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Well done, Dr Matlanyane!

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When I started my first business venture, many moons ago, fresh from high school, I received a piece of advice that still makes me laugh up to this day.

My good friend Tšepo Thabisi told me of an opportunity (‘skoti’) where I could buy a BMW Z3, at the time, for as little as R4 000. “Four thousand Rands?” I asked. “Yes, four thousand for a Z3.

Only if you go to an auction,” he said.

Hmmm! This was an interesting insight. I could buy a BMW Z3 at an auction for R4 000! No maan, I’m heading straight to an auction.

I had made a bit of cash and needed a round-around car for the office.

So, my thinking was that, if a Z3 costs around R4 000, surely I could get a smaller vehicle for about R2 000.

As I said, I had a bit of money and went straight to Standard Bank (city branch) to cash a cheque to the tune of M20 000/Rands and drove straight to Pretoria to an auction house with my cousin Mahlelebe Letsie (Mr Mahlelebe).

When we got to Pretoria, excitement was high. Yes, we were going to buy a vehicle for R2 000.

So, the auction started and we sat on the auditorium style benches.

The cars were then paraded in front of potential buyers.

We immediately spotted a white Volkswagen Citi Golf. It was shining and the tyres were polished.

I immediately said, “There’s our car!” Mr Mahlelebe nodded.

“Yes, that’s the one.” So, the bidding started. The first car was called in and the bidding started but our eyes were set on the white Citi Golf.

The moment finally arrived and it was time to bid. The starting price was R1 500. Man!

There was sudden interest in this vehicle. There were a couple of hands that went up.

We had to make a counter-bid. We shot up to R2 500. There was a counter offer.

The game went on and on until we finally sealed the deal and the auctioneer said, “Sold, for R8 500.

Well, not exactly what we anticipated but

R8 000 was still a hell of a bargain.

We were happy.

The time to fetch the vehicle finally arrived. We went straight to the back office to sign documents and were handed the keys.

Yes, the car was ours. We now had to drive back to Lesotho. Mr Mahlalebe did the honours and drove the ‘new car’.

I led the way and drove in front.

Banna! We drove for about a kilometre and Mr Mahlalebe started flicking his lights. ‘Peke, peke, peke!’

Then I thought, “I wonder what could be wrong. I swerved to the side of the road to hear what the problem was.

Jesus! The ‘new car’ was over heating. We opened the bonnet.

Banna! I’ve never seen such a mess. We could see wires (maseka) criss-crossing a very dirty and rusty engine.

There were also rat droppings in the engine. My eyes went teary and I said, “Mona teng re rekile maseka le likhoto. Ha re khutlise koloi ena.”

Man, that car was a mess.

The bottom part of it was rust-eaten and you could see the ground when removing the carpets.

When we got back to the auction house, it was too late. The auction house was closed. Gates pad-locked with chains.

We were left with no option but to drive that rot (sebolu) to Maseru. What a painful journey.

The dim function of the headlights was also not working.

We drove with bright lights all the way. You can imagine the pain in my eyes.

I had to narrate this long story because it resonated so well with the situation the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) found itself in when it assumed power.

Yes, this horse looked so beautiful. Yes, we have been told that it has a few illnesses but no, we have the money.

We’ll take it to the doctor and it will start sprinting again.

Man-oh-man! The minute the RFP tried to ride the horse, the poor horse started limping. It has been limping since day one and showing signs of multiple organ failure.

This is the exact situation that the RFP is currently in.

There’s simply no money to run the government and the horse cannot sprint to finish the race.

I must applaud Dr Retšelisitsoe Matlanyane for being courageous to confirm what some of us had already known for years.

However, that speech was torturous to listen to. It felt like the kind of speech a doctor dishes out when you fetch your blood-results for an annual medical check-up.

Do we still go for annual medical check-ups? If not, please do.

You know, you just want the results and you are thinking, “Stop telling me about exercising and so on. Just give me the damn results!”

So, yes, Dr Matlanyane was absolutely right to give us a synopsis of the current financial situation of Lesotho.

