that claims to be ruled by law such as Lesotho, is this mob justice ever justified? We live in a country that has statutes, laws and regulations that not only prevent the previously discussed assailant and other killers from committing murder, but also prevent the law abiders too from taking the law into their own hands. Moreover, we have all (maybe apart from those who are mentally ill) also been equipped with the moral compass that makes it easy, or should make it easy for us to differentiate right from wrong.

I remember this one recent incident where a community in a certain region in South Africa attacked and assaulted to death a man whom they accused of raping a 13-year-old girl from the same area. The mother had apparently been part of the mob that sought jungle justice for the offender. After all the dust had settled, the police came over and arrested the mother of the 13-year-old and charged her with murder. The Bible prevented these people from doing what they did; the law prevented these people from committing this act; and morally, they were not supposed to do what they did. Were the mother and those other members of the community therefore in the wrong? In the eyes of the law as I have stated earlier, yes they were. Was arresting these members of the community and the mother rendering justice? Put in another way, was it fair? The readers can make up their mind on this one.

My high school teacher used to say that “even if the law is unjust, that is still justice”. Indeed, people like Nelson Mandela were during the apartheid era charged with committing high treason against the land. Using discriminatory laws, “justice” was still deemed by some to have been served, while to others, this was an inexplicable travesty of “justice”. Why then, if God Has clearly set us this narrow path for us to walk on, the laws of the land also prohibit us from breaching their provisions, and the moral rules dictate for us what is right and what is wrong: do people take the law into their own hands and resort to self-help to solve some societal problems?

Let me go back to the story I began with. The man killed his friend in 2005. He was eventually arrested and charged with murder. He must have been granted bail because a few weeks after the unfortunate incident, I met him in town and I learned that the community back in the village was already aware that he was out. He stayed away from the village, and fled to South Africa for a number of years, probably waiting for the anger in the community to cool off. Recently, not only is he still enjoying his freedom while some children somewhere no longer have a father by his hand, but he is back in the village and living within the same community.

Nobody seems to care about him anymore. Newspapers around the country run stories along similar lines where a certain family somewhere cries foul about these types of injustices. Someone commits a criminal act and weeks later, that same person is freely roaming our streets. What happens to the law and its enforcement? Are the police really failing our societies to the extent that people find that resorting to self-help is the best option? Make such an enquiry at the police stations and like the vacillating Pontius Pilate, the police wash their hands in public and would tell you that they as far as they are concerned do their job.

They arrest suspects and submit dockets to the prosecuting authorities. By law, the police cannot hold a suspected criminal beyond a certain number of hours in their cells without charging such an individual. There is a well-known and well documented backlog of cases in our judicial system. Does the mantra that says “justice delayed is justice denied” mean anything to those in charge of the judicial system in Lesotho? Because of this backlog, suspects often have to be released back into the already angry society; the society which has entrusted the police and the courts with the responsibility of finding these criminals unfit to live among them.

The correctional facilities on the other hand, also cannot hold a suspect who has neither been denied bail nor duly been found guilty and sentenced to serve time accordingly. In being forced to take the law into their hands, are not therefore these innocent members of the society turned into criminals by the justice system that is failing them? If one does not desire to get one’s hands dirty, how then does one live side by side with known criminals who neither repent; who are not forced in any way to pay some form of reparation for their criminal acts nor are they at least plucked out of the society structures?

You be the judge.

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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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Reading, writing and the art of reflection



There is a close thread that runs through what you reflect on, what you read and what sticks in your mind. It’s almost a cyclic process with regards to how all these processes unfold. Today, in this installment we focus on the thread between reading, reflection and writing.

This appears a bit cumbersome to explain. But let’s simplify it. Let’s begin with a beautiful poem which encompasses what we have so far spoken about. Here we are! The poem is penned by “Tachibama Akemi.” It goes:

It is a pleasure
When, rising in the morning,
I go outside and
Find that a flower has blossomed
That was not there yesterday.

Seemingly, the poem is simple. But, on close analysis, it reflects very deep reflection and thoughtfulness.

The persona, in an existential fashion, reflects all about the purpose and meaning of life and his place in the overall matrix of life.

The persona carefully reflects on nature. This is what makes all this poem rustic and romantic.

The persona thinks deeply about the blossoming flowers and how the process of the growth of flowers appears almost inadvertently.

