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The land of DCT Bereng

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WHEN Thomas Mofolo became the first African to publish a work of literature in 1907, what followed was a deluge of writing from various authors from the different parts of South Africa and Lesotho, the most prominent followers being Sol Plaatjie around 1913, Zakea Dolphin Mangoaela in 1921 (Lithoko tsa Marena a Basotho), Everitt Lechesa Segoete, Kemuel Evaristus Ntsane, and many others who were growing in terms of social consciousness. Writers were often classed as a sector, an elite group of individuals that could do what the ordinary Mosotho could not do; analyse and write about the unfolding social realities in their environment.

A great class this school of authors were, for they were the pioneers of the social and anti-colonial movements that would come later in independence era. These authors could actually write about what they saw and share it with the general public in their writings. From the poetry to the prose, the brief journal article to the long novel form, the writer stood as the messenger delivering messages of social consciousness to the masses. Viewed as giants in the land of the literary, the early writers of the then Basutoland deserve to be honoured, and among them is a poet of note whose name is hardly ever mentioned in many a literary discussion held in different settings where the cognoscente of literature and writing meet: DCT Bereng.

It was in 2016 when I came across a collection of poems by David Cranmer Theko Bereng’s poems Lithothokiso tsa Moshoeshoe le tse Ling (The Poems of Moshoeshoe and Others). Sighting an old-style bookshelf, I promptly asked if I could look through it. The owner, Mrs Moletsane obliged me with a simple, “Go on, look through it and pick and keep whatever book tickles your fancy… the children in this house actually tear and burn those books! Take whatever book you like and keep it…” the old volume, published in 1930 by Morija’s Sesuto Book Depot actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was invited to a translation conference hosted by the

University of the Western Cape’s Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research (CMDR). Among the three Sesotho authors whose works were under discussion were DCT Bereng, Kemuel Evaristus Ntsane and Bernard Makalo Khaketla. Bereng’s work had somehow disappeared, and I was the fortunate one who still had the original copy in their keep, thanks to the Moletsane family of Maseru. Being someone who believes not in accidents, I hold the notion that perhaps, just perhaps, I was fated to find out and follow the tale of an author that had somehow faded into the mists of history: a great loss for the following generations of Basotho poets and budding literary writers.

It is with this sense of conviction that I followed the life of DCT Bereng, the giant who penned the poem Naha ea Moshoeshoe (The Land of Moshoeshoe) also found in the collection. There is no escaping the beauty of the praise poem in verse as it flows in the English translation:
They ask me of the beauty of Lesotho,
Of its lie and landscape,
Of the luxury of things,
And their embellishments;

They say I should tell them,
Make them a tale,
I recount, telling them, of everything
Of this land of everyone:

“Its beauty, my fellow kin,
Is as of the Star of the early dawn;
It is as the turquoise green of the sky.
As the ostrich’s feather,

This translated version is followed by Mofolo Bulane published in 1967 in the magazine The New African. Honoured in that article published in a distant past Ntate Bulane aptly states that:
D. C. T. Bereng is the first Mosotho poet to come out with a collection of poems. In his poetry Moshoeshoe is not depicted as a towering figure, as someone standing far above the common people. Rather he is being depicted in all the glory and simplicity of a popular hero who is one with the people.

The author here goes to show that there is an alternating lyrical depth and epic sweep in the poems of DCT Bereng, evidence of the poet’s mastery of the Sesotho language. Previous poetry on the life of Morena Moshoeshoe largely portrayed his valour and the glory of his feats in the many battles he fought over the course of his life. Bereng however puts him in a different light; that of an icon that built a whole nation out of the nothingness and strife of the Lifaqane wars that lasted the larger part of the 1800’s. A father figure revered not only by the poet but also admired by the larger global community, Moshoeshoe I is a greatness copied by all the other prominent women and men in social reform movements across the world.

From Ghandi to Luther King Jnr to Mandela, the pacific spirit of the founder of the Basotho nation is still seen as the prime example of what harmonious living means. It is only DCT Bereng who captures this spirit of universal harmony in his work. It is however surprising why his name is never mentioned when it comes to honouring the memory of Moshoeshoe I. It is as if Basotho are a nation of hypocrites that never honour their own but are quick to shower glory on all that is foreign.

