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Preserving our cultural heritage



Heritage is not an easy aspect of human existence to deal with, and it is even harder to comprehend matters or issues related to it in a country that is a former colony (protectorate in the case of Lesotho).

This is due to the fact that colonialism came with structures and policies that ‘de-structured’ the existing structures, norms, and laws that are salient to the maintenance of the lines of the progression of heritage.

Most of the matters and core aspects related to heritage such as the culture, the customs, the tradition, the knowledge systems often become the first victims; ancestral cultures, core customs, vital traditions, and the indispensable systems of knowledge get lost in the deluge of new institutions that colonialism installs upon arrival.
We are left with vestiges of the old way, pieces of a book of indigenous history whose pages of oral and written history have gotten lost with the passage of time.
It is with a feeling of reverence when one sees an institution work hard to re-gather the lost tatters of the book of heritage of the Basotho.

Through the guidance of a gargantuan figure, Ntate Stephen Gill of the Morija Museum and Archives (MMA) and Pusetso Nyabela, a documentary that retraces the lines of succession in the Lesotho monarchy has been released and the screening two weeks ago at the Victoria Hotel.

The director, Retšepile Makamane, is an interesting figure to speak with, deep in her analysis of the issues pertaining to the cultural heritage of the Basotho of Lesotho, and bold enough to present the views that many of us refrain from tackling in the light of our cultural heritage (because they are considered taboo).

I first met her at the Renaissance Restaurant, and the name of the place is very much similar to her quest to see to the rebirth (for renaissance means “rebirth”) of our cultural heritage; our knowledge of the history of this kingdom needs to be re-birthed through the efforts of such individuals as she: for women have performed the salient role of the midwife in the delivery room and in the passing of language, lores and mores since the beginning of human history, and she is in my view the appropriate midwife in the vital task of igniting our synapses of memory.

Very humble, she walked into the restaurant where I waited with a coffee to calm the anxiety of meeting a figure Ntate Gill had mentioned as “very talented”.
Questions prepared in advance were hardly used, because the words in her speech from the first moment were a lesson and a revelation to me that I knew way less than I thought I did in terms of the history of this land of our forefathers (and a later meeting at the launch hosted at the Victoria Hotel revealed that I was not alone in this aspect).
I knew from the earliest moment that (Ms) Makamane’s quest to uncover the real truths hidden in our history, for the sake of a clear national cultural history, is a task as sacred as the psalms are to the pious.

Often cursory in our confrontation and interaction with issues that are core to the understanding of our citizenship and nationhood, we miss out on issues that are vital to our “Bosotho”.

The only fortune is that there are institutions like the Morija Museum and Archives that provide the much-needed support and guidance to individuals such as Retšepile to retrace the path back to the grassroots, where we were once great, and we can recapture that greatness if we know exactly what it is that happened.
She speaks of the significance of oral tradition and how it is the perfect tool for expressing history.

A viewing of the documentary reveals the significance of oral tradition in the recounting of the story of our kingship.  Heard through the words of elderly citizens from the villages of Matsieng, Phahameng, and Makeneng, the lines of the evolution of the monarchic lines of ascendancy sound clearer than they would in some other historical narrative; this I guess being the result of the fact that this historical narrative is largely done by old women, those same storytellers and matriarchs members of the audience are familiar with from a young age when the Litšomo (mythological folk tales) are being narrated.

One hears the narrators use the familiar “Ho thoe” (it was said) throughout the 54 minutes of the documentary, which is a more reverend phrase based upon the “Ba re e ne re” (they said it was said).

This proves a masterful stroke, because the familiarity of the speaker of the language who forms a part of the audience is vital, and she reveals in her words, “Sesotho’s exploration of reality, its richness as a language, and its depth when it comes to the exploration of the vital cultural and traditional meanings is unsurpassed”.
One can tell that this tale was told for a purpose, by an individual whose purpose is to retrace the lost paths in our history, and who fortunately has the support of an institution (MMA) that keeps the history of this land close at heart.

We have to know who we are, but to know, we have to know who we were before we got here.
Retšepile mentions that the growth of an artist or the individual is dependent upon the kind of platform they get as young children.

