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Vocational curriculum and employment

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In 2015 the Central Bank of Lesotho and the government said there were over 4 000 unemployed graduates in Lesotho. The national headcount poverty rate was 57.1 % in 2011. Lesotho’s highest unemployment rate was 28.2% in 2010. In 2019 it was 23.5%. Unemployment was highest in the 20 – 24 age group. The International Labour Organisation estimated the youth unemployment rate was at 32.8 % in 2020 even though most employed people are in the age group 25 – 29, 32% did clerical work. They blame unemployment and lack of jobs for the high prevalence of poverty and inequality in Lesotho. These data have implications for the country’s school curriculum.

Scholars blame Lesotho’s inherited colonial higher education system for lack of jobs. The government is the primary employer in the domestic economy’s formal sector while the largest informal employer is the manufacturing sector. The colonial education system prepared graduates to be employees, particularly in the civil service. But this assertion presupposes that jobs exist and absorb graduates and that only the graduates do not perform.

Scholars praise the German vocational education system for providing vocational skills geared to current practices in specific occupations. Lesotho has had glimpses of the system at Lerotholi Polytechnic (LP). My peers challenged me to contrast the German education system with Lesotho’s. I must, however, guard against comparing apples with oranges, contrasting the Developing to the Developed World. This article contrasts the German secondary school education to the 2008 Ministry of Education Policy.

The policy sought to achieve what the German secondary school education has obtained. It aimed to develop work-related competencies. I strive to understand why the 2008 MoET policy failed to alleviate unemployment and poverty.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that in 2012 Germany had a youth unemployment rate of 8.1%, the lowest, which was second to Japan worldwide. At the same time, the United States had a youth unemployment rate of 16.2%. Scholars credit the low youth unemployment rate to the German educational system.

Higher education institutions (HEI) do not create jobs but prepare people to solve real-life problems. They prepare students for the world of work. The Council on Higher Education (CHE) dictates that HEIs must offer a transformative and responsive curriculum. Their curriculum must address Lesotho’s developmental needs by generating relevant skills and knowledge. The government, together with the private sector, must create job opportunities. HEIs must work closely with the industry.

The MoET introduced the Lesotho Qualification Network (LQF) to guide curriculum application. The LQF comprises the academic and Technical, and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) tracks. TVET schools seek to ensure that there is an adequate supply of well-trained artisans. The 2018 MoET Education Statistics Bulletin shows that Lesotho’s secondary schools’ total enrolment was 138 894. There were 4 584 (or 3.3%) students registered in technical and vocational schools.

Ts’eane probed the relevance of Lesotho secondary schools’ TVET curriculum. She found that the curriculum was not aligned with Lesotho’s unemployment and poverty alleviation demands. School leavers did not have the relevant practical skills and experience required by the industry. She recommended that the MoET must make workplace apprenticeship compulsory. As a result of the current practices, graduates cannot translate theory into practice.

TVET institutions award certificates and diplomas in various study fields from agriculture, basic handicrafts, home economics, hospitality, construction, engineering, business, management and IT. Courses offered range from a period of one year to 36 months. However, the challenge is that the TVET curriculum is stagnant, with very minimum improvements, and is lagging behind Lesotho’s developmental needs. The curriculum needs to look into incorporating job creation skills.

Scholars propose that the solution to graduates’ unemployment is in HEIs, making entrepreneurship the core of the curriculum. It is essential to highlight that while knowledge is a critical aspect of education, its application is vital in TVET. Accordingly, a necessary component of TVET is comprehensively structured on-the-job training programmes. Work placement is indispensable for TVET.

Lesotho has already incorporated entrepreneurship in their school education curriculum. Yet, today, unemployment is still rampant in the country. The key lies in the graduates’ ability to use knowledge and skills in their possession. One cannot overemphasise the contribution of work-integrated-learning to vocational education.

