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Shake up gun control policy

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Could be that when anything is left to its own devices, it soon gets out of control and becomes a law unto itself. At this point, it is so out of control that the best we can do as society is merely look on in dismay and hope that the next day will bring about a character different from what is being experienced in the current.
If it does not change for the better, we then have to find other means of dealing with it before it actually reaches a point where it will annihilate the world. Men have a fascination with weapons, I think it is primal; an instinct that is part of the few remaining signs of what the caveman age in the evolution of the human being was like.

Back then it was good to be violent and it was an advantage, right now it is utterly unnecessary to be violent, but the problem stems from the ownership and wrong use of firearms. It is as if the old adage, “my violence is better than yours” is back at play and every gun-toting individual deems themselves a gunslinger of the old western bioscope. It has become a Wild-Wild West in the tiny Mountain Kingdom and the policing services are fighting a losing battle to stem the tide of illegal firearms in the wrong hands and legal firearms in the hands of improperly trained criminal minds.
It should go back to the question: do we really need to have guns in this land? Gun control is a huge political topic and it is often debated whether gun control policies should be more lenient or more restrictive to best protect citizenry. Universities and institutions have conducted numerous studies in an attempt to settle longstanding debates concerning gun control and violent crime.
As usual, there are two sides to the debate with the opponents of strict gun control policy often citing the idea that criminals often seem to find illegal ways to obtain firearms despite the strict gun control measures undertaken by governments and authorities.

The truth in Africa south of the Sahara is that there are large amounts of illegal guns available on the illegal market due to the history of liberation struggles and civil wars.
Due to the prohibitive gun control policies usually preventing law-abiding citizens from possessing legal firearms, it means that they have little to no means of protecting themselves when faced with a perpetrator possessing a gun (Malcolm, 2003).
The other side, the gun control proponents, assert that strict gun control policies lower violent crime in many areas throughout the world. An example can be made of England which totally banned handguns in an attempt to lower violent handgun crime. Some states in the US do not allow individuals to carry concealed guns in an attempt to lower the availability of guns.
Recent research has also indicated the availability of guns also has a direct impact in the increase in gun assault and gun robberies or related crimes. It is a fact if one looks closely that Lesotho has a gun problem, the number of gun related assault and crimes is on the increase.

It does mean that somehow, access to guns on the illegal market is open and the authorities are finding it hard to deal with the influx of illegal firearms.
Only a small fraction of annual firearm deaths result in mass shootings, and these events attract enormous public, media, and social media attention in the country. Though they occur frequently, they hardly prompt discussions about legislative initiatives or measures that can be taken on how to better prevent gun violence.
There are discussions on other issues of equal importance, but it seems that the current and prevalent rise in gun-related crimes is given a cursory glance, ignorant of the fact that it might spiral out of control if left unchecked at this point in time.

The government has never actually defined the different terms related to gun crimes, for example, mass shooting, mass murderer, and others. There is no single universally accepted definition for each of the terms. The common definition of a mass murderer requires at least four casualties, excluding the offender or offenders, in a single incident (Wendt Jeffrey, 2009).
Public law defines a mass killing as a single incident in which three or more people were killed. Alternative definitions include two or more injured victims or four or more people injured or killed, including the shooter.

A case in question is that of police shootings of civilians that have triggered fierce debates locally and nationally. The gist of the matter lies in the question of when the use of lethal force is appropriate.
This stems from the question of whether lethal force is being used disproportionately against the disadvantaged and minorities, for the reality is that most of the incidents that occur seem to largely affect the poor and the vulnerable: the rich and the influential make a small percentage of the victims of gun crimes.
The numbers of gun crime victims are often so inaccurate that they could easily omit any individuals shot and killed by the police. This is largely because those victims from the vulnerable and minorities sectors of societies are usually those about whom no news story is written.

The government should at least announce plans to begin a new data collection effort that will track all incidents in which law enforcement officers seriously injure or kill citizens. The lopsided view that the police are a law unto themselves could come to an end if exposure and proper reporting actually put such policing sectors to account for crimes committed.
The background of any individual is important when it comes to the procurement of firearms. There should therefore be check laws to prevent firearm purchase or possession by individuals thought to be at high risk of presenting a danger to themselves or others. By restricting the means by which dangerous individuals could otherwise access guns, these laws are designed to reduce gun crime and violence (Malcolm, 2003).

