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The truth with a mask

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It is the word of the author of the moment in literary and all other terms that defines the present and cultivates the thought patterns of the future that will come when all the excitement of the moment is gone and reality begins to set in. Oftentimes prophetic (but not always acknowledged as so), the words of some of the best literary writers have through the ages gone to portend the future to a depth only the Nostradamuses of the age can fathom.

From William Shakespeare’s incisive observations of the human condition, to Christopher Marlowe’s youthful observation on human depravity and greed, the works of the times across history have always somehow served as predictors of what the current attitudes can do to influence the future behaviours of the human race. When Miguel de Cervantes, for example penned Don Quixote, many did not realise that the tale of the forgotten knight was a warning to humanity to learn to forget the past because the change that comes with the future cannot be impeded.

There is need to heed the word of the author, and there is need to know that the ‘fiction’ is oftentimes just the truth with a mask. A brief synopsis of the 1949 George Orwell dystopian novel 1984 that was written as a warning against totalitarianism is set in 1984 in Oceania, one of three perpetually warring totalitarian states (the other two are Eurasia and Eastasia). Oceania is governed by the all-controlling Party, which has brainwashed the population into unthinking obedience to its leader, Big Brother.

The Party has created a propagandistic language known as Newspeak, which is designed to limit free thought and promote the Party’s doctrines. Its words include doublethink (belief in contradictory ideas simultaneously), which is reflected in the Party’s slogans: “War is peace,” “Freedom is slavery,” and “Ignorance is strength.” The Party maintains control through the Thought Police and continual surveillance.

Recent developments in the formulation of a draft Bill gagging the media’s publication of classified documents and information sounds like Big Brother and the Thought Police. It is not the fault of the journalist that a classified document falls into their hands. It is the fault of the government that it does not teach its civil servants to practice prudence and etiquette when it comes to handling sensitive documents

. We all (as citizens) hold the basic right to know, withholding information in the manner in which the government so intends is the result of an autocratic mentality in a state governed by technocrats. Lesotho is where it is today because of a mentality of exclusivity: the type of exclusion that excludes the very people that put such a government into the seat of power.

The Orwellian book’s hero, Winston Smith, is a minor party functionary living in a London that is still shattered by a nuclear war that took place not long after World War II. We are living in a world that is still struggling in the throes of COVID-19. The hero in the George Orwell novel belongs to the Outer Party, and his job is to rewrite history in the Ministry of Truth and to bring it in line with current political thinking. This role is very similar to that of the journalist that has to aid the world around him or her to be conversant with the predominant truths existent in the given society.

Society cannot live without information, because such information aids in the making of appropriate decisions or reaching the right conclusions. We are in constant search of the trending truth that enables us to find our bearings in the world given the diverse circumstances within which we have to live. In the case of the Orwell novel, Winston’s longing for truth and decency leads him to secretly rebel against the government. In the case of the civil servant that leaks the classified document, one can safely guess that it is a sign of the fatigue the citizenry experience in the light of the rampant acts of corruption that shamelessly go on unprosecuted.

The protagonist in the novel embarks on a forbidden affair with Julia, a like-minded woman, and they rent a room in a neighbourhood populated by Proles (short for proletariats). This is no surprise as people (especially of the thinking sort that have to deal with information) naturally establish an elective type of affinity with those they can share their opinions and points of view with. This is to say likeminded individuals will under normal circumstances rally together against what they interpret to be a common enemy.

Africa after independence created a political class that consciously or unconsciously adopted the ways of the colonist, often playing the role of the brainwasher that sought to be seen as the saviour of the people while in the same process emptying the fiscus for personal gain. Chris Hani spoke of this, and he died, but his words have now come to be revealed as the truth.
We have come to a point where the people are increasingly getting fed up with being led around with lies like donkeys led with a carrot of empty promises by lobbying politicians.

There were nonsensical censorship laws in previous regimes including South Africa’s apartheid that prevented media freedom. We somehow see those laws coming into effect once again under a thinly–veiled guise. The figure of Winston also becomes increasingly interested in the Brotherhood, a group of dissenters. The dissatisfied educated unemployed are likely to form their own cliques of dissension given the prevailing circumstances.

