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Childhood is a sweet time, so sweet that the relevance of the ageless adage, “Good ole days…” is both universal and quintessential to all human beings growing up under normal circumstances. That the days of childhood are full merrymaking and mirth, that they somehow embody the human perfection Youssou N’Dour and Neneh Cherry sing of in their 1990’s classic ‘Seven Seconds, and that the true epoch of human innocence, the age of innocence, is found in the days when days do not really matter, and the only thing that counts is playing field, the next place of adventure where boys like I was thought of first thing in the morning. Breakfast, and lunch could be forgotten because, in the school holidays, the girls would cook for us at the playground where we played house; because girls were really good at being ‘mothers’ in their little houses without walls, and any male boy who broke any of the ‘house’ rules would never get any of the food cooked in the thrown-away canned food cans. It was the girls who played ‘mother’ or ‘wife’ to any of the boys lucky enough to be invited to the mantloane (house) for meals, the unlucky ones were either not allowed for being rowdy, or, they were forced to go herd livestock on the weekends. The girls were handed their liphehiso (food cooked at the ‘playhouse’) by their mothers, or they just stole the cooking oil, the salt, and all the other condiments related to the art of house-keeping: I guess their mothers knew that the girls would someday be mothers to their families, and so, it was best that they gave them the essential lessons in playing family early.

Women do get the upper hand early, because they are (were) not scared of each other. From an early age, women are all about arranging everything and putting it in order; from the combing of their hair and that of their dolls, to decorating those ‘houses’ without any real walls at the playground, and the major role of selecting which boy will be the ‘husband’, who will be the rooster crowing in the ‘early morning’ of an afternoon at the playing field, and who will be the ‘baby’. The order at the playground is an arranged system, governed by you know who calls the shots when it comes to determining the early memories of the system that governs exactly 98% of this world (the family) with its children, and dogs, and cats, and neat little houses. At the playground, it is the little queens that rule, they control the living patterns and the systems of order, and they can run as fast as we boys do, fight as hard as we can do; and they never forget their role as matriarchs: it is only when they reach teenagehood and begin walking in those 19inch heels that they become sluggish and lose pace.

When the order is reversed and male hegemony takes over, and then the world becomes a rat race to the little boy whose days of innocence are erased by the fact that he has to chin up, bear the weight of the world on his shoulders, and be a testosterone fuelled automaton whose main command at reveille every morning is ‘man the … up’, “be a man!” And then all of the old order fades in haze of endless deadlines, goals, targets, scores, plans, strategies, and all of the other often virtual realities of the rigmarole roles in the world “The Man” created for the mental enslavement of the masses. The systems for maintaining order in this world are ruthless, and order begins to take on a merciless tone to whoever infringes its acts and statutes. Order…

Human order, with its varied structures cannot easily be defined in simple terms. The human being is a complex creature, but borrowing from the brief glimpse above, it can be figured out if one chooses to take on aspects I find definitive, and these are the family, the state, and progress (civilisation). Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) defines human order from the point of view of the state:

…As the State was formed to make life possible, so it exists to make life good. Consequently if it be allowed that the simple associations, i.e. the household and the village, have a natural existence, so has the State in all cases; for in the State they attain complete development, as the nature of anything, e.g., of a man, a house or a horse, may be defined to be its condition when the process of production is complete.

That I choose to discuss the state before the family is due to the fact that lately, the state seems to have usurped the latter area of human society in our world. Where parents used to chastise their children, the government’s social services now fill the role, and in an era where chronic diseases are the term of the day, relatives of orphans seem to have disappeared and in their place are matrons in centres and homes for the destitute. All of these new institutions are controlled and sponsored by the government, and it has come to a point where, entire family structures have been dismantled to a point where they cannot be salvaged, and instead of ensuring that family structures remain intact, governments across the world put their focus on futile issues such as social welfare, and benefits for the ‘marginalised’ or the ‘vulnerable’.

The state seeks to take on the role of the parent, and the parent soon forgets their role in the family, and the children grow up not knowing who the real parent is, and at the end of the day, lose the sense of order because they are presented with dualities when they should choose which path to follow in a single lifetime. Order stems from being mentally arranged in a clear pattern, if the mind is presented with stimuli that emit double meanings and signals, then the mind chooses a pattern with which it is comfortable; whether such a pattern is right or wrong is not the main concern. Lost in mind, the individual child is forced to choose, and due to inexperience, the necessary choice is not selected because it is considered uncomfortable.