The circumstances in Lesotho may seem to confirm the assertion that Lesotho’s HEIs ‘mis-curriculate’ and misteach. Education authorities in Lesotho must take Mashinini’s claim about curriculum reconstruction at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) seriously. NUL thumb-sucked and hashed curriculum in departments for reaccreditation. Departments did not consult stakeholders but regurgitated identical curriculum for their programmes.

Despite everything, the prevailing evidence does not uphold the assertion that HEIs teach wrong skills. If the reports were correct, there would be jobs available that cannot be filled. The number of unemployed graduates and the general public flocking for work at Government offices, Ha Thetsane and Ha Nyenye factories suggests otherwise. There are no jobs in Lesotho. Job creation is Lesotho’s primary challenge.

Readers must not misunderstand my argument here. Lesotho is a developing country. There is so much work, socioeconomically, that needs to be done to take the country forward. Graduates and all job-seekers look in the wrong places. In the agriculture sector, for instance, many fields lie fallow. Their owners flock to Maseru seeking employment. In the meantime, Lesotho produces agriculture graduates annually. Yet Lesotho continues to import over 80% of its food requirement.

The CHE observes that local HEIs offer varied programmes but the programmes are not sufficiently specialised. Ts’eane agrees with CHE that most HEIs register at diploma and undergraduate degree levels, yet skills shortages are at masters and doctoral levels. Ts’eane adds that the TVET curriculum must put more emphasis on job creation and preparedness skills.

This article shows that available jobs in Lesotho are at clerical and clothing factories.
Lesotho provides TVET at school and higher education levels. According to the MoET, secondary education prepares students for the world of work or further studies. But both school and higher education graduates cannot find employment in Lesotho. Ts’eane observes that the secondary education curriculum only prepares students for further education and training and not for the world of work.

Let us contrast the Lesotho education system with her German counterpart. German scholars, like Petrosky and authorities, show that their education system has five levels. Early Childhood Education; Primary Education; Secondary Education; Tertiary Education; and Continuing Education.
Children enter early childhood education, preschool education at age three until they graduate at six. They continue into primary school. Children stay in the primary school phase for four years, grade 1 – 4 (ages 6 – 9).

Primary school education provides educational foundations and acquaints children with homework. Students must obtain a satisfactory mark to continue to the next grade. Unsuccessful pupils repeat a class. At Grade 4, the school and the parents decide where to place children in differential secondary school education according to their academic ability.

Germany uses a highly differentiated secondary education system. There are three types of secondary education, with the fourth being a combination of the three. German premises their education system on the value of early selection and children’s placement according to their natural ability into their secondary schools. The types of secondary schools are:
The first secondary school type is the gymnasium which offers a rigorous academic education that prepares students for university-level education.

They lead to a diploma called Abitur. The phase begins from grade 5 – 13 (ages 10 – 18). At grade 11, students start to rigorously prepare for the final examinations to qualify them for progress into university studies.
The second type is the Realschule. Realschule is the most common secondary school in Germany (grades 5-10 or ages 10 – 15). The school provides a high-quality academic environment. Realschule offers a slightly more advanced academic theory. Knowledge and skills that students acquire prepare them for mid-level jobs in business and industry.

Students take the secondary school diploma (Realschulabschluss diploma) after six years. About 23% of the population above the age of 15 finished secondary schools with a diploma. The successful student may take a vocational qualification apprenticeship in commercial trade or enter a university of applied sciences. Also, students may transfer to the gymnasium and take up examinations that would lead them into university education.

The general secondary school (Hauptschule), grades 5-9 (ages 10 – 15) is the third. It provides basic general education for students geared towards completing a vocational qualification. Enrolments into Hauptschule are declining while that in the other forms of secondary education are on the rise. At the end of Grade 9, students take a public school certificate (Erster allgemeinbildender Schulabschluss). Students may begin apprenticeship programmes starting at age 16. This qualification allows students to enter upper secondary education and training, technical college (Berufsfachschule). About 30% of all people above the age of 15 in 2017 had finished high school with a Hauptschulabschluss.

