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The writer as a vessel



When a revered colleague of mine recently told me in clear terms that, “There are two kinds of people that you don’t mess around with . . . and these two are the handyman and the plumber.
“One is there to deal with most of your everyday household problems, and the other is there to save your day when the sewerage system is acting up.
“Make sure to be on good terms with these two if you want to have a pleasant life free of the worries that come with living in the city, a reality which is quite hard to deal with on a regular day.”
I pondered with this analysis for a long while and at the end of the day concluded that he was indeed right: who can live without a proper backup plan in terms of comfortable living?

The two figures carry quite a huge amount of clout in terms of the literal significance their professions mean for a lot of individuals living in the congested spaces of the concrete jungle where burst sewerage pipes and faulty electrical connections, leaking roofs and broken windows, loose tiles and weather-beaten doors and a thousand other maintenance-related house and home issues and matters pop up at the most awkward of moments (as in the middle of the month when the money is low and the month is standing there with arms akimbo like a scorned mistress).
The two will come and sort out the problem and be patient enough to give you until the end of the month when you can pay for their services from your meagre salary.

In the early days around 2011/12, the reality that I would never be employed for a salary in the public service (or anywhere else for that matter) due to the simple fact I studied the “wrong” course and followed a useless programme at varsity stung me on my self-pitying bottom and had me move from yard to yard in search of “any kind” of employment.
From thereon, I did gardens (or plots as we call them up here), became a concrete/mortar mixer (taka boy), went on to lay bricks (following the builder’s line or “fish-line” from brick to brick) until a wall is built and finished.

This was followed by a stint plastering, mounting ceilings, laying ceramic and PVC tiles, and in between dabbling into roofing and other construction related jobs. At the end of 2015, I could confidently declare myself a construction man, well-versed in the art of reading house-plans, outlining foundations, calculating the cost of construction material and quantities, surveying the soil type at the construction site.

All this education was gotten at the cost of me getting paid whilst I learnt under the supervision of different “uneducated” men and women who had not walked down the hallowed corridors of Moshoeshoe, Murtala Mohammed, or Chancellor Hall at the National University of Lesotho.
The honours degree certificate in Literature in English or the Masters I pursued afterwards became forgotten pieces of paper only good to hang and view on the wall.
I honestly wouldn’t give a rat’s bosom if some call came beckoning me to languish in some government office.

The truth is I am a man made by the hands of the people I met in the life out of public service most of us went to university to get employed in, but the people I met in the life after university actually went a long way towards inculcating a clear sense of what my position as a writer in society is.
The first point is that one as an individual meets other individuals that have stories to tell that are more often than rarely speaking actually prove more interesting than one’s own stories as a writer.

Most of these people are actually masters in the craft of arranging themes and plots and words and sentences: the basic tools of the craft of writing or story-telling.
If one is humble enough to learn to listen to them as they tell their different stories, then the craft is simply assimilated into the psyche of one as a writer in a manner similar to water or other molecules diffusing from a place of high concentration to that of low concentration until equality (stability) as it is in the process of osmosis.
The writer therefore, becomes some kind of sponge that absorbs first the tales of the people in the immediate environment and the people in the regions outside of the immediate environment within which one as a writer lives.

One such example is the beginning of the story I was once told by a late friend I met on one of the many construction sites I got to labour on in the early days.
He began his tale with the line, “I travelled until I reached a place I had never been to…” and of course, this is where the writer comes in to fill the gap by posing questions as to what exactly went on to unfold when the teller got to such a place.

The gist of the tale is summarised in the events that occurred and sometimes, the creativity of the writer has to kick in to make the tale interesting to the reader that may come upon it.
Oftentimes, one just has to take the tale as it is and tell the world because the author (the verbal storyteller) told it so well that it needs no other form of addendum to make it readable to the reading audience.

Sometimes, the writer just has to be the vessel through which the story has to pass through before it is consumed by the reading masses.
I chose to be the writer that tells the tale of the people I have met up the long road to the writing heaven I hope to one day reach, and of course, some of the tales will pan out to sound like they were told by the original authors that told them.

Upon my first reading Meja Mwangi’s Going Down River Road, it was quite easy for me to understand that Ben Wachira was actually Meja’s self-implantation into the novel that recounts a story he had actually lived with his comically funny friend Ochola.
The hilarious statements and antics of Ochola are in actual reality what one sees on the various construction sites across Africa.

