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The works of Bennett Makalo Khaketla



B.M. Khaketla was arguably the most significant writer from Lesotho after Thomas Mofolo. I realise this is a difficult call, and many readers will be asking “But what about [author of choice]?”

There is, of course, David Cranmer Theko Bereng, whose 3 000 line poetry sequence Lithothokiso tsa Moshoeshoe le tse Ling (The Poems of Moshoeshoe and others) of 1931 is a beautiful work and a highly influential one, displaying great stamina and poetic imagination. Although Bereng lived until 1973 Lithothokiso remained his only work. Other major writers such as A S Mopeli-Paulus and Zakes Mda had very strong affiliations with Lesotho, but are classified as South African.

Having said that, the distinction between Basotho writers from Lesotho and those from South Africa is, of course, a tenuous one. In a few weeks’ time I shall be reviewing in these pages the play Senkatana, an English translation of which has, like Khaketla’s novel Mosali a Nkhola (She’s to Blame), recently been published in the African Pulse series. The author of the play, S M Mofokeng, was born in Fouriesburg in the Free State and spent his working life in Johannesburg, but to all intents and purposes his play reads as the work of an author from Lesotho.

But back to Bennett Makalo Khaketla. He was a relatively prolific writer, publishing two novels, three plays and a poetry collection. As a public figure, he was a member of the Executive Committee of the Basutoland National Congress and a member of the Executive Council of Lesotho. And in the 1950s he founded and edited a newspaper, Mohlabani (The Warrior). Perhaps more than the other authors I have mentioned he can be thought of as a creative writer and also as a public intellectual.

Writing in the essay collection Translating Mofolo and regretting the lack of translations of texts in southern African languages, Antjie Krog has asked “What hoards of wisdom are in effect locked away from Southern Africans who cannot read or hear a particular language?” And words of wisdom, sheaves of ideas, are what we expect from a public intellectual such as Khaketla.

I happen to know that when Khaketla died, he left behind a carton of unpublished manuscripts and notes that, when assembled and edited, would form an autobiography. This is a task that really should be carried out, as the resulting book would form an important addition to Lesotho’s literary corpus and to the history of ideas. Let readers bear in mind the word “ideas” when next week I turn to review the recent English translation of Mosali a Nkhola.

Regarding Khaketla’s work as newspaper founder and editor, my insights are largely second-hand (note to thepost: please don’t reduce my fee on that account). Some years ago, together with Molefi Mokuku, I did a lot of work on the earlier Lesotho newspapers Naledi ea Lesotho and Mochochonono, but I have never studied Mohlabani systematically.

I shall quote just one of Khaketla’s editorials, which clearly shows him as an African nationalist, at least to some extent influenced by the writings of Frantz Fanon, and one concerned with the role of African intellectuals in the continent’s anti-colonial and revolutionary movements.

This is from 1957, the year of Ghana’s independence, which spearheaded decolonisation across sub-Saharan Africa. Khaketla notes: “The victory of Nkrumah and Ghana is a victory for the whole of Black Africa, and for that reason we wish him double success in everything he undertakes, for his failures will be the failures of Black Africa, and his success will be the success of Black Africa.”

An inspiring but also poignant piece. Nkrumah’s achievement did, of course, set up a beacon for Africa. But there was also failure, in Nkrumah’s later heavy-handed concentration of executive power. And there was his entrapment in the ruthless machinations of the Cold War powers. At the same time, when the relevant issue of Mohlabani hit the news-stands one would have loved to have seen the faces of the censors across the border in apartheid South Africa. In another useful “up yours” gesture to the South African authorities, Khaketla had his paper publish the complete text of the Freedom Charter.

One of the thumbnail sketches I have seen of Khaketla refers to his “remarkable grasp of international politics as well as of the interrelationship between culture and politics.” This is fine, as long as we treat the word “culture” with great caution, especially bearing in mind the fact that the stuff it refers to shifts and changes all the time.

On that note, an account of Khaketla’s novel Mosali a Nkhola by T Selepe in the Cambridge History of South African Literature ends by referring to the dilemmas explored in the novel and summarises them by saying “this is in short what deculturation amounts to.” With all respect to Professor Selepe, the novel doesn’t seem to me to be at all about deculturation. As to what I think it is about, readers will have to wait until next week, when I review the novel’s recently published English translation.

Chris Dunton

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The Joker Returns: Conclusion



Last week I was talking about how jokes, or humour generally, can help get one through the most desperate situations (although it’s like taking a paracetamol for a headache; a much, much stronger resort is faith). I used the example of how Polish Jews, trapped and dying in the Warsaw ghetto, used humour to get them through day by day.

