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Woke up at 3am this morning to a crescent moon hanging in the sky, and in his company, the small companion star hanging around at one of the tips of the sickle of the silver sliver of the goddess Luna’s luminescent body hanging in the sky; loyal like a Don Quixote’s Sancho Panza, faithfully following the master moon like it has always been since the day the cosmos was conceived.

The Muslim prophet Mohammed must have chosen this cosmogonic symbol for a given reason, that progress seeks faith, that it follows a given pattern, which, however tedious or routinish it may seem: there are some things that will never change, or, that their change will last a period of time that may seem an infinity if one were to compare its span with the brief and few years man is granted a place to love and to live on this earth.

The moon fades from time to time and repeats the waxing and the waning of the phases several times across the four seasons, but I am sure that star keeps on burning even in the absence of the moon; for though he may seem smaller, the star does not depend on the moon turning up to emit those brilliant diamond sparkles; the star is in actual fact the provider of the luminal brilliance the moon shines upon the earth on cloudless nights: the star is the provider of the light but prefers to stay in the background, he is content with the moon reflecting the light he emits from a million billion light years away.

Our human lives follow the pattern of the bodies in the universe; we cannot think we are different from them because all parts of our existence are governed by them. Thinking to the contrary is just foolish pride undisguised, for the seasons change and we are in turn forced to adapt to the weather changes; he or she that wears the seal or bear skin in the heat of the Sahara would surely perish from heat stroke, exhaustion, or, burn: only the wise know what to wear when, where, and how, and only a fool will don a pair of bikinis in the Arctic seas.

Time passes, progress comes, but the prudent mankind does not forget that there are constants in the life of humanity, and that these constants are to be revered if the process of progress is to be smooth. These constants that guide progress exist within the realm of the universe, where the earth is a member and man its inhabitant. One cannot hope to defend themselves by always referring to the outside, always blaming the other side, the misperceived ‘outside’; for there is in reality no outside: all we are is on the inside, it is the ‘inside’ we always have to focus on when there are problems in our lives, it is the inside we should wash before we use our dishes, it is the problem within and amongst ourselves we should focus on correcting before we shift the blame onto some poor scapegoat: it is more than just honourable to do this, it is the essence and core to solving problems related to our progress as the Roman Stoic writer Persius Flaccus once taught in his philosophy:

Ne te quaeseveris extra (Do not seek outside of yourself…)

A few days ago I came across squads, battalions, and entire armies of termites (cousins to ants that prefer to build mounds rather than migrate from place to place) crawling all over the sands and pavements of Maseru West, and this foraging spree reminded me of one ecclesiastical truth: we have to toil to get what we need. We can work to get what we want, but the prizes and the rewards of ‘working’ do not evoke the same level of contentment and joy as do the results of ‘toiling’. The truth is that sweat and toil have long-lasting results that can be beheld in the light of day, and their silhouettes can be seen against the background of the night sky.

Buying ice-cream and a cold beer are the rewards after a day of work, visible walls and houses on a previously empty landscape are the results of endless toil in the brazen heat of the summer sun and the chilly frosts of the winter: the latter however evokes a sense of pride in both the homeowner and the bricklayer that build such a house brick by brick, trowel of mortar by trowel of mortar.

The termites I saw build their metropolis (liōlo or termite mounds) by first going out of their comfortable nest in the ground, gathering dry blades of grass, then using their spit (or secretion if I have to be scientifically right) and the soil to create a muddy mix which they combine with the blades and stalks of grass to build the mound one sees dotting the landscapes of the world.

I have seen pictures of mounds in some countries, and the mounds in the photos are over 3 metres in height, and it leaves me filled with a sense of awe; awe that a creature so small could carry so much weight, crawl such a long distance to create such a huge superstructure whose infrastructure must have influenced the way we human beings plan our own metropolis. Our mekhoro (earthen houses) are copies of the liōlo, and from them (natural creatures) we have progressed into being a part of the universe considered ‘intelligent’.

I often wonder whether we really are intelligent, or that we are simply gifted copycats that emulate only part of what they see and then trash the rest that they do not understand. Methinks the endless wars are a sign that we have not progressed as beings in the world. We lack the patience, the diligence, the competence, effectiveness, the strategy, and the resilience of the termite, the ant, and the snake.

