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Preparing the groundwork for reforms



A few lessons from the life of Morena Moshoeshoe…………….

IT is an honour to address you under the auspices of the Moshoeshoe Institute of Leadership, an embryonic addition to the National University of Lesotho which we trust will help to meet a critical need in Lesotho.

Its mandate, as I understand it, is two-fold: with regard to research, it is to interrogate our history and traditions more fully in order to better understand the wealth of local knowledge and practice, and secondly, with regard to teaching, it is to provide a range of short and longer courses dealing with all aspects of leadership, from the philosophical, spiritual, ethical and psychological dimensions, to matters of strategic planning, policy analysis, conflict resolution, organisational development, change management and the growing toolkit available to leaders in this modern era.

Not so long ago, during October 2016, we marked the 50th Anniversary of Lesotho’s Independence. This was a time of reflection as we sought to remember from whence we come as a people, as a nation, and highlight our achievements as well as learn from the challenges that we have faced together over the past five decades.

Many agreed that in order to give ourselves a stronger platform for the coming 50 years, we would need to carry out a series of reform measures. Before such reform processes could take place, however, it was suggested, in light of the fairly contentious nature of our politics, that a National Dialogue be held in order to air various concerns, help diffuse a highly charged and polarised situation, and set the stage for more constructive interaction and consensus building around the needed reforms.

Given this collective commitment to national dialogue and reform, I would like to share a few reflections with you this afternoon on our founding father, Moshoeshoe. It is my hope that this short presentation, which does not pretend to be comprehensive, might nonetheless provoke healthy discussion and add a little new light on a subject which to some may seem to have become rather exhausted through over-exposure and repetition.
The presentation which follows is neither a biography of Moshoeshoe nor a full portrayal of his wisdom, but an attempt to place Morena Moshoeshoe in context such that we can better understand his evolution as a person and a leader.

It is my hope that the Moshoeshoe Institute of Leadership will deepen this type of analysis so that we can move beyond the somewhat canonised version of Moshoeshoe’s life and better understand both his strengths and weaknesses. We will conclude this talk by seeking to link the life of Moshoeshoe and the lessons learned to our current situation.

Interrogating our traditions more fully

It needs to be acknowledged before we proceed, however, that oral and written accounts of history contain traditions, either remembered or recorded by observers, some of whom were personally present but others not. Such traditions invariably reflect different angles, interests and perspectives, some of which may even be patently false. Over time for a variety of reasons, such accounts may be further modified, amplified, streamlined, conflated or re-moulded, either consciously or unconsciously. Certain traditions become confused altogether or are gradually forgotten as older persons or written records perish. In truth the greater part of our past has already been lost and thus the very fact that some stories were recorded or passed down orally over generations means that someone has had an interest in their being remembered.

Our traditions, in short, contain more than just facts. They are multi-layered narratives that are often the product of what is called ‘retrospective malleability’, where basic narratives are subtly reframed to meet the needs or concerns of later audiences.
Such traditions are often used to bolster one side against another, or to create consensus and a shared vision. As such, much as tradition may reflect the consensus which binds us together as a family, a community, a clan or a nation, it also reveals cleavages and areas of conflict or contestation.

Let us keep this in mind as we proceed further with this presentation. In addition, I would like to emphasise from the outset that our knowledge of Moshoeshoe may actually be rather superficial in some respects, and as such it is incumbent upon each of us to dig deeper into his legacy and the larger wisdom tradition of which it forms a part in order to ensure that we truly wrestle with and learn meaningful lessons from it.
Without such engagement, we may fail to do justice to this remarkable man and his many contemporaries who collectively established this nation against great odds.

Please then allow me to meander through the pages of history and take a few snippets from here and there in the hope that the re-telling of certain tales will lead us to new insight, and finally to a few concluding remarks that may be relevant to our own situation today.
Thereafter, it will be up to you, as co-interlocutors, as fellow pilgrims on this journey of discovery, to add, correct or modify this portrayal in the hope that we will not only better understand ourselves and our traditions, but that ultimately we will more positively contribute to the course of our common unfolding destiny as a people.

Moshoeshoe: Philosopher King, or Conflicted Person, or a Bit of Both?

I would like to begin the main body of my presentation by positing that Moshoeshoe, if we are honest in our depiction of him, should be seen not only as a philosophical and benign ruler, a man of great personality and breadth of vision, as the missionaries and many others have portrayed him, but also as a rather contradictory and sometimes conflicted individual.

