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Understanding how things work



Admission of ignorance or accepting as fact that one has insufficient knowledge with regard to a specific or given issue or entity is a sure sign of wisdom and a gateway to the basis of harmonious human interaction: understanding how things work.
In the past week, I came across a document chronicling the history of the medical profession in Lesotho after a brief talk I had had with Dr ‘Musi Mokete. This experienced doyen of Lesotho’s knowledge in terms of heritage and history also happens to be one of the pioneering members of The Friends of Morija Museum and Archives.

In one of the talks we have had on the history and heritage of this country the name of Dr Wilson T. M. Sebeta came up and I took the effort to find out who this figure is. He is the first Mosotho to receive a degree in medicine from the University of Edinburgh in 1915 and for all of his life served “his people faithfully at Mokhotlong,” until his death in the early 1930s.

This brought up the question in my mind: why is it that Lesotho is often looked down upon by other African states when it is in actual fact home to the pioneers of knowledge and understanding?
From Morena Moshoeshoe who pioneered reconciliation not only as a philosophy but actually conceptualised it from the level of theory into a practice that lives to this day, to Thomas Mofolo who wrote and published the first works in vernacular Sesotho in the ‘whole’ African continent starting in 1906 (Moeti oa Bochabela, Pitseng, Chaka and others).

Lesotho has pioneered a lot in terms of opening the gateways to knowledge in fact, but the catch comes when one has to understand why it lags behind in terms of economic development, health and social welfare, education. It does not make sense how one can be the first to step forward only to be the last at the end of the day.
The occurrence of this means that there was a certain gap in terms of the continuity of knowledge, that there is kind of leeching of the core concepts of the knowledge system one has begun by those that come to attain of its benefits.

If one state keeps on playing the role of the pioneer and being seen as a tree whose fruits and leaves can be taken without its roots being nourished, then such a tree shall with time become stunted and at the end of the day die of malnourishment. The death of a state stems not from lack of funds but from its citizens not understanding the true worth of their natural, cultural, and economic heritage.

That Basotho are at the most basic a welcoming nation should not mean that whoever comes into the land should adopt the attitude of the pilferer that smiles in their host’s face only to empty the kind host’s coffers and their kraals when the host is not looking or is unaware that their guests are actually finger smiths (pickpockets) bent on robbing them of whatever riches the host is unaware that they posses or do not know how to exploit them for the benefit of their vulnerable citizens and their children.

It is human to help those that come begging for help, but it is plain stupidity to let them do as they please on one’s turf. Émigrés and migrants are afforded the best care and help by this state’s ministries in terms of ensuring their comfort and well-being.
This has been the practice of the Basotho from Morena Moshoeshoe I’s time to the present day, but it does not make sense to me why we are at the present moment at a point where we have to bend to foreign will and terms as Basotho.

From the sale of water to South Africa, the legalisation of marijuana, the benefits of diamond and other mining, the sale of wool and mohair and other minerals, the massive losses in terms of human and natural resources, Lesotho is losing out on the benefits and the profits because there is in reality no effort to understand how things work.
I was knee-high to a grasshopper when Morena Leabua Jonathan was ousted in a coup, but I clearly remember how good the days were. Come 1993 and a new political era came in, and the best I have seen these past 25 years is regime change after regime change and the visions (2000, 2020, and the now fashionable but far off 2063) expressed are actually a muddled fudge that has no clear form.

How we shall reach any goal set without first understanding who we are and what we have in our coffers baffles me and those individuals I engage with in our talks and arguments.
Foreign aid is celebrated as the liberator of the economy, but the truth is that it comes with terms and conditions that are in reality to the benefit of the donor nation or company in the long term, and that Lesotho remains in perpertual debt or remains indebted to whoever offers aid, is largely because Lesotho does not understand that it is capable of starting things from scratch as it has done dozens of times in the course of the kingdom’s history.

If we had the first writers, scientists, printing presses, skilled labourers, and other professionals from as early as the mid-1800’s, why then do we have to rely on foreign aid and skills whilst our professionals languish in the clutches of unemployment? The answer is that we have a ruling class that does not understand the true worth of their possession in terms of natural and human resource.

The loss of the understanding of the benefit of rooted cultural identity leads to mental rot, the kind of rot that has a king believing that they are a pauper, and which ends up convincing a wealthy man that they have to learn the beggar’s language to conform or to sound politically correct.

In stark naked terms, the lack of the understanding leads to one losing their pride to the extent that they are willing to stand in line for hours to cross into a country where the citizens cannot build something as simple as a toilet out of their own pocket.