It takes a thousand journeys to understand in reality the life of any one man posthumously (DCT Bereng passed on in 1973). But the journey is made easier if his family are willing to walk every mile with you, and in this case, the gods were kind enough to grant me the audience of his sons; Ntate Sekhonyana Bereng, Ntate Dira Bereng, and Ntate Thato Bereng with regard to the capturing the tale of their father. After a long road covering Morija and Rothe (Masite) where DCT Bereng was born, I was finally granted permission to visit Mashai, Ha-Theko Bereng (Thaba-Tseka) where DCT Bereng has his village formed in the mid-1920’s.

The fact of the matter is that one cannot easily understand another if they do not bother to walk the soil the other treaded: you have to walk their road to understand them reasonably. Imagination does imitate reality in the full in a few exceptional cases, but sometimes, one could easily go off the mark if they rely more on pipedreams than reality. Setting out on the journey to his village high in the mountains of Lesotho served as a point of first meeting between a young man and a wise old man whose rendition of the tale of Moshoeshoe I is the best the world has ever seen thus far in the fields of poetry and literature

The highlands of Lesotho are the most beautiful on the continent and perhaps, the world over. The air is clean, leaving one’s city smog-clogged lungs greedily breathing in gulpfuls of air. Due to the increasing pollution that is rampant in the urban centres the air that we breathe to live is becoming a rare commodity. We go to the city attracted by the bright lights, and there we buy smoke-spewing motor cars that pollute the air we are supposed to protect at all costs. A visit to the highlands presents our lungs and being the opportunity for a treasured moment of repose: we breathe in clean air, and the silence and the peace of the mountain people allows us to think in a manner that is clearer.

The hub of the city is a cacophony that does not allow one to think in a sensible manner, but the hush of the mountains and the sight of the villages that straddle the hips of the mountains is a sight that leaves one in awe of the beauty of the land of Lesotho. The visit to the land of DCT Bereng allowed one the peace to think clearly in the continuing journey in search of a clearer picture of the life of this giant of Lesotho literature and culture. One can safely guess that he was happy with what he saw in the highlands. He was at peace up there, thus the final decision to settle in the land given to him by Chief Theko Makhaola of Qacha’s-Nek.

It is said that there were four of them that set out in the mid-1920’s to find a village for DCT; Ntate Paramente Lepheana, Ntate Pitso Binyane, Ntate Mahlaba Motjoli and DCT Bereng himself. Following their compadre and chief’s son in search of a land where they could settle, the three valiant men stood with and by DCT Bereng’s side until they came to the village of Ha-Monyollo where chief Monyollo pointed them up the steep valley for a place to settle. There they found Ntate Motau Jane and Molefi (Botheta) Seitširo who encouraged them to stay because that point in the valley had a well with plenteous waters and the grazing pastures were good for their herds.

Water and pasture are the two most important aspects in the life of any one man that is looking for a land to settle in, and DCT Bereng at this point decided to settle and form the beautiful village of Ha-Theko Bereng beneath Selomo sa Makhoaba and Selomo sa Leloka. With villagers from Ha-Fako and Ka-Thabeng nearby, DCT Bereng’s village gained its first batch of villagers. Chief David Cranmer Theko Bereng would go on to rule over the seven villages in the St Theresa region of Mashai and they include Ha-Theko Bereng (his residence), Ha-Monyollo, Makhalong, Ha-Mokone, Panteng, Pontšeng, and Ha-Ntabanyane.

His work had already been published in Leselinyana la Lesotho in 1921, dedicated to Jevrou Adele Mabille, when he was about 24 years old. An alumnus of Lovedale College in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Thabeng High School in Morija, and St. Barnabas Primary School in Masite, it seems from evidence that DCT Bereng had an aptitude for poetry and writing from an early age. It is said he could compose a piece of poetry for just about anything he came across in his 70-plus years on earth. There were poems on his cattle, his horses, the land in which he lived, the Second World War (World War II) in which he served as a Sergeant Major, his wives and children, and any other event he came across. In short, Lesotho had a poet of note whose life and achievements have not received the due attention they deserve.

When one observes the picture his life paints, there is just plain injustice committed from an outsider’s point of view. The African tendency is not to acknowledge individuals for their contribution, however tremendous, for the sake of a seat at the glory table. There are usurpers to the throne that have taken DCT’s memory and tried to bury it: his ghost won’t allow it, and some of us are willing to walk the journey with him until he gets the honour that is due to him.
The departure from the peaceful village where the welcome was of a sort never seen down here in the lowlands was to the sight of a village bathed in the early morning sun. There were plumes of smoke from cooking fires, and there was dew on the sparse grass.

