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Combing through history, J. BROOKS SPECTOR tries to get to the roots of the problem in considering the centrality of hair as protest, in light of the recent actions of the hair police of Pretoria Girls High.

Hair. Over the past few days, the recent battle over hair at Pretoria Girls High School has triggered this writer to consider memories about hair, and the strength of its symbolism throughout history. For virtually anyone conversant with “The Bible” – either as literature or religious scripture – one of the most vivid tales in the whole corpus is that of Samson and Delilah.

Samson was the legendary strong-man-warrior of the Israelites who fell in love (and lust) with Delilah, a Philistine beauty – in midst of a decades long conflict between the two peoples. Delilah is eventually cajoled by her people’s priests into luring Samson into revealing the secret of his strength, or, as “The Book of Judges” has it, “And Delilah said to Samson: ‘Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee.’” In due course, after he teases her with several false leads, he does tell her truthfully that it derives from his long, flowing long locks of hair; hair, he explains, that has not been cut since the day he was born. In a biblical example of some kinky bondage, she ties him up, cuts his hair to subdue him, and thus his strength evaporates. With that torment, he gives one last effort and pulls down the Philistines’ temple walls, crushing himself (and lots of others) in the process.

Aside from religious implications about giving in to the temptations of dangerous foreigners, this story might even be read as an ancient warning about the wiles of barbers and beauticians. And this story was the inspiration for French composer Camille Saint-Saens’ great opera that includes a stunning aria of love, lust, guile, and temptation, Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix (My heart opens to your voice). Listen to it sung by the incomparable Jessye Norman.

More broadly, besides long hair being an obvious symbol of religious piety and observance, right through to the present for many societies, scholars of ancient civilisations explain that hair has, all around the globe, frequently been an obvious demonstration of great strength and virility on the part of its bearer. Perhaps this harks right back to biological explanations that, just as with other animals, a luxuriant plumage of hair demonstrated the health and vitality suitable for yet other important purposes. And perhaps, too, given prehistoric hominins’ shedding of most of their body fur as far back as several million years ago, long hair could well have been a vivid example of what Charles Darwin first described as sexual selection for reproduction and evolution of the species.

But on a more personal basis, I also had an epiphany about hair as an important, symbolic statement and opposition to oppressing forces. Nearly 50 years ago when I had (rather involuntarily) entered the US Army, in our first day on the training base, we were marched to a base barber for our requisite, severe, military-style cuts. Coming directly into the army from a university campus of the early 1970s and all that entailed, I had secretly hoped to keep at least some of my hair and my dignity.

So, when the barber asked if I wanted one of those right-down-to-the-scalp cuts or a trim that at least left a little bit of hair (but no moustache), I immediately selected the latter, got my cut, and paid my $1.50. But as soon as we had returned to our barracks, the drill sergeant in charge of us young recruits marched anyone with even a wisp of hair left on their heads right back to that barber to finish the job – and with yet another $1.50 to be paid out. And along with that second cut, we received firm lessons in institutional hierarchy and dominance, and one’s place right at the bottom of a society – all conveyed through the symbolic nature of a simple haircut.

Living in the United States in the 1960s, the power of hair as a sign of something deeply important was almost impossible to miss. The great rock musical of the late 1960s was, after all, simply named Hair. In essence, the show focused on the last night of freedom for a young man with long hair who was about to enter the military (similarly involuntarily) and his fixation with his own hair – and that of others, as well as the problematic relationship he has with authority figures, starting from his mother, over his hirsuteness. This show came to audiences just as long hair increasingly was becoming de rigueur for both black and white young people.

(Watch a the movie version of the title song, Hair.)

For most whites, their long hair made them look rather like a whole tribe of people who rather resembled those popular pictures of wild-eyed Old Testament prophets. Meanwhile, young black people increasingly embraced the shape of the “Afro” – where one’s long hair was teased out into a kind of large, spherical orb of hair. Take a look, for example, at the picture of this writer as a young diplomat and his South African wife, back in 1977, after returning to the US from Johannesburg. Over the years, as we have come to wax nostalgic about an earlier age, we have come to call this image our Angela Davis/Jerry Rubin (the latter a key member of the “Chicago Seven” anti-Vietnam War defendants) moment in time.

