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Pushing a community-based economy

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This article proposes an approach of governance that could lift Lesotho out of the dungeons of hunger, poverty and unemployment. I draw from an African-American activist and scholar, Claud Anderson. As Anderson asserts, the solution to any marginalised economy is community empowerment.

One must first understand the socio-economic dynamics at play in any constituency. Historically, Lesotho adopted its system of governance from its former colonial power. The colonial government treated Basotho as their enemies.

The system pushed Basotho into the dungeons of poverty, misery and diseases. Unfortunately, this system led to a vicious cycle of the triple tragedy of hunger, poverty, and unemployment for ordinary Basotho.

First, there is a need to understand the founding blocks that the proposal builds on. Anderson argues that a community is the starting point of economic and political emancipation of the marginalised. I seek to derive the meaning of the concept of ‘community’ in the context of a constituency in Lesotho.

A constituency is a primary structure that citizens may hold politicians accountable for. A community must desire to economically and politically liberate its members. Also, I will demonstrate that this structure will emancipate communities from the triple tragedy of hunger, poverty and unemployment. The workers in a community must earn a decent living.

A constituency community must seek to build collective thinking, bargaining and behaving as ‘we’. ‘We’ here denotes community members as a collective. To achieve ‘oneness’, they must hold regular meetings and campaigns. A constituency must connect individual members into an entity.

The starting point of all achievement is a collective desire. Thus, ‘desire’ is key to our community-building enterprise. Desire is the starting point of action. According to Wallace Wattles, desire is opportunity in a person seeking expression outwards. ‘Desire’ is the awareness of what each community lacks that would improve the lives of its members.

The term ‘community’ here is synonymous with Napoleon Hill’s ‘Mastermind Alliance’.

A Mastermind Alliance is a cooperation of people pursuing a definite purpose. The group complements each other to accomplish this purpose. Although all Mastermind members think the same way, they have different knowledge and skills. But, the members work together in perfect harmony to ensure success.

Any successful organisation has a Mastermind group. We must equip members to live and compete successfully in the domestic and global society of the 21st century, the period of the 4th industrial revolution.

In 2015 the Central Bank of Lesotho and the government said there were over 4 000 unemployed graduates in Lesotho. The national headcount poverty rate was 57.1% in 2011. Lesotho’s highest unemployment rate was 28.2% in 2010. In 2019 it was 23.5%.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated the youth unemployment rate at 32.8% in 2020. These national data suggest inferences at a constituency’s economic endeavours.
Although the Lesotho Bureau of Statistics regularly reports census, the reports do not disaggregate these data to understand the available constituencies.

For example, it would be essential to unpack the population regarding skills available for advancing a community at constituency or district levels.
Basotho are familiar with the concept of community ‘letsema’.

Many Basotho farmers practise subsistence farming. Traditional Basotho used matsema (plural for letsema) to increase agricultural production and to support bereaved widows in their times of need.

Scholars Lebeloane and Quan-Baffour describe the concept ‘letsema’ as a process of voluntary working together to increase productivity. Letsema premises itself on ‘Botho’, meaning caring, loving and supporting one another. These days local communities have an organisation called ‘mokhatlo’ or ‘societies’.

People come together as a society during funerals and other traditional ceremonies such as weddings and assist each other financially or in other forms of contribution.

Building on our traditional values and Anderson’s powernomics, I propose a comprehensive model. In doing so, the proposal adopts the Anderson definition of a community. Anderson distinguishes between a neighbourhood and a community. He points out that in a neighbourhood, people live in the same area.

These people merely live near one another.
In contrast to Anderson’s neighbourhood, a community is the ability to pull resources and power to produce and distribute consumption in a way that creates goods and wealth under its control.

With this in mind, a community has a commitment and potential ‘power’. Napoleon Hill defines the term ‘power’ as organised and intelligently directed knowledge. The article envisions a community that is economically and politically self-sufficient and competitive.

Maintaining the present status quo is detrimental to constituency communities. As a result, constituencies need an entirely different approach. This proposal seeks to define a community with an identity beyond its boundaries. It needs to create a self-contained community with collective thinking. A community is a unit with one goal.

In line with the aim above, the objectives of this proposal are to:

  •  define the concept ‘community’ in the context of a constituency in Lesotho. It proposes to build a community with characteristic attributes that emancipate its members. The characters are the economy, apolitical engagements with politicians, communication, and the education system;
  • build an independent, self-sufficient and sustainable economy that provides for the domestic needs of its community;
  •  overcome the triple tragedy of hunger, poverty and unemployment by generating job opportunities leading to decent wages;

providing education and training opportunities for youth and ‘abled’ community members. Also, identify retired, unemployed people with skills that the community could use in the interest of its development.

This proposal advocates a community-based model. So, a constituency must build a competitive community and a community must be economically and politically independent. Constituencies must empower their communities.

A true community of the mind and physical structure lives in a designated space called boundaries. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs drew the constituencies’ boundaries nationwide.

An aspect that follows establishing a community is developing an independent sustainable economy. In this economy, money must bounce eight or more times before leaving the constituency community.

