I have thought not of the sadness of black history in terms exclusive; no race’s history is a private or exclusive affair: the histories of the world and its peoples are made by the different groups intermingling, merging and then melding into one history for the world to read and muse on to reach that point where the harmonious progress of the human race can be guaranteed through the deletion of past wrongs, and the reconciliation of those qualities salient to rightful human living. I think not that we should as the human race expend our energy by focusing on the negative aspects of humanity and its self-destructive tendencies; for those often lean toward the worship of evil in raucous cacophonies and choruses,whilst in the same breath muting the humble selfless contribution of gooddeeds as performed by some children of the human race whose struggles and tears go unrecognised as the sweat of a dog. That history should seem to remember the 6 million Jews exterminated by Hitler and the Third Reich in the Holocaust, only to forget the 60 million and more slaves of African descent murdered on the Atlantic Passage to slavery in the Americas is a travesty I will not seal my lips to speak against.
All men are born equal, and their histories should therefore be recounted with the same amount of fervour; that some histories are considered more relevant than others is educational misconduct in my books: it is mis-education of the highest order, a malady that should be excised from the psyches of our children as an oncologist would deal with a malignant cancerous tumour. I fail to understand why I had to know about Christopher Columbus, Walter Raleigh, Ferdinand de Magellan and Marco Polo before I was taught of Olaudah Equiano, MonomotapaKaparidze, Sundiata Keita, Marcus Garvey, Pharaoh Kafre and other beacons of African civilisation in the early years of my ‘education’. That I met only the faces of Europe’s dictators and genocidal megalomaniacs like Leopold and Hitler, before being taught in-depth about the wisdom of King Moshoeshoe I is a fact that makes me wonder why we live in a world that seems to worship only a snippet of humanity; when humanity is in reality a huge palette of colours that paint the canvas we call the world in beautiful cultural colours if equally applied. Education mis-taught (if there is such a word dear linguist) me, the curricula and the syllabi were geared towards a model that in every essence only serves European interest and not the interest of global progression. If you teach me the lores of your land and make me forget the tales of my land, you are in every essence making a fool out of me: for this land of my forefathers is more familiar to the myths of ‘Maliepetsana than it is to the tales of your Cinderella. It is good that it took a writer from the African diaspora to teach me the true tales of my people’s plight on the passage to slavery in the Americas. She is a muse whose story I have to tell.
Born Chloe Ardelia Woffordon February the 18th1931, Toni Morrison is an American novelist, editor, and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed characters, andamong her best known novels are the sad tale of a black girl who wanted to have blue eyes like white girls do namedThe Bluest Eyepublished in 1970, the beautiful but sad tale of contradictionsSulapublished in 1973, Song of Solomon published in1977, and the masterpiece of a literary workBeloved,published in 1987, and which literally shot her to the top of the literary guilds’ walls as the best American (and world) literary figure.
Professor Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988 for Beloved. The masterful Beloved was adapted into a film of the same name starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover in 1998. Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993 andher citation reads: Toni Morrison, “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” She is currently the last American to have been awarded the honour. In 1996, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected her for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government’s highest honour for achievement in the humanities. She was also honoured with the 1996 National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Morrison was commissioned to write the libretto for a new opera, Margaret Garner, first performed in 2005. On May 29, 2012, Morrison received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
This brief biography cites the awards and honours bestowed upon this giant, this Amazon of literature who, in her quest to bring out the salient truths on black history to the light, does more than just recount the sad history of the black folks of the Americas. Her polyphonic storytelling style recounts the tales in the many voices of the characters; the voices in the singular characters’ voices in their heads, the myriad voices in the spirit of the communities within which the characters live: the many voices make up for a blend that leaves the reader with a feeling that is nothing less than wowed from the first page of the work to the end of the novel. Many critics have put forth the assertion that it takes at least eight readings to understand a Morrison novel, I say that Toni Morrison is not one to be read as one would a thriller, for despite the fact that her words leave one’s hairs standing on their ends due to their profundity; Toni Morrison is to be read as one would savour a favourite brew: sip her words slowly in with your reading eye, roll them on the tongue of your mind, taste their sweetness and depth, let your mind’s eye envision the scene recounted, read her slowly; for Toni Morrison tells her tale as the oracle does: slowly, surely, leaving out nothing for the imagination to wonder. The citations do her justice, but they will never equal the depth of thought this sacred muse puts into the writing of her works. They are tales lived, life as it is; seen through the eyes of a woman, the struggles of whose race through the passage of time have left inerasable scars on the psyches of its people and the youth. She does not recount the tales in the antipathetic tone of the oppressor whose dehumanisation of the slave is treated on the same scale as an experiment into human behaviour. Where Willie Lynch saw black slaves as mere mules and quarry animals, Toni Morrison presents an empathetic perspective of the black slave as a human being to be respected and granted the same reverend sanctity the white members of society are granted. She is Mother Earth speaking for the rights of her children oppressed by history, she is the teller of the tale many have chosen to subjugate to the status of urban legend and not the truth it is in reality.
