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The bitterness behind xenophobia



At a house in Lusaka 1967, MK and APLA cadres rest easy and reminisce on the memories of home as comrades forced to leave the land of their forefathers in the spate of the brutal attacks by the apartheid police. It is not an easy life being in a foreign land, but the welcoming smiles and courtesy of their hosts makes them forget for a while that they are away from home, after all, the pan-Africanist spirit of the independence decade across the continent rules the relationships between the various African peoples in the different newly-freed states. The South Africans are treated as fellow African brothers that need to be helped to vanquish the demons of oppression and racial segregation installed by Verwoed and company.

Unsafe from the boots, batons and knuckledusters of the security police that carry systematic early-morning raids on the homes of suspected struggle cadres, many of the young men and old men that include Oliver Tambo, Thabo, Mbeki, Chris Hani, Tito Mboweni and others are forced to flee into exile across the different parts of Africa before the journey to Moscow where they are taught the true tenets of socialism and communist ideology that drives the freedom movements.
For the moment, Mandela, Kathrada and a host of others languish on the famous inescapable Robben Island, South Africa’s own Alcatraz prison facility and penitentiary for suspected freedom movement leaders and iconoclasts.

Fast forward to 1982 and the Maseru massacre leaves more than 40 dead as the security forces of the SANDF carry out a raid on the tenements and homes suspected of harbouring ANC and PAC cadres. The pain is a shared affair, for some of those that have died are local Basotho, but their deaths are not mourned more than those of their fellow brothers from across the border, we are after all the children of one father, coming from the same root and suffering under the same yoke of oppression under the brutal apartheid policy that suppresses the voices of the masses for the benefit of promoting the racial superiority of the minority.

This is the story of South Africa, the youngest democracy in Africa whose freedom came because of the efforts of the other countries and neighbouring African states whose citizens are now being attacked and massacred because ‘they have become a nuisance’.
Though not a shared sentiment for the larger majority of South Africans, it seems the émigré and political/economic refugee living in South Africa has become the target of spiteful xenophobic attacks by locals that claim many an unfound premises as the cause to their unchecked attacks on people of ‘foreign’ origin.

From blaming the ‘foreigner’ for crimes ranging from drug-peddling to human-trafficking the spiteful local with criminal intents is largely an unquestioned entity, free to hack to death anyone that seems foreign in appearance and bold enough to forcefully evict more than a thousand expatriates because of unproven accusations that the scourges of unemployment, crime, prostitution, and drug abuse are exacerbated by the presence of ‘foreigners’ in the different communities.

I have always held the notion that some South Africans seem to suffer from chronic amnesia, having totally forgotten who provided them with needed shelter and safe harbour in the days when the dogs of Verwoed bayed for the blood of those that had any ties with the freedom movements of the day. From Maputo to Dar-es-Salaam, Harare to Lagos, Maseru to Cairo, the South African freedom movements could find safety and comfort enough to enable them to plot their strategies and carry out insurgencies aimed at destabilising the apartheid government and forcing the state to listen to their calls for equality.

The Freedom Charter could not have gone on to live had the masses across different neighbouring African states and the globe joined the protest that saw the final liberation of Mandela in 1990 and the first democratic government of 1994. One therefore wonders what the real problem is with the people when foreign nationals seeking asylum from various human and political issues affecting their different states are brazenly attacked by the very same people they gave shelter to in the days when the night of Apartheid was the darkest for the majority of black, Indian, and other races in a state governed by a white minority.

It is a fact that Africa stood together to save and support the South African freedom fighter in the long years of the struggle for the liberation of its black majority; it is shameful that the very majority seem to be the main culprits in the now common xenophobic attacks on fellow Africans from other war-torn or economically challenged neighbouring states: the reality is that so far, no person of other colour or race from a non-African state has become the target of the attacks. This raises the question why the black African from other African states has become the victim of these xenophobic attacks.

There are many reasons raised as to the causes of this shameful phenomenon, from poverty to unemployment of the locals, to the blaming games on foreign nationals being the perpetrators of crimes that include drug peddling and human trafficking.
I guess it may be true that a certain small section may be criminal in their deeds but the question remains: should the larger majority of asylum seekers and émigrés suffer because of a small cabal of criminals? Are the real issues behind the xenophobic attacks fleshed out in full to find more amicable solutions to the souring relationships between the locals and the foreign nationals?