The sound of the schoolchildren’s voices as they ran down the mountain’s side on their way to St. Theresa Primary School and High School sounded of promise. From the older ones in their early teens to the teeny-weeny ones, one could only see the promise of the future. It was a sight to behold, triggering a rememory of a time when one would walk from the home village in Pitseng to school in the blistering winds of autumn in the foothills of Lesotho. The winds of autumn are already cold in the highlands, but I guess like any valiant man, DCT Bereng held the hope that one day, his village would churn out intellectuals despite its seeming remoteness.

The rocky basalt of his land is symbolic of the fire that burned in the poet who could compose a poem on almost anything that came within range of his senses. It is with this type of stone cold sense and resoluteness that one feels they have to take a few journeys to that village where he settled, to the land that DCT Bereng fashioned out of imagination and a pilgrim’s heart and devotion to the land of his forefathers.

My deepest sense of gratitude goes to his family, in particular his sons Sekhonyana who has been a companion and guide thus far, Dira who is chief of Ha-Theko Bereng, Thato who became my host on the trip, the Binyane, Lepheana, and Motjoli families for their selfless welcome, the villagers of Ha-Theko Bereng, and Ntate Stephen Gill of Morija Museum for the guidance in the pursuit of a clearer understanding of DCT Bereng’s life and work and the UWC’s professor Antjie Krog for the opportunity. We shall walk to understand each other, and our children shall be grateful for the memory, so says the man from the land of DCT Bereng I am yet to meet again.

Ts’episo S. Mothibi

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An open letter to President Hichilema

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Your Excellency,

I am certain that you are wondering where and/or how I have the temerity to write to you directly, but a recent post you put on WhatsApp piqued my interest; your meeting with His Excellency the Prime Minister of Lesotho, and his delegation. The delegation came to introduce to you and your good office the candidate of the Government of Lesotho, for the post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Joshua Setipa.

Let me set off by stating that I have a friendship with Setipa, for over 50 years, so I may not be the best person to give an objective appraisal or opinion of him; this I will leave to the government.

Further to that, as a citizen of Lesotho, I may embellish the information that I would provide on Lesotho, thus I will as far as possible keep to information that is contained in books. This is not a research report, but more a simplified literature review of what I have read. I shall not quote them, or reference them, thus allowing others the space to research this matter further.

First, let me state my surprise at the alignment of time that I see; Commonwealth Day in 2024 is on the 11th March, the day we celebrate a life well lived, that of Morena Moshoeshoe.

Further to that, this year also starts the 200th anniversary of the move by Morena Moshoeshoe and his followers from Menkhoaneng to Thaba Bosiu. They arrived at Thaba Bosiu in winter, circa 1824.

Next year, 2025 will also be the 100th anniversary of the ‘plenary’ that saw the birth of this Commonwealth of Nations. A handover from the bi-centenary, to the centenary celebrations.

We are all aware that the Commonwealth was started at the Imperial Conference of 1926, but it had what I call a plenary in 1925; this happened in Maseru, Basutoland. It was held at the ‘secretariat’ building on Kingsway. The building was used as the Prime Ministers’ office after independence, more recently, and to date as the Ministry of Defence.

When King George came to visit Lesotho in 1948, to thank the country and her citizens for their participation in the Second World War, High street as it was then known, had its name changed to Kingsway.

At this plenary Britain called the ANZaC states, Australia, New Zeeland and Canada, together with South Africa. It had been only 13 years (1912) since the Basotho monarch had been asked to attend the formation of the South African National Native Conference (SANNC), whose aim was to preserve African land. The SANNC was the forerunner to the African National Congress (ANC).

With the formation of the Union of South Africa, the union wanted to engulf Bechuanaland (Botswana) Swaziland (eSwatini) and Basutoland (Lesotho). This had been unsuccessful.

Next they came up with the Native Land Act of 1913, to remove African land rights. So, the conference that brought about the birth of the SANNC was a pre-emptive response to this act; an attempt to keep African land rights and traditions intact.

I would like to point out that the founding document of the Imperial Conference that brought about the Commonwealth states that all member states are autonomous and not subordinate to another.

At the time of the plenary, Basutoland was subordinate to Britain. But in a masterstoke became what I believe to be one of the founders of the Commonwealth.