The call by the government to prosecute whoever publishes a classified document is similar to what one sees in Orwell’s 1984. Unbeknown to them, however, the two lead characters are being watched closely (with ubiquitous posters throughout the city warning residents that “Big Brother is watching you.”).

The laws installed seem to follow the same vein that forces the individual reporter and journalist, civil servant and ordinary citizen to always look over their shoulder and understand that there is someone always watching, infringing on the right to access information and in the process impeding the freedom of expression. The government should gag its officers, not the media that stands as the watchdog that ensures that the opinions and ideals of society are observed by the government as promised in the lobbies.

When Winston (the protagonist) is approached by O’Brien, an official of the Inner Party who appears to be a secret member of the Brotherhood; the trap is set. This is because O’Brien is actually a spy for the Party serving the deplorable role of being on the lookout for “thought-criminals,” and Winston and Julia are eventually caught and sent to the Ministry of Love for a violent re-education. This ministry of love can be likened to a lesson in patriotism where the people are forced to worship state and government without regard to personal freedom and basic human rights addressed in the constitution.

The government is threatening prosecution, and like in Orwell’s 1984 there is the likelihood of imprisonment, torture, and re-education for those that dare or find themselves at odd-ends with government policy with regard to the circulation of information. The torture in 1984 is not intended merely to break the protagonist and partner physically or to make them submit. The sole purpose is to root out any sense of independence and to destroy his dignity and humanity. Autocratic as we are slowly becoming, we are becoming figures in 1984, this time around threatened by disease, poverty and starvation. Orwell posits:

In Room 101, where prisoners are forced into submission by exposure to their worst nightmares, Winston panics as a cage of rats is attached to his head. He yells out for his tormentors to “Do it to Julia!” and states that he does not care what happens to her. With this betrayal, Winston is released. He later encounters Julia, and neither is interested in the other. Instead Winston loves Big Brother.

It is said by Cathy Lowne that George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-four as a warning after years of brooding on the twin menaces of Nazism and Stalinism. The novel’s depiction of a state where daring to think differently is rewarded with torture, where people are monitored every second of the day, and where party propaganda trumps free speech and thought is a sobering reminder of the evils of unaccountable dictatorial governments.

Winston is the symbol of the values of civilised life, and his defeat is a poignant reminder of the vulnerability of such values in the midst of all-powerful states. We have seen an increasing trend where the government becomes a law unto itself, even sometimes creating scenes that lead one to make the assumption that even the judiciary is captured.

There are several cases of high-profile political figures being named in scandals and scams without prosecution following such mentions. It has come to a point where some of the figures in the government do not feel they owe the masses explanations or any form of account in the spending of the state’s money. The recent increase in the number of protests in the middle of the pandemic should be a sign to the leadership that autocracy born of the comforts of reaping benefits because of position shall soon come to an end.

The Tsars of Russia couldn’t have thought their reign could come to the violent end it did when it finally came to the close. And Idi Amin did not think he would meet his end in a foreign land. Jacob Zuma and Robert Mugabe did not think they would be gone either; such is the unfounded basis of the autocrat that gives in to the temptations of megalomaniac pride that says that their reign shall last a thousand years.

Hitler and Mussolini fell despite having had the most glorious twenty or so years in power and influencing the most comprehensive campaign against autocracy and racism: World War Two. Changes shall always come; this is what the literary author knows as the true critic of the times and the painter of the changing landscapes of history. It is no accident therefore that George Orwell and other authors of his period saw the dangers posed by the leadership that led to the war rear their ugly head once again after the last cannons silenced their bark.

Communism and capitalism would once again be at war after the Second World War, with the start of the Cold War, the Korean War, the space race, Vietnam War, the black civil rights movements in the Americas, and the general fights for independence and liberation in Africa. Orwell had seen all of this in a way, and he had somehow figured out that the advances in communication technology would give birth to Big Brother, the Eye in the Sky and many other tools of The Man meant for the subjugation of the human mind through the cultivation of paranoia.

It is a word of warning to the current crop of political leaders governing on the continent from the lips of a literary man; you all need to be aware that your type of leadership is coming to an end. The Utopia Karl Marx spoke of shall soon be here after the wars you fan have ended. It does not make sense that one continent can have claim to having the most abundant reserves of natural resources but still remain the beggar of the world.

