Connect with us


The roots of African self-hate



When the post-colonial discussions began in earnest, works of literature such as Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness were denigrated as being improper, as works that misrepresented the authentic ethos of what the African individual is like as a human being. It could have been a wrong perception, but the basic argument is that Conrad travelled extensively into the depths of Africa and it is therefore wrong for him to be considered a spectator. This writer had followed the basic rules of writing to the tee; starting first with observing, internalising, and then penning that which he had seen.
There was nothing wrong with his account, what is wrong is the fact that the postcolonial critic has the tendency to look for scapegoats when it comes to defining the problems of the continent and other previously colonised regions. Now that independence has been got and the old scapegoat has been stripped of power, the questions remain: who is to blame now for the problems of the African continent? In fact, how can the present-day atrocities, malpractices, tribal divisions, racism, xenophobia, criminality and outright heinous acts of hate be defined now that the old scapegoat is no more? Will the African wake up and question him or herself on reasons why they have become the creature they are now panning out to be?
It is a problem if one is always right, it is a malady of gargantuan proportions when the individual is self-righteous, and it is dangerous when the masses are led by megalomaniac dictators that hold the false notion that they are demi-gods that should be worshipped. Coming back to the individual, does one ever sincerely bother to ask why Africans hate each other so much?
This question comes after careful consideration and observation of the facts on the table done through piecing together the events that are occurring on a daily basis on the continent. It is a fact that Africans never really departed from the cultural divisions the colonist marked in the four centuries colonial rule reigned supreme on the continent: people still look at each other on the basis of clan, tribe, ethnic group, and religious affiliation.
This is what the divide and rule method of the colonist sought to achieve, and it seems the African imbibed it full pint and without question. The escalating levels of violence and skulduggery one sees displayed on the various media platforms and in real life are proof enough that this continent is indeed the heart of darkness as Conrad posited in the novel those many years ago.
From the genocides across the vast span of history, to the endless civil wars, it has always been clear that there was something wrong with us as Africans. Instead of addressing the real problems in terms of our relationships with each other on an individual level, the tendency has however always been to gather in caucuses and conferences to feign patronage with each other.
It does not make sense to gather in conference to discuss societal problems without first finding out what the problem is with the African as an individual. The discussions largely focus on the umbrella problems of hunger, unemployment, welfare, and other perspectives without first trying to address the problem of the individual. This is despite the fact that the acts of cruelty to other human beings are committed or are influenced by the individual from the onset.
This means that the symptoms and not the sources are ever put under scrutiny to the point where real solutions can be found and we thus end up running in circles when it comes to dealing with social problems that balloon out of control to the point where they become national problems. The individual should be the first point of call when the source to the prevailing societal and national problems need to be clarified and understood to get to solutions that will aid the continent to progress. We speak of rising levels of unemployment that cause poverty that leads to crime (which is often the apex level in this pattern of events) but never question the individuals that commit the deeds. It is only the circumstances that led them to committing the crimes that are put forth as the scapegoat in more cases than one.
Whether it be in an industrial action or housebreak, the cause to the crimes committed in terms of the looting and the burning is often blamed on something else other than the human beings that did the crimes. I find this perspective rather hypocritical in its defence of outright criminal characters on the basis of the prevailing circumstances. The question that is logical is: why do other individuals in the same circumstances not commit similar crimes? It was a crime that colonialism used the divide and rule method to colonise an entire continent (excepting Abyssinia/Ethiopia). It is however a crime against the self that the continent is still struggling in the clutches of a divisive mentality propelled by extreme self-interest and stark narcissism.
It is wrong to blame history for the poverty when we know for a fact that we stand by and watch as crimes against humanity in the form of nepotism and corruption are allowed to erode the very fabric and ethos of the African continent and it numerous communities living in abject poverty. The accusers are often from the elite sectors of society who never actually get to taste the bitter fruits of poverty and will never get to know what unemployment means because they are ‘connected’.
The lead mentality on an individual level in this instance rests on the idea that one is ‘entitled’ to the benefits that they enjoy. Entitlement came with colonialism where the colonial authorities would appoint leaders on the basis of compliance. Those who complied were given positions of authority and they reaped the benefits in terms of reward the colonial government dished out.
This class of elites should have ended at the point of independence, but however, the newly-established political class that took the reins of power from the colonial regimes assumed the same attitude the compliant African of the colonial times had. The political elite to this day acts as if they are more entitled to the benefits reaped from economic and other activities. These benefits are split within the group and affiliates, leaving the rest of the majority fighting over scraps.