Let me elaborate here with a few examples. Each of us is familiar with the story1 of Moshoeshoe’s youthful lust for power and recognition, and how, for rather minor offenses, he is reputed to have killed a number of young men who failed to show him the necessary deference, a rather remarkable expectation coming from someone like Moshoeshoe who was born into such a junior chiefly lineage.

Was this behaviour merely indicative of the fact that Moshoeshoe was undergoing the normal internal upheavals of adolescence, of trying to find his place or identity in the world? Certainly his family was quite concerned about his streak of violence.
Perhaps, as some historical traditions maintain, this youthful ‘rage’ might best be explained by the assertion that Moshoeshoe was not even fully a son of the lineage of the Bakuena ba-Mokoteli, but through circumstances now darkened by the passage of time, he was incorporated into Mokhachane and Kholu’s family, and more surprisingly perhaps became its senior son.

Some might suggest that Moshoeshoe’s original name, Lepoqo, or Dispute, may actually allude to the circumstances surrounding his own birth, and not some unnamed but more general dispute in his parent’s village. After all, even one of Moshoeshoe’s most revered councillors, Abraham Ramats’eatsana, once wrote of Moshoeshoe that “His father was Nguni, but in the chieftaincy of his people, he (the father) was a greatly trusted councillor.

Nonetheless, Moshoeshoe is still of royal blood through his mother, Kholu, the daughter of Ntsukunyane.”2 If we take this line of thought further, as some are anxious to do, we then come to appreciate the possible rivalry between Moshoeshoe and his next-in-line brother Makhabane who stood at times in opposition to Moshoeshoe, sometimes strongly so, to the point of challenging his authority.
This may help to explain, as some would go on to maintain, the impulse within Moshoeshoe to eliminate Makhabane as a threat to his then dominant position through a clever stratagem of leaving Makhabane exposed and vulnerable to attack while they were pillaging the wealth of the Bathepu years later in the eastern Cape.

I repeat these various traditions and assertions without necessarily seeking to evaluate their veracity in order to demonstrate the possibility that Moshoeshoe’s circumstances as a child were not necessarily orthodox, and this may help to explain his youthful and sometimes violent excesses.
Whatever the case may have been, the inclusive and generous nature of Sesotho custom amply caters for such contingencies in this regard: ngoana ke oa likhomo. Ultimately, however, it was not the generous nature of Sesotho custom but rather Mohlomi’s therapeutic sessions with Moshoeshoe that were of great assistance to him, and these helped to transform his personality. This period marked the true beginning of Moshoeshoe’s spiritual and psychological growth.

Our second tale or set of tales comes to us courtesy of Thomas Arbousset, an insightful recorder of historical traditions during the 1830s and 1840s. In one of the earliest extensive accounts of Moshoeshoe’s rise to power, published in 1842, the following rather frank portrayal of Moshoeshoe appears:

It was then [late 1810s/1820] that Moshesh . . . began his career of plunder. Taking Makoanyane as his champion he went forth with him and his troops to take first a herd of three hundred cattle . . .; then one of two hundred . . . and then another of seven hundred . . . . In all these incursions, and in many similar expeditions, Makoanyane rendered himself celebrated for his hardiness, his ferocity, and his courage. He carried off the cattle with wonderful dexterity . . . . “He glides,” said his friends in his praise, “he glides into the fold like a fish in the water. He roars like a hyena, and like it tears the prey. The bravest are speared with the lance; the strongest are crushed to death by his club . . . .”
as leaders to grow personally, to gain greater self-knowledge as well as master many new skills so as to build viable teams and partnerships, and thus lead their people into a better future.

In Moshoeshoe’s case, I would like to posit that he grew in perspective and in his larger humanity (botho) during the early and formative period of his life as a result of the much older wisdom traditions connected with Mohlomi which he then tried increasingly to incorporate in his leadership. These included care for the poor and vulnerable, a hallmark of his legacy, and various other characteristics which are often encapsulated within proverbs and wise sayings such as: Setlhare ke pelo (Leadership comes from the heart or character of a person, not through charms and medicinal potions); U ka nketsang, ha e hahe motse; ho hahoa oa morapeli (A domineering or violent approach does not build up the community; rather, it is nurtured through humility); and Se ka re ho Moroa ‘Moroatooe’ (Cautioning against denigrating or discriminatory attitudes, hate speech and xenophobia).

Moshoeshoe is also famous for the saying Khotso ke khaitseli ea ka (Peace is my sister, in other words, extremely close to my heart). This last attribute was demonstrated in a number of ways, for example, when he generously gave his attackers gifts in order to placate them, and urged his followers not to seek revenge or to retaliate.