The authorities do not address the issues from the point of view of the individual, rather, blanket solutions that are proving ineffective form the larger part of the discussion forums focused on abetting the scourge of xenophobic tendencies of the local South African or any other African tempted to fall into the frenzy of hateful habits that culminate in the massacre of fellow Africans on the basis of their being ‘foreign’.
When South Africa became a democracy in 1994, many of us were hopeful that finally, the wealth of the land would be equally shared. Being the hub of economic prosperity for the neighbouring states and holding the position of being the largest economy on the continent, it was therefore natural that those that felt that their home countries were not providing enough in terms of reaching the needed happiness would gravitate towards the bright lights of Johannesburg and the opulence of the ports of Cape Town and Durban in their search of happiness.

The quest for happiness is a primal human need, and wherever one feels in their gut that they shall find it or some semblance of it, there they shall go in search for it. No one needs to be prevented from travelling because it is against the constitutional principle of the right to freedom of movement. If one is willing to work to gather the wealth to gain their happiness, they should be allowed to engage in such activities as will enable them to reach their desired goal as long as such activities do not infringe on the welfare and peace of the host community or its citizens.

Where there are infringements, amicable solutions should be found to address issues that may lead to altercations between the new members of the community and the older citizens/locals.
The advent of South Africa’s freedom came with the promise of a better future for all, but the basic understanding should have been that those who had gone into exile should first be re-instituted into the common society that had stayed behind to face apartheid. What happened instead is that their leadership jumped right into government and the benefits thereof, often adopting the kind of attitude that their comrades and families deserved the best of the rewards.

Cushy jobs, private school education, prejudiced tender distribution, and increased levels of nepotism meant that those who had stayed home when the cadres ran off into the jungle were left out. This is the class that saw their youth languish at home despite the fact that many of them had degrees because there were no jobs.
The idea of ‘no jobs/vacancies’ was not there in Apartheid times, and so it vexed the local that had braved tear gas and rubber bullets, the local who had witnessed neck lacings of askaris/informers/sell-outs and political opponents. The new political class largely made of those that had returned from the jungle (the ‘been to’s’) forgot about the local, and the influx of foreign nationals in the post 1994 era added to the bitterness, playing the sad role of the scapegoat and screen that hid the real causes to the increasing levels of poverty and unemployment. Though the new political class are the cause to the decaying economic conditions, it is the poor foreigner that has taken the brunt of the blame.

Willing to do strenuous tasks for menial pay and largely exploited because of their foreign status, the foreign national gets blamed for stealing jobs the local is often unwilling to do. This means that there is more to the cause behind the violence than the accusation that the foreigner is stealing jobs (and women sometimes). The first is the above proposition that there was an uneven distribution of economic resources after the independence. The ruling class and their affiliates hoarded most of the economic wealth, leaving the larger part of the population poorer than they were in the days of Apartheid.

There should have been more locals that had stayed behind involved in the decision-making processes in the post-Apartheid government. The birth of the welfare policies focused on providing a pension fund for the aged, the disabled and the single mothers merely came as appeasement. Building RDP houses addressed part of the housing problem but failed to address the real issue: people need jobs that pay them to have the freedom to pay their way. Providing welfare funds merely creates a nation of beggars unwilling to engage in activities they consider too low, even if they pay, for they know that the government shall provide.

If the government does not provide, such citizens are likely to turn on the most vulnerable target: the foreign national who is not a local. The talk after the recent attacks seems to deviate from the fact that those attacks were xenophobic, the main argument seems to assert that they are criminally motivated. One would choose to differ largely because of the manner in which the previous attacks were treated. The talks after the fact largely sounded patronising, mainly referring to the contribution of the other countries in helping South Africa gain its independence and not focusing on the real issues at hand: integration, tribalism, racism, and economic realities.

Being from different regions on the continent naturally means we have different customs and traditions, cultures that are different but whose middle ground can be found if we engage in activities that enable the sharing of such differences in cultural tendencies an open affair.
Colonialism meant that a people that once understood each other as neighbours became divided on the basis of tribe and clan, leading to the African always looking on the next African with a sense of distrust unless they live together in similar conditions for extended periods to the point where similarities are found and understood. The idea of foreign nationals living in separate communities actually exacerbates the sense of distrust and bitterness, for there is bound to be jealousy if they thrive as broom-sellers and door to door salesmen selling different wares which the locals cannot get due to prevailing economic conditions of poverty and unemployment.

