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Rooting out poverty

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I have often heard the story that in the Jewish communities around the world, a wad of cash circulates around ‘at least (that is, the minimum)’ 19 individuals ‘within’ the community before it heads out to the general money-spending population.
The pattern of circulating money in this manner means that the community makes the most out of it before it is spent on things that are not available in such a community’s market, that is, the money is spent on what they cannot themselves manufacture and are therefore forced to outsource it.
It takes no use of definitions provided by quantum economic theories to understand why the Jewish communities of the world are on average the richest folk in the communities within which they live.

Their method is as simple as the old way of the ancients where the whole community would share the tinderbox, or a burning ember of coal that would move from house to house to start fires in different households.
Ho okhelana mollo meaning in short to share fire is an age old concept that was in operation before every family could buy their own box of matches, and it worked wonders in terms of keeping the community together for it kept the fires going.

The simple shard from a clay-pot or the use of the fire-pot in the case where the distance covered was long meant that the flame begun by the fire-makers (for fire indeed needs to be made) could go on to warm different households and to cook needed meals.

I see the same thing when it comes to the analysis of money which I see as the flame that we need to keep warm in the cold economic winters of the world where it burns as huge bonfires in the First World countries, and is scattered and scarce in the Third World countries and its flames are so small that they often cannot cook a meal or warm the different communities that share it.
The simple reality is that we need money to keep going on but are sadly confronted with the reality that money is not shared enough, with some parties that have it choosing to hoard it in different ways instead of sharing it with the rest of the community.

It is often out of pride that the little cash we have as African people is actually used for purposes other than the upliftment of the rest of society out of the clutches of poverty that plagues the continent.
Those who have it hoard it in different ways, from using the rather lame justification that one has worked hard for their money and therefore cannot share it, to being stingy enough not to pay those that render services, to limiting the use of cash in a small circle made of affiliates: the reality is that cash does not circulate enough within the community before it is spent.
What happens is that it reaches a maximum of three people before it is sent back to where it came from, and this leads to it not being used to its full potential by the members of the community that have it and decide to hoard it.

Time is of every essence, and being in time, being on time, being out of time are all determining factors in terms of eradicating poverty. One cannot hope to get out of the mires of poverty if they have no respect for the hands on the clock of time, for each minute counts for something important that can be done as an effort to erase the scourge of poverty.
I see this everytime I have to perform extra-mural (moonlight) jobs that put food on my table and serve to supplement my salary and to cover other extra costs.
Whatever minute is lost means that I might lose out on a simple job that could be done in the space of a few hours after which the payment by the client is supposed to be made.
Not respecting time means that one loses the job and with it the reward that is due based on the simple premise that one is paid on the basis of a job finished on time (the period demanded by the customer or client). In an environment where the concept of ‘African Time ’ is in use, there is just no way that activities that bring cash rewards can be finished on time to warrant adequate payment due to the labour put in.

If the job is late or out of time, it is fair for the customer to refuse to pay the amount demanded by the craftsman. And this leads to poverty as the potential cash-flow that would come with the timeous delivery and rendering of services is stemmed or limited due to non/under-payment born out of dissatisfaction.
Commitment to whatever efforts that are related to driving the economy is of paramount importance. The creation of cash demands that the parties involved are committed to the tasks that are the engines in the making of cash despite their seeming uselessness.

There are stories of many individuals that have made a lot of money from activities that at first seemed unimportant because they stuck to the road and were resolute in their decision to venture into the cash-creating activity.

Through sheer will and diligence, an individual can end up owning an empire if they are committed to the original vision of their business (which I term as ‘busy-ness’) because the creation of wealth demands that one should be as busy as the bee.

There is no given method in the carrying out of activities geared towards the creation of lucre, but there is the uncontested wisdom that once started, the effort towards the attainment of fiscal wealth should be unceasing, because pausing for a while (however short the moment of repose may be) may mean that one loses out on potential customers who may in their nature not have the patience to wait for one’s services and therefore begin looking for alternatives represented by fellow professionals in the same line of work one does.
The goal should be that one has to be committed enough not to end up as the loser because their effort is not committed or concerted.