It does not make sense that we are a continent that can easily claim to be the most educated but still remain the most backward and regressive. It does not make sense why such large numbers of graduates have no visible role in governance and progress because they have been pushed to the back of the line and into the shadows by uneducated politicians.

We have just spent too long nursing this pile of turd we call African politics of fear and intimidation: threatened with joblessness if we do not bow to an illiterate political class, threatened with death if we do not agree with the nonsense politicians spew everytime they speak, and threatened with extinction by a class of people whose sole interest is pillaging the fiscus at all times. You must understand that your average politician on this continent is an illiterate motormouth paying lip service to con you out of your vote.

Of progress, the politician does not know because he or she is not educated in the ways of the world. Of fear, the politician understands because it is his most basic tool of oppression. Of poverty and joblessness, the politician knows because he caused it. We need a leader class, not a class of illiterate dimwits pushed into roles they do not understand. There is just no sense in gagging the media on the basis of the staff in the civil service being unprofessional.

Maybe it is time the government should spend the taxpayers’ money doing something meaningful: teaching their affiliates hired in the civil service to be more professional in the handling of sensitive information. The cheap political ruse driven by petty political jealousies needs to end before we burn country and continent to the ground in pursuit of the political lies: because politics is a game of lies anyway.

Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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We need a coordinated approach on youth challenges

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For a number of good reasons, all of us are concerned about problems that face Lesotho’s young people, particularly youth unemployment, and the increasing tendency towards anti-social behaviour among sections of Lesotho youth including their increasing admiration for criminality.

Not only do members of such groups admire criminality and actually commit crimes but they commit crimes without much care as to the harm and other costs that their actions inflict on immediate victims and on society-at-large.

Evidence of public concern about these problems includes the fact that within society individuals, groups and public and private institutions have all expressed concerns over problems facing the youth, with some of these parties making attempts to come up with ideas and measures to assist.

However, a number of problems seem to be emerging on, at least, three fronts. Firstly, a seeming lack of coordination in addressing problems that face young people. Secondly, lack of clarity on questions of whether (a) parties that seek to assist are basing their interventions on credibly identified sources of problems that face young people; and (b) whether any credible assessments are made to ensure that interventions such parties are proposing and implementing have potential to solve problems that face Lesotho’s young people.

There are many examples of what may seem to us, members of the general public, to be lack of coordination in approaches to solve problems facing young people. One such example may be sufficient. On January 8, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast a statement in which the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) authorities announced establishment of some army facility where Basotho young people would be taught some values, including patriotism.

The very next day, on January 9, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast another statement, this time by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) authorities, announcing the LMPS’s plan to establish a police facility at which young people would be taught anti-crime and other values. In their essence, the LMPS’s plan sounded not totally dissimilar to LDF’s.
Apart from the LDF and LMPS’s plans for Lesotho’s youth, there are also public and private sector initiatives to nurture and support entrepreneurial talents of Lesotho’s youth with a view, among others, to fight youth unemployment and develop the country’s private sector.

Politicians have also been seen to sponsor football games for young people in their constituencies with a view, they say, to keep young people from crime and narcotics. These events cannot be criticised too much but given that they are one, or two-day events that take place during specific times, they look more like publicity stunts.

National sports federations are now complaining that politicians who sponsor these events put too much stress on sports as a means to fight crime. What federations want is that, if politicians want to help, they should stress the importance of sports as careers, and sponsor young people to develop their sporting talents accordingly.

Amidst expressions of concerns and various parties’ attempts to address problems facing Lesotho youth, public authorities that we have not heard from, or from who we do not hear enough, are those charged with responsibilities over precisely problems facing young people; that is, authorities at the Ministry of Youth.

Admittedly, we do not know if the initiatives of the LDF, LMPS, and others are carried out in consultation with or with the blessing of the Ministry of Youth.

The worry ought to be not only whether interventions of the LDF, LMPS, and others have the blessings of the Ministry of Youth. Instead, the worry should extend to the question of whether the Ministry has any national plan to address problems facing young people. And, if such a plan exists, we would expect that it identifies the LDF and LMPS as places where young place can be coached; and initiatives of these and other institutions would align with such a plan.