Order is not a simple process if executed to its fullest potential, it is reminiscent to ironing out the creases in a piece of fabric; the ironing should be hot enough to remove the crinkles in the shirt, otherwise the whole process fails and one walks around with a shirt or a skirt that looks like spat out cud. Human progress and its patterns never wait for anyone; they keep a constant movement forward, like the weathering of a rock or the ticking of the clock. However, this does not mean that one cannot maintain (law) and order, because there is an innate need to maintain the arrangement of the structure as is suitable for the sustenance of the peace of all human beings in a society. That the ‘revolutionary’ of the present day adopts the tactics of an age long gone into the mists of time to ‘effect’ change, is a misconception which can at best be described as nonsensical. If a foe stabbed a relative in the back a few centuries ago and it caused chaos in the community or greater society, adopting the same tactics they did is disorderly: it disturbs the peace we need to exist as sensible beings.

The common argument of the day is ‘change we need/should make’, and the question that comes to mind is; do we really understand what change is, do we really know what revolution means? Change is a turn of the wheel of time, but change should not come in a manner that will break the axle that supports the wheel, that keeps it in place so that the wheel can carry those who ride the carriage to their destination. The cartwright applies lubrication in between the axle and the hub to prevent wearing of the two metals as they move one over the other. Order in any society is the grease that prevents the hub (the people) and the axle (government or authority) wearing each other to nothingness.

It is necessary for progress to occur, as it is necessary for the fruit tree to mature so we can taste of its fruit. But progress should not be sought as a honey badger would, that is, by forcing oneself upon the next/other because they know that the other party cannot retaliate. The marauding honey badger will just force their clawed paw into a beehive and take all the honey because it is immune to the stings of the bees in the hive. One finds scenarios in modern states where given groups will burn and loot because they feel they are being denied services. In the mêlée, property is destroyed, lives are lost, and precious time is lost, and it brings the question; what will tomorrow be like when all the resources that ensure that such a tomorrow is reached are destroyed in the thick of the demonstration and the revolution? It is a basic right to express oneself, and it is a basic responsibility to present any qualms in a peaceful manner.

Resorting to violent means to express dissatisfaction is at best the tantrum of a spoiled brat who does not understand that the candy he is being denied, or, is temporarily prevented from consuming will bring about the decay of the tooth. There are ideal needs that benefit all, there are also gross felonies that seem to be the preoccupation of a generation that understands not the righteous spirit of Patrice Lumumba, the commitment of Alberto Guevara de la Serna, the vision of Thomas Sankara, the tenacity of Ho Chi Minh, and universal harmony of Nelson Mandela. All of these figures fought their private wars for the sake of the welfare of all, some fired guns and planted landmines, but in their actions, there is one element that stands out: all were committed to seeing order acted out and not just being clichéd as would the revolutionaries of today that read only the pirated edition’s introductory section on the life of a true revolutionary. It would help to fully understand what revolution is, for then order can then be truly understood.

Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) contends that those moments in history where great sacrifice was made, where the masses prayed and toiled for freedom and progress, are often misconstrued to the detriment of society by those who have the power but are not noble enough in spirit to acknowledge that peace is more essential than the power they wield. Think not that I am referring only to one side; I am referring to all the citizens of any state, who, I believe should be more concerned with maintaining the peace than just putting their entire focus on having their views heard or their visions implemented at the expense of the peace within the state. He argues:

The art of progress is to preserve order amid change, and to preserve change amid order.

Order in itself is not sufficient, he states further; but the need for new ways and ideas is necessary if we are to change the present circumstance. Resorting to ways of resolving conflict that, for example, got us out of colonialism and apartheid is at best outdated and archaic. If some someone those long years ago or in some recent season past used a certain overzealous method to get their view across, adopting the same procedure to deal with a current problem may just prove to be as nonsensical as getting a team of carriage horses to pull a fully functioning auto-mobile.

Sometimes, using an old way to solve a present problem may prove unsuitable, because the conditions of the new problem may be totally dissimilar to those of the old one (for though playing mantloane is reminiscent to and mimics the structure of the real home, some of its practices are best left in the days of childhood because they are not applicable to the real life situations of adulthood). Oftentimes, I think toyi-toying or demonstrating where there are available means and open channels for amicable communication to be conducted, is in plain terms toying with the future, and leading to the loss of the little time you have in the present which could be used to build a better future. Some days, I just think of the beautiful order on the playground, where the queens would cook and scream and play in peace without losing the basic human essence of orderliness in their playhouses without walls. This is ideal, it is the ideal, it is structured, it is ordered…  

  1. S. Mothibi, Esq.

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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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