There is always that one individual that stands out as the leading character on the stages of construction sites where dagga joints are passed from man to man, where cigarettes are shared from lip to lip, and where month-ends mean different activities for the different labourers and supervisors.
While some go back home to distant villages to send their salaries to families that need them, there are those common ones that spend their earnings in the different makeshift plastic sheeting shebeens and mkhukhus at the bus-stop area with the ladies of the night and free-spirits that walk the streets of city where there is no night.

The position of the writer living in the city is that of the teller of the goings-on to reveal some kind of common or peculiar theme and to expose the conditions within which a certain sector of society actually lives under on a regular or specific day.
Literally or metaphorically, the story that the writer tells captures the essence of the lives of the ordinary people and in a manner becomes a point of analysis of the state of affairs in the different communities on the continent.

One cannot write in a vacuum, there actually has to be some kind of stimulus that triggers the writing nerve in the writer to the point where they feel the need to cover the events in the lives of the different people they come across in their daily lives.
The benefit of experience is read in the stories of the writer that actually lived the story they pen in the real and is felt tepidly in the words of the writer that actually relies more on imagination to create a story.

The world and the lives that are lived on the usual day is not a comic phenomenon, and the writer who does not understand this fact actually stands to err because they mislead the audience into a nonexistent sphere of life whose substance cannot actually be felt in the real.
Personally speaking, I do not think it is right to spend most of the actual process of writing imagining without first having experienced what the gist of the story actually covers.
It first has to be felt before it can clearly be described to the audience, and if it cannot be felt due to its alien nature or distance from the author, adequate research and reading of relevant material should be carried out first before even attempting to cover it in the story, otherwise it exposes the writer as a fraud which renders the story as either irrelevant or unsubstantial in terms of its educating purpose to the audience.

One does not write only for the sake of writing, but one writes to inform (educate), to entertain, and to update (reveal changes in existing trends) the society.
If writing was done merely for the sake of putting words into sentences and combining sentences into paragraphs that in turn form chapters, then the whole exercise would be reminiscent to an infant’s babbling, that is, it would be without form and shape and would therefore serve no purpose in shaping the ideas that mould the essence of societal living.
There are repeated themes in the stories one comes across in the stories one reads, and such themes are repeated largely due to their recurring nature or that they are related to issues society finds hard to deal with and solve.

One as a writer actually has to put in their weight in helping the society to progress, and this is done by addressing what nags the writer as an individual through the words that they pen.
Having been a progress aficionado from early on has seen me question such issues as poverty, underdevelopment, poor social management systems, and other malaises that hamper the development of African societies.
My position as a writer has me confidently proclaim that we are a continent that shall find progress hard to attain because we are a bunch of beggars that do not believe that their own story can serve to emancipate the continent.
The different writers and their works are only acknowledged if some overseas authority deems them as worthy enough of mention, and the poets of the continent cannot make a living from their verses because their verses are stolen to be sold for trinkets on some overseas platform. What we consume as readers on the continent actually comes from a somewhere most of us shall never even get to reach.

There are more copies of Ludlum’s works sold than those of Ngugi, and a child grows up showered with the Cinderella story than Litšomo and this means that we are a people who always look to the outside to understand what is within their midst.
This is in reality and frank terms delusion at its most viscous, a spider’s web of fabricated deceit we shall take very long to untangle ourselves from until we bother to understand the role the simple writer in our society actually plays in the addressing of subtle and prevalent social problems.

I believe not that we regress because of a lack in funds, but I know as a fact that we fail to acknowledge the simple people living in our midst.
Most have stories that are solutions to the problems that we face as a society and we lose out by dismissing them as unimportant. I have been a handyman for some long while now, and this means that I have come across individuals living in varying conditions of poverty and wealth.

All of these people throw in a penny or two into ensuring that I live well enough to see the end of the month without worrying about hunger pangs and therefore, their story is my story, for we share the same basic spaces on several occasions, if we were to tell the story as is and not as we deem it to be, the gaps in terms of wealth and poverty, development and underdevelopment, crime and punishment, they would all be solved for then we would find common points of understanding in the stories shared.

Acknowledged and unacknowledged do not mean that the reality of the story or the position of the writer in society changes.
It just means that one side chooses to bury their heads in sands of pretence like ostriches do when desert storms beckon.
Acknowledge those people you meet, listen to them speak, and you shall understand not only the story of their lives but yours as well.

BY: Tšepiso S Mothibi

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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.

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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


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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:

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