It is time that the real truth behind the menace of xenophobia was addressed as it should be, dilly-dallying around the issue and being patronising in the declaration of our Africanness will get us nowhere, for the ‘we and them’ mentality shall always carry on. The local must truly understand that the foreigner is a brother, that we are where we are because of the mass migrations of different groups across millennia. Stoning and hacking another black African may at the end of the day only prove to be the catalyst to the demise of the black race on earth, removing an entire race as if that race is a blot on the earth’s escutcheon.

A look at the common history of the black peoples of Africa soon reveals that we all somehow come from a common ancestor, that we all somehow traversed the same routes in the long migratory journeys to the point where we are now before colonialism came along and changed the whole mutual understanding that all should play good host to the lonely traveller and stranger that comes from a somewhere we now do not know but somehow come from if we look deep enough into our past.

Diplomacy and politeness do not go to the core of the matter in discussion and to counter this, people should rather be taught to look deep into themselves; to introspect on what it means to be a good human being. The reality is that Africans are as common as twins are, as brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers are. We are one, and no diplomacy or courtesy is needed to remind us of this fact.

Tsépiso S. Mothibi

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Harnessing imagery in writing



All writing is imaginative. Every piece of writing reflects the artistry and mental resourcefulness of the writer.

Effective writing also reflects the colourfulness of the writer’s mind and heart; their ability to paint the world to the reader and their capacity or facility of taking the reader with them to beautiful mental and physical and picturesque journeys.

In this piece we focus on how we can hone our creative abilities through the use of imagery and the effect of using colourful and evocative imagery in writing. Let’s go! What if I say, “Learn to prepare wisely and meticulously in time,” you will still grasp the message in a very clear way, isn’t it? But would that be interesting and colourful?

But what if we put it in a colourful manner, “Make hay whilst the sun still shines,” you really grasp the colour and the full import of the message, isn’t it? That’s what imagery does to your writing; it allows you to feel, touch and smell what you are reading.

There is no doubt that the proverb, “make hay whilst the sun still shines” has taken you to the countryside, in a farming community. You hear the bleating of sheep and the neighing of horses.

At the same time, you visualise the good farmer gracefully at work, cutting grass which he is piling in orderly stacks, preparing fodder for his animals in the future. The sun’s rays buoy his attempts and ensure that the hay is prepared with care and colour.

Thus, the point of good imagery is to capture in full detail a world that allows the reader to grasp and enjoy using their five senses. Let me give you a small but beautiful extract which further drives home the point.

“With his machete he detached a brittle clod, broke it on a stone. It was full of dead twigs and the residue of dried roots that he crushed in his fingers.

“Look, there isn’t anything left. The water has dried up in the very entrails of the mountain. It’s not worth while looking any further. It’s useless.” Then, with sudden anger, “But why, damn it! Did you cut the woods down, the oaks, the mahogany trees, and everything that grow up there? Stupid people with no sense!”

Thando struggled for a moment to find words. “What else could we do, brother? We cleared it to get new wood. We cut it down for framework and beams for our hearts. We repaired the fences around our fields. We didn’t know ourselves. Ignorance and need go together, don’t they?”

The sun scratched the scorched back of the mountain with its shining fingernails. Along the dry ravine the earth panted. The countryside, baked in drought, began to sizzle.”

What a colourful piece! The extract aptly paints a countryside’s pulse and the rhythms of seasonal and climate change and how that affects the livelihood patterns of the inhabitants. Have you seen how the sun has been endowed with human-like features?

And the description of the earth assuming human-like features, for instance, “the earth panted.” No doubt, you have seen the earth subdued by the intensity of heat in a way that is similar to a person who is panting.

To paint excellent images the writer needs to have the gift of observation. He/she should be able to observe quite a panorama of things around him and immerse them in the soil of their imagination. Let’s see another good extract where you can discern the link between good images, excellent description and the power of observation.