But the Afro had been preceded for years by short-cropped “ ‘do’s” or the application of all kinds of chemical hair treatments to straighten hair or give it a more subtle, “sophisticated” wave. In fact, the first female African-American dollar millionaire, Madame CJ Walker, made her fortune through the selling of hair treatment chemicals, patented heated combs, and a chain of hair salons to help African-American women “relax” and reshape their tighter curls. Such products – in America and abroad – still remain popular with many women. (Curiously, a famous F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, read by legions of high school students in the US, reverses the idea of long hair as liberating. In Bernice Bobs Her Hair, set during the Jazz Age, the supreme, subversive act of defiance is her cutting off of her long tresses – and those of her cousin – just for spite.)

But, by the 1960s, politically aware African-Americans (and fashion conscious ones as well) began to adopt a new style, the Afro. According to some scholars at least, its origins – at least in more modern times – may have been inspired by the popularity of a travelling circus group, The Circassian Beauties, in the US over a century ago. These women were supposedly (white) slaves liberated from the Ottoman sultan’s harem in the 19th century. The Afro may have gained its initial, modest traction in the years after the end ofdread slavery in America but it was not a wide-scale fashion yet.

But then, in tandem with the civil rights revolution, the rise of black power ideological consciousness, a growing social and political militancy by blacks on college and university campuses, and even on heads of sympathetic but distinctly edgy characters in such films as Foxy Brown, the Afro began to take on a distinct political meaning and texture. And as a style it travelled around the world and became popular with inhabitants of many African states as well. (Concurrently, braiding and all those other elaborate hair sculpting treatments more indigenously from Africa began to make real headway in America – as fashion statements or expressions of solidarity with Africa.) Our own children had their own moments with braids as well, although the pain after washing them and allowing them to dry rather quickly encouraged a return to other forms of hair treatments like dyeing their hair purple.

And so all this draws us to the current uproar at Pretoria Girls High School where the school’s rules appear to have been used to rein in individual expressions of a nascent Africanist political consciousness on the part of teenaged, black, female high school students. The protest against those school rules about appearance, grooming, hairstyles and similar matters appears to have been sparked by the unwillingness of one student to dispense with – or severely rein in – a rather bountiful Afro, if the photos are to be believed. Almost immediately, her protest sparked a broader anger over all those school rules originating back in an earlier time. Her protest soon became a cause célèbre on the part of many people across the country as well, quickly provoking an intervention by the provincial head of education, as well as, eventually, a long-overdue and increasingly anguished rethink about the school rules, many of which dated back to the apartheid era. And, of course, this protest may also represent a deeper rejection of some previously dominant cultural values that so many black South Africans still must contend with in their daily lives. Things are still to be evolving out of this initial anger.

Hair seems to have carried a rich symbolic meaning for people through the ages – especially those who have felt themselves oppressed – and it has often been the way people have wordlessly displayed their anger and rage at their antagonists or oppressors. But along the way, through all these experiences, one thing has puzzled me for decades in my journey around the globe. And that is: why do so many young Japanese now dye their hair a rich chestnut brown colour? Is this an act of rebellion, a shucking off of the order of things in a country where 99.9% of all people have naturally occurring black hair – or is it simply a youthful fashion statement and an effort to demonstrate a kind of “mass individuality” against the crowds of people who seem to epitomise uniformity? DM

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Who will speak on behalf of Basotho?



A clash was reported to have taken place a few weeks ago between police officers, on the one hand, and an MP and his bodyguards, on the other, was always inevitable. It is a direct result of arrangements where people we have lent power to represent us in Parliament now use that power to come up with schemes by which they and their bodyguards should be exempted from equal treatment, and be treated differently from the rest us.

This conduct is anti-seMohlomi, and anti-seMoshoeshoe. And so are many other behaviours we have seen perpetrated by our MPs.