Without an identification of the army and the police as implementing agencies of the Ministry’s plan, and without the army and police’s initiatives alignment with the Ministry’s plan, at least two things are likely to result: duplication of effort — as seems to be the case with the LDF and LPMS plans; or, at worst, LDF and LMPS plans might contradict and undermine national plans entrusted to the Ministry of Youth.

In the worst case scenario that a national plan does not exist, we face the danger that anybody wishing to address problems facing Lesotho’s young people can do so, basing herself, or himself on a personal or group perception, and implementing plans and solutions based on such perception.

As in the case of too many people stirring the same cooking pot without coordination, undesirable consequences can be expected from a situation where just about anybody can apply a solution to a public problem.

As hinted above, a good national plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people would have two characteristics, at least. First, it would be based on our assertion of the kind of society we want to be; an investigation of problems that stand in the way of achieving such a society; how such problems can be overcome, say, through school curricula; and how, in general, from Early Childhood Care & Development (ECCD), young people can be brought up and socialised in ways that ensure they will be useful members of a society we wish to be.

Any action that is not based on an investigation of the problems that stand in the way of achieving a society we want to be has little chances of success. Such action would be based on some understanding that the young who are anti-social, unpatriotic and criminals are naturally bad people.

It is, of course, not as simple as that. For example, one possible explanation for the absence of patriotism among young people may have something to do with socio-economic inequality in Lesotho: those who are closed out of, and excluded from, benefiting from Lesotho’s wealth and power cannot be expected to be patriots.

A second characteristic of a plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people is that, such a plan should identify and/or establish institutions designed — and with appropriate skills — to implement ideas and proposals that come out of credible investigations.

It is unclear whether the LDF and LMPS plans have resulted from something like considerations suggested above. While it is admitted that these institutions’ initiatives are limited to addressing problems of lack of patriotism and criminality among the young people, one clear problem with their plans and solutions is that, it might be the case that they are catching young people a little late, when schooling and general socialisation have already entrenched anti-social values that we see among sections of young people; namely, individualism and the inability to think of others.

In one word, these institutions catch these young people when tendencies towards criminality, anti-social behaviour, and lack of patriotism might have already hardened.
Perhaps the biggest hope we should have is that the army and the police will have full complement of resources necessary for providing full and wholesome mentoring to young people who undergo army and police mentoring.

Short of adequate resources necessary for achieving what the army and the police have in mind, we might end up with cohorts of young people with a faulty army and police culture that may come back to haunt us. Inserting a faulty army culture among a section of young people brought us bitter results in the 1970s and 1980s that should not be repeated.

To conclude, no one can argue against all of us being concerned with problems of youth unemployment; increasing tendencies of young people’s admiration of criminality and their participation in crime. And no one can argue against all of us coming up with ideas and proposals of how to address these problems.

However, our concerns and proposals ought to be based on:
a nationally-agreed assertion of society we want to be;
a credible investigation of difficulties that stand in the way of us becoming society we want to be;

and coordination of proposals and ideas aimed at becoming society we want to be.

As with other specific instances of socio-economic development in Lesotho, problems facing the country’s young people cry out for the long-neglected establishment of the National Planning Board, as prescribed in Section 105 of the Constitution of Lesotho.

Prof Motlatsi Thabane

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Call that a muffin?

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In Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Canterville Ghost” (1887) one of the characters says about the British, “We have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” Between American English and British English there are many, many differences. Which is not to say that either American or British English are standardised; there are multiple varieties within each. As a south-western Brit I can find it difficult to fully understand what someone from Liverpool or Newcastle is saying.

I remember one year during the NUL’s International Theatre for Development project we had a student from the islands of Scotland. She was brilliant and hard-working and full of good ideas — if only one could understand the ideas when she introduced them. The NUL students grouped together and asked me: “Chris, can you translate what Kirsty is saying for us?” and I replied: “I’m as lost as you are.”

Between American and British English it’s not just a matter of pronunciation but also of vocabulary (I’ll be coming to muffins — see the title of this piece — in a while) and spelling.
In the biographical film Prick Up Your Ears British, dramatist Joe Orton shares a room with Ken Halliwell and they decide to write a novel together. Ken asks Joe “can you spell?” and Joe replies “yes, but not accurately.”

This is hardly a surprise, given that he’s a Brit. The American spelling system is far more regular and rational than the British. (Readers with laptops will have noticed that your spell-check gives the option of British or American spelling, but that doesn’t help you as in Lesotho the British system is used, so for the time being you’re stuck with it).