A constituency must develop a self-sufficient and sustainable retail market and other primary services systems. So, its economy must safeguard the basic family domestic requirements.

The local supplies must include groceries, fresh produce, meat products and services. Moreover, the products must be competitive in terms of prices and quality. A community must build its economy based on its needs.

There must be an Economic Committee. This Committee will provide strategic leadership in the business and economic aspects of the community. Their responsibilities will include coordinating business in the community and negotiating deals with relevant stakeholders that would benefit local businesses. For example, the Committee must negotiate favourable conditions that would favour our local butcheries with abattoirs.

These conditions would be such that these butcheries provide quality products at competitive prices.
Many communities have local cafes and vendors selling fruits and vegetables.

Many have informal spaza shops, several liquor outlets, hair salons and barber shops. So, communities need to structure and plan the businesses. A structured economy will minimise unnecessary and unhealthy competition.

However, a constituency must not control services and products. But the proposal proposes a structured approach to business and services for the constituency community.

At the same time, communities must audit business sites that are idle to understand what could be the cause of their plight. They must devise a resuscitation and redirecting plan for the business in line with its vision.

In the meantime, constituency communities must assist their informal businesses to become competitive. These businesses may only achieve competitiveness by working as one team. The team will buy quality supplies as a collective. Buying in bulk will help local shops to generate competitive prices. The bargain prices would benefit the local customers and the retail business.

Moreover, these shops must engage professionals who will assist them run professionally. For example, businesses must follow proper bookkeeping protocols. The Economic Committee must negotiate ‘loan’ services to help informal businesses with the banking industry in Lesotho.

The loan terms should facilitate the growth of such businesses.

Similarly, the local service providers must run their businesses professionally. They must follow proper business procedures. These shops must engage professionals to function efficiently. In this way, local businesses must follow proper bookkeeping protocols.

Bookkeeping will enable these shops to measure their business performance in terms of profit and loss. There must be structured capacity buildings for business owners.

Moreover, the economic committees must engage local industries to fund local entrepreneur incubation training programmes. These industries must partner with Basotho Enterprises Development Corporation (BEDCO) in developing this incubation programmes.

Also, big retail businesses sell indigenous products such as ‘motoho’ and ‘mageu’ that Basotho brew and sell on the streets. So, the industry must train Basotho on quality packaging. The government must enforce local production for these products.

Selling local products is not new in Lesotho. For instance, the government has outlawed the importation of bottled water.

This proposal suggests ways for capacitating members to attain independent economic sustainability. Using people with bookkeeping skills will enable the constituency’s economy ‘to kill two birds with one stone.

It will help small business clean their books while at the same time reducing unemployment. The people with basic bookkeeping skills provide ‘mobile’ bookkeeping services to local businesses.

The Committee could explore possibilities of creating local cooperatives (the Coop). Basotho are familiar with the concept of cooperatives. Also, the Coops must benefit the local farmers, businesses and consumers.

For instance, the Coop could audit families with fields that may be lying fallow. There may be families that engage in farming elsewhere. The Committee must negotiate farming contracts with these families.

The Coop would then establish a Food Coop that will sell fresh produce at competitive prices. The Committee in constituencies must the electronically link the Food Coop with the local business.

The link with local businesses will be in a way that encourages community members to buy locally.

Also, a community must encourage interested families to engage in commercial agricultural projects such as piggery, poultry, and horticultural and dairy farming. The Coop will identify interested families and arrange developmental workshops that they could use to induct these families into the farming they opt for.

The Coop must consult with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security to create these business prospects.

The World Bank report (2016) and Guardian (IRIN, 2011) describe Lesotho’s public health system as ailing.

Healthcare crises plague the public health system. Affordable healthcare is scarce. Access to the general public to medical healthcare services is a challenge. The economic committee must link healthcare to the Coop. The strategy would enable members to have access to quality healthcare.

The Coop must explore ways its members may benefit in both public and private medical systems.
Constituency communities need a coordinated communication system.

The system would be necessary to build and empower members. However, there will be a need to communicate beyond town halls and formal gatherings. There must be regular local newsletters and other print media bulletins.

Each constituency community must have a communication radio station. The communication station is where ideas are developed and shared. This station must be interactive, allowing community members to air their views and developmental initiatives.

Its sole purpose will be to provide publicity. The communication radio station is a platform for sharing community programmes and projects with members and the general public. Moreover, the communication radio station will facilitate non-formal, informal education and information sharing.

The platform enables constituency communities to communicate with all stakeholders, politicians and other interested parties.

Initially, constituencies may not be able to own a radio station. An alternative would be to identify that radio station that resonates with them and may provide their services in the best condition and work with them. A constituency will then work out a contract that will suit them.

Moreover, the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic shutdown underlined the need for WiFi and internet connectivity. The youths are consumers of internet connectivity and its products. Constituency communities must lead in the initiative to harness this desire in young people and exploit it beneficially.

They must endeavour to provide free WiFi connectivity to their members. A constituency must use WiFi connectivity to enhance communication.
A constituency community must be apolitical. Presently, politicians, both at local and national levels, sell their political party manifestos to communities. People vote for parties based on personal sentiments.