The kind of support one gets as an artist in pursuit of a vision should not be limited by such issues as lack of funding, or as is the case, the artist should be allowed to express their vision and not the wishes of the funding body because this “limits the individual voices that would strengthen the local art and filmmaking industry”.

She shows that such an industry is a good tool to foster the much-needed national identity, and the history, the monuments, and heritage would actually be of more sense if the local filmmaking industry focused on issues such as the citizen’s relationship with the Royal Family and the significance of the succession of the royal line in the understanding of the nation’s cultural and political history.

She gives the image of the Litema (patterns), and how generations of women have over the passage of time been core to the understanding of our nationhood by bringing their own various and overlapping patterns (stories and perspectives) to a single house (the story and history of our monarchy and kingdom).
All of us know that a traditional Basotho house is plastered with a mixture of dung and mud, after which the matriarch draws patterns of her kind on the walls; this process is done from one generation to the next, for as long as the house is still standing.

This tale she tells through the oral renditions of old matriarchs with regard to the succession of the royal line through history follows a tradition one can see as reminiscent to the patterns drawn on the tale of the royal hut over the ages, only this time the etchings are being done by a young woman through the guidance of the lips of the old who are in essence passing the oral history baton on.

Ho Llela Borena (Yearning to Reign) is not just a cry by an individual village for the return of kingship; it is a tale whose quest is to help the nation to know their royal family, to understand the patterns thereof fully, so that one can truly understand their identity.

A personal view is that one who does not know themselves can never understand their true greatness, and so they forever yearn, and are in every essence searching in the dark blind.
She reveals a personal view at the end of the meeting that education about kingship should be given adequate priority, that the dialogue of what unites us with kingship is of great significance to the understanding of our national identity.

Present at the Friday the 31st of March 2017 launch of the documentary presented by Friends of the Morija Museum & Archives at the Victoria Hotel’s Machabeng Hall were significant figures from various sectors of our society and delegates from different consulates in the country.
The Chinese Ambassador, His Excellency Dr. Sun Xianghua and his delegation, Dr. ‘Musi Mokete, Ntate Percy Mangoaela, representatives from various consulates, prominent filmmakers Silas Monyatsi, and Jeremiah Monyatsi, the crew that made the documentary a reality, the translator Ntate Ntsele Radebe, Ntate Stephen Gill (curator at the MMA), various professionals from different fields; artists, thinkers, bankers, curious citizens, and lowly news-people like myself.

All of us came to witness the beginning of the beginning of the return to true knowledge as presented by Miss Retšepile Makamane and Emceed by the free-spirited Moleboheng Rampou.

I guess if the birth or the rebirth of anything is witnessed by the kind of people as those present on the night, there are a couple of notes one should make; one is that it is bound to be great, and secondly, the message it carries is quintessential to the core elements of being and existence of a nation: understanding our past will help us to make the right decisions in the present to map the way forward into the future.

The question and answer session that followed the viewing of the 54 minutes of the documentary revealed answers to the questions related to the lineage of the royal family tree, that is, how we ended up a country arranged in the manner it now is.

We have to be seen from the perspective of the world view; how the world views us as a nation is relative to how our history and our cultural heritage story is presented: the views of the individuals in society all form part of the collective story we share as a nation and kingdom.

As previously mentioned, heritage is a salient aspect of our being, so instead of tearing down old buildings that are in essence landmarks on the nation’s historical path, we should work together to preserve whatever is left for the benefit of the future generations; for, I personally believe, the future will surely come and the children thereof will need to have clear footsteps to follow, and the stories we tell this day are footprints they shall be able to follow.

Retracing the customs and the traditions of a land demands that the individual that so attempts to be neutral in their analysis, to kill the fear of the repercussions such a quest may come with, and to hold the viewpoints of the ordinary citizen in high regard.

The documentarian’s choice of style resulted in a narrative of the heritage of the Basotho as a connected story told around the fire, like a folk-tale that for the sake of clear understanding temporarily leaves out the parable and the metaphor; because the larger truth is of more significance in the revelation of the truth to the surface where all can use it for the betterment of this sacred nation.