This leads to a mentality of deep-seated hate amongst the lower classes where one side finds it appropriate to fight for individual reward instead of communal reward. This division in terms of fighting for common interest has advanced to the point where external forces with illicit interests use the divide and rule system in terms of rewards to gain their profits.
The compliant side often declare their hunger as the lead cause to their selling out when it comes to addressing issues of common interest. This automatically leads to a polarised society where one side engage in a bitter struggle with the sell-outs to the common cause that would lead to universal prosperity if it were to be pursued in united effort. The African that sells out declares their hunger in the present without ever bothering to engage the foresight needed to ensure that all will benefit at the end of the struggle.
Being hungry for a day whilst waiting for long term benefit is a sacrifice worth taking, but the ‘hungry’ African ignores this fact and sells their soul for a dime, choosing to forget that the children will in the future be slaves to the marauding ally the parents sold their souls to. The hate bred in this encounter lasts for generations, with one side boasting full pockets given as reward from the loot, and the other bitter that their slavery has been prolonged on the basis of temporary reward.
One has watched the mass industrial action in Lesotho where the apparel industry workers fought for their right to a living wage. Their effort was rewarded with some relief in the form of increased wages and they attained their victory because for a while, they stuck together.
Others in the same industry and the teaching profession are still waiting for the day when their salary increase shall come, and sadly, there seems to be no point of relief in sight. The argument is that the sectors concerned should be grateful for the ‘little that they get,’ and this is said by individuals who live on a level three tiers above lavish who have no care whatsoever for the welfare of others because they never experienced the harsh and squalid conditions those with a little salary live through on a daily basis.
It is uncouth to earn a million and expect another to live on less than a dollar for the same length of time. The new culture where people are threatened with dismissal further worsens the scourge that divide and rule was to the ideals of African societal living before the colonials arrived. Those willing to take the place of individuals fired from their jobs for protesting a low salary or benefits are in blank terms backstabbers whose humanity should be questioned. It is self-hate to hold the notion that one’s rewards should not be questioned, it all boils down to standing in their shoes and asking yourself whether you would take the same stance if you were put in a similar set of circumstances as that which they are experiencing.
They are burning and looting foreign-owned shops and businesses in neighbouring South Africa, and the Minister of Police in that republic sees no xenophobia but criminality in the rampant acts of hate. I choose not to argue with him but to question the government policy that has for the past 25 years bred a sense of entitlement in the previously disadvantaged majority in the state. South Africans seem to hold the notion that the rewards from the economic activities should be delivered to their doorstep without them ever lifting a finger.
The poor migrant shop-owners and émigrés willing to eke a living are falsely accused of stealing jobs and economic positions (even women sometimes) and they are on this false basis attacked. What the South African looter seems to have abruptly forgotten is that the same African and other foreign brother gave them refuge when the dogs of apartheid were hounding them day in and night out.
The stealing of jobs and positions is just a lame excuse for a character that was bred and nurtured by living in the city and stealing for a living instead of toiling and sweating to put bread on one’s table. As a figure in Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country the South African looter is acting true to character; a hijacker of other people’s dreams to gain benefit for self.
It is hateful to wish poverty for another when you do nothing about assuaging the anguish of your prevailing predicament. It is true that the levels of unemployment are high, but it does not warrant looting someone’s store for a few cans of food that will last less than a month. With the shop gone, it means that the economy will come to a halt as the foreigners that are actually drivers of the ailing economy leave for more peaceful environments. The lifeline that actually feeds the welfare check will be cut as the acts of hate are allowed to run free-rein.
It would be nonsensical to expect governments to ensure that everyone is peaceful and employed. It is up to us as individuals to look for ways to employ our hands and genuinely try and understand the sad state of affairs and how living in a foreign land as an asylum seeker is for the ‘foreigner.’ What we need to inculcate is the vision of a borderless Africa where everyone lived in relative peace and harmony and no African ever worries that they would be attacked on the basis of being foreign.
The figure that knows themselves, understands themselves, respects themselves, and loves themselves knows that there are valuable lessons that can gleaned off the mouths and minds of those that have travelled long distances to get to the land where we are. It is self-hate to feel that one is better than the next individual because doing so alienates one from the help they could get tomorrow.
It is self-hate to deem the struggles of others as fickle because they might just make sense the day after tomorrow when the tables are turned. It is self-hate to believe that one has the right to hurt the feelings and the bodies of others without realising that one may be in the same situation and condition themselves some day.
What is panning out on the continent is just deep-seated self-hate that was taught by the colonist which should be excised by serious introspection on the part of the individual African. The more of us there are questioning ourselves and our intentions as individuals, the more likely we are to reach the desired point of wealth we need to get the continent out of the mire of hate it is in.

