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We normalise lawlessness

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Whilst preparing to write this opinion piece last Saturday, I stumbled across something that caught my attention named the boiling frog syndrome.
It says there is a fascinating 19th century science experiment that was once conducted. As the story goes, researchers found that when they placed a frog in a pan of boiling water, the frog just quickly jumped out. 

On the other hand, when they put a frog in cold water and put the water to boil over time, the frog just boiled to death. The hypothesis is that the change in temperature is so gradual, the frog does not realise it’s boiling to death.

The frog keeps on adjusting to the change in temperature but doesn’t quiet realise that it is dying. This syndrome resonates with a character trait I always observe in Basotho people.

If there is a character trait that I admire about Basotho it is the one named tolerance. Basotho have a high tolerance level. In Sesotho we say, bana le sefuba…. (you might as well complete the rest of the sentence).
Basotho people are able to withstand even the most uncomfortable of circumstances such as a Prime Minister that keeps on postponing his retirement or a first lady that runs government as she wishes.

But if you look closely into this character trait, you will realise that Basotho are more accommodating to mediocrity (lawlessness). They know how to acclimatise to “boiling water” and normalise an uncomfortable or awkward situation.

I remember a time I had a conversation with one gentleman nick-named Ntate Stebo, at a local Herbalife Club. Ntate Stebo made a remark that Basotho never compete in high jump at the Olympics.
Ntate Stebo said according to his observation, one of the reasons could be that Basotho generally set the bar too low in their lives. They never aim high. So high jump would be a senseless sport to contest in at the Olympics.
Well, even though the comment was made to make us laugh, which indeed we did, there was an element of truth in the statement and allow me to demonstrate how.

I want to paint a picture of two examples of how Basotho have allowed lawlessness to consume part of their day-to-day lives. Of-course, not negating a disgusting habit that has somehow become a form of a national sport and it is called passing water or urinating in public, to be blunt.
This habit has become so common and so normal to a point where Basotho do not see anything wrong with it. I always see grown up men taking a pee on the fence of the Cathedral (RCC) in open view of school kids from St. Bernadette or St. James Primary School.

Some of those men, I nearly called them perverts, have created another open view toilet along the fence of the AME Church, on Kingsway Road. I don’t know why churches fall victim to this behaviour but it has simply become acceptable.

Apparently, the Maseru City Council still does not have City By-laws to govern that behaviour. Well, maybe because the behaviour is so common so much that it has been overlooked. However, it must be outlawed especially when it comes to children.

Lawlessness has become part of our DNA in Lesotho. An obvious observation is the way we drive in Lesotho and of-course, not forgetting a cancer named corruption. The standard of driving in Lesotho has deteriorated to the lowest level ever, more so by the 4+1 drivers.

4 + 1 taxis have become a nuisance. Most of them speed, the drivers are rude and most often intoxicated and the vehicles are not road-worthy. It is a mess. I don’t think the government has control anymore. The 4+1 taxi industry is a law unto itself. That’s the reason why the 4+1 taxis are called cockroaches (maphele).

You know, when a 4+1 taxi gets a mechanical breakdown in the road, it is repaired right there and then, in the middle of the road. Other motorists will have to make peace with the situation and try to avert the situation.   
There are lots of contributing factors to lawless behaviour such as lack of regulations/by-laws, lack of enforcement, citizens that choose not to be law-abiding citizens, lack of education and of-late, a compromised judicial system (judiciary). Our judiciary in Lesotho has been reduced to shambles.
I want to quickly jump into two examples of how Basotho have normalised lawlessness.

There is a billboard structure that has been “dumped” along Kingsway Road, in front of the Basotho hat. I regard this as a spit in the face of the authorities.
The story goes that a South African based multinational advertising company was in the process of erecting a billboard in front of the Basotho Hat building. Unfortunately, the foundation was dug inside the road reserve of Kingsway Road and there were plans to expand the road as part of the Mpilo Boulevard road improvement/upgrade.

From what I understand the multinational company had a permit from Maseru City Council, however the road belongs to the Roads Directorate. So, an official from the Roads Directorate ordered a halt on the construction of the billboard citing that the billboard did not have a permit.
But one of the main reasons was that the billboard foundation was constructed in a road reserve where the road had to be expanded into. Construction of the billboard was interrupted halfway into the process.

When the advertising company was ordered to stop, like a spoiled brat, it decided to “dump” the incomplete structure in front of a national monument. It was a case of, “if you won’t allow me to do as I wish, then I’ll just throw my toys out of the cot”.
This was sometime in 2018 and it has been two years. Now, the question is, how can someone be allowed to disregard the laws of a country in such a manner. Well, some people will argue and say, “What laws”?
Would a person be allowed to do the same thing and just dump a billboard in front of the Union Buildings? Of-course not. It would result in immediate arrest. So, why have Basotho normalised the situation?

Why doesn’t the City Council or the Roads Directorate take a blowtorch, dismantle and recycle that steel now that the owner said it’s his way or the highway? This is a clear case of lawlessness but the authorities seem to have normalised the situation.
It looks like building in the road reserve has become some sort of a norm in this country. Take a look at what is happening in Borokhoaneng. A blatant disregard to the rule of law!

Buildings are built right in the road-reserve and trucks off-load goods from the main road. But, the situation has been normalised even though it causes mayhem. No, Basotho have decided to adjust and live with the situation and life goes on.
Lastly, one of our policewomen became an instant celebrity when she posted a video, instructing fellow civilians to stay home and observe lockdown regulations. The video was clearly taken in the car whilst the policewoman was driving around the Cathedral circle.

What made the video funny was the manner in which she told civilians of how essential workers like her, were the only ones allowed to drive around in town. Also all other people should stay home. Civilians were referred to as Bazalwani. The cherry on top was her closing comment that went something like, “halashuuu”.

Now, the video did not have a problem had the poor policewoman observed a few rules. Number one, she was in make-up and lipstick whilst in full police uniform. I remember seeing one comment that said, doesn’t the policewoman observe His Majestry’s Crown (korone ea Motlotlehi), referring to the National Police emblem on the cap.

Secondly, the policewoman was clearly shooting a video whilst driving. Whether there are by-laws that regulate the use cell-phones whilst driving or not, it is not only wrong to shoot a video whilst driving but very dangerous.

You see, the world will always be harsh when it comes to policemen and women because they are the ones held accountable to protect the law. They are custodians of the law. So, they will always face harsh criticism when they are in the forefront of violating the law. In a similar manner to the way the Minister of Police was highly criticised.

Like in the syndrome of the boiling frog, Basotho people are very accommodating and know how to adjust. Some of the Facebook comments defended the policewoman because she looked beautiful in her make up and was just simply funny.

But what does the law say about the conduct of policemen and women? Should we bend the law in order to be accommodating to comedy?
As a closing comment, laws are made to set basic standards and boundaries in which people have to abide by. They are also made to regulate the way of life. A lawless nation does a great injustice to itself because no one can ever invest in a lawless state. Investors are very sensitive towards lawlessness.

We have to learn to fix the small things. It is in the small things that we learn to adjust our behaviour and move in the right path. However, I still maintain that the Covid-19 aftermath is yet to give us very harsh lessons. The question is, will we ever overcome our bad habits?

‘Mako Bohloa

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Insight

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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Insight

Reading, writing and the art of reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can you picture it in writing!

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

Vuso Mhlanga

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Insight

The Joker Returns: Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical preface first.

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

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

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

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

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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