Being virtuous means that one honours the terms of their service, that one does not cheat the client (through overcharging for services rendered), is timeous in the delivery of the needed services, understands the client’s condition, and is willing to provide services for less than what the services are actually worth in instances where the customer cannot afford the services offered or is timeous in their payment (for this means that the collateral costs such as debt collection and the cost of contingencies such as transport and meals are actually shaved off).

One as the provider of any service should understand that there will be bargaining in every transaction, but one should be virtuous enough to make the client aware of the cost of all the elements in the quotation, in short, one should be able to justify all of the components that make up the final charge for the services to be rendered.
The attitude locally is to argue with the customer and this leads to one or both parties losing out because they do not understand why the services to be rendered cost as much as they are presented out on the quotation.

The truth of the matter is that the customer is always king, and the virtuous craftsman working hard to keep the hunger at bay understands this simple fact, and they always get something out of the deal.
However little, this amount contributes in the poverty alleviation practices like service provision in different forms.
Knowing who to charge and how to charge them is always a challenge to the beginner in the handyman crafts, and I have figured out a simple way to do this.
The reality is that not all the clients one comes across can actually afford the full cost of the service they need, and it is rather uncouth to leave them out in the cold simply on the basis of their not being able to pay in cash.
There should be a payment plan made by the two parties (the service provider and the client) on how they can cover the labour cost of the service to be provided.
A simple agreement can be written or the agreement can be on a mutual basis, meaning that one as the provider relies on their previous experience with the client or their instinct (for one’s gut is right more times than it is wrong) to set out the terms of payment. However little, the income one earns from the service provision activities actually pans out to be enough to keep one going for the larger part of the month and out of the poverty trap caused by the lack of cash to pay day-to-day needs.

Getting rid of poverty is not made in the manner that one gets a lump sum to wash it away; the reality is that it is chipped away in little bits. The figure who is patient enough to gather in bits at the end of the day ends up richer because they are satisfied with the little they get and are therefore content, meaning that they can carry out their tasks in a committed manner that satisfies the client.
The big-name clients are few and far-in-between; one should learn to deal with the small-income clients who are actually more regular in their need for one’s services as a handyman.
Saving and spending are two elements that are core to the process of garnering wealth, and they should be treated with utmost care. The temptation is to spend after long hours of toil, and giving in to this kind of temptation leaves one poorer than they were before they began the task that pays them. The wisdom is to set out a budget in advance to avoid the impulsive spending sprees that are triggered by the little cash one gets their hands on in the course of their effort.

Cycling between being broke and having more cash than what one does not know what to do with it is the bane of many an independent craftsman on this continent who wake up one day to poverty on which they apply hard work to get out of only to regress to poverty the day after their hard work is rewarded.
One should learn to save, and there are many ways of doing it, I believe in putting a certain amount into the bank, or simply buying tools (even those that I do not need, for they always turn out to be handy when certain unforeseen jobs come my way).

We stay in poverty simply because we spend more than we make on many occasions, and this leaves us perpertual slaves to money-lenders and loan-sharks for whom we end up working for. The trick is simply to learn how one can live within their means and to gather enough on top of the little capital one gets from their activities.
The main argument for many of those that want to venture into business is that there is not enough capital to set out on. My argument is that the only capital one needs to set out on a money-making venture is that made up of the will to start, the courage to begin, the obstinacy to keep on keeping on despite seeming challenges, and constant education to establish and clarify one’s understanding of the field or craft they are in.

There is just no way that one can get out of poverty if one is focused on the tales of how others got out of poverty. They are good as reference points, but the truth is that the successful oftentimes succeed because they choose their own and follow it as it unfolds new realities as it progresses. The wisdom is to avoid praise at all costs for it carries a double meaning on an average day: it goads one on, but also sows the seeds of complacency because one then begins to think and believe that they are ‘good’.

The reality is that one should never become too familiar with what they do for it soon breeds a certain level of contempt or disrespect. Every job has a different character, and therefore, the approach to it should be carried with the utmost care each time one comes across it.
This respect for the job is what actually serves as the ladder out of the hole poverty has put the continent in.

By; Tšepiso S Mothibi

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Insight

We need a coordinated approach on youth challenges

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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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Insight

Call that a muffin?

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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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Insight

Lessons from Israel: Part 3

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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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