Moreover, Moshoeshoe forbid the killing of ‘witches’, even to the point of prohibiting the mere accusation of witchcraft, for he believed such accusations were usually trumped up and used to victimise people, either out of ignorance, or from manipulation for ulterior motives. Moshoeshoe also outlawed the sale of liquor within his kingdom as it destroyed the good sense of those who consumed it, and led to unnecessary disputes. During his mid-life and later years, Moshoeshoe was ‘in conversation with’ the larger Christian tradition as well as with the prophetess ‘Mantsopa, and these no doubt added new dimensions to the already well-formed vision and understanding which Moshoeshoe held. Suffice it to say that a rich tradition of wisdom exists here which is perhaps underutilised by us as a resource for improving our lives today, either individually or collectively.

Moshoeshoe, first and foremost, was like us. He had a variety of flaws and overcame many obstacles, both internal and external. He became a philosophically-minded but pragmatic ruler whose greatest ambition was to keep his national experiment alive so as to provide a more coherent future for his people. It was these traits of growing self-knowledge and an openness to explore options – even unorthodox ones – which set Moshoeshoe apart from others. If his people did not always understand him, if his sons and brothers were not always prepared to heed his advice, and eventually took very different courses of action, we nonetheless all call ourselves Moshoeshoe’s children and we are indebted to his perseverance in maintaining the integrity of the Basotho nation against formidable odds.

Much of Moshoeshoe’s success in this regard can be attributed to the fact that he grew far beyond the days of his rather conflicted youth, as well as his earlier modus operandi of plundering the wealth of others, to create a more stable realm of security, growth and prosperity for his people in collaboration with internal and external partners. We remember him for his larger sense of humanity and fairness, his willingness to adapt traditions and invent new ones as needed, and the energy, commitment and intelligence which he applied in forging and then governing a growing state in the heart of Southern Africa. If Moshoeshoe was not necessarily a philosopher king in quite the same way as Mohlomi, he nonetheless taught us practically about some of life’s most important issues, including peace and reconciliation.

These, he seemed to teach us, were not abstract goals to be pursued in and of themselves at any cost, but rather as a means towards fullness of life in community as well as peaceful co-existence between communities. A wise saying in Lesotho is that a ‘Chief is a chief by the people’. Equally true is the reverse: that ‘a people is a people through its chief or leader’. It is partly because of the wise, magnanimous and dedicated leadership of men like Moshoeshoe that we as a nation or people have a legacy worth preserving and building upon today.

Our Current Situation

As it was during Moshoeshoe’s time, so it is during ours: maintaining the integrity and viability of the nation-state called Lesotho is not a simple matter or a foregone conclusion. It takes real commitment, intelligence and hard work. The context in which we operate as a nation has changed greatly since the 19th century. The emerging Lesotho of the 19th century faced largely external threats though we cannot discount internal issues. During the period from 1966, however, the once again independent Lesotho faced both internal and external challenges, though the focus has increasingly shifted since 1993 towards internal factors, exacerbated by its extreme dependency upon its neighbour South Africa. In the current fluid situation, leaders require agility and a clear focus, grappling with an array of challenges.

As such, leadership remains a complicated business as human beings are socialised and educated through various institutions and associations, and rise to positions of importance and great responsibility. The roots of our current crisis, which is only the latest in a much longer series, go back into past formations. In some respects, it might be well to note that the transition in Lesotho during the 1950s and 60s, which moved from a relatively benign if ineffective semi-executive monarchy with limited but growing elective offices under the British administration, to a full-blown Westminster system under a Constitutional Monarch at Independence in 1966, was too rapid to allow for effective institutional growth and maturity.

This judgment may well raise the ire of many of you. Certainly during that earlier era, the zeitgeist weighed heavily against anyone who articulated the concern that Lesotho might need more time to make the transition to this newer Westminster style of democracy. Such words of caution at that time were roundly condemned by the emerging political elite as a ploy to prevent Basotho from attaining their rightful self-government or, even worse, as a trap so that Lesotho might be incorporated within its apartheid neighbour.

Observers will point out correctly that our cousins in Botswana did make the transition to a Westminster system of democracy rather smoothly, within a similarly short span of time, but they had two key factors in their favour, namely, a) a fairly strong consensus around the leadership of Seretse Khama, a quasi-kingly figure with a party political base, and b) the fortune not only to discover significant mineral resources within their territory after in- dependence, but more remarkably to utilise those resources wisely.