However, the speech was very long on the ‘blame-game’. It lacked concrete facts and statistics, and it was also very weak on solutions.

By the way, where was the statistician general? Where exactly is the statistician general? Who is he/she? We should have seen him or her at the finance minister’s side.

If the government’s wage bill is such a problem, we need concrete facts on the number of employed civil servants.

How many are they? 44 000? 50 000? How much do they consume per month? 100 million?

What is the cost of running the government per month? What is the average income of a government employee per month?

We need a simple and straightforward income and expenditure statement.

When it comes to this cancer named corruption, we are where we are because of lack of patriotism.

There is no one that can stand proudly and say “I’m a corrupt patriot.” It’s either one is corrupt or patriotic. The two are mutually exclusive.

We are where we are because Basotho hate their country.

You cannot claim to love your country and, on the other hand, continue to steal from it. Never!

In fact, corruption should be a treasonable offence. It is betrayal to the country.

Citizens that love themselves subsequently love their country.

It starts with loving oneself (self-love). Look at our situation. Our country is littered with double-storeys all over and most of them are incomplete.

Some of them were abandoned because people are just too afraid to live in them.

But the public infrastructure is completely broken. The health system is “finished.”

The education system is completely paralysed. Most of the teachers can’t even spell photosynthesis to save their lives.

Look at the National University of Lesotho (NUL). It’s a bloody mess.

But what should the RFP do now that it has bought a white Citi Golf full of makeshift wires in the engine compartment?

My suggestion is:

One: Compile an income and expenditure statement and publish it before announcing the budget speech.

This will give an indication and direction to the next budget allocations.

Two: Start compiling a national balance sheet urgently. What do we own? How many vehicles do we have? How many properties do we own?

Look, if we’re talking of annual revenues of M18 billion, it means our economy is severely constipated.

M18 Billion is equivalent to US$1 billion. That’s an annual revenue of some of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) listed companies.

US$1 billion? No guys! We have to do better.

So, this means our productivity (output) is very low (GDP).

Second last point: Our country has fallen victim of two critical points — we do not export and we do not invest.

Yet, these are two crucial points to run an economy effectively!

If our economy relies heavily on textile manufacturing, construction and mining, how come we lost track of a crucial element of agricultural exports?

Am I talking of wool and mohair? No!

I’m referring to exports of fruits and fish? Why isn’t fish a staple in Lesotho yet there’s abundant water?

Lastly, Dr Matlanyane’s speech was very weak on solutions. Very weak!

Here are my solutions to turn this economy around.

One: Up-scale the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) by employing more than 3 000 youths.

Redirect those young soldiers/recruits into agricultural production. They should operate tractors and plant fruit trees.

As a matter of fact, just give the Ministry of Agriculture to the army.

They should run it as their own. The army is still respected and, in all accounts, still feared.

If the army does the physical plantation of crops, we’ll start yielding results very soon.

However, we need to plant fruit trees and export peaches, apricots, apples, oranges, etc. We also need to export fish. That is long overdue!

Last point. Implement a sovereign wealth fund as a matter of urgency.

Sell some of the assets that the government owns, through the Maseru Securities Exchange to Basotho.

Examples being, shares in Standard Lesotho Bank, Econet as well as Letšeng Diamonds.
Why not?

It will create instant wealth on the ground and Basotho people already have the will and discipline to save but no avenues to invest their savings in.

Hence, mekhatlo ea mekholisano. They should buy shares in the Brewery. Yes! Why not?

They should part own it.

Invest proceeds derived from the sale of those shares (in Standard Lesotho Bank and Letšeng Diamonds) in companies like Tesla and Amazon.

We’d earn our dividends in US dollars. We can surely live comfortably from the dividends derived from those companies (Tesla and Amazon).

Very last point. Export power to Southern Africa. If Cahora-Bassa Hydro-power dam was started in 1967 with the sole purpose of exporting power, why can’t we do the same in 2023?

We need to construct the Oxbow Hydro-electric dam for the sole purpose of exporting power to other Southern-African countries.