“It’s in the morning, the fourth watch, to borrow from biblical discourse. It’s damp outside. I brace the slicing chilly weather to go outside. There is a drizzle, constant showers seeping deep down. I pace up at least 400 metres from my hood. I see lined-up, almost cubicle-like houses.

I keep walking, with a spring in the step buoyed by the damp aura wrought by the incessant downpours. I take a deep breath, and step back as it were.

I want to be deliberate. I want to take in everything in my environment; the colours, the diverse hues and plethora of landscape contours. I notice a woman, almost in her forties, from my eye-view assumptions. She is grabbing a basket clutched tenaciously almost close to her big bosom.

She is going to Mbare Musika, the famous agricultural market wherein she intends to buy items for her stall. Behind her, there is a big strapped baby covered in velvet. As she briskly walks, I see her jumping a poodle of water as she observes her stall. I also observe a man, clad in sportswear running trying to cure a big belly.

As I keep watching, I see a woman sweeping her small veranda. I keep walking. I see a woman, plump tending to her garden. She seems animated by the drizzle, thanks to the rains.

I hear another woman, especially her piercing voice, she is selling floor polish. Her voice fills the air. As I drown in the sweet voice, I notice a man staggering. He is filthy. He could have calloused the whole night. He is holding a Black Label quart, speaking gibberish in the air. I keep watching.”

So here were are! Writing is a matter of painting with words, carving images and allowing the reader to experience the impact of all the senses so as to fully grasp the sense of what is put across.

Vuso Mhlanga teaches at the University of Zimbabwe. For almost a decade and half he taught English language and Literature in English at high school.

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Politicians’ propensity to score own goals



Lesotho politicians are often in the habit of scoring own goals. For example, look at the circus that took place in the country at the opening of parliament after the winter break. These events remind me of the article that I wrote with the title ‘Scoring own goals’.

This article appeared in this publication dated March 18 – 24, 2021. It argued that Lesotho’s politicians had a propensity to score own goals.

Many say that education and academia should not involve themselves in politics. This belief is a fallacy. The two are intrinsically intertwined. Education and politics link in a complex way.

For instance, parliament is an organ that passes laws that govern and guide national education policies. The interconnectedness includes the curricula that educational institutions and schools teach. Now, if the National Assembly’s focus is misplaced, important legislative decisions may stall or be derailed by lack of action.

I must make a disclaimer though. I am not promoting any view about a political party. I am writing this article purely as a concerned citizen.

I revisit the own goal tendency of those in authority by assessing the drama that unfolded in politics and governance. I review the recent events that culminated in the failed vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Sam Matekane and his government.

I use arguments from research to demonstrate the fluidity of Lesotho’s democracy. Some politicians often take advantage of this fluidity for selfish gain. I contest that the Prime Minister and his government should treat their adversities as stepping stones to meeting their targets.

A constitution is a living document. Accordingly, to keep Lesotho’s constitution alive, current and relevant, parliament should regularly amend it.

However, in so doing, parliament must be careful that tinkering with the country’s constitution does not compromise the essence of democracy they champion. National and democratic principles must form the dogma that underpins the improvements and amendment exercises.

Personal aspirations, ambitions and creed must not underpin the amendments.

The recent events in and out of the National Assembly make one question the perceptions of the different roles players in the democratic playground in Lesotho have.

First, there was a vote of no confidence that the Speaker ruled to defer subject to the high court’s decision.

Second, there was the allegedly drunken MP’s own goal.

The third is the press conference led by the Commissioner of the Lesotho Mounted Police Services flanked by the head of the Lesotho Defence Force and the Director General of the National Security Services.

It is already a hat trick of own goals. Fourth, there was the statement of the Prime Minister claiming an attempted coup.

The fifth own goal is the moratorium that prevented parliament from holding a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister before the lapse of three years of his inauguration.

The sixth is the practice of shirking responsibility by MPs. MPs often refer political matters to the national courts for decisions. The seventh, and the mother of all own goals, is the electoral system that Lesotho elected to pursue. The National Assembly has 120 MPs. There are 80 MPs representing constituencies and 40 proportional representatives.

The Commonwealth suggested that Lesotho review the modalities of the PR nominations. Sekatle and the Commonwealth agree that the PR system introduced plurality but at a cost. The cost is what scholars and commentators term minority rights and coalitions.