Ts’episo Mothibi

Continue Reading


Harnessing imagery in writing



All writing is imaginative. Every piece of writing reflects the artistry and mental resourcefulness of the writer.

Effective writing also reflects the colourfulness of the writer’s mind and heart; their ability to paint the world to the reader and their capacity or facility of taking the reader with them to beautiful mental and physical and picturesque journeys.

In this piece we focus on how we can hone our creative abilities through the use of imagery and the effect of using colourful and evocative imagery in writing. Let’s go! What if I say, “Learn to prepare wisely and meticulously in time,” you will still grasp the message in a very clear way, isn’t it? But would that be interesting and colourful?

But what if we put it in a colourful manner, “Make hay whilst the sun still shines,” you really grasp the colour and the full import of the message, isn’t it? That’s what imagery does to your writing; it allows you to feel, touch and smell what you are reading.

There is no doubt that the proverb, “make hay whilst the sun still shines” has taken you to the countryside, in a farming community. You hear the bleating of sheep and the neighing of horses.

At the same time, you visualise the good farmer gracefully at work, cutting grass which he is piling in orderly stacks, preparing fodder for his animals in the future. The sun’s rays buoy his attempts and ensure that the hay is prepared with care and colour.

Thus, the point of good imagery is to capture in full detail a world that allows the reader to grasp and enjoy using their five senses. Let me give you a small but beautiful extract which further drives home the point.

“With his machete he detached a brittle clod, broke it on a stone. It was full of dead twigs and the residue of dried roots that he crushed in his fingers.

“Look, there isn’t anything left. The water has dried up in the very entrails of the mountain. It’s not worth while looking any further. It’s useless.” Then, with sudden anger, “But why, damn it! Did you cut the woods down, the oaks, the mahogany trees, and everything that grow up there? Stupid people with no sense!”

Thando struggled for a moment to find words. “What else could we do, brother? We cleared it to get new wood. We cut it down for framework and beams for our hearts. We repaired the fences around our fields. We didn’t know ourselves. Ignorance and need go together, don’t they?”

The sun scratched the scorched back of the mountain with its shining fingernails. Along the dry ravine the earth panted. The countryside, baked in drought, began to sizzle.”

What a colourful piece! The extract aptly paints a countryside’s pulse and the rhythms of seasonal and climate change and how that affects the livelihood patterns of the inhabitants. Have you seen how the sun has been endowed with human-like features?

And the description of the earth assuming human-like features, for instance, “the earth panted.” No doubt, you have seen the earth subdued by the intensity of heat in a way that is similar to a person who is panting.

To paint excellent images the writer needs to have the gift of observation. He/she should be able to observe quite a panorama of things around him and immerse them in the soil of their imagination. Let’s see another good extract where you can discern the link between good images, excellent description and the power of observation.

“It’s in the morning, the fourth watch, to borrow from biblical discourse. It’s damp outside. I brace the slicing chilly weather to go outside. There is a drizzle, constant showers seeping deep down. I pace up at least 400 metres from my hood. I see lined-up, almost cubicle-like houses.

I keep walking, with a spring in the step buoyed by the damp aura wrought by the incessant downpours. I take a deep breath, and step back as it were.

