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By T. S. Mothibi

She travels a road many a queasy male counterparts are afraid of following on a daily basis. From her single room in one of the various hamlets and villages of Maseru the poor garment worker takes the valiant daily pilgrim from her squalid single room malaeneng(low rent tenement) to the factory in Maseru’s Industrial Areas of Ha-Hoohlo and Ha-Thetsane. She recounts to me her sad tale in an interview, and her peers confirm the perils of the road they have to face in freezing mornings and evenings of this winter.
That they have to live with the constant threat of rape is an ordinary tale, that some of them are murdered and assaulted in the course of these heinous crimes against humanity is common, but their voice as an influential sector of the economy seems to be a concern only their mal-financed and organised trade unions and workers groups seem to care about. The concerns addressed as to the safety of the women of the cloth and the fabric do not seem to have the effect they rightly should have on the people of this country and the relevant authorities concerned in the government of Lesotho.
The economic living conditions of the factory worker in Lesotho do not seem to be the main concern of the economic planning bodies; diamonds are the main drawcard for these economic planning bodies because they rake in a lot of cash as reflected in the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of this country. But the amount of cash gathered in the form of tax and returns from the garments and textiles industry is significant enough to see this country through each passing year since the industry began in the early 1980’s. What vexes one as a researcher is why the voice of the workers does not seem to have the necessary impact on government policy to ease the hard lives of these women.
The garments and textiles industry of Lesotho employs more than 40000 citizens of this country, and statistics show that the apparel industry could well be contributing 53 percent in national export margins. But there are questions as to why the factory workers and their welfare are not the main concern of the governments that have been in existence since the introduction of this industrial sector.
The workers basic rights do not seem to be a concern for the authorities for, upon interviewing some of the women (women do form a large percentage of the workforce in this sector), the stories one hears are shocking. One of the women factory workers (identity retained), from the hinterlands of Quthing district told me, “I knew the salary was not good when I joined the workforce, but I thought it would improve with the number of years in employment. The increase has come, but it barely covers my needs and the needs of the family I left back at home, and many times, I have to borrow from loan sharks to make ends meet. It is a hard life, and sometimes I feel like giving in, but my five children back at home need to go to school, and they need to eat… the working conditions are bad in summer, but they are appalling in winter because the factory floor is not heated. You cannot imagine the cold when one has to go on the nightshift…” the look in her eyes is one she shares with her fellow sisters and the few males that work in the factories; it is a look of despair, of those that have given in but have nowhere else to work: work is scarce these days, the graduates in their ranks prove this fact.
Employment has become an elusive fish to catch, and those who get it keep it even if treats them as slaves. If you have read Charles Dickens’ Hard Times or Oliver Twist you will know that a factory floor in the 1800’s was not heated, that the workers had to toil for measly pay in the industry that was then in its infancy.
Reading the tales of hardship in the two books and history of the Industrial Revolution is shocking, but if you meet such 19th century tales in the 21st century Lesotho, you begin to question the efficacy of the policies and strategies of the economic planning bodies in government. That such basic rights as the working conditions and the welfare of the workers do not seem to be a concern in these cold winter days and nights makes one question our humanity as a nation.
Our women are not just women; they are our mothers, our sisters, and the mothers of our children. They deserve the care we grant office workers because like them, the wellbeing of the economy of the state depends on their selfless effort in those harsh factories that are merciless cold rooms in winter and baking ovens in summer. An economy that does not take care of its human resource cannot rightly be deemed an economy; it is a serfdom that promotes slavery (the salaries are already at slave rates anyway).
One would in the past hear tales of famous brands owning sweatshops in places like Thailand and such other South Eastern Asian countries where minors toiled manufacturing garments and shoes for these famous brands. One did not know that such practices were present here in this export-focused industrial sector, for most of the goods manufactured in the garment industry are shipped to overseas destinations. And the economy is thus buoyed on the sweat, the blood, and the tears of the women who service the factory floors from early morning only to return to squalid quarters where they sleep on empty stomachs.
Indifferent to their plight in the past, I did not really bother as to the sad truth the women and men in the garment and textiles industrial sector face. They were just Mafirm-line (as they are called in local slang) and that some of them walked more than 20 kilometres on a daily basis to work in inhuman conditions at the various factories of employ was not a matter of concern. That many of them end up robbed or raped walking to or from work did not matter because I thought the tales were too far and wide to be considered.
That the factories were unsuitable in comparison with the huge amount of clothing they turn out (over 536 million pairs of jeans per annum), that estimates declare that more than 40 percent could be HIV positive, and that they support entire families they have in the villages are facts I did not know until I bothered to meet some of them and to gauge their contribution to the economy.
These people need some authority to really care for their workers rights, because there do not seem to be many workers rights exercised at the present moment. These nights are freezing, but many of them have to go to work on the nightshift in unheated factories; I think this is inhuman. The economic planning strategies of any one country should take these issues into concern; that is if such an economy wants to keep its human resource base healthy enough to keep the chain of production running smoothly.