We can sign off-take agreements as soon as tomorrow and source loans to finance the dam.

What are we waiting for?

In conclusion, well done Dr Matlanyane. This is a bold step in the right direction.

We need more accountability and communication of the financial situation of the nation to the public.

I would also like to say well done to my new hero, Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela, for his initiative to instil a culture of national pride and patriotism to the youth.

I witnessed the farewell ceremony of hundreds of young people at the Makoanyane Barracks last Friday and I said: “This is exactly what we need to fight corruption.” The love of the country!

‘Mako Bohloa

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Insight

We need a coordinated approach on youth challenges

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For a number of good reasons, all of us are concerned about problems that face Lesotho’s young people, particularly youth unemployment, and the increasing tendency towards anti-social behaviour among sections of Lesotho youth including their increasing admiration for criminality.

Not only do members of such groups admire criminality and actually commit crimes but they commit crimes without much care as to the harm and other costs that their actions inflict on immediate victims and on society-at-large.

Evidence of public concern about these problems includes the fact that within society individuals, groups and public and private institutions have all expressed concerns over problems facing the youth, with some of these parties making attempts to come up with ideas and measures to assist.

However, a number of problems seem to be emerging on, at least, three fronts. Firstly, a seeming lack of coordination in addressing problems that face young people. Secondly, lack of clarity on questions of whether (a) parties that seek to assist are basing their interventions on credibly identified sources of problems that face young people; and (b) whether any credible assessments are made to ensure that interventions such parties are proposing and implementing have potential to solve problems that face Lesotho’s young people.

There are many examples of what may seem to us, members of the general public, to be lack of coordination in approaches to solve problems facing young people. One such example may be sufficient. On January 8, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast a statement in which the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) authorities announced establishment of some army facility where Basotho young people would be taught some values, including patriotism.

The very next day, on January 9, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast another statement, this time by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) authorities, announcing the LMPS’s plan to establish a police facility at which young people would be taught anti-crime and other values. In their essence, the LMPS’s plan sounded not totally dissimilar to LDF’s.
Apart from the LDF and LMPS’s plans for Lesotho’s youth, there are also public and private sector initiatives to nurture and support entrepreneurial talents of Lesotho’s youth with a view, among others, to fight youth unemployment and develop the country’s private sector.

Politicians have also been seen to sponsor football games for young people in their constituencies with a view, they say, to keep young people from crime and narcotics. These events cannot be criticised too much but given that they are one, or two-day events that take place during specific times, they look more like publicity stunts.

National sports federations are now complaining that politicians who sponsor these events put too much stress on sports as a means to fight crime. What federations want is that, if politicians want to help, they should stress the importance of sports as careers, and sponsor young people to develop their sporting talents accordingly.

Amidst expressions of concerns and various parties’ attempts to address problems facing Lesotho youth, public authorities that we have not heard from, or from who we do not hear enough, are those charged with responsibilities over precisely problems facing young people; that is, authorities at the Ministry of Youth.

Admittedly, we do not know if the initiatives of the LDF, LMPS, and others are carried out in consultation with or with the blessing of the Ministry of Youth.

The worry ought to be not only whether interventions of the LDF, LMPS, and others have the blessings of the Ministry of Youth. Instead, the worry should extend to the question of whether the Ministry has any national plan to address problems facing young people. And, if such a plan exists, we would expect that it identifies the LDF and LMPS as places where young place can be coached; and initiatives of these and other institutions would align with such a plan.

Without an identification of the army and the police as implementing agencies of the Ministry’s plan, and without the army and police’s initiatives alignment with the Ministry’s plan, at least two things are likely to result: duplication of effort — as seems to be the case with the LDF and LPMS plans; or, at worst, LDF and LMPS plans might contradict and undermine national plans entrusted to the Ministry of Youth.

In the worst case scenario that a national plan does not exist, we face the danger that anybody wishing to address problems facing Lesotho’s young people can do so, basing herself, or himself on a personal or group perception, and implementing plans and solutions based on such perception.