I want to be deliberate. I want to take in everything in my environment; the colours, the diverse hues and plethora of landscape contours. I notice a woman, almost in her forties, from my eye-view assumptions. She is grabbing a basket clutched tenaciously almost close to her big bosom.

She is going to Mbare Musika, the famous agricultural market wherein she intends to buy items for her stall. Behind her, there is a big strapped baby covered in velvet. As she briskly walks, I see her jumping a poodle of water as she observes her stall. I also observe a man, clad in sportswear running trying to cure a big belly.

As I keep watching, I see a woman sweeping her small veranda. I keep walking. I see a woman, plump tending to her garden. She seems animated by the drizzle, thanks to the rains.

I hear another woman, especially her piercing voice, she is selling floor polish. Her voice fills the air. As I drown in the sweet voice, I notice a man staggering. He is filthy. He could have calloused the whole night. He is holding a Black Label quart, speaking gibberish in the air. I keep watching.”

So here were are! Writing is a matter of painting with words, carving images and allowing the reader to experience the impact of all the senses so as to fully grasp the sense of what is put across.

Vuso Mhlanga teaches at the University of Zimbabwe. For almost a decade and half he taught English language and Literature in English at high school.

Send your comments and questions to:

Continue Reading


Politicians’ propensity to score own goals



Lesotho politicians are often in the habit of scoring own goals. For example, look at the circus that took place in the country at the opening of parliament after the winter break. These events remind me of the article that I wrote with the title ‘Scoring own goals’.

This article appeared in this publication dated March 18 – 24, 2021. It argued that Lesotho’s politicians had a propensity to score own goals.

Many say that education and academia should not involve themselves in politics. This belief is a fallacy. The two are intrinsically intertwined. Education and politics link in a complex way.

For instance, parliament is an organ that passes laws that govern and guide national education policies. The interconnectedness includes the curricula that educational institutions and schools teach. Now, if the National Assembly’s focus is misplaced, important legislative decisions may stall or be derailed by lack of action.

I must make a disclaimer though. I am not promoting any view about a political party. I am writing this article purely as a concerned citizen.

I revisit the own goal tendency of those in authority by assessing the drama that unfolded in politics and governance. I review the recent events that culminated in the failed vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Sam Matekane and his government.

I use arguments from research to demonstrate the fluidity of Lesotho’s democracy. Some politicians often take advantage of this fluidity for selfish gain. I contest that the Prime Minister and his government should treat their adversities as stepping stones to meeting their targets.

A constitution is a living document. Accordingly, to keep Lesotho’s constitution alive, current and relevant, parliament should regularly amend it.

However, in so doing, parliament must be careful that tinkering with the country’s constitution does not compromise the essence of democracy they champion. National and democratic principles must form the dogma that underpins the improvements and amendment exercises.

Personal aspirations, ambitions and creed must not underpin the amendments.

The recent events in and out of the National Assembly make one question the perceptions of the different roles players in the democratic playground in Lesotho have.

First, there was a vote of no confidence that the Speaker ruled to defer subject to the high court’s decision.

Second, there was the allegedly drunken MP’s own goal.

The third is the press conference led by the Commissioner of the Lesotho Mounted Police Services flanked by the head of the Lesotho Defence Force and the Director General of the National Security Services.

It is already a hat trick of own goals. Fourth, there was the statement of the Prime Minister claiming an attempted coup.

The fifth own goal is the moratorium that prevented parliament from holding a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister before the lapse of three years of his inauguration.

The sixth is the practice of shirking responsibility by MPs. MPs often refer political matters to the national courts for decisions. The seventh, and the mother of all own goals, is the electoral system that Lesotho elected to pursue. The National Assembly has 120 MPs. There are 80 MPs representing constituencies and 40 proportional representatives.

The Commonwealth suggested that Lesotho review the modalities of the PR nominations. Sekatle and the Commonwealth agree that the PR system introduced plurality but at a cost. The cost is what scholars and commentators term minority rights and coalitions.

Also, it compromises accountability and transparency. It undermines the collective intelligence of the voters. Chief Jonathan warned against coalition governments by citing their instability. Political instability plagues Lesotho today.
Sekatle and the Commonwealth cited the overreliance on a threshold in awarding PR seats in parliament, cheapening them.