Technical upper secondary school (Fachoberschule) covers grades 11 – 12 (ages 16 – 17). This qualification requires students to have a Realschulabschluss. Students are equipped with general and specialised theoretical and practical knowledge and skills, leading to a university entrance qualification called a Fachhochschulreife. This qualification guarantees entry into university education.

Technical colleges introduce students to one or several occupations over one to three years. Simultaneously, they undertake part-time vocational education and training, leading to a qualification in a specific field. According to Petrosky, there is a partnership between the government, companies and the students themselves. Germans invest heavily in their apprenticeship programmes where banks play a significant role. While the government pays for school tuition, companies, on their part, bear the cost of an apprenticeship and work placement. Apprentices receive a minimal stipend.

Lastly, hybrid or amalgamation secondary schools combine all secondary education types into one comprehensive school. This is called Gesamtschule. These schools allow students to migrate from one stream to the other, depending on their progress.
Germany provides university education to qualifying secondary education certificate holders. German universities offer a wide range of study courses.

There are several equivalent institutions to universities that offer several study courses such as natural and engineering sciences, theology or pedagogy. Higher education in Germany consists of a variety of institutions and schools. Germany’s traditional universities focus mainly on theoretical studies. Germany has other higher education schools and institutions.

German universities of applied sciences “Fachhochschulen” are higher education institutions providing practically oriented teaching and research programmes inclined towards labour market needs.
German teacher education reflects the level, primary or secondary, that teachers are preparing for. Also, teacher training distinctly mirrors the type of secondary schools that they are preparing to teach. Teacher training has two phases. The first phase is the academic phase that takes place at the university for 3 – 5 years. The second in-service training phase (1.5–2 years).

In summary, over 95% of Lesotho enrolment pursue the academic track on the LQF. The TVET curriculum is stagnant with minimal updates and improvements. It is outdated. Tšeane and CHE argue that HEIs may make TVET prestigious by designing degrees and higher qualifications. Also, many stigmatise TVET as a curriculum for less able students.

Germany’s differentiated system places children by ability in secondary schools. Teachers work closely with parents to identify a suitable secondary type for students. Apart from students in the highly academic gymnasium secondary schools track, all secondary school completers possess one vocational trade or another. Also, German higher education provides multiple pathways into postgraduate studies for vocational qualifications.
The differential secondary education system directly affects teaching and learning at all school levels in Germany. Quality teaching in schools implies quality teachers and teacher education. Primary school teachers carry enough authority to decide on their pupils’ future as early as when the children are nine-years-old.

Petrosky estimated that in 1989, 75% of Germans between the ages of 15 and 25 underwent initial training as apprentices. About 3% of Basotho secondary school students enrol in TVET schools. Worse, TVET denies students the opportunity to practice the requisite skills and experiences. The MoET has to forge partnerships with industry, business and finance institutions to salvage the TVET. In short, fully financed structured work-integrated-learning is the way out of joblessness and poverty.

Understandably, the success of the German education system attracts attention internationally. But evidence shows that success in one context may not be transferred into another. Irrespective of this fact, Lesotho could improve the quality of her labour by examining this highly successful system.

In conclusion, looking at the German education system and the low unemployment rates, especially for youths, Lesotho may have to revisit her school and higher education systems. The most important aspect of their education is in the early differentiation of students and teaching them accordingly.

Dr Tholang Maqutu

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An open letter to President Hichilema

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Your Excellency,

I am certain that you are wondering where and/or how I have the temerity to write to you directly, but a recent post you put on WhatsApp piqued my interest; your meeting with His Excellency the Prime Minister of Lesotho, and his delegation. The delegation came to introduce to you and your good office the candidate of the Government of Lesotho, for the post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Joshua Setipa.