We can expect that those who behave this way will not stop at violation of road traffic laws but will go on to carry contraband in ‘MP’ registered vehicles, and claim exemption from police searches when confronted by the police.
The principle of ‘equality before the law’, and the principle that we should all be treated the same, is a fundamental requirement for the maintenance of social order. MPs who ignore, or violate, it are sources of social disorder. Such MPs have to be regarded as enemies of social order in Lesotho. They should bear in mind that they are opposing society when they oppose the police’s attempts to enforce the law.

We should all obey traffic laws. And, we should all stand in long queues for poor services at the Passport and Traffic Offices. Otherwise, if those we have voted into power use that power to exempt themselves and their bodyguards from poor public services, MPs will have no incentive and interest to work for improved quality of public service.
The failure by MPs and governments to address problems of poor public services is an important reason why everyday many Basotho cross into South Africa in search of better education, better medical services, and lower prices of basic necessities. That traffic includes cars which bear red registration numbers ferrying Lesotho public officials to South Africa for better services.

As always, MPs, Ministers, and other public servants will probably be exempted, or expect to be exempted, from the torment that comes with the new customs regime agreed by Revenue Services (SARS) and Revenue Services Lesotho (RSL), and implemented at RSA-Lesotho border posts. Exemption of officials and MPs will mean that they will have no interest, nor incentive, to lessen its toll on Basotho.
The new regime started early in August 2023. To educate travellers about it, the RSL staff at the Maseru border have been giving people leaflets that explain the new procedures.

Even before this new regime, and others that came before it, many people have always been suspicious that a lot of what people who enter Lesotho go through is not in the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) Agreement. For example, it is known that the Agreement is supposed to ensure that citizens of SACU member-countries do not pay tax on a similar item in more than one SACU country. In other words, citizens of SACU member-states should not be taxed twice, or more, for the same item within the SACU area.

But because of the bureaucracy that has been imposed on customs processes at the Lesotho-South Africa borders, many people fall victim to some bureaucratic detail, or other, and end up paying tax in South Africa and Lesotho for a similar item, or service.
In the new regime agreed by RSL and SARS, RSL officials tell us that we are supposed to stamp all receipts of value of M250, and above, at SARS. They say this while distributing a leaflet that says the threshold is M10 000.

For the M250 receipt to be stamped, you need to submit to SARS copies of pages of your passport showing your address in Lesotho, and showing dates on which you travelled to and from South Africa. The implication of this is that if you carry a South African passport you cannot bring groceries into Lesotho for reasons including the fact that Lesotho government cannot claim tax from South Africa on such goods. It is unclear what will happen to a South African tourists coming to Lesotho who might be refused permission to enter with their food.

As said, the requirement that we should stamp M250 receipts at SARS is not on the leaflet RSL officials are giving to travellers. Extraordinarily, RSL officials admit this.
So, at the expense of our time, and standing in receipt-stamping queues that will inevitably grow longer and longer, we are being forced to adhere to a requirement which is nowhere in the official papers.

Has the new regime been negotiated and agreed to by RSL officials alone, or is the government aware of the unreasonable measures that we have to comply with?
It must be said that, at least, for now, the RSL staff remain very helpful, and seem to acknowledge that requirements they are expected to enforce are unreasonable.
It seems nobody thinks of us when government and officials agree to onerous customs measures at our border posts. In part this is because, again, those we have lent power to represent us use that power to exempt themselves onerous procedures that they negotiate and agree to.
We need people who think of us when they negotiate customs and other agreements. Basotho need somebody who can speak on their behalf.

Prof Motlatsi Thabane

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Developing close reading skills



One of the most important skills in adeptly dealing with comprehension-related questions lies in your acquisition and refining close-reading competencies and strategies. The word comprehend means to understand, to fully grasp the essence of a text. When you comprehend a text you will take in, as it were, all the elements of a text, you nibble in, to speak using metaphors, your teeth into the heart of the text. You savour the text, immersing yourself in the texture of the text.