The PR system ballooned parliament unnecessarily. By comparison, Botswana had a population of 2.6 million in (2021). Lesotho had 2.3 million (2021). Botswana parliament currently has 65 seats, and Lesotho has 120.

A consequence emanating from the PR system in Lesotho is a hung parliament. Since 2012, there has not been an outright majority in the National Assembly. The results yielded chaos. Over that period, PMs constantly look over their shoulders. All these coalitions imploded.

Democracy is about the majority. Politicians must be persuasive to attract votes to achieve the majority. In other words, the PR system rewards failure.

The own goals cause stagnation. MPs score these own goals by serving their selfish interests. They waste time and energy on trivial things. And yet, they receive full-time salaries and earn allowances such as sittings and petrol allowances. How, then, would one explain that the external urging of parliament had to engage in the reforms exercise?

Today, reforms are lying latent. Politicians use the reform programme as an excuse for ensuring that they retain or access power. In the recent correspondences to SADC, the government and the opposition cite reforms and democracy to justify their actions. But as I write this article, there is nothing much that is happening along the lines of these very reforms. Why?

The starting point of any achievement is desire and definitiveness of purpose. The definitiveness of purpose is more than goal setting. It is one’s roadmap to achieving the overall objectives. Elsewhere, I took the definition of desire as explained by the author, Wallace Wattles.

According to Wattles, ‘Desire is possibility seeking expression, or function seeking performance’. All desires began as a thought. Expressing their desires through a manifesto is a means by which parties attempt to concretise them (their desires).

The starting point of an election campaign is the expression of political intentions and goals through manifestos. A manifesto is a public declaration of aims and policy by a political party or candidate. Political parties express their desires for what they will do in their manifestos.

After elections, these desires become the guiding principles and laws. Politically mature voters would then elect political candidates based on these manifestos.

Who instigated and drove the reforms in Lesotho? The contemporary history of Lesotho reveals that external forces pushed the reforms. Basotho merely reacted. They do not own the reform process. High on the list of their drivers are SADC, the US through AGOA and the European Union.

The practice contradicts Wattles’ definition. According to Wattles definition, desire must emanate from inside the individual, or in our case, from Basotho and be expressed outward through actions.

I do not want to comment too much about the involvement of the security agencies in politics. In my view, the relevant bodies, namely, the Law Society of Lesotho, the media and the opposition parties dealt with their involvement adequately.

Former PM Leabua Jonathan often described democracy as the government of the people by the people. But, the meaning of the construct of democracy is fluid and elusive, depending on the position of governance in Lesotho’s political arena.

Authors Hughes, Kroehler and Vander Zanden explain that democracy is a system in which the powers of government derive from the consent of the governed, namely the masses who vote, in which regular constitutional avenues exist for changing government officials.

The authors characterise the system as one which permits the population a significant voice in decision-making through the people’s right to choose among contenders for political office. Also, the system allows for a broad, relatively equal citizenship among the populace.

Lastly, it affords the citizenry protection from arbitrary state action.

Now, the question is whether the recent activities fit all the three criterias. Are the actions of the MPs who moved for the vote of no confidence in the PM’s government acting in line with Lesotho’s constitution and democracy?

This definition of democracy says that regular constitutional avenues exist for changing government officials. The no confidence vote exists in Lesotho’s constitution. But the PM and his security agencies questioned this. They claim the move by the members of the opposition to dethrone the government was a coup attempt.

The drama began when an MP from the ruling Revolution for Prosperity (RFP), Thabo Moea MP, sought an order from the High Court to delay the motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister until after the completion of the reforms process.

The opposition contests that the prayer by Moea stifles a democratic process for self-serving ends. Subsequently, the Speaker cited this impending case to defer the matter.

The constitution of Lesotho stipulates that the legislature is to pass laws, the executive is to approve and execute them, and the judiciary is to expound and enforce them. But a scholar, Nwafor, claims that the courts in Lesotho often intrude into the functions of the other arms of government.