Let me set off by stating that I have a friendship with Setipa, for over 50 years, so I may not be the best person to give an objective appraisal or opinion of him; this I will leave to the government.

Further to that, as a citizen of Lesotho, I may embellish the information that I would provide on Lesotho, thus I will as far as possible keep to information that is contained in books. This is not a research report, but more a simplified literature review of what I have read. I shall not quote them, or reference them, thus allowing others the space to research this matter further.

First, let me state my surprise at the alignment of time that I see; Commonwealth Day in 2024 is on the 11th March, the day we celebrate a life well lived, that of Morena Moshoeshoe.

Further to that, this year also starts the 200th anniversary of the move by Morena Moshoeshoe and his followers from Menkhoaneng to Thaba Bosiu. They arrived at Thaba Bosiu in winter, circa 1824.

Next year, 2025 will also be the 100th anniversary of the ‘plenary’ that saw the birth of this Commonwealth of Nations. A handover from the bi-centenary, to the centenary celebrations.

We are all aware that the Commonwealth was started at the Imperial Conference of 1926, but it had what I call a plenary in 1925; this happened in Maseru, Basutoland. It was held at the ‘secretariat’ building on Kingsway. The building was used as the Prime Ministers’ office after independence, more recently, and to date as the Ministry of Defence.

When King George came to visit Lesotho in 1948, to thank the country and her citizens for their participation in the Second World War, High street as it was then known, had its name changed to Kingsway.

At this plenary Britain called the ANZaC states, Australia, New Zeeland and Canada, together with South Africa. It had been only 13 years (1912) since the Basotho monarch had been asked to attend the formation of the South African National Native Conference (SANNC), whose aim was to preserve African land. The SANNC was the forerunner to the African National Congress (ANC).

With the formation of the Union of South Africa, the union wanted to engulf Bechuanaland (Botswana) Swaziland (eSwatini) and Basutoland (Lesotho). This had been unsuccessful.

Next they came up with the Native Land Act of 1913, to remove African land rights. So, the conference that brought about the birth of the SANNC was a pre-emptive response to this act; an attempt to keep African land rights and traditions intact.

I would like to point out that the founding document of the Imperial Conference that brought about the Commonwealth states that all member states are autonomous and not subordinate to another.

At the time of the plenary, Basutoland was subordinate to Britain. But in a masterstoke became what I believe to be one of the founders of the Commonwealth.

Despite her subordination, Basutoland had placed so strong an objection to the presence of a representative South Africa in Basutoland, that South Africa’s invitation had to be withdrawn, and South Africa did not attend. This was the first ‘anti-apartheid’ shot, made in the world; what is more important is that it was made by an African country.

No matter how one looks at it, she may not have been a ‘founding member state’, but Basutoland was part of the founding fabric of the Commonwealth.

One just has to imagine the anger of the South Africans and their government: Dr. D. F. Malan, the first Nationalist Prime Minister of South Africa, was a minister responsible for housing at that time.

Had Basutoland’s lead been followed, spatial apartheid might never have happened. The Commonwealth would take till the 1960’s, and the formal legalisation/legislation of apartheid to remove South Africa from within her fold. A matter that Basutoland saw as far back as the 1920’s.

As shown, at the conceptualisation of the Commonwealth Lesotho was not just there, but an active and formidable participant; though one has to look further to see her relationship with Great Britain/the United Kingdom.

Basutoland/Lesotho’s history is strange, to say the least. The first Europeans to arrive here in 1833, were French Missionaries. At this time Europe was embroiled in wars, which inevitably included the French and English.

But it is these same priests, most notably Casalis, who helped steer the country to Britain, and British protection. Casalis acted almost as a foreign secretary/minister of foreign affairs at that time.

The first treaty between Basutoland and England was the Napier Treaty of 1843, though it took till 1866 to solidify this treaty into a protected land.