A similar, though less nightmarish, situation obtains in today’s Nigeria. Conditions there are less hellish than those of the Warsaw ghetto, but still pretty awful. There are massive redundancies, so millions of people are jobless. Inflation is at about 30% and the cost of living is sky-rocketing, with the most basic foodstuffs often unavailable. There is the breakdown of basic social services.

And endemic violence, with widespread armed robbery (to travel by road from one city to another you take your life in your hands) and the frequent kidnapping for ransom of schoolchildren and teachers. In a recent issue of the Punch newspaper (Lagos) Taiwo Obindo, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Jos, writes of the effects of economic hardship and insecurity on his people’s mental health.

He concludes: “We should see the funny side of things. We can use humour to handle some things. Don’t take things to heart; laugh it off.”

Professor Obindo doesn’t, regrettably, give examples of the humour he prescribes, but I remember two from a period when things were less grim. Power-cuts happened all the time — a big problem if you’re trying to work at night and can’t afford a generator.

And so the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was universally referred to as Never Expect Power Always. And second, for inter-city travel there was a company called Luxurious Buses. Believe me, the average Lesotho kombi is a great deal more luxurious (I can’t remember ever having to sit on the floor of one of those).

And because of the dreadful state of Nigerian roads and the frequent fatal crashes, Luxurious Buses were referred to as Luxurious Hearses.

Lesotho’s newspaper thepost, for which I slave away tirelessly, doesn’t use humour very much. But there is Muckraker. I’ve always wondered whether Muckraker is the pen-name of a single person or a group who alternate writing the column.

Whatever, I’d love to have a drink with him / her/ them and chew things over. I like the ironic pen-name of the author(s). Traditionally speaking, a muckraker is a gossip, someone who scrabbles around for titbits (usually sexual) on the personal life of a celebrity — not exactly a noble thing to do.

But thepost’s Muckraker exposes big problems, deep demerits, conducted by those who should know and do better — problems that the powerful would like to be swept under the carpet, and the intention of Muckraker’s exposure is corrective.

And I always join in the closing exasperated “Ichuuuu!” (as I do this rather loudly, my housemates probably think I’m going bonkers).

Finally I want to mention television satire. The Brits are renowned for this, an achievement dating back to the early 1960s and the weekly satirical programme “TW3” (That Was The Week That Was). More recently we have had “Mock the Week”, though, despite its popularity, the BBC has cancelled this.

The cancellation wasn’t for political reasons. For decades the UK has been encumbered with a foul Conservative government, though this year’s election may be won by Labour (not such very good news, as the Labour leadership is only pseudo-socialist). “Mock the Week” was pretty even-handed in deriding politicians; the BBC’s problem was, I imagine, with the programme’s frequent obscenity.

As an example of their political jokes, I quote a discussion on the less than inspiring leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer. One member of the panel said: “Labour may well have a huge lead in the polls at present, but the day before election day Starmer will destroy it by doing something like accidentally infecting David Attenborough with chicken-pox.”

And a favourite, basically non-political interchange on “Mock the Week” had to do with our former monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Whatever one thinks about the British monarchy as an institution, the Queen was much loved, but the following interchange between two panellists (A and B) was fun:

A: Is the Queen’s nickname really Lilibet?
B: Yes, it is.
A: I thought her nickname was Her Majesty.
B: That’s her gang name.

OK, dear readers, that’s enough humour from me for a while. Next week I’m turning dead serious — and more than a little controversial — responding to a recent Insight piece by Mokhosi Mohapi titled “A reversal of our traditions and culture.” To be forewarned is to be prepared.

Chris Dunton

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Reading, writing and the art of reflection



There is a close thread that runs through what you reflect on, what you read and what sticks in your mind. It’s almost a cyclic process with regards to how all these processes unfold. Today, in this installment we focus on the thread between reading, reflection and writing.

This appears a bit cumbersome to explain. But let’s simplify it. Let’s begin with a beautiful poem which encompasses what we have so far spoken about. Here we are! The poem is penned by “Tachibama Akemi.” It goes:

It is a pleasure
When, rising in the morning,
I go outside and
Find that a flower has blossomed
That was not there yesterday.

Seemingly, the poem is simple. But, on close analysis, it reflects very deep reflection and thoughtfulness.

The persona, in an existential fashion, reflects all about the purpose and meaning of life and his place in the overall matrix of life.

The persona carefully reflects on nature. This is what makes all this poem rustic and romantic.