While compliance on who should be granted a firearm licence is likely to be imperfect, a universal background check on the part of the issuing authorities may help reduce the number of gun-related homicides or suicides by deterring prohibited possessors from attempting to acquire firearms or by making it harder for them to succeed in doing so.
A recently read article states that, “For instance, when analyzing crime guns, Webster, Vernick, and Bulzacchelli (2009) found that fewer of the out-of-state guns originated in states with universal background checks than in states with no background checks for private sales of firearms.”
Universal background checks may also reduce illegal gun trafficking, but the story of Yuri Orlov as seen in the 2005 Nicolas Cage movie, Lord of War rings true in the case of Africa. The continent is the playground of gunrunners and illegal (and sometimes legal) weapons dealers.
The history of the armed struggle has a large hand to play in the proliferation of illegal arms on the black market. It does not take much to understand how illegal guns from Mozambique or Angola make it across the border into South Africa then to Lesotho.

One merely has to look at the history of the continent and they begin to understand how caches of ammunition and stockpiles of assault rifles (AK 47’s usually) find their way into wrong hands.
Once there, the scale of cash-in-transit heists, robberies and other crimes increase. The police get some of them, destroy them, but the sources of the illegal firearms are actually never perused or discussed at the regional body meetings. Issues of poverty, starvation, and health take precedence over this increasing problem. The issue of how guns get into the wrong hands is actually never questioned.
This means that there are currently no established patterns on how guns are sold and acquired, and the laws that control the sale and delivery of guns are not effective.
The effect is that such laws will bring about a change of great magnitude if the level of enforcement is high and the availability of firearms through alternative markets is kept in check. Members of such illegal markets or legal markets should be liable to pay hefty fines or to face lengthy prison sentences if they are apprehended.
It is a fact that an increase in the availability of guns increases the average citizen’s odds of being victim of a gun assault, especially in a country where the ownership of a firearm has the tendency to create the false image of being a demi-god in the owner.

Though some may argue that the possession of legal or illegal weapons or ammunitions is not necessarily a social threat, the truth is that the current increasing gun crime rate may prove to be a huge liability for the economy in the future.
Most of the guns present in the current stock of weapons are used for the commission of homicide or other violent crimes, the basis of owning a firearm which is self-defence is actually never observed in most cases. The most common reasons for individuals to illegally possess weapons are hardly ever questioned.
If they were to commit another crime in which the weapon is used as a tool to carry out the crime such as homicide, robbery, and assaults, the sentences on the offenders are so short that they do not act as a deterrent for further crimes.

One has seen and heard of incidents where the perpetrator gets away with just a light sentence. We are not judges, and this therefore means that we cannot know what sentence is appropriate for a specific crime, but the sentences for some of the gun crimes of passion sound like an insult to the families of the victims.
The insolent legal culture that seems to prosecute only offenders from the poorer section of societies for gun crimes should be reviewed. The truth of the matter is that we should be wary of the ultimate results of a loose gun control policy if women and children now form part of the demographics of gun crimes.
Rather than sit in discussion on issues that affect other sectors for long hours, focus should be put on the more serious issues related to the commission of crimes by individuals that should not possess guns or actually have illegal firearms in their keep. It makes sense to consider the basic tenet of “safety first” before moving on to other issues.
The economy won’t move if we are not safe, other sectors too will be wont to failure if there is an atmosphere of tension caused by too many illegal firearms.
It does not matter what one may argue, but it is a fact that where the smell of gunpowder is the leading scent, such a place is no place for productive thinkers that can aid the economy’s progress.
The attitude of approaching guns with an air of pride, or being casual about their ownership will surely lead the country into the doldrums out of which the state will never get out of. One hears people casually mention “shattering” other people’s heads as if it is a pastime.

It is true that there are discussions with rival gangs and factions on the issue of gun battles, but the main issue is never discussed. Gun control policies should be the main point of focus for any government that comes into power, for guns are what ultimately determine the stability of any given state in the world.
The presence of guns in the wrong hands is the main catalyst to violent crimes and the lead cause to social instability. Chopping the head off the snake can only be achieved if there is a clear gun-control policy.
It should be clear on how access to the ownership of guns can be furnished by the authorities, why they are issued, and when such access can be terminated if the owner is not compliant with the laws governing the ownership of guns.

Early lessons in the handling of firearms made one aware that a gun is technically a tool of death and nothing more or less than what it really is or is perceived to be. We seem to have forgotten this aspect and like that character (Spider) in the Wanakiri Wanaberi tale, we have forgotten the name of Death.
Guns are toted proudly in neighbourhoods as if they are pens, fired as if they are firecrackers, and what follows is a description of what they really are in the tale of Spider and Death.
Guns are, “The death goes round the city like a fattened big cow. The spider is very hungry and has nothing to eat. The spider wants to buy beef. The death gave it to him and asked him to pay a price which is to remember his name within one year.”
The reasons why we buy guns are forgotten, the care with which we should handle them is casually dismissed, and now we kill each other as nympholepts high on the peyotes of debauchery; for glories we will never reach, killing each other like flies with guns.

Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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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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