Also, it compromises accountability and transparency. It undermines the collective intelligence of the voters. Chief Jonathan warned against coalition governments by citing their instability. Political instability plagues Lesotho today.
Sekatle and the Commonwealth cited the overreliance on a threshold in awarding PR seats in parliament, cheapening them.

The PR system ballooned parliament unnecessarily. By comparison, Botswana had a population of 2.6 million in (2021). Lesotho had 2.3 million (2021). Botswana parliament currently has 65 seats, and Lesotho has 120.

A consequence emanating from the PR system in Lesotho is a hung parliament. Since 2012, there has not been an outright majority in the National Assembly. The results yielded chaos. Over that period, PMs constantly look over their shoulders. All these coalitions imploded.

Democracy is about the majority. Politicians must be persuasive to attract votes to achieve the majority. In other words, the PR system rewards failure.

The own goals cause stagnation. MPs score these own goals by serving their selfish interests. They waste time and energy on trivial things. And yet, they receive full-time salaries and earn allowances such as sittings and petrol allowances. How, then, would one explain that the external urging of parliament had to engage in the reforms exercise?

Today, reforms are lying latent. Politicians use the reform programme as an excuse for ensuring that they retain or access power. In the recent correspondences to SADC, the government and the opposition cite reforms and democracy to justify their actions. But as I write this article, there is nothing much that is happening along the lines of these very reforms. Why?

The starting point of any achievement is desire and definitiveness of purpose. The definitiveness of purpose is more than goal setting. It is one’s roadmap to achieving the overall objectives. Elsewhere, I took the definition of desire as explained by the author, Wallace Wattles.

According to Wattles, ‘Desire is possibility seeking expression, or function seeking performance’. All desires began as a thought. Expressing their desires through a manifesto is a means by which parties attempt to concretise them (their desires).

The starting point of an election campaign is the expression of political intentions and goals through manifestos. A manifesto is a public declaration of aims and policy by a political party or candidate. Political parties express their desires for what they will do in their manifestos.

After elections, these desires become the guiding principles and laws. Politically mature voters would then elect political candidates based on these manifestos.

Who instigated and drove the reforms in Lesotho? The contemporary history of Lesotho reveals that external forces pushed the reforms. Basotho merely reacted. They do not own the reform process. High on the list of their drivers are SADC, the US through AGOA and the European Union.

The practice contradicts Wattles’ definition. According to Wattles definition, desire must emanate from inside the individual, or in our case, from Basotho and be expressed outward through actions.

I do not want to comment too much about the involvement of the security agencies in politics. In my view, the relevant bodies, namely, the Law Society of Lesotho, the media and the opposition parties dealt with their involvement adequately.

Former PM Leabua Jonathan often described democracy as the government of the people by the people. But, the meaning of the construct of democracy is fluid and elusive, depending on the position of governance in Lesotho’s political arena.

Authors Hughes, Kroehler and Vander Zanden explain that democracy is a system in which the powers of government derive from the consent of the governed, namely the masses who vote, in which regular constitutional avenues exist for changing government officials.

The authors characterise the system as one which permits the population a significant voice in decision-making through the people’s right to choose among contenders for political office. Also, the system allows for a broad, relatively equal citizenship among the populace.

Lastly, it affords the citizenry protection from arbitrary state action.

Now, the question is whether the recent activities fit all the three criterias. Are the actions of the MPs who moved for the vote of no confidence in the PM’s government acting in line with Lesotho’s constitution and democracy?

This definition of democracy says that regular constitutional avenues exist for changing government officials. The no confidence vote exists in Lesotho’s constitution. But the PM and his security agencies questioned this. They claim the move by the members of the opposition to dethrone the government was a coup attempt.

The drama began when an MP from the ruling Revolution for Prosperity (RFP), Thabo Moea MP, sought an order from the High Court to delay the motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister until after the completion of the reforms process.

The opposition contests that the prayer by Moea stifles a democratic process for self-serving ends. Subsequently, the Speaker cited this impending case to defer the matter.

The constitution of Lesotho stipulates that the legislature is to pass laws, the executive is to approve and execute them, and the judiciary is to expound and enforce them. But a scholar, Nwafor, claims that the courts in Lesotho often intrude into the functions of the other arms of government.