Progress demands one large measure of patience; for to progress, one must be very good at the practice of waiting, one must be wise enough to find something to do that is worthwhile whilst they wait. Waiting does not mean that one stands still, one should be doing ‘work’; that is, carrying some weight physically and mentally, going from here to there in legwork or mental calculation whilst in wait of the ultimate goal. The argument of the forward and the greedy is that, ‘life is too short’, but the truth of the matter is that those who rush make their short lives even shorter because they lack the patience to wait, and they have not the wisdom to realise that a house is built brick by brick and not wall by wall, that a meal is eaten spoonful by spoonful not plate by plate.

I am sure (that perhaps) the termite knows not the number of times he or she will venture out into the grassland to get a single blade of grass, but I am sure he or she enjoys the knowledge that those blades of grass are part of what constitutes to their basic security, their shelter, their welfare, their legacy to their posterity. The termite is diligent in the quest to build or to repair the mound because they seem to have an inbuilt sense of commitment to the task of keeping their homeland/mound in prime condition. One would not be wrong to assume that the diligence is begat of the patience of waiting to see all things through, to see the structure built.

Our lives in our individuality and our states should in a sense follow the same pattern if we are to truly progress to a level where we can claim to be progressive. Having an innate sense of patience and diligence leads to what I term as ‘competence’, which in turn defines effectiveness in life. Progress demands of one to understand the true and full meanings of the terms for it to be progress, and not just a series of fumblings that find certain individuals tasked with seeing to the occurrence of progress taking potshots in the dark, without first aiming or planning in the form of strategy.

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) in his Evolution and Ethics defines what progress is using the image of a plant’s growth as a background;

By insensible steps, the plant builds itself up into a large and various fabric of root, stem, leaves, flowers, and fruit, every one moulded within and without in accordance with an extremely complex but, at the same time, minutely defined pattern. In each of these complicated structures, as in their smallest constituents, there is an immanent energy which, in harmony with resident in all the others, incessantly works towards the maintenance of the whole and the efficient performance of the part which it has to play in the economy of nature.

Diligence constitutes to building, whether it be structures or relationships in human or earthly-scapes that can be seen, and correctly applied, diligence gets one the results; for constant and concentrated effort meant to achieve a goal leads to one being competent in their given pursuit.

Repetition begets effectiveness in whatever pursuit one is engaged in, and to progress, one should have a clear and virtuous path to follow, to attain whatever goal they envision or is envisioned by someone more experienced than themselves. However, one should have a clear sense of strategy lest they be routed from their original progress goal and they end up misplaced. It takes a single wrong turn for a whole journey to go sour unless one follows the itinerary to the tee. I have seen clear development goals end up as nothing or their effects go unseen because they were not patiently implemented, were not diligently executed, were run by a bunch of incompetent beings who were in all essence in the wrong place (that is, misplaced), were lacking in terms of strategy, and were in general ineffective.

Progress is like the arrow, it is a guided process on how we as the human race can be better human beings in the present and the future. We do not refer to the past to mark a change in progress, we focus on the now to map the way into the future, and for that we have to understand a large part of the tenets of progress. Fumbling without proper knowledge and understanding of the terms and the conditions within which we work soon leads complacency and retardation. Individuals sooner than later create comfort zones, and the fact of the matter is that comfort soon makes a man or woman heavy in the middle; and who can toil with a lead heavy belly? To progress we need a pack of wild dogs running in synchrony, knowing perfectly well that they will get their quarry because they have the patience and the diligence to run it down. These are the kind of individuals that know that the finish line is at the end of the chase, not in the middle.

I have seen a whole far-away country across the river of pines progress because the citizens were willing to shed the past as a snake sheds his slough. Back then, such a country was a model for reconciliation, and restoration, but it now has given rise to a breed of individuals that believe life is free; because they were taught that toil is wrong for the government will provide all. In the light of all the obvious signs of regress one sees in the country mentioned, one begins to wonder; what fool taught these fools that there is reward without work? Who lies to an entire generation by convincing them that freedom means things will come for free?

Nothing is for free, even the land we tread on has to pay the sky in the form of evaporation for the rain it receives for the citizens of the earth. Whoever thought that progress and freedom are free; they are just delusional: for what they teach does not agree even with itself. And the words of the stoic Persius agree that:

Omne verum vero consonat (every truth is consonant/ agrees with every other truth)

Progress is not free; you have to pay the pass: like we do all over the earth in all forms.

  1. S. Mothibi, Esq.

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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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