Living in a kingdom means that we are subjects to the king, and we have to know the king to know how to follow him.
Many of those present could follow by the end of the viewing session at the launch, and those that will view this masterpiece at the National University of Lesotho this week will come back richer than they were before the view.

From the perspective of a narrator and the writer/director she is, Retšepile Makamane states that in relationship to the royal family, “We are, because they are, for who they are, is who we are”.

This is her call for the nation’s united return to the royal house, or so I am left feeling after meeting the director at the Renaissance and watching the launch of the masterful documentary at the Victoria Hotel by a great storyteller released under the aegis Morija Museum and Archives.
Many thanks for the piece Ausi Retšepile, Ntate Morojele, and the crew for this masterpiece.

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We need a coordinated approach on youth challenges



For a number of good reasons, all of us are concerned about problems that face Lesotho’s young people, particularly youth unemployment, and the increasing tendency towards anti-social behaviour among sections of Lesotho youth including their increasing admiration for criminality.

Not only do members of such groups admire criminality and actually commit crimes but they commit crimes without much care as to the harm and other costs that their actions inflict on immediate victims and on society-at-large.

Evidence of public concern about these problems includes the fact that within society individuals, groups and public and private institutions have all expressed concerns over problems facing the youth, with some of these parties making attempts to come up with ideas and measures to assist.

However, a number of problems seem to be emerging on, at least, three fronts. Firstly, a seeming lack of coordination in addressing problems that face young people. Secondly, lack of clarity on questions of whether (a) parties that seek to assist are basing their interventions on credibly identified sources of problems that face young people; and (b) whether any credible assessments are made to ensure that interventions such parties are proposing and implementing have potential to solve problems that face Lesotho’s young people.

There are many examples of what may seem to us, members of the general public, to be lack of coordination in approaches to solve problems facing young people. One such example may be sufficient. On January 8, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast a statement in which the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) authorities announced establishment of some army facility where Basotho young people would be taught some values, including patriotism.

The very next day, on January 9, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast another statement, this time by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) authorities, announcing the LMPS’s plan to establish a police facility at which young people would be taught anti-crime and other values. In their essence, the LMPS’s plan sounded not totally dissimilar to LDF’s.
Apart from the LDF and LMPS’s plans for Lesotho’s youth, there are also public and private sector initiatives to nurture and support entrepreneurial talents of Lesotho’s youth with a view, among others, to fight youth unemployment and develop the country’s private sector.

Politicians have also been seen to sponsor football games for young people in their constituencies with a view, they say, to keep young people from crime and narcotics. These events cannot be criticised too much but given that they are one, or two-day events that take place during specific times, they look more like publicity stunts.

National sports federations are now complaining that politicians who sponsor these events put too much stress on sports as a means to fight crime. What federations want is that, if politicians want to help, they should stress the importance of sports as careers, and sponsor young people to develop their sporting talents accordingly.

Amidst expressions of concerns and various parties’ attempts to address problems facing Lesotho youth, public authorities that we have not heard from, or from who we do not hear enough, are those charged with responsibilities over precisely problems facing young people; that is, authorities at the Ministry of Youth.

Admittedly, we do not know if the initiatives of the LDF, LMPS, and others are carried out in consultation with or with the blessing of the Ministry of Youth.

The worry ought to be not only whether interventions of the LDF, LMPS, and others have the blessings of the Ministry of Youth. Instead, the worry should extend to the question of whether the Ministry has any national plan to address problems facing young people. And, if such a plan exists, we would expect that it identifies the LDF and LMPS as places where young place can be coached; and initiatives of these and other institutions would align with such a plan.

Without an identification of the army and the police as implementing agencies of the Ministry’s plan, and without the army and police’s initiatives alignment with the Ministry’s plan, at least two things are likely to result: duplication of effort — as seems to be the case with the LDF and LPMS plans; or, at worst, LDF and LMPS plans might contradict and undermine national plans entrusted to the Ministry of Youth.