Close-reading involves deep observation and critical analysis of a text or comprehension passage. Close-reading strategies demands that the reader of a text pick even the salient nuances of a text, he or she must take in all the hues and details of a text which are not mentioned directly in the text. This skill takes time to hone, but with constant practice and hard work, it can be done. Let’s do that in a practical way. We are going to focus on a very small extract depicting how one aspiring ironman trained rigorously to realise his dream and the social and emotional toll the training exerted on the man and his family and how, finally he won, much to the happiness and excitement of his family. Here is the extract, as you read, please focus on the use of language to create meaning and effect. Let’s try to discern the feelings of the writer when her husband, eventually became an ironman.

“Because it’s there,’ I’d snarl to anyone who dared question why any sane mortal would tackle an Ironman. I enjoyed mercilessly shaming his less-than-supportive business partner into recognising the potentially boundless benefits of Sam’s well-publicised adventure for their newly-established, fledgling travel company. A flurry of online articles described me as ‘a runner married to a triathlete’ – it took me a few moments to recognise our family and beam with immeasurable pride.
Our son missed having Dad around at the weekends, especially if he woke up after Sam had left to train on a Saturday when sometimes there were tears. But he got used to the different dynamic. He was given an ‘Ironman’ superhero toy as a birthday gift by some relatives and immediately started making it swim, bike and run! The poor child thinks that this is how normal families operate.

Having said all that, watching Sam emerge god-like from the water, power past us on his bike and rocket down the finishing chute, head held high as our kids cheered with the crowd – utterly incredible and intoxicating, one of life’s rare pinnacles of perfection. It had been an epic journey for all of us. I’m so glad we did it. And next year? Well yes, it’s my turn.”

Have you seen how this extract is written in a very captivating way; it colourfully depicts the writer’s feelings of extreme excitement and euphoria when Sam completed the race successfully. The words, “having said all that” are colourful and conclusive. Before these words were uttered, the narrator was expressing her dissatisfaction about Sam’s involvement in sport and how demanding it was emotionally, physically and financially. But, now, the words show that the success overwhelmed even the sentiments or expressions of dissatisfaction registered earlier. One can also see that the writer is overwhelmed by pride and celebration at the success of her husband and she and the entire crowd were immersed in an “intoxicating” experience. Beer intoxicates, so the writer uses this word as a word picture to graphically show the intensity and pervasive nature of the happiness generated by Sam’s victory — it is as if they were overdrunk with the sense of success and accomplishment. Sam’s win evoked all those rare moments in life when all seems to be perfect and in its place; that is why the writer used the words, “life’s rare pinnacles of perfection” just to express that.

Have you also noticed how the writer uses a lot of word pictures to describe her reactions about people’s views regarding her husband’s involvement in the ironman race? One such word, a word picture is “flurry.” The word explains the immensity as well as the amount of excitement and frenzy of publicity generated by Sam’s attempt to be the iron man. This word is apt in describing the writer’s admiration for her husband’s feat and the publicity and excitement generated.
Let’s now focus on another text, let’s focus on how the extract reveals why people hate snakes as a result of the misconceptions they have about them. But notice how the writer arguably writes to endear us to the world of snakes and some of their very positive attributes. Let’s nibble at the text of the extract.

“In the United States, for example, public outcry based on fear and misinformation recently halted a scientifically sound conservation plan for timber rattlesnakes. Another project at the same location that involved releasing eagles was embraced by the community. Rattlesnakes are no less important than eagles. In fact, they may help reduce the incidence of Lyme disease, which affects thousands of people each year, by reducing the number of rodents that harbour this disease. But emotions override facts, it seems, where snakes are concerned. Snakes play an integral role in maintaining balance in the ecosystem – in most ecosystems on earth, snakes can be both predator and prey. When a large prey-population attracts and sustains a large snake population, those snakes become prey for birds, mammals and even other snakes! As predators, snakes keep prey-populations in balance. Snakes provide an easy, environmentally friendly, free and natural pest-control service. But snakes are worth saving not because of what they can do for us, but because of who they are. Snakes share many behaviours with us, behaviours we value. They have friends. They take care of their kids and even their friends’ kids too. Want to help us change how people view and treat snakes? Visit the World Snake Day website.”

While you were still reading, I hope you saw that this is a really captivating text. It focuses on the misconceptions and lack of information we have about snakes, which information gaps lead us into hating snakes without reason. True, snakes are predatory but they also serve an important function in balancing the ecological balance.