In The Song of Solomon the ‘old folks’ lie about the return of African-Americans is proven true when Macon Dead sets out to reclaim his heritage for, it is in his own words far more precious than gold. To be defined by other people is a result of the abuse of power, and it is often the case that this heinous mis-identification of individuals as based on the unequal scales of social structure designed by the powerful ruling class ends up being passed from father to son; leaving one class or race with a perpetual inferiority complex that draws them deeper into the inferno of inhumanity where brother kills brother, son robs mother, and sibling rapes sister. Too often, we dream of equality but forget to exorcise the demons of being defined by other people whose only interest was erasing our true self, so that we could be more pliable tools in their hands. But through her of the ‘true voice’ and capturing its syntax, its metaphors and its music, Toni Morrison captures the essence of being black in a world that considers the black a permanent member of the underclass despite the tremendous contribution the black race has made in the civilisation of the world. Considered inferior does not exactly mean one is inferior; inferiority is determined by how one defines themselves in the mental prisons of the world where colour bars keep the black man from seeing the true light of the world.
You may have read of the endless civil war in Liberia’s Monrovia or Sierra Leone or the genocide in Rwanda’s Kigali. You may think of it all just as a ‘civil war’ even though the events thereof were not so civil, think again, and you will realise this one fact; the endless wars in Africa are the direct result of colonialism: they are the African’s struggle to define himself, to return to that place where they were before the colonist came. Colonialism put the whole world upside down so that the only one who could see the wealth of the world from the correct perspective was the colonist and the slave-master. Toni Morrison presents this picture in Sula, where the place called ‘The Bottom’ is actually a useless, rocky infertile land on top of a hill overlooking a rich valley where the rich white folks live. A passage from the book reads:
The master said, “Oh, no! See those hills? That’s bottom land, rich and fertile.” “But it’s high up in the hills,” said the slave. “High up from us,” said the master, “but when God looks own, it’s the bottom. That’s why we call it so. It’s the bottom of heaven-best land there is.” So the slave pressed his master to try to get him some. He preferred it to the valley. And it was done. The nigger got the hilly land, where planting was backbreaking, where the soil slid down and washed away the seeds, and where the wind lingered all through the winter.
Those blacks in Sula are sadly represented by Shadrack, a shell-shocked twenty two year old whose mind has been ravaged by war. Content with living at the Bottom, many of us fail to see our true place in the world; that the madman clanging the cowbells is actually a saint come to save us from our state of being. Steeped in self-serving self-interest, many of us that have ‘made it’ forget that the ‘top’ we have reached is actually the bottom to those races that presented it to us. Wake up and live and see your place as you should, as it really is, so says the voice of Sula.
Upon reading Beloved and The Bluest Eye one enters into the houses where the black folks live with the ghosts of their past, their dreams, their wishes, and their true selves hidden from the rest of the world. Beloved is a literary masterpiece, I agree, but it is also a text as sacred in its pursuit of true identity as any chronicle of the religious sort. The characters have been scattered by history of slavery, re-gathered by the Abolition, then scattered again to the four winds by the pain of semi-freedom and the ghosts of their past. The voices in the book are many and deep, but the message they deliver to the black folks to deal with his past to understand the present is singular in its pursuit of true African and black American history and identity in the dark background of slavery and colonialism. The Atlantic is a sea full of ghosts from a dark past, but those ghosts are part of black history which should never be forgotten if the black race is to reclaim its true history. Barnett states of Toni Morrison:
Morrison guides her readers through the pain of extracting the memories that these characters have so long repressed, and the struggles they face “to confront a past they cannot forget. Indeed, it is apparent forgetting that subjects them to traumatic return; confrontation requires a direct attempt at remembering…”
That we cannot make peace in the present is simply because we treat the past and its events like a hushed wrong. Instead of recounting facts as they are, we shove them under the rugs at dinner tables of ‘truth and reconciliation’, pretend we have forgotten the past, and then wonder why it rears its ugly head the next day. I believe we should be inspired to write truthfully about our diverse histories as the muse does. Toni Morrison is a mother whose words can guide the world to a better place, where black girls and boys do not dream of being white; because they have been taught that the only standards are white. Love your fellow human beings as you love thineself, forgive them of their wrongs. But first love and forgive yourself first, then forget the sad past truthfully.
- S. Mothibi, Esq.
We need a coordinated approach on youth challenges
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
Call that a muffin?
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.
Lessons from Israel: Part 3
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
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