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Insight

The Joker Returns: Conclusion

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Last week I was talking about how jokes, or humour generally, can help get one through the most desperate situations (although it’s like taking a paracetamol for a headache; a much, much stronger resort is faith). I used the example of how Polish Jews, trapped and dying in the Warsaw ghetto, used humour to get them through day by day.

A similar, though less nightmarish, situation obtains in today’s Nigeria. Conditions there are less hellish than those of the Warsaw ghetto, but still pretty awful. There are massive redundancies, so millions of people are jobless. Inflation is at about 30% and the cost of living is sky-rocketing, with the most basic foodstuffs often unavailable. There is the breakdown of basic social services.

And endemic violence, with widespread armed robbery (to travel by road from one city to another you take your life in your hands) and the frequent kidnapping for ransom of schoolchildren and teachers. In a recent issue of the Punch newspaper (Lagos) Taiwo Obindo, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Jos, writes of the effects of economic hardship and insecurity on his people’s mental health.

He concludes: “We should see the funny side of things. We can use humour to handle some things. Don’t take things to heart; laugh it off.”

Professor Obindo doesn’t, regrettably, give examples of the humour he prescribes, but I remember two from a period when things were less grim. Power-cuts happened all the time — a big problem if you’re trying to work at night and can’t afford a generator.

And so the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was universally referred to as Never Expect Power Always. And second, for inter-city travel there was a company called Luxurious Buses. Believe me, the average Lesotho kombi is a great deal more luxurious (I can’t remember ever having to sit on the floor of one of those).

And because of the dreadful state of Nigerian roads and the frequent fatal crashes, Luxurious Buses were referred to as Luxurious Hearses.

Lesotho’s newspaper thepost, for which I slave away tirelessly, doesn’t use humour very much. But there is Muckraker. I’ve always wondered whether Muckraker is the pen-name of a single person or a group who alternate writing the column.

Whatever, I’d love to have a drink with him / her/ them and chew things over. I like the ironic pen-name of the author(s). Traditionally speaking, a muckraker is a gossip, someone who scrabbles around for titbits (usually sexual) on the personal life of a celebrity — not exactly a noble thing to do.

But thepost’s Muckraker exposes big problems, deep demerits, conducted by those who should know and do better — problems that the powerful would like to be swept under the carpet, and the intention of Muckraker’s exposure is corrective.

And I always join in the closing exasperated “Ichuuuu!” (as I do this rather loudly, my housemates probably think I’m going bonkers).

Finally I want to mention television satire. The Brits are renowned for this, an achievement dating back to the early 1960s and the weekly satirical programme “TW3” (That Was The Week That Was). More recently we have had “Mock the Week”, though, despite its popularity, the BBC has cancelled this.

The cancellation wasn’t for political reasons. For decades the UK has been encumbered with a foul Conservative government, though this year’s election may be won by Labour (not such very good news, as the Labour leadership is only pseudo-socialist). “Mock the Week” was pretty even-handed in deriding politicians; the BBC’s problem was, I imagine, with the programme’s frequent obscenity.

As an example of their political jokes, I quote a discussion on the less than inspiring leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer. One member of the panel said: “Labour may well have a huge lead in the polls at present, but the day before election day Starmer will destroy it by doing something like accidentally infecting David Attenborough with chicken-pox.”

And a favourite, basically non-political interchange on “Mock the Week” had to do with our former monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Whatever one thinks about the British monarchy as an institution, the Queen was much loved, but the following interchange between two panellists (A and B) was fun:

A: Is the Queen’s nickname really Lilibet?
B: Yes, it is.
A: I thought her nickname was Her Majesty.
B: That’s her gang name.

OK, dear readers, that’s enough humour from me for a while. Next week I’m turning dead serious — and more than a little controversial — responding to a recent Insight piece by Mokhosi Mohapi titled “A reversal of our traditions and culture.” To be forewarned is to be prepared.

Chris Dunton

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Insight

Reading, writing and the art of reflection

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There is a close thread that runs through what you reflect on, what you read and what sticks in your mind. It’s almost a cyclic process with regards to how all these processes unfold. Today, in this installment we focus on the thread between reading, reflection and writing.

This appears a bit cumbersome to explain. But let’s simplify it. Let’s begin with a beautiful poem which encompasses what we have so far spoken about. Here we are! The poem is penned by “Tachibama Akemi.” It goes:

It is a pleasure
When, rising in the morning,
I go outside and
Find that a flower has blossomed
That was not there yesterday.