Despite her subordination, Basutoland had placed so strong an objection to the presence of a representative South Africa in Basutoland, that South Africa’s invitation had to be withdrawn, and South Africa did not attend. This was the first ‘anti-apartheid’ shot, made in the world; what is more important is that it was made by an African country.

No matter how one looks at it, she may not have been a ‘founding member state’, but Basutoland was part of the founding fabric of the Commonwealth.

One just has to imagine the anger of the South Africans and their government: Dr. D. F. Malan, the first Nationalist Prime Minister of South Africa, was a minister responsible for housing at that time.

Had Basutoland’s lead been followed, spatial apartheid might never have happened. The Commonwealth would take till the 1960’s, and the formal legalisation/legislation of apartheid to remove South Africa from within her fold. A matter that Basutoland saw as far back as the 1920’s.

As shown, at the conceptualisation of the Commonwealth Lesotho was not just there, but an active and formidable participant; though one has to look further to see her relationship with Great Britain/the United Kingdom.

Basutoland/Lesotho’s history is strange, to say the least. The first Europeans to arrive here in 1833, were French Missionaries. At this time Europe was embroiled in wars, which inevitably included the French and English.

But it is these same priests, most notably Casalis, who helped steer the country to Britain, and British protection. Casalis acted almost as a foreign secretary/minister of foreign affairs at that time.

The first treaty between Basutoland and England was the Napier Treaty of 1843, though it took till 1866 to solidify this treaty into a protected land.

The history of the cavalry in Lesotho, the only African cavalry south of the Sahara, is quite long. It starts in about 1825, when F. D. Ellenberger in his book ‘History of the Basutho’, states that Morena Moletsane had come across gun powder quite by mistake.

They had been raiding a missionary’s home and came across a strange powder, which they found useless, so they threw it into a fire, which ‘exploded’. Thus, to his people called European style housing, ‘Ntlo-ea-thunya’, a house that shoots. But after having his people ravaged/savaged by Mzilikazi, he sent his best warriors to work on Boer farms, and with their remuneration purchase arms and horses.

We are often told of a ‘battle of/at Berea’. My answer is that it was not a battle but a cattle raid. Its importance is not just in the battle, but in democracy. The British called Morena Moshoeshoe ‘paramount chief’, a first amongst the others. The time before Berea shows something slightly different.

As Casalis writes in ‘My life in Basutoland’, the British had demanded 10,000 head of cattle, for stock theft. A great ‘pitso’ was called and all eligible men, those who owned land, were called.

At the end of the pitso, after many votes, the citizens refused to give their cattle to pay the demand of the British. The significance herein is that there was a plebiscite, a vote. Morena Moshoeshoe lost the backing of the people and thus the vote; the British then attacked to ‘collect’ the cattle themselves.

Both Morena Moshoeshoe and Morena Moletsane were heavily involved in the ‘battle’ which was won by the strength of the Basutho cavalry. Looking forward to the gun wars, it was most fortuitous that Morena Moshoeshoe’s ally, Morena Moletsane would outlive him, till the end of the gun wars.

After annexation in 1866, in the mid 1870’s the British, citing distance and as such expense, ceded Basutoland to the Cape, which was what the Basotho had been fighting against for a long time; they wanted direct British rule. They wanted to be ruled by Mofumahali Queen Victoria.

The first, and most critical mistake that the Cape made was, not so much in attacking Morena Moorosi, accusing his son of cattle theft, but in beheading him.

So, when some years later they wanted to disarm the Basutho, and they found those of the south of Basutoland who knew of the beheading, reluctant to go with the plan. The Cape decided to go ahead with disarmament forcefully and met equal if not greater force.

The Basutho were better armed, more knowledgeable on the terrain and better supplied. Helped by his father’s long-standing ally, Morena Moletsane, Morena Lerotholi was able to field a well-armed strong cavalry, which inflict great pain to the Cape.

This led to the Cape defeat. Together with the number of other wars that the Cape was fighting, there was fight fatigue among her people.

So bad was it, that they did not come and collect their fallen troops; in Mafeteng there is a cemetery called ‘mabitla-a-makhooa’, or graves of the white men. The SA Military History Society has a ‘roll of honour’ for some of the dead, as not all were buried in Basutoland.