Snakes are not that bad, too; and like us humans, they make friends, protect their young ones and the young ones of their friends. Pretty amazing to learn that snakes, too, have friends.

So the point is that there are a lot of falsehoods and misconceptions about snakes and their true habits and functions within the ecological sphere. Often times, they are shown to be cruel, bloody predators that kill in cold-blood. But snakes are also victims from birth and other creatures. Snakes are a natural means to curb diseases which are brought about by rodents. Thus, snakes help in maintaining balance in the ecosystem. Snakes are relational and friendly.
Let’s now hone close-reading skills a little more. In the following extract, the writer beautifully describes her experiences of meeting snakes in their natural habitats in the rainforest and her excitement of seeing quite an exciting array of species. As you read, focus on the writer’s reaction to what she saw and how she is alive to the beautiful scenery around her and she captures that.

“Three hours later, returning from the trek, I felt bubbles of amazement and wonder rising. I’d seen gliding lizards fly effortlessly between trees, intricate dragonflies of infinite varieties and delicately etched, golden frogs. The overcast sky, saturated to the brim, had poured down heavily, drenching the forest, its native creatures, and the handful of humans who happened to be there. Thereafter began the frenzy of activities and sounds that engulfs the woods after a good rain – rhythmic sounds, musical, coordinated and orchestrated, and pleasantly deafening. Ah! My brimming heart and soothed soul enjoyed restful sleep in the tent that first night. Bonfires and loud music are prohibited to avoid any disturbance to animals and hygienic common bathrooms (with hot-water facilities) were appreciated. Everyone was expected to wash their own plates and glasses after every meal. We were encouraged to separate organic waste into the respective dustbins before retiring each night. All inorganic waste went back with you.”

You have picked words which convey meaning so aptly and beautifully. I liked the expression and the choice of words. The phrase, “bubbles of amazement” is so colourful and this is a word picture which shows or reflects the intensity of the writer’s excitement and frenzy at experiencing the tranquil and pleasant experience of being in a rainforest teeming with a vast array of species.

Here we are! Mastering close reading skills is a journey, but an exciting one, which allows you to immerse yourself in the text and allows you to feel all the juicy aspects of the text, as it were.

 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:

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The significance of BRICS for the African continent



In the pioneering work titled “Building Better Global Economic BRICs” (Global Economics Paper No: 66), Lord Jim O’Neill, then Chief Economist at Goldman Sachs, introduced the term BRICs, referring to the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. These nations’ economies were experiencing rapid growth, fuelling discussions about their potential to collectively shape the global economy by 2050. In the spirit of this vision, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, and China convened for the first time in July 2006, on the sidelines of the G8 Outreach Summit in St Petersburg, Russia. This marked a pivotal moment in cementing the idea of forming a consortium of burgeoning economies.

Subsequently, the Foreign Ministers of these countries assembled in New York City in 2006 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly and embraced the term “BRIC” as originally coined by Lord Jim O’Neill. On June 16, 2009, the inaugural ‘BRIC’ Summit was held in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Later, South Africa was granted full membership in September 2010 during a BRIC Foreign Ministers meeting on the fringes of the UN General Assembly. This led to the alteration of the acronym to BRICS. Building on this progress, South Africa participated in the Third BRICS Summit in Sanya, China, on April 14, 2011.

BRICS is firmly anchored in the principles of mutual respect, sovereign equality, inclusivity, consensus, and strengthened collaboration. The foundation of BRICS rests upon three pivotal pillars: political and security cooperation, financial and economic collaboration, and cultural and people-to-people exchanges. These pillars serve as a robust framework for guiding the alliance’s interactions and ensuring its enduring viability. This sentiment is particularly pronounced as the 15th BRICS Summit, slated for August 22-24, 2023, in Johannesburg, South Africa, convenes under the theme “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism.”