Lesotho ‘s constitution confers powers on three arms of government in such a manner as would ensure cooperation and coordination in governance. The courts ought to bear in mind that the effective discharge of the responsibilities of the courts largely depends on the effectiveness of the other arms of government.

Nwafor brings up the issue of encroachment. He asserts that the powers of the different arms of government in such a manner would guarantee a coordinated discharge of government responsibilities to the nation. But, parliament overly relies on the courts to make political decisions. The practice encourages the risk of overreaching.

The PR electoral system denies Basotho the right to choose their representatives among contenders for political office. Instead, parties ‘hand pick’ these representatives in the pretext of the constituency elections outcomes. Often, these PR members are the ones who lost their constituency elections.

These are the politicians whose constituencies rejected them. They represent their parties and not the voters. They do not account to the voters.

Both the PM and the opposition made presentations to SADC. They overlooked the electorate. Why would SADC have power and not the electorate that elected the politicians to office? Running to SADC, an outside organisation, to settle Lesotho’s internal problems is not a solution. It is scoring an own goal. Lesotho, with its 57 years of independence, should be able to solve its internal problems.

Nonetheless, I have a completely different take from Mokhothu on the issue of the protest march by the RFP. It is unimportant to find the instigator of the protest march. The people to persuade are the voters, the people who put governments into power in a democracy, not external bodies such as SADC.

Napoleon Hill’s creed reads: ‘Every adversity brings a seed of equivalent or more benefit’. Any business person knows that business is a solution to an economic problem. So, the PM and his colleagues in his party who are business people must look at the adversity emanating from the opposition as a seed of equivalent or better benefit.

The government must dig deep to find how the problem may benefit them.
They must identify their failures and use them as stepping stones to success.

Elsewhere, I presented the views of an American scholar and activist, Anderson, who suggested that marginalised communities must cease granting candidates blank cheques. Instead, the electorate must draw their expectations and demand the campaigning party or candidate promise to meet them.

This practice is called quid pro quo. It enforces accountability and transparency.

You scratch my back, and I scratch yours. Quid pro quo is an example of one of the universal laws that demonstrate reciprocity. Reciprocity is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. The universal law is the Law of Cause and Effect. It means that for every effect, there is an equal cause. You plant a seed, so shall you reap.

Both the government and the opposition ran to SADC for help. Remember, Matekane is a successful businessman. He has, on more than one occasion, explained that he wanted to use his prowess in business to take Lesotho forward. As a businessman, Matekane has faith in his ability.

Words that come to mind here include self-confidence and trust in himself. He believes in himself. Running to SADC does not display this faith in his ability to deal with problems emanating from his opposition.

Hill argues that riches, or any form of success and achievement, begin with a thought. Faith removes limitations. Matekane must apply his faith as a businessman to become a successful politician.

To summarise, the article explores the events emanating from the fiasco of the no-confidence motion. The individuals who ought to champion constitutional democracy in Lesotho betrayed Basotho by scoring hordes of own goals.

I explored the meaning of concepts that helped me unpack some of these own goals. These were democracy, faith and desire. Also, I coupled these with scholarly research views on the constitution of Lesotho.

I contest that while the opposition may argue that they are within their rights to ruffle the government, the PM must use different tactics. He must display faith and confidence in himself and trust Basotho.

The move to influence the voters to back him deserves a big WOW! He must hold more campaigns to persuade voters to support his government. Voters may make or break him.

MPs waste time in discussing trivial issues that have no bearing on the national agenda. Often, they focus on self-serving matters. The RFP promised to refocus Lesotho towards national development and improving the quality of life.

The article also shows that the PR system does not benefit Lesotho. It diminishes accountability and the principle of quid pro quo. Also, it ballooned the numbers in parliament unnecessarily. It increased political instability by forging formations of coalition.

Politicians must refrain from abusing the judiciary by making them make political decisions. Involving the courts in making political decisions leads to encroachment. Encroachment defies democracy.

In conclusion, Matekane must not allow his detractors to derail his mandate. The same is true for the opposition leaders who attempt to dethrone him. No party campaigned on removing sitting PMs.

Also, the MPs must take the responsibilities that Basotho entrusted them with. It is high time that they make the political decisions instead of shifting them to the judiciary or external bodies.

