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The ‘great depression’

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Of Dante Alighieri, very few individuals have come across to understand exactly what it is he meant in the crafting of the masterpiece The Divine Comedy. One can safely guess, perhaps the disease of the mind that renders many catatonic had crept upon this master of the plume and the parchment, the word and the verse.
Stuck between fame and the basic need to find some peace and quiet, Dante the poet must have reached a certain point of dilemma, trying to understand the ramifications of the world through the expression of the physical and mental experiences of the individual in a narrative epic poem. Declaring or telling the story of the individual, the poet begins the descent with the words (Translated from Italian):

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita (In the middle of the way of our life)
Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura (I found myself in a murky woodland)
Ché la diritta via era smaritta (Because the right road was lost)

What the events of the recent past are beginning to reveal in the form of the passing on of famous figures in a lot of ways sounds familiar to the declaration by the figure in the first three lines of the poem.
There have been many cases where one hears of a famous figure succumbing to the pressures of the moment, and the following question becomes that of the moment: what is eating at these good people?

The passing on of the South African rap and hip-hop artist, HHP, set a series of questions going on in one’s head. The general point of contention was based on the simple fact as famous people, the assumed expectation is that they are stronger than Superman, forgetting the simple fact that they too are simply human, simple men and women who feel the pains of the world as we ordinary ones do.

Some of them actually had to draw a lot of courage from deep within their selves to attain the status that they reach in the course of their careers of fame.
It takes a lot of courage to stay famous and maintain it if some of the basic needs of humanity are not fulfilled on time and in time; fame naturally takes up a lot of one’s time because there are engagements to meet, appointments to honour, and schedules to follow that have to be adhered to that there is little time for other activities that are equally significant for the sustenance of one’s sanity to render one competently functional in the normal sense that the world around him or her terms.

The famous sacrifice a lot of self for the sake of the mirth and the merriment of the others around them, and this must draw a lot out of the psyche of one not strong enough to find remedies that ease the burden of pressure of the other individuals around one as a famous figure with a large following.
When Chris Cornell, lead singer of the famous rock band Audioslave sings the words to the song Like a stone, one begins to understand the exact abysmal depth of the mental condition termed as depression; a deep state of melancholia where the individual begins to question the purpose of their existence.
The questions do not come in that moment of inebriation where the humours have been aroused by some type of speech or deed, whether it is at a show or performance one attended or actually engaged in.

The questions on the verity of life and the essence of the truths about virtues come in those private moments, in those ‘me times’ a lot of psychiatric experts recommend to maintain proper levels of sanity. So, like everyone else, the famous celebrity needs this sort of moments to recharge the wells of energy required in the entertainment of fellow individuals that form part of the following one garners over the years. So when Chris sings the words:

On a cobweb afternoon
In a room full of emptiness
By a freeway I confess
I was lost in the pages
Of a book full of death
Reading how we’ll die alone
And if we are good, we’ll lay to rest
Anywhere we wanna go

The chorus to this fine track reaches climax with the declaration of fortitude, that one should remain rooted to the cause at all costs. Some adopt this obstinate outlook and manage to stand their ground despite the challenges in the current and prevalent circumstances. These ones can chin it on regardless of the brevity or longevity of the unpleasant experience they are at a certain point faced with.
There are however those others who cannot bear the brunt of the experience and have to go out to seek relief that temporarily eases the weight that they are feeling physically, psychologically, and emotionally.
These types of individuals actually need to believe in something, and some are actually deeply religious, for religion and belief in something actually sustains the levels of mental comfort that prevent the individual from taking any irrational decisions.
It is said HHP actually spoke of the Messiah a lot of times, in fact, from as far back as 2001 he had begun to show signs of deep-sat melancholy and would make references to the life of Jesus Christ when the going was hard.

HHP’s friends actually speak of him as a generous figure and character who could sacrifice his last penny to help a friend out of the doldrums of the maladies of poverty, unemployment, and disease that are highly prevalent in our society.

If one could give so much of himself at any one time for the sake of another other than himself or his immediate family but was still found to be lonely at the end of the day, then it means that there is one aspect of the celebrity figure that we need to address but often tend to overlook: the need for privacy that each and every individual is entitled to at given moments in the course of their life.
Measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months, the individual’s life is not one haphazard affair; for there is the need to do a given activity in its given season and time. If the God of the Bible rested on a given day in the course of the week during His process of creation, so does the individual who is the creation and image of God Himself. The average celebrity cannot find the needed moments of repose necessary to recharge the levels of energy required to maintain the given career in the spotlight.