Lesotho ‘s constitution confers powers on three arms of government in such a manner as would ensure cooperation and coordination in governance. The courts ought to bear in mind that the effective discharge of the responsibilities of the courts largely depends on the effectiveness of the other arms of government.

Nwafor brings up the issue of encroachment. He asserts that the powers of the different arms of government in such a manner would guarantee a coordinated discharge of government responsibilities to the nation. But, parliament overly relies on the courts to make political decisions. The practice encourages the risk of overreaching.

The PR electoral system denies Basotho the right to choose their representatives among contenders for political office. Instead, parties ‘hand pick’ these representatives in the pretext of the constituency elections outcomes. Often, these PR members are the ones who lost their constituency elections.

These are the politicians whose constituencies rejected them. They represent their parties and not the voters. They do not account to the voters.

Both the PM and the opposition made presentations to SADC. They overlooked the electorate. Why would SADC have power and not the electorate that elected the politicians to office? Running to SADC, an outside organisation, to settle Lesotho’s internal problems is not a solution. It is scoring an own goal. Lesotho, with its 57 years of independence, should be able to solve its internal problems.

Nonetheless, I have a completely different take from Mokhothu on the issue of the protest march by the RFP. It is unimportant to find the instigator of the protest march. The people to persuade are the voters, the people who put governments into power in a democracy, not external bodies such as SADC.

Napoleon Hill’s creed reads: ‘Every adversity brings a seed of equivalent or more benefit’. Any business person knows that business is a solution to an economic problem. So, the PM and his colleagues in his party who are business people must look at the adversity emanating from the opposition as a seed of equivalent or better benefit.

The government must dig deep to find how the problem may benefit them.
They must identify their failures and use them as stepping stones to success.

Elsewhere, I presented the views of an American scholar and activist, Anderson, who suggested that marginalised communities must cease granting candidates blank cheques. Instead, the electorate must draw their expectations and demand the campaigning party or candidate promise to meet them.

This practice is called quid pro quo. It enforces accountability and transparency.

You scratch my back, and I scratch yours. Quid pro quo is an example of one of the universal laws that demonstrate reciprocity. Reciprocity is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. The universal law is the Law of Cause and Effect. It means that for every effect, there is an equal cause. You plant a seed, so shall you reap.

Both the government and the opposition ran to SADC for help. Remember, Matekane is a successful businessman. He has, on more than one occasion, explained that he wanted to use his prowess in business to take Lesotho forward. As a businessman, Matekane has faith in his ability.

Words that come to mind here include self-confidence and trust in himself. He believes in himself. Running to SADC does not display this faith in his ability to deal with problems emanating from his opposition.

Hill argues that riches, or any form of success and achievement, begin with a thought. Faith removes limitations. Matekane must apply his faith as a businessman to become a successful politician.

To summarise, the article explores the events emanating from the fiasco of the no-confidence motion. The individuals who ought to champion constitutional democracy in Lesotho betrayed Basotho by scoring hordes of own goals.

I explored the meaning of concepts that helped me unpack some of these own goals. These were democracy, faith and desire. Also, I coupled these with scholarly research views on the constitution of Lesotho.

I contest that while the opposition may argue that they are within their rights to ruffle the government, the PM must use different tactics. He must display faith and confidence in himself and trust Basotho.

The move to influence the voters to back him deserves a big WOW! He must hold more campaigns to persuade voters to support his government. Voters may make or break him.

MPs waste time in discussing trivial issues that have no bearing on the national agenda. Often, they focus on self-serving matters. The RFP promised to refocus Lesotho towards national development and improving the quality of life.

The article also shows that the PR system does not benefit Lesotho. It diminishes accountability and the principle of quid pro quo. Also, it ballooned the numbers in parliament unnecessarily. It increased political instability by forging formations of coalition.

Politicians must refrain from abusing the judiciary by making them make political decisions. Involving the courts in making political decisions leads to encroachment. Encroachment defies democracy.

In conclusion, Matekane must not allow his detractors to derail his mandate. The same is true for the opposition leaders who attempt to dethrone him. No party campaigned on removing sitting PMs.