There are two significant outcomes of the war. In his book ‘The Mabille’s of Basutoland’, Edwin W. Smith states that there was a fact-finding mission to Basutoland by members of the Cape parliament, including Rhodes. Their conclusion was that the Basutho should be handed back to Britain for direct rule; which was the original wish of the Basutho.

As Whitehall was reluctant to take this role back, Basutoland spent a period of close to two years of self-rule. Thus it became the first African country (only?) to unshackle itself of colonial rule. And became the first African country to get the colonial rule it wanted; and re-shackled itself to Britain.

The second is how Britain agreed to go back and rule Basutoland. In his book, Rhodes Goes North, J. E. S. Green shows how the Prime Minister of the Cape went to Britain to sue for peace, and eventually agreed to give Britain 20 000 pounds per annum, of her import tax revenues to govern Basutoland.

Whilst not a founding member of the Commonwealth, Basutoland has carried her fair weight in the battle to save both the Commonwealth, and together the rest of the Commonwealth, the world at large.

Whilst SA will hype the losses during the maritime accident of the SS Mendi in the English Channel, Lesotho is less inclined to speak of the losses on the SS Erinpura. The Erinpura was sunk by German war planes in the Mediterranean Sea. Though I should say that, the prayer of the men on the Mendi would resound so well with those who lost their lives on the Erinpura.

When British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill said; never was so much owed by so many to so few, I am certain he was speaking not just of the people of the British Isles, but the broader community within the Commonwealth, that stood together at this time of international need.

But having heard Sir Winston, there is a special bond of Basutoland within, and with the Commonwealth, that I would like to highlight. Apart from the ANZaC countries and South Africa, there were no air squadrons from other Commonwealth countries that I am aware of; except for Basutoland that is.

They paid for 12 or so Spitfire aircraft that would form the 72nd Basutoland, which flew in the Battle of Britain. No moSotho actually flew (in?) them, but they had been financed by the Basotho.

For all the prowess of a moSotho man with arms, in his book ‘Basotho Soldiers in Hitler’s War’, Brian Gary not only writes about the gift of aircraft that fought in the Battle of Britain, he also shows that Basotho soldiers, who were hauling various ordinances through the Italian Alps, were allowed to carry arms.

Aircraft and carrying arms for an African in World War II; Lesotho is not just a pioneer member of the Commonwealth, but a beacon.

As Lesotho many of these pioneering attributes continued. Whist South Africa was banned from sports and entertainment, Lesotho filled the gap for her. Exiles like Hugh Masekela and Mirriam Makeba were hosted for sell out concerts in Lesotho. South African interracial sports, with matches between the likes of Orlando Pirate, Wits University, Kaiser Chiefs, to name those I remember, started in Maseru.

I have touched on politics and war, sport and entertainment; let me go to superstition. It would go against what is expected of me not to go without anything superstitious.

Britain has given the world three major sporting codes. Rugby, which is dominated by the big three of New Zeeland and South Africa. Cricket, which expands from the rugby three to include India, Pakistan, most of the Caribbean states and a few African counties.

These sports are obviously ‘Commonwealth Sports’, as they are dominated, or played predominantly by Commonwealth countries. They have also given us football. This is a truly global sport, the largest sport played across the world, on all types of surfaces, with all types of round looking objects. We can’t call all of these footballs.

The last time a Commonwealth country won the World Cup it was England in 1966; the year Lesotho gained her independence.

The next World Cup is in 2026, the millennium celebrations of the Commonwealth; who will head the Commonwealth then? Will a Commonwealth team have the necessary ‘juju’ to make it?

Your Excellency, this is but a brief note on Lesotho, and it is my way of using the words attributed to Morena Moshoeshoe, when asking for protection from Queen Victoria that say; take me, and all the lice (those that are symbiotic to me) in my blanket. I do hope that these words will be of use to you as seek consensus on Lesotho and her candidate for the post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth.

Yours truly

Khasane Ramolefe

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Culture quibbles

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A few weeks ago these pages carried a substantial piece by Mokhosi Mohapi titled “A reversal of our traditions and culture”, written in the form of an open letter to the government of Lesotho. The first sentence of Mohapi’s article took me by surprise, as he stated: MPs and Senators’ primary role is to protect and preserve the traditions and culture of the Basotho people. I would have thought the primary role of MPs and Senators would be to ensure that Basotho are secure (being protected, for example, from criminals), that they have adequate access to social services such as education and healthcare, that the economy is sufficiently stable to offer citizens some chance of employment, and so on. Fat chance, you might scoff.