In the worst case scenario that a national plan does not exist, we face the danger that anybody wishing to address problems facing Lesotho’s young people can do so, basing herself, or himself on a personal or group perception, and implementing plans and solutions based on such perception.

As in the case of too many people stirring the same cooking pot without coordination, undesirable consequences can be expected from a situation where just about anybody can apply a solution to a public problem.

As hinted above, a good national plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people would have two characteristics, at least. First, it would be based on our assertion of the kind of society we want to be; an investigation of problems that stand in the way of achieving such a society; how such problems can be overcome, say, through school curricula; and how, in general, from Early Childhood Care & Development (ECCD), young people can be brought up and socialised in ways that ensure they will be useful members of a society we wish to be.

Any action that is not based on an investigation of the problems that stand in the way of achieving a society we want to be has little chances of success. Such action would be based on some understanding that the young who are anti-social, unpatriotic and criminals are naturally bad people.

It is, of course, not as simple as that. For example, one possible explanation for the absence of patriotism among young people may have something to do with socio-economic inequality in Lesotho: those who are closed out of, and excluded from, benefiting from Lesotho’s wealth and power cannot be expected to be patriots.

A second characteristic of a plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people is that, such a plan should identify and/or establish institutions designed — and with appropriate skills — to implement ideas and proposals that come out of credible investigations.

It is unclear whether the LDF and LMPS plans have resulted from something like considerations suggested above. While it is admitted that these institutions’ initiatives are limited to addressing problems of lack of patriotism and criminality among the young people, one clear problem with their plans and solutions is that, it might be the case that they are catching young people a little late, when schooling and general socialisation have already entrenched anti-social values that we see among sections of young people; namely, individualism and the inability to think of others.

In one word, these institutions catch these young people when tendencies towards criminality, anti-social behaviour, and lack of patriotism might have already hardened.
Perhaps the biggest hope we should have is that the army and the police will have full complement of resources necessary for providing full and wholesome mentoring to young people who undergo army and police mentoring.

Short of adequate resources necessary for achieving what the army and the police have in mind, we might end up with cohorts of young people with a faulty army and police culture that may come back to haunt us. Inserting a faulty army culture among a section of young people brought us bitter results in the 1970s and 1980s that should not be repeated.

To conclude, no one can argue against all of us being concerned with problems of youth unemployment; increasing tendencies of young people’s admiration of criminality and their participation in crime. And no one can argue against all of us coming up with ideas and proposals of how to address these problems.

However, our concerns and proposals ought to be based on:
a nationally-agreed assertion of society we want to be;
a credible investigation of difficulties that stand in the way of us becoming society we want to be;

and coordination of proposals and ideas aimed at becoming society we want to be.

As with other specific instances of socio-economic development in Lesotho, problems facing the country’s young people cry out for the long-neglected establishment of the National Planning Board, as prescribed in Section 105 of the Constitution of Lesotho.

Prof Motlatsi Thabane

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Call that a muffin?



In Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Canterville Ghost” (1887) one of the characters says about the British, “We have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” Between American English and British English there are many, many differences. Which is not to say that either American or British English are standardised; there are multiple varieties within each. As a south-western Brit I can find it difficult to fully understand what someone from Liverpool or Newcastle is saying.

I remember one year during the NUL’s International Theatre for Development project we had a student from the islands of Scotland. She was brilliant and hard-working and full of good ideas — if only one could understand the ideas when she introduced them. The NUL students grouped together and asked me: “Chris, can you translate what Kirsty is saying for us?” and I replied: “I’m as lost as you are.”

Between American and British English it’s not just a matter of pronunciation but also of vocabulary (I’ll be coming to muffins — see the title of this piece — in a while) and spelling.
In the biographical film Prick Up Your Ears British, dramatist Joe Orton shares a room with Ken Halliwell and they decide to write a novel together. Ken asks Joe “can you spell?” and Joe replies “yes, but not accurately.”

This is hardly a surprise, given that he’s a Brit. The American spelling system is far more regular and rational than the British. (Readers with laptops will have noticed that your spell-check gives the option of British or American spelling, but that doesn’t help you as in Lesotho the British system is used, so for the time being you’re stuck with it).