Also, the MPs must take the responsibilities that Basotho entrusted them with. It is high time that they make the political decisions instead of shifting them to the judiciary or external bodies.

Matekane, his business associates and technocrats in his government should revisit attributes that made them successful. One such attribute is their faith in their abilities. They must remember that riches (and success) begin with a thought, and faith removes limitations.

Dr Tholang Maqutu


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Painting mood effectively



Writing is not different from beautiful artwork. Just like a skilled painter holding a brush with its broad strokes, the writer occupies the same place and vocation in life. Writing is a work of painting life’s experiences, its hues and beautiful unfolding internal journeys. In this piece we focus on mood and how it can be achieved. Many students struggle with understanding and contemplating the scope and ambit of mood in writing.
It is hard to define and frame the scope of mood in writing. What really constitutes mood? Generally, mood encapsulates the totality of the “air” or “spirit” or “aura” that a certain work of art evokes in the human mind, feeling or sensibility. There is a certain dominant feature or streak associated with a certain work of art, place or person.

There is something which is evoked in our hearts which is associated with a certain place, person or event. Every place or event or person carries or imbues with him or her a certain mood or sensibility; and there is a panorama of sensibilities; for instance, a happy or sombre or whimsical mood. We will now focus on a certain extract and discern how it paints mood.

“He quickly rights himself and keeps walking, but there is an unsteadiness to his knees. He has been given many looks in this quarter – dirty ones, blank ones, sympathetic ones, annoyed ones. For the most part, he had learned to tolerate those than can be tolerated, and ignore those that should be ignored, but the look this woman gave him is not a look one gives to humans but to flies, ticks, cockroaches, fleas…Thato feels anger, then humiliation, then something nameless. If he were in his own country he would turn and confront the woman; but now he’s hurt, wounded, a part of him wishing he were invisible. Breathing evenly, he walks with care, only lifting his eyes once he reaches his own quarters, among his own people. He proceeds to his shack. He could stop by Thapelo’s, his neighbour, where he knows that men and women are already congregated to watch videos from home. Yet, no matter the promise of good fellowship and laughter, Thabo does not join them. Watching videos is a form of forgetting; the 2008 elections, the police with batons, the soldiers with guns, the militia with machetes. Do you remember? Limbs broken. Roofs blazing. I remember.”

This extract is characterised by the intensity of feeling and evokes feelings of sadness, despair and pain. The excerpt paints a harrowing and blood-curdling account which produces a sombre, dull and subdued mood. Thato, the protagonist in the story is in a foreign land. He was impelled to leave his country as a result of political violence which saw many people lose limbs and lives. He feels lonely and unwanted in the foreign land. He feels lost and alienated.

There are sentiments of xenophobia expressed through the glances of citizens of the foreign country he is in. Even if he were to entertain himself together with his countrymen residing in that foreign land, Thato still felt a deep and nagging feeling of being an outcast. Thus, we have made very deep and broad descriptions of the circumstances in which the protagonist finds himself with a view to demonstrate how mood is created in a narrative. The creation of mood feeds into the description of the character’s circumstances, his mindset and the space and place in which he finds himself.

Mood, as we have demonstrated from the portrayal of Thato’s experience, has a link with pathos. Pathos is that streak of sadness which pervades a story and creates empathy in the reader. The aim of effective writing is to move the reader and to impel him towards certain sensibilities which are of an affective kind. Mood, when effectively created, allows the reader to grasp meaning which is not directly said in the story or composition.

Meaning in a story is an interaction between the words in a text as read together with the effect of the words, the tone used and the created mood. There are certain words in a text which do not just communicate, but etches in the reader’s mind certain thoughts, viewpoints and feelings. These words would be so evocative. One such word describes Thato’s deepest sense of alienation in the extract given above.

The word describes him as nursing a wish of invisibility, he felt or wished he were ‘invisible.’ His wish for invisibility is of great importance. It portrays how he was deeply affected by the loathing expressed in the eyes of those looking at him with hate and disdain.

So, here we are! Creating a mood is a craft which takes time to acquire and hone. But when achieved, it makes effective reading and allows the reader to get meaning which goes beyond the text.

Vuso Mhlanga teaches at the University of Zimbabwe. For almost a decade and half he taught English language and Literature in English at high school. Send your comments and questions to:

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