I crossed the Maseru/Ladybrand border on the weekend to accompany an elderly relative with their luggage across on a journey to Cape Town, and being number 10 in line, I thought I would be past the scanners and cameras in just 10 minutes.
It took me 43 minutes to get past the official with my passport and a fake smile. I was fuming, wondering why it was so easy to cross this border in the days of apartheid when it takes this long in these liberated days.

I wondered why our government is so silent on this clear case of discrimination for the masses. I have crossed into other lands via airports, and believe me it does not take this long to cross despite the scans, the x-rays, and the body searches one has to go through at those airport checkpoints. We suffer because we have a docile leadership that does not honour the idea of national sovereignty to the core.

It is the knowledge of the basic elements of an entity that aids in the understanding of its operation, for this manual or guidelines help one to fathom its depth and its breadth, and to know what steps to take to ensure that it performs at its full potential.
Without the knowledge of the basic patterns of operation, one stands to lose for they shall be stuck with a tool that does not work or cannot do the type of work for which it is intended or designed for. Being in possession of what others want to further their business interests naturally means one has the upper hand, and the basic rule of business lies in the question: what is in it for me?
One need not be apologetic about discussing these terms, and one need not wait ten years for the benefits to start rolling in, for in such an equation it means that one is either being cheated or being made a fool out of.

It does not make sense how Lesotho should be getting less than the investor in terms of rewards and the investor gets a lion’s share. This did not happen with the digging of oil wells in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf.

This does not happen with our fellow former British Protectorate Republic of Botswana whose people have taken it upon themselves to get the lion’s share out of the minerals mined from the soil of their land. Only Lesotho operates on a 25:75 percent basis whilst its unemployment levels are above 40 percent and the citizens live on less than a dollar a day.
It helps no one to be polite when the negotiators negotiate to one’s detriment and not to one’s benefit. Boasting about how smart we were whilst we reminisce in frayed collars and parched shoes only means that we are fools that have been bewitched with the beggar’s curse: for a beggar forgets that he too has hands with which they can fashion their dream to their own desire and expectation.

The moment one decides to beg instead of work, then whatever means to get out of the clutches of poverty that they have at their disposal lose meaning.
It is until some marauding stranger comes along and uses those same means available to the host that the host begins to realise their benefit, but as is the case with Lesotho, it is often too late for the one-sided terms to benefit of the stranger are already written and agreed upon.

This however does not mean that the terms cannot be revisited and rewritten. I was already past middle age when I realised that my teachers in school had taught me only of Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus but had somehow forgot to teach me of Morena Mohlomi.
I from that moment took personal effort to understand my cultural roots, and with the advances I made in understanding these roots came the realisation of their true worth in making me a better individual and businessman.

With this realisation came a new understanding that the best tool I had in my keep was myself, that I did not have to depend on anyone to progress however slow it may seem in the sight of others that are watching (for they are always there watching, positively encouraging or negatively judging one’s progress).
Myself has my mind, myself has my hands and my feet, myself has courage to take on the hardest task without question, myself has enough resolution to guide me to an intended point of destiny or to reach a desired destination.

It does not matter how slow myself may seem, but the faith and the hope that I keep in my heart and soul urge me on.
This is one of the reasons why I take my time to understand how things work so that I can use them to full benefit. I have seen a thousand cowards flee to neighbouring South Africa to pursue careers after they have been taught by this land’s taxes. The basic argument is that there is better life in those filthy shanty towns and crime-infested suburbs.

I think not, for I know different, I have seen different: Lesotho is rich enough for all of us, the best we can do is give ourselves time to understand how a poor migrant from some far quarter of the world manages to gather millions of Maloti to invest back in their homeland whilst we sit watching and wondering.

This country is a beggar only because young women and men do not bother to understand how things work to the benefit of all the citizens senior and junior.
We cannot depend on the political or leader class for our emancipation for one basic reality glares: the leader class in this country are the products of colonial education and therefore, they will in more ways than one share the tendency to believe that the saviour will come from their colonial lords.

The expression, “He that lays with the dogs shall surely catch the fleas,” rings true with regard to the issue of how one behaves.
With a few exceptions, one is more likely to be like that which they spend most of their time with than that which they observe from a distance. This generation did not get to see the colonial lords, they were born in the time when ‘freedom’ became a reality for most of post-independence Africa.

I believe it is time they began to act like free men that have enough time to understand how things will work to their benefit and not to the benefit of the lonely stranger with one-sided terms. True knowledge of how things really work is the only bet we have. But first, we have to know ourselves, what we have, and how it will work to our benefit.

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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