A constituency must not vote on a party basis. It must bargain with politicians on a quid pro quo policy. Thus, a constituency must vote for a candidate who promises to meet all its demands. In this way, the electorate forces their MP to make him accountable to them.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, quid pro quo means that one gives something or receives it for something else. In other words, as Anderson puts it: ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine.’

As a result, quid pro quo is the best strategy a constituency could use to make politicians account for because the deal enables the voters to attach conditions to their votes. The politicians must promise to meet the community’s demands.

The last and critical feature of a community is education. Education is the apex of community development. Education provides the best means that a community may break the vicious cycle of the triple tragedy of hunger, poverty, and unemployment. A constituency must develop education strategies for their children.

Unfortunately, Lesotho offers an education that fails to meet the country’s needs. Only the general public sends their children to public schools. Those who have, e.g., the moguls, send their children elsewhere. But education is a mandate of the national government.

Although the Bureau of Statistics shows the population at different levels, it does not disaggregate the data by age, profession, skills or employment status. The statistical report unpacks these population data at district and national levels.

The omission is serious.

Government documents reveal that Lesotho’s biggest asset is human resources. As a result, Lesotho Government sponsors thousands of students in higher education institutions. Yet reports show that in 2015 there were over 4 000 unemployed university graduates who never worked.

In the meantime, the population census reports do not reveal data on retired skilled but not incapacitated pensioners lying idle. Constituencies waste these resources. We may juxtapose this information with the unskilled and unemployed youth and all ‘abled’ persons in a Constituency.

I use the word ‘abled’ to mean a person capable of working. Communities must exploit the skills of their members.

A constituency must engage in a fundraising campaign for the capacity development of the youth.

Constituency must build technoparks. A technopark is an initiative managed by professionals to support innovation and competitiveness. The technoparks will house skilled personnel, who include hairdressers, dressmakers, motor mechanics, plumbers, engineers, etc.

Technoparks will serve three purposes. (a) They would create jobs for the unemployed skilled labour force. (b) They will enable these owners to employ unskilled youths as apprentices. (c) They will produce quality products and services.

However, many will argue that young people need breakthroughs. Breakthroughs are also called luck. Education and training provide opportunities for these breakthroughs. Luck, in this case, the breakthrough happens when the preparedness in young people meets with opportunity.

Meanwhile, a Constituency must encourage its graduates to provide youth services by first working locally before exploring greener pastures. So constituencies must invite education scholarships for youth development.

Also, a community must work closely with the Ministry of Social Development to ensure deserving youth obtain the educational support they may require. Its education initiatives must make provision for inclusive education.

Lesotho, especially now in the age of digitalisation and social media, is reading and faces a challenge in knowledge acquisition, general information and recreation. Reports show that Lesotho is not a reading nation.

The country’s literacy rate is declining at an alarming rate. Consequently, we propose an erection of a modern public library. The library would also serve as a resource centre that provides digital services.

Community building is not an event but a process. As a result, the process requires time. It is best to match our building time interval constitutional elections period. Therefore, we envisage a fully-fleshed autonomous community by the year 2027.

In summary, this document suggests a strategy for building a constituency community. It highlights that communal farming and matsema are already inherent to Basotho. Also, Basotho have societies that cover customary ceremonies. As a result, constituencies must exploit this custom in their community-building endeavours. It highlights the aim and objectives of a constituency community.

Here, a community must work on the principles of collective decision-making. It aims to build a self-sufficient independent economy. I combine the objectives of a constituency community into one, namely, to overcome the challenges of hunger, poverty and unemployment. The constituency community is responsible for the emancipation of its members and advancement.

This proposal highlights the different features of a community arranged in hierarchical layers of an emancipatory community. It shows how a constituency community could utilise the features to its advantage. These features are:

• the constituency must build a self-sufficient economy. It must create an Economic Committee. The Committee will, in turn, institute a Community Cooperative. The Committee will structure the local business to the community’s needs;

• A community must encourage small business commercial farming. Where possible, the Economic Committee must encourage contract farming;

• A Constituency must initiate an entrepreneur incubation training programme in partnership with industry and BEDCO. Furthermore, a big retail business must sell local cultural products produced by indigenous Basotho;

• the constituency must form its communication station and other forms of communication, like bulletin newsletters, etc. Also, the constituency must provide WiFi connectivity;

• A Constituency must be apolitical. It must vote for candidates on merit. Politicians must commit to meeting their developmental demands. In this way, the community will have the power to hold politicians accountable through quid pro quo practice; and,

• Constituencies must structure their education and training initiatives. Also, they must develop their human resources based on their needs. A constituency must initiate and communicate their training endeavours with the stakeholders.

• A Constituency must erect technoparks. As such, the technoparks would serve multiple functions. They would provide training and employment opportunities while providing services and products.

• Each constituency must erect at least one public library.

Finally, this proposal can apply at any level in Lesotho or any part of the world. We envisage a constituency community project will be fully functional and autonomous in five years. This way, a constituency will break the vicious circle of the triple challenge of hunger, poverty and unemployment and lead their country to prosperity by serving, not receiving.

Dr Tholang Maqutu

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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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Insight

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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