Acting as a conduit to all of the emotions in society, the popular figure unwittingly (but rather logically) deals not only with their own problems alone but those of the people they come across in the course of their careers.
The natural result to this process of encountering and gathering leads to the figure gaining ‘excess baggage’ in terms of experiences they come across, ending up weighed emotionally and otherwise.

To the public, one celebrity may seem fine, showing a brave face for the sake of appearances; for this is one of the demands of the profession: that one should be the superhero at all times, a role model for the children, and a hero for the oppressed.
The weight is not often shared but is experienced in those private moments when one is alone, when ‘me time’ is the time, and the full brunt of the pains one has seen, heard of, felt, tasted, or smelt comes full force.

The strong chin it on, but even them could easily succumb to the feelings of despair if there are no support structures in their immediate environments to buoy them through the dark oceans of emotional distress as a result of current or recurrent experiences in their line of work.
The world has a strange way of idolising its heroes, putting them up on pedestals where they seem invincible and superhuman. This deification robs the individual celebrity of the simple but salient need; the need for one to feel ‘normal’ and not to live and to bask in the perpertual state of awe and wonder from the ‘fans’ on a constant basis.

There is the need to retreat from the travail from time to time lest it become drudgery that numbs not only the physiological aspects of one but also the psychological capabilities of the individual in terms of drawing the right conclusions and making fair judgements.

These two qualities are necessary in the vital process of appropriate decision-making, which in its behest requires that the individual be granted adequate moments of engagement and solitude when the situation so demands.  But the hero of the moment does not have the luxury of repose more often than less; surrounded by crowds of supporters vying for his or her attention and at his beck and call at all moments of the day. Perhaps the celebrities of old draw their longevity from the fact that theirs was not a world of multimedia the modern celebrity is faced with.

It is a dark forest of personal encounters at concerts and public appearances, interview sessions and meets, endless followings and tweets, charity functions and parties. At all of these occasions, the celebrity is the figure in the spotlight, and I guess to a large extent, the world at this point does not understand that there comes a point in the life of any individual where the need to be alone counts for the maintenance of one’s sanity.

In short, one could say that the average individual sometimes needs to shut out the crowd and to live in within the confines of their inner circle. Those celebrities that succumb to the weight of the attention often die alone, perhaps in a last ditch effort to find some moment of solitude to escape the cacophony the attention of their celebrity status comes with.
It is not only in the case with HHP that one begins to realise that our one moment in the spotlight may spell disaster for one if the crowd is not periodically kept in check. Such is the plight of the celebrity, constant humdrum of cacophony that leaves the individual out of touch with not only himself or herself but also with the world around them that soon becomes bland.

The lure of modern media (and perhaps even the old type of media) is exposure to the world, and having been taught in the tenets of popularity, most of us find ourselves on the quest to be ‘the’ figure of the moment, that is, an individual so popular that their face is instantly recognisable wherever one is. It is taught on the silver screen, in the magazines, and in other forms of media that it is a noble pursuit to want to be famous, even if it is for the day.

After the lesson is done, one is left with the one reality that looms; one’s popularity comes with responsibilities and some of them cannot be fulfilled, and this leads to the celebrity not coping with the demands of the status. The chunky fake gold chains in the music videos do not exactly mean that the wearer (the celebrity) is thriving and swimming in wads of cash.
Far often than less, they just get by due to a lack in endorsements or are managed by shady and unscrupulous figures that pay less than one can survive on. And so the mental pressure of lack weighs like a lodestone on the mind of one to the point where suicide seems the only way out.

From Trevor Noah to Bonnie Mbuli, Kurt Cobain to Chris Cornell, Janis Joplin to Robin Williams, Jimi Hendrix to Brenda Fassie, Edgar Allan Poe to Sylvia Plath, there has always been the dark undercurrent of deep-sat melancholy that finds its expression in the suicide or drug-induced death of some celebrity.
This year began with the death of a brilliant academic Dr Bongani Mayosi, it reaches its second last month with the passing of HHP, the man who flaunted his weight and garnered throngs of fans with classic ‘Motswako’ masterpieces that include the quintessential Tswaka and Bosso ke Mang?

It would seem he was the happiest man in the music videos, but the realities of the ghosts he met in the private moments must have got the better of him.
He was a brother who spread mirth and merriment as a farmer would sow seeds that feed entire nations, but he was not happy, and this led to his death.
The great depression of the age sounds in a lot of ways like that one sees in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, a classic tale set in The Great Depression of the 1930’s.
We are faced with a world filled with mounting challenges, and without any dose of respite in sight; some of us will succumb to the effects of depression that are in fact on the rise and there is no seeming cure in sight.

We shall perish as a human race, unless we face the leviathan of depression that is running rampant among us. We need to believe in the cure: communication of that which is egging us (to someone) before it is too late.

By: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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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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