I mean, what can you say about a spelling system where “plough” rhymes with “now”, but “tough” rhymes with “stuff”– and “now” doesn’t rhyme with “low.” Yipes (as the Americans say). When I was lecturing in Lesotho and in Nigeria and marking assignments I was always very lenient over spelling, because I know what a mountain it is to climb (the latter word rhyming with “time”, of course).

Then there is the matter of vocabulary or denotation (a term I hope readers remember from a few weeks back). There are many examples of things that are denoted by different words in British and American English: lift / elevator; pavement / sidewalk; windscreen / windshield; petrol / gas; cinema / movie theater (and look at the American spelling of (Brit) “theatre”– a lot easier). And some of these reflect our different histories.

For example, there’s a vegetable, a kind of small marrow, the British call it a courgette (one of my favourite vegetables, in case any of you are planning to invite me for dinner). That’s a word that British English has borrowed directly from French — that is, a loan word (I’m not sure we plan to give it back).

The Americans on the other hand call it a zucchini, a loan word from Italian, which I guess reflects the size and influence of the Italian community in the USA. (Speaking of vegetables, I can’t give you an explanation for why the Brits call an aubergine an aubergine — another loan word from French — but the Americans call it an egg-plant).

Next week I’ll get around to muffins — a sore point — and I’ll move on to differences between English and French and between Sesotho and Setswana. Bet you can’t wait.

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

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Insight

Lessons from Israel: Part 3

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I shall round off my account of my 1995 trip to Israel by putting on my tour guide cap. Staying in Tel Aviv, most days were fully taken up by the conference, which was my reason for being there. Tel Aviv in July is scorchingly hot, so there were walks along the beach only before breakfast and after sunset. I did take a little time off to go with South African author Stephen Gray to an art gallery that had a painting he wanted to see (a portrait by Modigliani of Beatrice Hastings, whose biography Stephen was then writing).

I wasn’t especially keen on the hotel restaurant, where dinner comprised meat served by the ton (surprisingly little fish, given that we were on the coast. By contrast, I had always been surprised and happy that Maseru restaurants are so good on fish, despite the fact that Lesotho isn’t exactly maritime). But I discovered a little Russian Jewish restaurant that offered Beluga caviar at an amazingly cheap price. I suspect it had fallen off the back of a lorry, as we say in the UK — i.e. that it was contraband, acquired illegally. I just blinked innocently and enjoyed myself. I can’t think of a more delicious way of starting a meal than with caviar, freshly-made blinis and a large glass of deeply chilled Wyberowa vodka — no ice, please. (I only say all this to show you what a very cosmopolitan chap I am).

The conference ran to a packed schedule and we worked hard (no, really). Half-way through we were given a day off and taken to Jerusalem. On arrival I teamed up with an old Nigerian friend and a friend of his from Senegal and we took ourselves first to the Dome of the Rock, the main mosque, which is splendid and radiant (wow, the mosaics!) Then we saw the Wailing Wall.

Then we trudged up the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Via marks the route along which Christ was forced to carry his cross on the way to his crucifixion (dolorosa means something like “of miseries”). I had expected it to be lined with sculptures showing the Stations of the Cross (rather like the lovely ones at Fatima, near Ramabanta).

Instead it was one tourist gift shop after another. Here I came across one of the most repugnant things I’ve seen in my life. Proudly displayed for sale, a wall clock with the face adorned with the image of the head of Christ, the two clock hands protruding from his nose.

At the top of the Via Dolorosa, the fourth century Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in the world for Christians, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The interior is (not visibly) divided into sections, the upkeep of each of which is the responsibility of one of the major denominations: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Greek Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, and so on. I had had the impression this was an arrangement worked out under the colonial regime of British Palestine, but Google tells me it dates back to the Status Quo of 1757.

My companions had done their homework and suggested we head first for the roof, which had been allocated to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (dare one possibly suggest a tinge of racism in this marginalisation?). There we found a cluster of monkish cells, each inhabited by an elderly Ethiopian monk, at least two of whom spoke English or French. They were delighted to see us, and utterly sweet, hospitable, and in their accounts of their pastoral work spellbinding.

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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