As in the case of too many people stirring the same cooking pot without coordination, undesirable consequences can be expected from a situation where just about anybody can apply a solution to a public problem.

As hinted above, a good national plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people would have two characteristics, at least. First, it would be based on our assertion of the kind of society we want to be; an investigation of problems that stand in the way of achieving such a society; how such problems can be overcome, say, through school curricula; and how, in general, from Early Childhood Care & Development (ECCD), young people can be brought up and socialised in ways that ensure they will be useful members of a society we wish to be.

Any action that is not based on an investigation of the problems that stand in the way of achieving a society we want to be has little chances of success. Such action would be based on some understanding that the young who are anti-social, unpatriotic and criminals are naturally bad people.

It is, of course, not as simple as that. For example, one possible explanation for the absence of patriotism among young people may have something to do with socio-economic inequality in Lesotho: those who are closed out of, and excluded from, benefiting from Lesotho’s wealth and power cannot be expected to be patriots.

A second characteristic of a plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people is that, such a plan should identify and/or establish institutions designed — and with appropriate skills — to implement ideas and proposals that come out of credible investigations.

It is unclear whether the LDF and LMPS plans have resulted from something like considerations suggested above. While it is admitted that these institutions’ initiatives are limited to addressing problems of lack of patriotism and criminality among the young people, one clear problem with their plans and solutions is that, it might be the case that they are catching young people a little late, when schooling and general socialisation have already entrenched anti-social values that we see among sections of young people; namely, individualism and the inability to think of others.

In one word, these institutions catch these young people when tendencies towards criminality, anti-social behaviour, and lack of patriotism might have already hardened.
Perhaps the biggest hope we should have is that the army and the police will have full complement of resources necessary for providing full and wholesome mentoring to young people who undergo army and police mentoring.

Short of adequate resources necessary for achieving what the army and the police have in mind, we might end up with cohorts of young people with a faulty army and police culture that may come back to haunt us. Inserting a faulty army culture among a section of young people brought us bitter results in the 1970s and 1980s that should not be repeated.

To conclude, no one can argue against all of us being concerned with problems of youth unemployment; increasing tendencies of young people’s admiration of criminality and their participation in crime. And no one can argue against all of us coming up with ideas and proposals of how to address these problems.

However, our concerns and proposals ought to be based on:
a nationally-agreed assertion of society we want to be;
a credible investigation of difficulties that stand in the way of us becoming society we want to be;

and coordination of proposals and ideas aimed at becoming society we want to be.

As with other specific instances of socio-economic development in Lesotho, problems facing the country’s young people cry out for the long-neglected establishment of the National Planning Board, as prescribed in Section 105 of the Constitution of Lesotho.

Prof Motlatsi Thabane

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Insight

Call that a muffin?

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In Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Canterville Ghost” (1887) one of the characters says about the British, “We have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” Between American English and British English there are many, many differences. Which is not to say that either American or British English are standardised; there are multiple varieties within each. As a south-western Brit I can find it difficult to fully understand what someone from Liverpool or Newcastle is saying.

I remember one year during the NUL’s International Theatre for Development project we had a student from the islands of Scotland. She was brilliant and hard-working and full of good ideas — if only one could understand the ideas when she introduced them. The NUL students grouped together and asked me: “Chris, can you translate what Kirsty is saying for us?” and I replied: “I’m as lost as you are.”

Between American and British English it’s not just a matter of pronunciation but also of vocabulary (I’ll be coming to muffins — see the title of this piece — in a while) and spelling.
In the biographical film Prick Up Your Ears British, dramatist Joe Orton shares a room with Ken Halliwell and they decide to write a novel together. Ken asks Joe “can you spell?” and Joe replies “yes, but not accurately.”

This is hardly a surprise, given that he’s a Brit. The American spelling system is far more regular and rational than the British. (Readers with laptops will have noticed that your spell-check gives the option of British or American spelling, but that doesn’t help you as in Lesotho the British system is used, so for the time being you’re stuck with it).