I mean, what can you say about a spelling system where “plough” rhymes with “now”, but “tough” rhymes with “stuff”– and “now” doesn’t rhyme with “low.” Yipes (as the Americans say). When I was lecturing in Lesotho and in Nigeria and marking assignments I was always very lenient over spelling, because I know what a mountain it is to climb (the latter word rhyming with “time”, of course).

Then there is the matter of vocabulary or denotation (a term I hope readers remember from a few weeks back). There are many examples of things that are denoted by different words in British and American English: lift / elevator; pavement / sidewalk; windscreen / windshield; petrol / gas; cinema / movie theater (and look at the American spelling of (Brit) “theatre”– a lot easier). And some of these reflect our different histories.

For example, there’s a vegetable, a kind of small marrow, the British call it a courgette (one of my favourite vegetables, in case any of you are planning to invite me for dinner). That’s a word that British English has borrowed directly from French — that is, a loan word (I’m not sure we plan to give it back).

The Americans on the other hand call it a zucchini, a loan word from Italian, which I guess reflects the size and influence of the Italian community in the USA. (Speaking of vegetables, I can’t give you an explanation for why the Brits call an aubergine an aubergine — another loan word from French — but the Americans call it an egg-plant).

Next week I’ll get around to muffins — a sore point — and I’ll move on to differences between English and French and between Sesotho and Setswana. Bet you can’t wait.

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

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Lessons from Israel: Part 3



I shall round off my account of my 1995 trip to Israel by putting on my tour guide cap. Staying in Tel Aviv, most days were fully taken up by the conference, which was my reason for being there. Tel Aviv in July is scorchingly hot, so there were walks along the beach only before breakfast and after sunset. I did take a little time off to go with South African author Stephen Gray to an art gallery that had a painting he wanted to see (a portrait by Modigliani of Beatrice Hastings, whose biography Stephen was then writing).

I wasn’t especially keen on the hotel restaurant, where dinner comprised meat served by the ton (surprisingly little fish, given that we were on the coast. By contrast, I had always been surprised and happy that Maseru restaurants are so good on fish, despite the fact that Lesotho isn’t exactly maritime). But I discovered a little Russian Jewish restaurant that offered Beluga caviar at an amazingly cheap price. I suspect it had fallen off the back of a lorry, as we say in the UK — i.e. that it was contraband, acquired illegally. I just blinked innocently and enjoyed myself. I can’t think of a more delicious way of starting a meal than with caviar, freshly-made blinis and a large glass of deeply chilled Wyberowa vodka — no ice, please. (I only say all this to show you what a very cosmopolitan chap I am).

The conference ran to a packed schedule and we worked hard (no, really). Half-way through we were given a day off and taken to Jerusalem. On arrival I teamed up with an old Nigerian friend and a friend of his from Senegal and we took ourselves first to the Dome of the Rock, the main mosque, which is splendid and radiant (wow, the mosaics!) Then we saw the Wailing Wall.

Then we trudged up the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Via marks the route along which Christ was forced to carry his cross on the way to his crucifixion (dolorosa means something like “of miseries”). I had expected it to be lined with sculptures showing the Stations of the Cross (rather like the lovely ones at Fatima, near Ramabanta).

Instead it was one tourist gift shop after another. Here I came across one of the most repugnant things I’ve seen in my life. Proudly displayed for sale, a wall clock with the face adorned with the image of the head of Christ, the two clock hands protruding from his nose.

At the top of the Via Dolorosa, the fourth century Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in the world for Christians, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The interior is (not visibly) divided into sections, the upkeep of each of which is the responsibility of one of the major denominations: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Greek Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, and so on. I had had the impression this was an arrangement worked out under the colonial regime of British Palestine, but Google tells me it dates back to the Status Quo of 1757.

My companions had done their homework and suggested we head first for the roof, which had been allocated to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (dare one possibly suggest a tinge of racism in this marginalisation?). There we found a cluster of monkish cells, each inhabited by an elderly Ethiopian monk, at least two of whom spoke English or French. They were delighted to see us, and utterly sweet, hospitable, and in their accounts of their pastoral work spellbinding.

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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