Seemingly, the poem is simple. But, on close analysis, it reflects very deep reflection and thoughtfulness.

The persona, in an existential fashion, reflects all about the purpose and meaning of life and his place in the overall matrix of life.

The persona carefully reflects on nature. This is what makes all this poem rustic and romantic.

The persona thinks deeply about the blossoming flowers and how the process of the growth of flowers appears almost inadvertently.

It is a poem about change, healing, the lapse of time and the changes or vissiccitudes in the life of a person are reflected creatively through imagery and poetry. We all go through that, isn’t it? We all react and respond to love, truth and beauty.

So far everything appears very interesting. Let’s just put to the fore some good and appealing thoughts. Let’s enlarge on reading, writing and reflection.

Kindly keep in mind that thoughts must be captured, told, expressed and shared through the magical power of the written word.

As a person, obviously through keeping entries in a journal, there is no doubt that you have toyed about thoughts and ideas and experiences you wish you could put across.

Here is an example you can peek from Anthony. Anthony likes writing. He tells us that in his spare time he likes exploring a lot. And, more often than not he tells us,

“I stop, and think, and then when I find something, I just keep on writing.”

So crisp, but how beautiful. Notice something interesting here; you need to stop, to take life effortlessly and ponderously, as it were; observe, be attentive to your environment; formulate thought patterns and then write.

To some extent, this article builds on our previous experiences when we spoke at length about the reading process.

But how can you do it? It’s not pretty much different. I can help you from my previous life as a teacher of English Languge.

The most important skill you must cultivate is that of listening, close listening. Look at how people and events mingle.

What makes both of you happy; enjoy it. I am sure you still keep that journal in which you enter very beautiful entries. Reflect about Maseru, the so-called affluent city. So majestic!

How can you picture it in writing!

I am glad you learnt to reflect deep and write. Thank you very much. Kindly learn and perfect the craft of observing, reflecting and writing. Learn that connection. Let’s meet for another class.

Vuso Mhlanga

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Insight

The Joker Returns: Part One

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Don’t be put off by the title, esteemed readers; what follows has nothing to do with the Batman films. As you will be happily (or unhappily) aware, I am a big fan of jokes. There’s a common understanding that a joke is ruined if you have to explain it, and this is true, but some jokes do need a bit of background explanation. Anyway. I like jokes and I like thinking about how they work.

Many of my favourite jokes have to do with language and the way we use it. For example: “I just bought myself a thesaurus. I similar it very much.”

Other jokes have to do with human behaviour and here it is important, out of respect for others, to avoid jokes that perpetuate stereotypical ideas about gender, race, nationality, and so on. I’m afraid the following joke does depend upon a stereotype (I’ll come back to that), but here goes, after a bit of background information.

In Lesotho you have an insect called a praying mantis — stick-like, bright green, and with great bulging eyes. They are rather lovable, despite the off-putting fact that the female practices insect cannibalism; after mating, she consumes the male. So, now you’ve had your zoological primer, here goes.

Two praying mantises are getting up close and personal. The female says to the male: “before we have sex and I bite your head off, could you help me put up some shelves?”

Apologies to female readers, because, as I said, that joke perpetuates a gender stereotype, namely, that women are good with a vacuum cleaner or a dustpan and brush, but hopeless with a hammer and nails.

There are many jokes that are, as it were, much more serious than that. As I rattled on about in a couple of earlier columns, many of these are satirical — jokes that are designed to point a finger at human folly or even wickedness. In another column, titled “Should we laugh?”, I explored the question “is there any subject that should be kept out of the range of humour?”

Well, apparently not, if we take on board the following account of the Warsaw ghetto.

Historical preface first.

The Warsaw ghetto represents one of the worst atrocities in modern history. In November 1940 the genocidal Nazis rounded up all the Jews in Poland’s capital and herded them into a small sector of the city, which they euphemistically, cynically, dubbed the “Jewish Residential District in Warsaw.”

Here nearly half a million Jews were in effect imprisoned, barely subsisting on tiny food rations. An estimated quarter of a million were sent off to the death camps. An uprising against the Nazi captors was brutally crushed. Around 100 000 died of starvation or disease.

Not much to laugh about there, you might say. But then consider the following, which I’ve taken from the New York Review of Books of February 29th this year:

“In the Warsaw Ghetto in October 1941 Mary Berg, then a teenager, wrote in her diary about the improbable persistence of laughter in that hellish place: ‘Every day at the Art Café on Leszno Street one can hear songs and satire on the police, the ambulance service, the rickshaws, and even the Gestapo, [on the latter] in a veiled fashion. The typhoid epidemic itself is the subject of jokes. It is laughter through tears, but it is laughter. This is not our only weapon in the ghetto — our people laugh at death and at the Nazi decrees. Humour is the only thing the Nazis cannot understand.’”

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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