I mean, what can you say about a spelling system where “plough” rhymes with “now”, but “tough” rhymes with “stuff”– and “now” doesn’t rhyme with “low.” Yipes (as the Americans say). When I was lecturing in Lesotho and in Nigeria and marking assignments I was always very lenient over spelling, because I know what a mountain it is to climb (the latter word rhyming with “time”, of course).

Then there is the matter of vocabulary or denotation (a term I hope readers remember from a few weeks back). There are many examples of things that are denoted by different words in British and American English: lift / elevator; pavement / sidewalk; windscreen / windshield; petrol / gas; cinema / movie theater (and look at the American spelling of (Brit) “theatre”– a lot easier). And some of these reflect our different histories.

For example, there’s a vegetable, a kind of small marrow, the British call it a courgette (one of my favourite vegetables, in case any of you are planning to invite me for dinner). That’s a word that British English has borrowed directly from French — that is, a loan word (I’m not sure we plan to give it back).

The Americans on the other hand call it a zucchini, a loan word from Italian, which I guess reflects the size and influence of the Italian community in the USA. (Speaking of vegetables, I can’t give you an explanation for why the Brits call an aubergine an aubergine — another loan word from French — but the Americans call it an egg-plant).

Next week I’ll get around to muffins — a sore point — and I’ll move on to differences between English and French and between Sesotho and Setswana. Bet you can’t wait.

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

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Insight

Lessons from Israel: Part 3

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I shall round off my account of my 1995 trip to Israel by putting on my tour guide cap. Staying in Tel Aviv, most days were fully taken up by the conference, which was my reason for being there. Tel Aviv in July is scorchingly hot, so there were walks along the beach only before breakfast and after sunset. I did take a little time off to go with South African author Stephen Gray to an art gallery that had a painting he wanted to see (a portrait by Modigliani of Beatrice Hastings, whose biography Stephen was then writing).

I wasn’t especially keen on the hotel restaurant, where dinner comprised meat served by the ton (surprisingly little fish, given that we were on the coast. By contrast, I had always been surprised and happy that Maseru restaurants are so good on fish, despite the fact that Lesotho isn’t exactly maritime). But I discovered a little Russian Jewish restaurant that offered Beluga caviar at an amazingly cheap price. I suspect it had fallen off the back of a lorry, as we say in the UK — i.e. that it was contraband, acquired illegally. I just blinked innocently and enjoyed myself. I can’t think of a more delicious way of starting a meal than with caviar, freshly-made blinis and a large glass of deeply chilled Wyberowa vodka — no ice, please. (I only say all this to show you what a very cosmopolitan chap I am).

The conference ran to a packed schedule and we worked hard (no, really). Half-way through we were given a day off and taken to Jerusalem. On arrival I teamed up with an old Nigerian friend and a friend of his from Senegal and we took ourselves first to the Dome of the Rock, the main mosque, which is splendid and radiant (wow, the mosaics!) Then we saw the Wailing Wall.

Then we trudged up the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Via marks the route along which Christ was forced to carry his cross on the way to his crucifixion (dolorosa means something like “of miseries”). I had expected it to be lined with sculptures showing the Stations of the Cross (rather like the lovely ones at Fatima, near Ramabanta).

Instead it was one tourist gift shop after another. Here I came across one of the most repugnant things I’ve seen in my life. Proudly displayed for sale, a wall clock with the face adorned with the image of the head of Christ, the two clock hands protruding from his nose.

At the top of the Via Dolorosa, the fourth century Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in the world for Christians, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The interior is (not visibly) divided into sections, the upkeep of each of which is the responsibility of one of the major denominations: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Greek Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, and so on. I had had the impression this was an arrangement worked out under the colonial regime of British Palestine, but Google tells me it dates back to the Status Quo of 1757.

My companions had done their homework and suggested we head first for the roof, which had been allocated to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (dare one possibly suggest a tinge of racism in this marginalisation?). There we found a cluster of monkish cells, each inhabited by an elderly Ethiopian monk, at least two of whom spoke English or French. They were delighted to see us, and utterly sweet, hospitable, and in their accounts of their pastoral work spellbinding.

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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