The persona thinks deeply about the blossoming flowers and how the process of the growth of flowers appears almost inadvertently.

It is a poem about change, healing, the lapse of time and the changes or vissiccitudes in the life of a person are reflected creatively through imagery and poetry. We all go through that, isn’t it? We all react and respond to love, truth and beauty.

So far everything appears very interesting. Let’s just put to the fore some good and appealing thoughts. Let’s enlarge on reading, writing and reflection.

Kindly keep in mind that thoughts must be captured, told, expressed and shared through the magical power of the written word.

As a person, obviously through keeping entries in a journal, there is no doubt that you have toyed about thoughts and ideas and experiences you wish you could put across.

Here is an example you can peek from Anthony. Anthony likes writing. He tells us that in his spare time he likes exploring a lot. And, more often than not he tells us,

“I stop, and think, and then when I find something, I just keep on writing.”

So crisp, but how beautiful. Notice something interesting here; you need to stop, to take life effortlessly and ponderously, as it were; observe, be attentive to your environment; formulate thought patterns and then write.

To some extent, this article builds on our previous experiences when we spoke at length about the reading process.

But how can you do it? It’s not pretty much different. I can help you from my previous life as a teacher of English Languge.

The most important skill you must cultivate is that of listening, close listening. Look at how people and events mingle.

What makes both of you happy; enjoy it. I am sure you still keep that journal in which you enter very beautiful entries. Reflect about Maseru, the so-called affluent city. So majestic!

How can you picture it in writing!

I am glad you learnt to reflect deep and write. Thank you very much. Kindly learn and perfect the craft of observing, reflecting and writing. Learn that connection. Let’s meet for another class.

Vuso Mhlanga

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The Joker Returns: Part One



Don’t be put off by the title, esteemed readers; what follows has nothing to do with the Batman films. As you will be happily (or unhappily) aware, I am a big fan of jokes. There’s a common understanding that a joke is ruined if you have to explain it, and this is true, but some jokes do need a bit of background explanation. Anyway. I like jokes and I like thinking about how they work.

Many of my favourite jokes have to do with language and the way we use it. For example: “I just bought myself a thesaurus. I similar it very much.”

Other jokes have to do with human behaviour and here it is important, out of respect for others, to avoid jokes that perpetuate stereotypical ideas about gender, race, nationality, and so on. I’m afraid the following joke does depend upon a stereotype (I’ll come back to that), but here goes, after a bit of background information.

In Lesotho you have an insect called a praying mantis — stick-like, bright green, and with great bulging eyes. They are rather lovable, despite the off-putting fact that the female practices insect cannibalism; after mating, she consumes the male. So, now you’ve had your zoological primer, here goes.

Two praying mantises are getting up close and personal. The female says to the male: “before we have sex and I bite your head off, could you help me put up some shelves?”

Apologies to female readers, because, as I said, that joke perpetuates a gender stereotype, namely, that women are good with a vacuum cleaner or a dustpan and brush, but hopeless with a hammer and nails.

There are many jokes that are, as it were, much more serious than that. As I rattled on about in a couple of earlier columns, many of these are satirical — jokes that are designed to point a finger at human folly or even wickedness. In another column, titled “Should we laugh?”, I explored the question “is there any subject that should be kept out of the range of humour?”

Well, apparently not, if we take on board the following account of the Warsaw ghetto.

Historical preface first.

The Warsaw ghetto represents one of the worst atrocities in modern history. In November 1940 the genocidal Nazis rounded up all the Jews in Poland’s capital and herded them into a small sector of the city, which they euphemistically, cynically, dubbed the “Jewish Residential District in Warsaw.”

Here nearly half a million Jews were in effect imprisoned, barely subsisting on tiny food rations. An estimated quarter of a million were sent off to the death camps. An uprising against the Nazi captors was brutally crushed. Around 100 000 died of starvation or disease.

Not much to laugh about there, you might say. But then consider the following, which I’ve taken from the New York Review of Books of February 29th this year:

“In the Warsaw Ghetto in October 1941 Mary Berg, then a teenager, wrote in her diary about the improbable persistence of laughter in that hellish place: ‘Every day at the Art Café on Leszno Street one can hear songs and satire on the police, the ambulance service, the rickshaws, and even the Gestapo, [on the latter] in a veiled fashion. The typhoid epidemic itself is the subject of jokes. It is laughter through tears, but it is laughter. This is not our only weapon in the ghetto — our people laugh at death and at the Nazi decrees. Humour is the only thing the Nazis cannot understand.’”

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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