It is a poem about change, healing, the lapse of time and the changes or vissiccitudes in the life of a person are reflected creatively through imagery and poetry. We all go through that, isn’t it? We all react and respond to love, truth and beauty.

So far everything appears very interesting. Let’s just put to the fore some good and appealing thoughts. Let’s enlarge on reading, writing and reflection.

Kindly keep in mind that thoughts must be captured, told, expressed and shared through the magical power of the written word.

As a person, obviously through keeping entries in a journal, there is no doubt that you have toyed about thoughts and ideas and experiences you wish you could put across.

Here is an example you can peek from Anthony. Anthony likes writing. He tells us that in his spare time he likes exploring a lot. And, more often than not he tells us,

“I stop, and think, and then when I find something, I just keep on writing.”

So crisp, but how beautiful. Notice something interesting here; you need to stop, to take life effortlessly and ponderously, as it were; observe, be attentive to your environment; formulate thought patterns and then write.

To some extent, this article builds on our previous experiences when we spoke at length about the reading process.

But how can you do it? It’s not pretty much different. I can help you from my previous life as a teacher of English Languge.

The most important skill you must cultivate is that of listening, close listening. Look at how people and events mingle.

What makes both of you happy; enjoy it. I am sure you still keep that journal in which you enter very beautiful entries. Reflect about Maseru, the so-called affluent city. So majestic!

How can you picture it in writing!

I am glad you learnt to reflect deep and write. Thank you very much. Kindly learn and perfect the craft of observing, reflecting and writing. Learn that connection. Let’s meet for another class.

Vuso Mhlanga

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The Joker Returns: Part One



Don’t be put off by the title, esteemed readers; what follows has nothing to do with the Batman films. As you will be happily (or unhappily) aware, I am a big fan of jokes. There’s a common understanding that a joke is ruined if you have to explain it, and this is true, but some jokes do need a bit of background explanation. Anyway. I like jokes and I like thinking about how they work.

Many of my favourite jokes have to do with language and the way we use it. For example: “I just bought myself a thesaurus. I similar it very much.”

Other jokes have to do with human behaviour and here it is important, out of respect for others, to avoid jokes that perpetuate stereotypical ideas about gender, race, nationality, and so on. I’m afraid the following joke does depend upon a stereotype (I’ll come back to that), but here goes, after a bit of background information.

In Lesotho you have an insect called a praying mantis — stick-like, bright green, and with great bulging eyes. They are rather lovable, despite the off-putting fact that the female practices insect cannibalism; after mating, she consumes the male. So, now you’ve had your zoological primer, here goes.

Two praying mantises are getting up close and personal. The female says to the male: “before we have sex and I bite your head off, could you help me put up some shelves?”

Apologies to female readers, because, as I said, that joke perpetuates a gender stereotype, namely, that women are good with a vacuum cleaner or a dustpan and brush, but hopeless with a hammer and nails.

There are many jokes that are, as it were, much more serious than that. As I rattled on about in a couple of earlier columns, many of these are satirical — jokes that are designed to point a finger at human folly or even wickedness. In another column, titled “Should we laugh?”, I explored the question “is there any subject that should be kept out of the range of humour?”

Well, apparently not, if we take on board the following account of the Warsaw ghetto.

Historical preface first.

The Warsaw ghetto represents one of the worst atrocities in modern history. In November 1940 the genocidal Nazis rounded up all the Jews in Poland’s capital and herded them into a small sector of the city, which they euphemistically, cynically, dubbed the “Jewish Residential District in Warsaw.”

Here nearly half a million Jews were in effect imprisoned, barely subsisting on tiny food rations. An estimated quarter of a million were sent off to the death camps. An uprising against the Nazi captors was brutally crushed. Around 100 000 died of starvation or disease.

Not much to laugh about there, you might say. But then consider the following, which I’ve taken from the New York Review of Books of February 29th this year:

“In the Warsaw Ghetto in October 1941 Mary Berg, then a teenager, wrote in her diary about the improbable persistence of laughter in that hellish place: ‘Every day at the Art Café on Leszno Street one can hear songs and satire on the police, the ambulance service, the rickshaws, and even the Gestapo, [on the latter] in a veiled fashion. The typhoid epidemic itself is the subject of jokes. It is laughter through tears, but it is laughter. This is not our only weapon in the ghetto — our people laugh at death and at the Nazi decrees. Humour is the only thing the Nazis cannot understand.’”

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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