Matekane, his business associates and technocrats in his government should revisit attributes that made them successful. One such attribute is their faith in their abilities. They must remember that riches (and success) begin with a thought, and faith removes limitations.

Dr Tholang Maqutu


Continue Reading


Painting mood effectively



Writing is not different from beautiful artwork. Just like a skilled painter holding a brush with its broad strokes, the writer occupies the same place and vocation in life. Writing is a work of painting life’s experiences, its hues and beautiful unfolding internal journeys. In this piece we focus on mood and how it can be achieved. Many students struggle with understanding and contemplating the scope and ambit of mood in writing.
It is hard to define and frame the scope of mood in writing. What really constitutes mood? Generally, mood encapsulates the totality of the “air” or “spirit” or “aura” that a certain work of art evokes in the human mind, feeling or sensibility. There is a certain dominant feature or streak associated with a certain work of art, place or person.

There is something which is evoked in our hearts which is associated with a certain place, person or event. Every place or event or person carries or imbues with him or her a certain mood or sensibility; and there is a panorama of sensibilities; for instance, a happy or sombre or whimsical mood. We will now focus on a certain extract and discern how it paints mood.

“He quickly rights himself and keeps walking, but there is an unsteadiness to his knees. He has been given many looks in this quarter – dirty ones, blank ones, sympathetic ones, annoyed ones. For the most part, he had learned to tolerate those than can be tolerated, and ignore those that should be ignored, but the look this woman gave him is not a look one gives to humans but to flies, ticks, cockroaches, fleas…Thato feels anger, then humiliation, then something nameless. If he were in his own country he would turn and confront the woman; but now he’s hurt, wounded, a part of him wishing he were invisible. Breathing evenly, he walks with care, only lifting his eyes once he reaches his own quarters, among his own people. He proceeds to his shack. He could stop by Thapelo’s, his neighbour, where he knows that men and women are already congregated to watch videos from home. Yet, no matter the promise of good fellowship and laughter, Thabo does not join them. Watching videos is a form of forgetting; the 2008 elections, the police with batons, the soldiers with guns, the militia with machetes. Do you remember? Limbs broken. Roofs blazing. I remember.”

This extract is characterised by the intensity of feeling and evokes feelings of sadness, despair and pain. The excerpt paints a harrowing and blood-curdling account which produces a sombre, dull and subdued mood. Thato, the protagonist in the story is in a foreign land. He was impelled to leave his country as a result of political violence which saw many people lose limbs and lives. He feels lonely and unwanted in the foreign land. He feels lost and alienated.

There are sentiments of xenophobia expressed through the glances of citizens of the foreign country he is in. Even if he were to entertain himself together with his countrymen residing in that foreign land, Thato still felt a deep and nagging feeling of being an outcast. Thus, we have made very deep and broad descriptions of the circumstances in which the protagonist finds himself with a view to demonstrate how mood is created in a narrative. The creation of mood feeds into the description of the character’s circumstances, his mindset and the space and place in which he finds himself.

Mood, as we have demonstrated from the portrayal of Thato’s experience, has a link with pathos. Pathos is that streak of sadness which pervades a story and creates empathy in the reader. The aim of effective writing is to move the reader and to impel him towards certain sensibilities which are of an affective kind. Mood, when effectively created, allows the reader to grasp meaning which is not directly said in the story or composition.

Meaning in a story is an interaction between the words in a text as read together with the effect of the words, the tone used and the created mood. There are certain words in a text which do not just communicate, but etches in the reader’s mind certain thoughts, viewpoints and feelings. These words would be so evocative. One such word describes Thato’s deepest sense of alienation in the extract given above.

The word describes him as nursing a wish of invisibility, he felt or wished he were ‘invisible.’ His wish for invisibility is of great importance. It portrays how he was deeply affected by the loathing expressed in the eyes of those looking at him with hate and disdain.

So, here we are! Creating a mood is a craft which takes time to acquire and hone. But when achieved, it makes effective reading and allows the reader to get meaning which goes beyond the text.

Vuso Mhlanga teaches at the University of Zimbabwe. For almost a decade and half he taught English language and Literature in English at high school. Send your comments and questions to:

Continue Reading