The history of the cavalry in Lesotho, the only African cavalry south of the Sahara, is quite long. It starts in about 1825, when F. D. Ellenberger in his book ‘History of the Basutho’, states that Morena Moletsane had come across gun powder quite by mistake.

They had been raiding a missionary’s home and came across a strange powder, which they found useless, so they threw it into a fire, which ‘exploded’. Thus, to his people called European style housing, ‘Ntlo-ea-thunya’, a house that shoots. But after having his people ravaged/savaged by Mzilikazi, he sent his best warriors to work on Boer farms, and with their remuneration purchase arms and horses.

We are often told of a ‘battle of/at Berea’. My answer is that it was not a battle but a cattle raid. Its importance is not just in the battle, but in democracy. The British called Morena Moshoeshoe ‘paramount chief’, a first amongst the others. The time before Berea shows something slightly different.

As Casalis writes in ‘My life in Basutoland’, the British had demanded 10,000 head of cattle, for stock theft. A great ‘pitso’ was called and all eligible men, those who owned land, were called.

At the end of the pitso, after many votes, the citizens refused to give their cattle to pay the demand of the British. The significance herein is that there was a plebiscite, a vote. Morena Moshoeshoe lost the backing of the people and thus the vote; the British then attacked to ‘collect’ the cattle themselves.

Both Morena Moshoeshoe and Morena Moletsane were heavily involved in the ‘battle’ which was won by the strength of the Basutho cavalry. Looking forward to the gun wars, it was most fortuitous that Morena Moshoeshoe’s ally, Morena Moletsane would outlive him, till the end of the gun wars.

After annexation in 1866, in the mid 1870’s the British, citing distance and as such expense, ceded Basutoland to the Cape, which was what the Basotho had been fighting against for a long time; they wanted direct British rule. They wanted to be ruled by Mofumahali Queen Victoria.

The first, and most critical mistake that the Cape made was, not so much in attacking Morena Moorosi, accusing his son of cattle theft, but in beheading him.

So, when some years later they wanted to disarm the Basutho, and they found those of the south of Basutoland who knew of the beheading, reluctant to go with the plan. The Cape decided to go ahead with disarmament forcefully and met equal if not greater force.

The Basutho were better armed, more knowledgeable on the terrain and better supplied. Helped by his father’s long-standing ally, Morena Moletsane, Morena Lerotholi was able to field a well-armed strong cavalry, which inflict great pain to the Cape.

This led to the Cape defeat. Together with the number of other wars that the Cape was fighting, there was fight fatigue among her people.

So bad was it, that they did not come and collect their fallen troops; in Mafeteng there is a cemetery called ‘mabitla-a-makhooa’, or graves of the white men. The SA Military History Society has a ‘roll of honour’ for some of the dead, as not all were buried in Basutoland.

There are two significant outcomes of the war. In his book ‘The Mabille’s of Basutoland’, Edwin W. Smith states that there was a fact-finding mission to Basutoland by members of the Cape parliament, including Rhodes. Their conclusion was that the Basutho should be handed back to Britain for direct rule; which was the original wish of the Basutho.

As Whitehall was reluctant to take this role back, Basutoland spent a period of close to two years of self-rule. Thus it became the first African country (only?) to unshackle itself of colonial rule. And became the first African country to get the colonial rule it wanted; and re-shackled itself to Britain.

The second is how Britain agreed to go back and rule Basutoland. In his book, Rhodes Goes North, J. E. S. Green shows how the Prime Minister of the Cape went to Britain to sue for peace, and eventually agreed to give Britain 20 000 pounds per annum, of her import tax revenues to govern Basutoland.

Whilst not a founding member of the Commonwealth, Basutoland has carried her fair weight in the battle to save both the Commonwealth, and together the rest of the Commonwealth, the world at large.