Lesotho, on the other hand, was divided down the middle in terms of party politics, which led to instability, while its resources were meagre to say the least as Lesotho served largely as a labour reserve for the South African mines. Trying to build up a greater diversity of profitable economic enterprises in order to ensure the longer-term sustainability of the nation and its people has been an on-going pre-occupation of Lesotho’s leaders, but this priority has often been compromised by the lack of consensus among the political elite.

As such, instability has been a regular feature of Lesotho’s postindependence experience. The last few years have been particularly taxing, and thus our pundits and concerned citizenry have become quite vexed by the constant jockeying for position and splits within the major political parties, the repeated collapse of coalition governments before their term has expired, the misuse of state institutions and resources by successive regimes, and the brutal killing of high profile persons. Many of our people have opted out and are completely disillusioned with the political process as can be seen in the steadily shrinking percentage of those who take the time to vote in national elections. Where then are we at present? There is a line of general thinking which runs as follows:

1. In terms of modern democratic institutions and norms, including good governance, the rule of law, the separation of powers, issues of succession, party political maturity, an efficient and apolitical civil service, and a host of other traits, Lesotho does not always score very well. We seem rather adept at wriggling out of and/or finding ways of circumventing checks and balances, or just eliminating some of these as has happened over the past 50 years, thus centralising power in the Executive, especially in the office of the Prime Minister.

Part of this ‘deficit’ in terms of good governance is a result of our poor economic base and relatively small private sector, which helps to concentrate the attention and aspirations of some of us towards gaining access to the spoils of government, this being the most attractive option or outlet for our ambitions. As such, one sees, regardless of the party or coalition in power, a regular abuse of tendering processes, maladministration, nepotism, the undermining of accounting frameworks, etc. These manifestations of abuse are often the result of strategic cooperation between elected officials and civil servants.

2. The political elite, regardless of party affiliation, tend as a class to protect their own interests, and to unashamedly promise the public during rallies, either before or after elections, what they cannot actually deliver. Few are the cases where a parliamentarian or candidate for office explains clearly the limited ability of government to meet the ever-growing expectations of the public, or to honestly acknowledge that partnership with business and other social formations is absolutely pivotal to the larger success of the nation, or to refrain from the temptation of seeking to gain a personal share in any new business venture which tries to open up operations in the country (or in his/her constituency). Fewer still are those in Parliament who have ever voted against the sizeable salary increases which they give themselves, or raise a query about the ethics of not repaying the rather scandalous M 500,000 interest-free loans which they receive.

3. While many will admit that each political formation possesses leaders of integrity and substance, the tendency often seems to be to move towards the lowest common denominator, and thus even relatively good people, through excessive peer pressure from their political compatriots or the ‘circumstances’ of the time, are hoodwinked into making dubious decisions. Those in office become compromised by power and wealth, while those in opposition become excessively negative or surprisingly virtuous, preaching what they failed to practice while they were themselves in power.

4. After 50 years of independence, during which numerous crimes and excesses have been committed by our rulers, usually with impunity, we have an opportunity now, if we can pause long enough and try to re-centre ourselves, to put matters of state on a stronger foundation. And thus we aspire to hold a National Dialogue followed by the Reform process itself.

5. Finally, some will assert, if we want peace and stability in Lesotho, we need to hold a Truth and Reconciliation process in order to let go of all our negative baggage and secrets, secrets which are festering, and thus, relieved of these burdens, we can start afresh.

I have at times been personally in favour of such a TRC process, but of late I have begun to doubt its wisdom. Many in each political formation or faction do have dirty linen, to be sure, but the call for public hearings of the nature of a TRC process may be more than we can bear. Popular as the current hearings before the Public Accounts Committee may be, it is doubtful that the political elite (whether defined more broadly or more narrowly) is keen to air its own wrong-doings and errors of judgment in public so as to seek cleansing or forgiveness or an amnesty. Perhaps behind closed doors, some would participate, but I doubt greatly if many of our leaders have a genuine appetite for a full-blown TRC process, especially if it is meant to cover the past 50 years. It is always easier to see one’s opponent confessing, rather than oneself! I would like to humbly suggest that if we take Moshoeshoe, our beloved and honoured founding father, as an example, we might rather think in more modest terms. You will remember that when Moshoeshoe forgave the cannibals for eating his grandfather, he did not, according to the traditions handed down to us, publicly admit to his complicity in helping to create the conditions for cannibalism to emerge. After all, Moshoeshoe had not driven Rakotsoane to cannibalism by stripping him and his people of their animal wealth.