Drawing from the World Bank data from 2022, the combined population of the five BRICS nations stands at 3.27 billion, constituting 41.1% of the global population. These countries’ cumulative Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 2022 is valued at 25.92 trillion, accounting for 25.8% of the world’s GDP. In contrast, Africa’s total population across its 55 countries is estimated at 1.4 billion, representing 17.5% of the global population. Africa’s overall GDP amounts to approximately US$3.0 trillion, contributing 2.7% to the global GDP.

The African Development Bank’s African Economic Outlook for 2023, underscores Africa’s abundant natural resources — oil, gas, minerals, land, sunlight, wind, and biodiversity —whose potential remains largely untapped and undervalued. The report highlights Africa’s trillion-dollar investment potential in the climate and green growth sectors, offering a promising avenue for private sector involvement.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) BRICS Investment Report for 2023 reveals that the BRICS economies collectively account for 18% of global exports and approximately $250 billion in foreign direct investment outflows. Notably, the BRICS nations have emerged as significant investors in Africa, with a particular focus on industrial and service sectors, as confirmed by the Africa Development Bank’s Briefing Note titled “Africa and the BRICS: A Win-Win Partnership?” (2003).
Moreover, the BRICS countries have expanded their presence on the continent in terms of foreign direct investment, outpacing traditional partners such as the United States and Europe. This emphasis on harnessing natural resources and boosting agricultural production is also underscored by the UN Economic Commission for Africa’s (UNECA) Report “BRICS/Africa Partnership for Development” (2014).

Leveraging their substantial economic potential, the BRICS nations are optimally positioned to support Africa’s aspirations under the AU Agenda 2063. These countries play a pivotal role in driving investments in natural resource beneficiation, manufacturing, and industrialisation across the continent. They also provide strategic impetus for enhancing productivity and competitiveness, especially within the agricultural sector, through consistent investment efforts.
The emergence of the BRICS New Development Bank offers an alternative to the Western-dominated multilateral financial institutions, which have historically contributed to Africa’s infrastructure development at a gradual pace. This bank holds the promise of financing comprehensive infrastructure projects across the continent, thereby enhancing connectivity through rail, maritime, air routes, and information and communication technology — an aspiration cherished by the African populace.

A symbiotic partnership between Africa and BRICS has the potential to elevate Africa’s status as a significant player on the global stage. This partnership extends to bolstering Africa’s role in global governance structures, including institutions like the United Nations and Multilateral Financial Institutions. The expansion of BRICS to encompass additional nations, including those from Africa, is poised to inspire African countries to assume greater responsibility for funding their sustainable development endeavours.

This approach empowers African nations to form alliances with developed countries that squarely address the continent’s priorities for sustainable growth and economic transformation. Most notably, the BRICS initiative lays the foundation for a multipolar world, contrasting the prevailing unipolar influence exerted by the US and the G7 countries (Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, UK, and the US). This envisioned multipolar world rests on principles such as mutual respect, sovereign equality, inclusiveness, consensus, and fortified collaborations. The International Monetary Fund, Economic Outlook (April, 2023) reveals that the population of the G7 countries is around 776.55 million representing 9.7% of the global population. The GDP for the G7 countries is around US$42.92 trillion representing around 30% of the world GDP.
In a recent interview with Africa Business in June 2023, Lord Jim O’Neill, the visionary behind BRICS, shared his perspective on the future of BRICS and its implications for Africa. He astutely remarked, “the notion that the group of seven ‘industrialised’ or ‘more developed’ or ‘early developed’ (G7) nations can single-handedly govern the world is disconcerting, given their diminishing share of the global GDP. Moreover, the G7 often finds itself aligned with the desires of Washington (US). How then can these select few address the world’s most pressing challenges? This predicament highlights the raison d’être behind my conception of BRICS: to advocate for a more effective global governance model than what the G7 offers.”

It is for these reasons that the enduring partnership between Africa and BRICS embodies a shared commitment to sustainable development, economic growth, and the transformation of global governance structures. The collaborative approach rooted in mutual benefit, respect, and a multi-polar perspective has the potential to reshape the global landscape, ensuring a more inclusive and prosperous future for all.

Advocate Batlokoa Makong is a seasoned diplomat currently working for the African Union. He writes in his personal capacity.

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