Reforming society under Moshoeshoe I’s watch

Reforming society under Moshoeshoe I’s watch

Part 2

Continued from last week

Many of the things we say about Moshoeshoe I — his empathy and humanity, his love for peace, his wisdom, etc.,—these things are well-known. Evidence of our knowledge is the fact that, in the 1960s, Dr Jonathan, Dr Mokhehle, and King Moshoeshoe II, all sought inspiration from him, as they pondered questions of how Basotho should be ruled after independence.
The hardest question we need to ask, and try and answer, about where we are going, as a nation, is: Why do political instability, intolerance and socio-economic inequality persist when those who perpetrate them know that their conduct is against ‘the law of Moshoeshoe I’? Why do we do wrong against one another when we know it is contrary to ‘the law of Moshoeshoe I’?
I think, more than celebrating, and reminding ourselves of, what Moshoeshoe I stood for, what he would approve of, and what he would disapprove of, we need to ask ourselves why we are unable to adhere to the wisdom he left us, despite being aware of it.

For those who may say they have tried to follow principles of good government he left us, and the compassion he taught us, the question would be: What is it that has made their attempts unsuccessful? What conditions should exist in order for us to be able to live, and rule ourselves, in ways Moshoeshoe I would approve of?
It is increasingly looking like these are the questions that we need to raise and discuss, sincerely, if we are to be a compassionate society, and rule ourselves in ways that will secure Moshoeshoe I’s approval.

To be sure, the fact that there are no obvious signs of civil, or any other kind of, war in Lesotho, does not mean we live in the peace that Moshoeshoe I secured for us. Basotho have been ruled by force, since 1970. Rather than peace, what has been obtained in general society, is, mostly, fear, or courage, in the face of those who wield power.
Even then, we know that, to instil even more fear among us, every now-and-then the courageous ones among us are killed, and politicians send thugs, state agents, and party apparatchiks to their houses in the dead of the night to scare them into silence.

Alarmingly, this dependence on force to maintain fear — not peace — has taken money away from education to purchase weapons. It is not an exaggeration to say that, unless we change course, disaster is looming in our education, in our prospects of better politics, and in our attempts to improve Basotho’s welfare.
Be it said that, one of Moshoeshoe I’s legacies that he bequeathed us was education. In it, he saw many benefits, including the fact that, through education, his beloved Sesotho language would be preserved. Thus, on seeing his words written down and represented by letters of the alphabet, he told a missionary:

My language remains my language on paper. If the paper came from some remote corner of the Maloti, and if it arrived by itself at Thaba Bosiu, it would be recognised as a Mosotho, and we would ask it if it had been written by one of the subjects of Mokoteli.”

After the missionaries arrived here, he embarked on life-long learning, asking missionaries questions, and engaging them in debates on issues, such as on matters of ‘right and wrong’. One of his greatest joys was having Casalis read ancient European History to him, and, then, based on what he would have heard, making very profound observations about humanity. Once, in 1840, at the age of 54, he was observed spending two hours learning to spell.

It is observable that, the political system we have adopted, liberal democracy, is, to put it bluntly, a political system of the educated — or those who were socialised in it; it works best where the majority of society are educated, and it has not worked well everywhere where the majority of society are not educated.
Basotho can testify that, greatest beneficiaries of liberal democracy are those who understand it, and who, for that reason, are able to make it work for them; and we are all witnesses to the fact that, liberal democracy fails when operated by those who do not understand its philosophical moorings.

As all of us must be aware by now, we should not mistake liberal democracy with periodic elections. We still have a long way to cultivate liberal democracy in Lesotho, and that requires an educated society. Our politics and government today consist of a few educated politicians, some of whom understand liberal democracy full well, cheating the rest of us into voting for them periodically, to enable them to pursue self-interest. This will persist if we kill education in Lesotho, as we now seem to be doing.

I have said that the character and thoughts of Moshoeshoe I are known, and that, we would all like to live by his example. To provide part of the answer to the questions I raised — namely, why those who have ruled us have not followed Moshoeshoe I’s example — we need to go back to what Mohlomi’a Matsie taught Moshoeshoe I. Moshoeshoe I’s youthful desire to become a chief was rather brash and naked.

As he, himself, put it just before he died (and not without a tinge of regret): Ke ne ke luma borena haholo — loosely: My ambition to become a chief was excessive. This is the ambition that he presented to Mohlomi, and asked for medicine, setlhare, to create a chiefdom, such as Mohlomi’s, whose territory “was covered with men”. Mohlomi is said to have told Moshoeshoe I: Motse ha o na sehlare: sehlare ke pelo — loosely: There is no medicine that can be used in the building of a strong, well-founded community; medicine for doing so is the heart.
There is a very important lesson to be drawn from this, at this time when we are looking for a remedy, or ‘medicine’, to our recurring political crises, political and economic insecurity, poverty, and socio–economic inequality.

The evils that have taken place, and that have been perpetrated in our society, come from the hearts of men and women. Mohlomi was quite right that: unless Moshoeshoe I got his heart right, he was not going to succeed.

Only when his heart was right would his ambition be clothed with empathy and generosity. In the same vein, it is well to reform our institutions, but many of us have long thought that, it is not our institutions — the constitution, the political system, etc.—that are lacking, but it is the hearts of those who have ruled us that are not right.

We are all aware that we will never have a fool-proof constitution. Nobody does. Besides, those with ill-intentioned hearts will subvert even the most water-tight constitution.
We need leaders with the right hearts, who, when the constitution shows weaknesses, will remember its intentions, and use those to guide their actions. What we have had, instead, are politicians and rulers who take advantage of the ‘loopholes’ to generate crises. A ruler with a good heart will use even a bad constitution to good ends, and a ruler with an evil heart will subvert even a fool-proof constitution to achieve evil, and self-serving, ends.

l Motlatsi Thabane is a Mosotho academic based in Kwaluseni in Eswatini

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