Others had done so! What Moshoeshoe had done very successfully, however, was to pillage the wealth of Ramonaheng and many others, and it is only to be expected that some of these did choose the path of cannibalism. With this broader realisation, Moshoeshoe recognised his complicity within this larger dynamic, and thus he took steps to re-integrate Rakotsoane and his men, men who were greatly loathed, back into society, such that they could assume more acceptable roles. It may be, therefore, that in seeking a higher moral tone through a TRC process, we may be going down a path that will not yield the desired results, and thus we may be cutting ourselves off from more realistic and achievable forms of progress. At this stage, this delicate stage at which we are poised at present, where the proposed National Dialogue is still not yet a done deal, each of us might well reflect upon our own complicity in the on-going dynamics within the political process, and begin to take a few steps towards doing the right thing even if we are less than fully honest in public about our complicity.

Baby steps are better than the perpetuation of animosity and intransigence, or retribution, or grandstanding and brinkmanship. We as leaders are often quite successful at playing the game of politics; true, we do stretch the rules at times, but then, so do many others. Cumulatively, however, this ‘playing of the game’ has led us into a situation which threatens our very existence as an independent nation. We may not be individually guilty of crimes, but collectively we have failed to take corrective measures, and thus we have placed the nation at grave risk.

During mid-2014, the study trip by Parliamentarians to New Zealand under the auspices of the Commonwealth inspired hope in the hearts of many that such corrective action might be taken soon. But alas this was not to be. The internal dynamics within the then ruling coalition were such that distrust escalated and the government collapsed, leading to fresh elections. And this same process was repeated once more two years later. Surely we are all aware that the destiny of Lesotho lays within the decisions we will take in the coming days, weeks and months.

Do we have enough courage to look deeply in the mirror and recognise our individual and collective responsibility in this regard? Or have we cut ourselves off so fully from those who can honestly advise and guide us that we still hope to ‘win’ by crushing our opponents, or in bringing them to their knees? Can we not see that a larger win-win scenario needs to be brokered? Many of us may be rather like Moshoeshoe, talented individuals who also have significant flaws, but people who with mentors of the calibre of Mohlomi might grow tremendously in wisdom, people who with skilled life coaches might surprise us with their contribution to the larger society, people who with further training in various modern tools of management and administration might provide strategic guidance to Lesotho’s key institutions and foster partnerships which will help to transform our society.

Maximising the talents of our leadership pool can only be achieved, however, within the framework of a more orderly if still robust system of governance, which includes adequate checks and balances in the hope that these will prevent the ‘game’ from becoming violent and spinning out of control.

Some will argue that this emphasis upon stability and inclusivity undermines the call for justice, justice for the victims who have been brutally removed by other ‘players’ in this game of politics, this game of thrones. These voices will argue that justice has its own requirements, and that political leaders who have committed crimes, together with their henchmen and complicit public servants, must be held accountable, that those who have been wronged must be compensated.

Such calls may well be correct. I am not wise enough to discern how the demands for justice might be balanced in such a way that our leaders can also be redeemed and thus play a more constructive role within a reformed system.

My perspective at present is based partly upon a realisation that much as we need to raise the bar with regard to our political practice, we may also sabotage ourselves by following a course of action which is not realistic, thus leading to further internal turmoil and disappointment. Perhaps we can learn some lessons from the life of our founder, a man whom we all hold in deep reverence, a role model for his sagacity and leadership qualities, and an icon in terms of peace and reconciliation.

If a man of his stature was apparently unable to publicly admit to certain ‘crimes’ that he had committed, perhaps a TRC process for Lesotho may be unwise. Could it be that other less obvious processes might be put in its place instead?

I am not an expert in conciliation, conflict management, transitional justice, or related matters. But certainly within Lesotho and our regional and international partners, such expertise exists for us to draw upon.

I will merely offer here a few thoughts on what we might expect from our political party elite. One does not have to make a full public confession in order to begin righting the wrongs of the past. One can start with small steps and move forward, incrementally, to create a new climate for political exchange.