Whilst SA will hype the losses during the maritime accident of the SS Mendi in the English Channel, Lesotho is less inclined to speak of the losses on the SS Erinpura. The Erinpura was sunk by German war planes in the Mediterranean Sea. Though I should say that, the prayer of the men on the Mendi would resound so well with those who lost their lives on the Erinpura.

When British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill said; never was so much owed by so many to so few, I am certain he was speaking not just of the people of the British Isles, but the broader community within the Commonwealth, that stood together at this time of international need.

But having heard Sir Winston, there is a special bond of Basutoland within, and with the Commonwealth, that I would like to highlight. Apart from the ANZaC countries and South Africa, there were no air squadrons from other Commonwealth countries that I am aware of; except for Basutoland that is.

They paid for 12 or so Spitfire aircraft that would form the 72nd Basutoland, which flew in the Battle of Britain. No moSotho actually flew (in?) them, but they had been financed by the Basotho.

For all the prowess of a moSotho man with arms, in his book ‘Basotho Soldiers in Hitler’s War’, Brian Gary not only writes about the gift of aircraft that fought in the Battle of Britain, he also shows that Basotho soldiers, who were hauling various ordinances through the Italian Alps, were allowed to carry arms.

Aircraft and carrying arms for an African in World War II; Lesotho is not just a pioneer member of the Commonwealth, but a beacon.

As Lesotho many of these pioneering attributes continued. Whist South Africa was banned from sports and entertainment, Lesotho filled the gap for her. Exiles like Hugh Masekela and Mirriam Makeba were hosted for sell out concerts in Lesotho. South African interracial sports, with matches between the likes of Orlando Pirate, Wits University, Kaiser Chiefs, to name those I remember, started in Maseru.

I have touched on politics and war, sport and entertainment; let me go to superstition. It would go against what is expected of me not to go without anything superstitious.

Britain has given the world three major sporting codes. Rugby, which is dominated by the big three of New Zeeland and South Africa. Cricket, which expands from the rugby three to include India, Pakistan, most of the Caribbean states and a few African counties.

These sports are obviously ‘Commonwealth Sports’, as they are dominated, or played predominantly by Commonwealth countries. They have also given us football. This is a truly global sport, the largest sport played across the world, on all types of surfaces, with all types of round looking objects. We can’t call all of these footballs.

The last time a Commonwealth country won the World Cup it was England in 1966; the year Lesotho gained her independence.

The next World Cup is in 2026, the millennium celebrations of the Commonwealth; who will head the Commonwealth then? Will a Commonwealth team have the necessary ‘juju’ to make it?

Your Excellency, this is but a brief note on Lesotho, and it is my way of using the words attributed to Morena Moshoeshoe, when asking for protection from Queen Victoria that say; take me, and all the lice (those that are symbiotic to me) in my blanket. I do hope that these words will be of use to you as seek consensus on Lesotho and her candidate for the post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth.

Yours truly

Khasane Ramolefe

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Culture quibbles

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A few weeks ago these pages carried a substantial piece by Mokhosi Mohapi titled “A reversal of our traditions and culture”, written in the form of an open letter to the government of Lesotho. The first sentence of Mohapi’s article took me by surprise, as he stated: MPs and Senators’ primary role is to protect and preserve the traditions and culture of the Basotho people. I would have thought the primary role of MPs and Senators would be to ensure that Basotho are secure (being protected, for example, from criminals), that they have adequate access to social services such as education and healthcare, that the economy is sufficiently stable to offer citizens some chance of employment, and so on. Fat chance, you might scoff.

But then I realised that Mohapi had a more specific contention in mind, as he stated: The Laws of Lerotholi were set to protect social order, traditions and culture of Basotho. Mohapi’s immediate concern is with the 2024 Estates and Inheritance Bill, which proposes radical changes to the existing order of things. (See the article in last week’s thepost, “MPs bulldoze through Inheritance Bill”, which gives a good idea of the background).