But then I realised that Mohapi had a more specific contention in mind, as he stated: The Laws of Lerotholi were set to protect social order, traditions and culture of Basotho. Mohapi’s immediate concern is with the 2024 Estates and Inheritance Bill, which proposes radical changes to the existing order of things. (See the article in last week’s thepost, “MPs bulldoze through Inheritance Bill”, which gives a good idea of the background).

I’m aware that this Bill has provoked considerable controversy, and that is not my topic in this article. Nor do I wish to contest what Mohapi was saying in his piece — this is by no means a case of Dunton v Mohapi. But I did take note of the way the phrase “traditions and culture” kept resounding in Mohapi’s article, rather like a cracked bell, and what I want to do is open up those terms for examination.

Please bear with me as I slip aside for a moment with a little academic stuff. Back in 2006 I published an article titled “Problematizing Keywords: Culture, tradition and modernity.” For those of my readers with a scholarly bent and who might want to hunt it down, this was published in a journal called Boleswa Occasional Papers in Theology and Religion 2:3 (2006), pages 5-11. There I made a number of points I want to bring up in what follows.

The first fallacy I tackled in that article was the tradition/modernity binary — the notion that in Africa there was tradition and then, wham!, the white man arrived and there was modernity. Are we seriously to believe there were no great cities in Africa before the white man landed, that the peoples of a whole continent lived entirely in villages? Nigeria tells a different story.

Are we to believe there were no great libraries? Mali and Ethiopia tell a different tale. No writing systems? No medicine? I’m not saying that if I’m in pain I don’t prefer a dose of oramorph to an infusion made from some leaves picked off the slopes of Thaba Bosiu, but the point remains: the tradition/modernity binary is crude and crass and it’s demeaning about Africa.

We cannot get very far with simplistic ideas about where we are coming from and where we are at. And yet of course we do come from a past. I’ll quote — or, rather, paraphrase from memory, as I don’t have the work to hand — an observation made by T.S Eliot in his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent”: We know so much more than those who came before us. But they are a large part of what we know.

But of those who came before who is it, exactly, that we know? When Mohapi repeatedly uses the phrase “the traditions and culture of the Basotho people” I take it he is thinking of the Basotho as constituted under Moshoeshoe I and the descendants of those generations.

For how much do we know about the “traditions and culture” of the various Sotho-speaking groups let’s say two hundred years before Moshoeshoe gathered them together to form the modern Lesotho state? Isn’t it likely there were significant differences between the “traditions and culture” of these groups, differences that were later rationalised or homogenised?

Two points here. First, we mustn’t forget what an extraordinary innovator Moshoeshoe was —and I guess that might be said also of Lerotholi, whose laws are the chief focus of Mohapi’s article. Second, culture is not static, it is not immutable. It evolves all the time.

For example, for how long has it been the case that adherence to the Christian faith could be said to be part of the culture of Basotho? (Or, for how long has football been part of the culture of the English? We are credited with the invention of football, but that doesn’t mean it’s been part of who we are since time immemorial).

That brings me to my next point, or a string of points, moving from England back to Lesotho. When I was a schoolboy I bought myself a copy of the book Components of the National Culture (1968) by the great British Marxist Perry Anderson. One of my schoolmasters — one of the few who didn’t like me — caught me with it and said “just the sort of book I’d expect a troublemaker like you to be reading. Just don’t show it to anyone else!”

The significant term in Anderson’s title is “components.” Culture is put together — it is an assemblage — and its components may have different sources.
That leads me on to the invention of tradition, and an example for Basotho.

I guess all my readers know Qiloane, the sandstone pillar at Thaba Bosiu the distinctive peak of which is said to be the inspiration for the shape of the traditional Basotho straw hat. Well, that notion is dubious to say the least; there were hats of the same shape from elsewhere in the region long before the Basotho got hold of the design.

Does this really matter? Well, no, because even if a tradition is invented, it still has the persuasiveness of a tradition. It’s just that knowing this might dissuade us from making big claims about the unchangeable nature and sanctity of tradition.

And the same goes for culture. I leave you with a quotation from the Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah (it’s from his terrific book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers): We do not need, have never needed, a homogenous system of values, in order to have a home. Cultural purity is an oxymoron.

Chris Dunton is a former Professor of English and Dean of Humanities at the National University of Lesotho.

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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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