Because many of us are members of the broader political elite, though we often do not wish to acknowledge this truth, I will use the first person here and not the third person, so that perhaps each of us will take more responsibility in this regard:

1. We will seek mentors, spiritual advisers, life coaches or others in order to better understand our own strengths and weaknesses so as to chart our personal life journeys more effectively, improve our understanding and skills, as well as better emphathise with and listen to others;

2. We will demonstrate a greater sense of humility; that is, we will not pretend that our own political formation or movement or organisation has never made mistakes, or is somehow morally superior to others, we will not demonise or demean our opponents, and we will be ever conscious of the power of our words to do good or harm;

3. We will show a willingness to dialogue with and engage other leaders in order to seek meaningful solutions to our common challenges as a nation, and we will take the time and effort to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes;

4. We will listen carefully to the input, concerns and the perspectives of all political formations, NGOs, churches, labour unions, business, chiefs, intellectuals and other formations; we acknowledge that politics is about decision-making for the good of society, not merely for our own good as the political elite;

5. We will seek the medium to long term advantage of the nation in terms of our decisions with regard to the National Dialogue and the larger Reform Process, and we will seek to build a sustainable political culture, which applies equally to all our formations whether we are part of the ruling coalition or not;

6. We will seek to build more robust checks and balances into the Constitution while understanding that the greatest checks and balances are internal to ourselves;

7. We will seek to bring greater stability to the political sphere, and work towards minimising floor crossings such that elected governments can serve out their full term of office;

8. We will be loyal in Opposition and good listeners as Rulers; if we do form a Government of National Unity at some point, as some are calling for, it will be based upon a collective commitment to raise the bar and govern Lesotho more effectively, not to engage in more procrastination and self-serving behaviour;

9. We will seek to reform government in such a way that tender manipulation, per diem allowances and other perks are no longer the main motivation or reward for high office, but that other more appropriate incentives or rewards will replace these in order to motivate the best in terms of public service and good management practices;

10. We will honour His Majesty, and listen carefully to his advice and counsel when he offers it, and always remember that we are servants of the people of Lesotho.

These 10 suggestions, as I have said, are modest, but they could make for meaningful change. Nonetheless, these are not meant to be comprehensive and no doubt each of you have many other ideas as to what can be done to get us out of the mess that we are in. Let all such ideas and suggestions be shared and debated. Ultimately, however, we must achieve consensus, and be realistic as to what can be achieved.


Let me conclude by thanking The Moshoeshoe Institute of Leadership for this opportunity to make a presentation on the life of Morena Moshoeshoe and the challenges facing Lesotho today. Ladies and Gentlemen, let me also thank you for your patience. Let me re-emphasise in closing that Morena Moshoeshoe was a particularly gifted leader. Much of his success resulted from his willingness to place himself under mentors and to learn deeply from the wisdom traditions associated with Mohlomi.

These helped Moshoeshoe to rise above his own personal conflicts and flaws, derive new insight both from his successes and failures, and thus gain greater self-knowledge and leadership acumen. Nonetheless, Moshoeshoe remained fallible and subject to lapses as well as errors in his judgment and actions. The current presentation has sought to de-mythologise Morena Moshoeshoe by placing him more fully in context, and as a result, it is hoped that we will be better able to relate to this remarkable leader.

In terms of the present-day challenges facing Lesotho, we as political, social and intellectual leaders also need to deeply connect with various wisdom traditions, as Moshoeshoe did, if we hope to learn from our past 50 years, and thus put Lesotho on a more secure course as a nation state. Though the path to National Dialogue and the Reform Process may still be subject to negotiation, it is clear that each of us can play a constructive role in this regard. With or without a TRC process, we need to admit that we have collectively failed to address the negative dynamics that afflict us. Nonetheless, together, we can take a number of steps to diffuse tension and improve the climate for healing and national dialogue over the coming days, weeks and months. If a collective way forward cannot be found, we face the prospect of becoming a nation without a state, in the same way as the Amazulu.

Finally, let each of us admit frankly that we have contributed to the present crisis. It is not completely or even largely the result of one group or party, however much it may seem to be so at present. If the Chinese are correct that a crisis is an opportunity, then let us not waste this opportunity. Let us not be overcome by complacency or pessimism, worn out by the constant political haggling, or become consumed by personal or purely partisan interests. Let us rather push forward and establish the consensus which is required to begin the National Dialogue. Step by step, let us air our views, build trust and then tackle the sobering challenges of the Reform Process.

We owe this to ourselves, our children and our grandchildren, as well as to the generations of Basotho who have gone before us, many of whom sacrificed a great deal to ensure the peace, stability and development of Lesotho. Let us rise to the challenge, and see this longer process through to a successful completion. Aluta continua!

Stephen Gill is the Curator of Morija Museum & Archives. He was speaking at this year’s Moshoeshoe Memorial Lecture. References have been removed from the presentation to fit thepost’s style.


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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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