I’m aware that this Bill has provoked considerable controversy, and that is not my topic in this article. Nor do I wish to contest what Mohapi was saying in his piece — this is by no means a case of Dunton v Mohapi. But I did take note of the way the phrase “traditions and culture” kept resounding in Mohapi’s article, rather like a cracked bell, and what I want to do is open up those terms for examination.

Please bear with me as I slip aside for a moment with a little academic stuff. Back in 2006 I published an article titled “Problematizing Keywords: Culture, tradition and modernity.” For those of my readers with a scholarly bent and who might want to hunt it down, this was published in a journal called Boleswa Occasional Papers in Theology and Religion 2:3 (2006), pages 5-11. There I made a number of points I want to bring up in what follows.

The first fallacy I tackled in that article was the tradition/modernity binary — the notion that in Africa there was tradition and then, wham!, the white man arrived and there was modernity. Are we seriously to believe there were no great cities in Africa before the white man landed, that the peoples of a whole continent lived entirely in villages? Nigeria tells a different story.

Are we to believe there were no great libraries? Mali and Ethiopia tell a different tale. No writing systems? No medicine? I’m not saying that if I’m in pain I don’t prefer a dose of oramorph to an infusion made from some leaves picked off the slopes of Thaba Bosiu, but the point remains: the tradition/modernity binary is crude and crass and it’s demeaning about Africa.

We cannot get very far with simplistic ideas about where we are coming from and where we are at. And yet of course we do come from a past. I’ll quote — or, rather, paraphrase from memory, as I don’t have the work to hand — an observation made by T.S Eliot in his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent”: We know so much more than those who came before us. But they are a large part of what we know.

But of those who came before who is it, exactly, that we know? When Mohapi repeatedly uses the phrase “the traditions and culture of the Basotho people” I take it he is thinking of the Basotho as constituted under Moshoeshoe I and the descendants of those generations.

For how much do we know about the “traditions and culture” of the various Sotho-speaking groups let’s say two hundred years before Moshoeshoe gathered them together to form the modern Lesotho state? Isn’t it likely there were significant differences between the “traditions and culture” of these groups, differences that were later rationalised or homogenised?

Two points here. First, we mustn’t forget what an extraordinary innovator Moshoeshoe was —and I guess that might be said also of Lerotholi, whose laws are the chief focus of Mohapi’s article. Second, culture is not static, it is not immutable. It evolves all the time.

For example, for how long has it been the case that adherence to the Christian faith could be said to be part of the culture of Basotho? (Or, for how long has football been part of the culture of the English? We are credited with the invention of football, but that doesn’t mean it’s been part of who we are since time immemorial).

That brings me to my next point, or a string of points, moving from England back to Lesotho. When I was a schoolboy I bought myself a copy of the book Components of the National Culture (1968) by the great British Marxist Perry Anderson. One of my schoolmasters — one of the few who didn’t like me — caught me with it and said “just the sort of book I’d expect a troublemaker like you to be reading. Just don’t show it to anyone else!”

The significant term in Anderson’s title is “components.” Culture is put together — it is an assemblage — and its components may have different sources.
That leads me on to the invention of tradition, and an example for Basotho.

I guess all my readers know Qiloane, the sandstone pillar at Thaba Bosiu the distinctive peak of which is said to be the inspiration for the shape of the traditional Basotho straw hat. Well, that notion is dubious to say the least; there were hats of the same shape from elsewhere in the region long before the Basotho got hold of the design.

Does this really matter? Well, no, because even if a tradition is invented, it still has the persuasiveness of a tradition. It’s just that knowing this might dissuade us from making big claims about the unchangeable nature and sanctity of tradition.

And the same goes for culture. I leave you with a quotation from the Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah (it’s from his terrific book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers): We do not need, have never needed, a homogenous system of values, in order to have a home. Cultural purity is an oxymoron.

Chris Dunton is a former Professor of English and Dean of Humanities at the National University of Lesotho.

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The Joker Returns: Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Dunton

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