Connect with us


Why do we need Lesotho border?



“Why do we have a border gate to Lesotho, considering that the people of Lesotho are in South Africa? This also applies to Botswana and Swaziland.”
This statement by EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu has added fuel to the already fierce debate about the independence of Lesotho — a country already in political and security intensive care.
Shivambu uttered this statement while he was addressing an EFF political induction session a while back. The question may have been rhetorical but it seems to have elicited many responses.
Among them are those taking the opportunity to react to the recent allegations of his younger brother’s involvement in the VBS scandal. They say he wants to continue looting in other countries. He has since disputed those allegations and the EFF stands by him.

These hecklers also accuse the fighters of threatening the sovereignty of Lesotho and other countries.
“Funny to me because this is exactly what the British wanted when they formed the Union of South Africa in Cape Town, but Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland refused to join the Union . . . So EFF wants to fulfil the dream of colonialists?” said Tseko Moleleki.

From free movement to dual citizenship

The other side is individuals and organisations like the Free Movement of Basotho, which initially started a campaign for the country to amend the constitution to allow dual citizenship.
Their campaign was prompted by long border queues and frequent deportations of Basotho. South Africa has introduced the Lesotho Special Permit, which allows Lesotho nationals to stay in the country for up to four years. Nearly 200 000 applications were received, of an estimated 400 000 Basotho in South Africa.

These estimates are a quarter of the Mountain Kingdom’s population of two million. They include skilled professionals, unskilled labourers in construction and on farms, and domestic workers. Many more are informal traders. They go home at least once a month, or during the holidays, and traffic testifies to this.
Daily border crossers include students, an indictment of the country’s education; patients who include prime ministers — an indication of the failing or non-existent health system — and traders who buy stock for retailers. Lesotho imports 90 percent of its consumption, mainly from South Africa.

Another category, believe it or not, is the elderly, who collect monthly pensions in South African border towns. Other borders like Qacha’s Nek to Matatiele, cannot even record the numbers because they just bypass immigration and customs controls as they visit friends and family. For these inter-married families having a passport is simply not a necessity.
Lesotho recently passed its dual citizenship constitutional amendment, and South African Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba announced that trusted travellers including mine workers, learners and holders of Lesotho Special Permits will no longer be required to stamp their passports from 1 November. But for now neither the border traffic nor the influx of illegal immigrants have eased.

Politicians and the judiciary

Political and security tensions have escalated in Lesotho since the alleged coup of 2014, which resulted in three elections in five years, each costing more than R200-million. The R500 000 interest-free loans that are given to each of the country’s 120 MPs were written off when the government collapsed — R34-million in 2015 and R44-million in 2017. This has given rise to views that the instability is a get-rich-quick scheme for politicians.

In her briefing after the SADC summit in Namibia, South Africa’s International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu couldn’t mask her frustration about the cost of mediation that both South Africa and SADC have incurred. The bloc has decided to withdraw its standby force in November while the protagonists keep shifting the goalposts.
One, Lesotho Congress for Democracy leader Mothetjoa Metsing, remains in South Africa where he keeps adding to demands for his return. They include personal security and immunity from prosecution for alleged corruption.

Sisulu said South Africa was on the verge of imposing travel bans on leaders required to participate in the peace process.
A few days after her statement, Lesotho Chief Justice Nthomeng Majara was suspended. Publicly, the government accuses her of failing to perform her duties, but behind closed doors, of being sympathetic to the opposition, even though she was appointed by the same Prime Minister Tom Thabane during his first stint at the helm from 2012 to 2015.
Former Thabane loyalists say the reason for Majara’s suspension is that the premier realises that she is not a “yes woman”.

Department of International Relations sources said SADC mediation team leader Justice Dikgang Moseneke was perturbed, especially when the opposition pulled out of the dialogue intended to pave the way for constitutional and security reforms. The opposition was demanding that Majara be reinstated.

On Moseneke’s first visit to the country he proposed that the government rescind the suspension, but the government rejected this. On his second visit the parties agreed to return to the reforms dialogue after the deputy prime minister signed a deal for temporary immunity during reforms, presumably for Metsing.
Civil society groups are challenging the deal in the Constitutional Court.

Economic rights or a favour

On that first Moseneke visit the opposition reported that 37 000 farmers were on the verge of losing their annual income from the sale of wool and mohair, calling it a looming economic threat.
The government has introduced new regulations that prevent farmers from individually exporting their products that earn them nearly R1-billion a year.
Government says it wants to increase tax earnings by making it mandatory for brokers to register businesses in Lesotho, and claims to be doing farmers “a favour” by saving them transportation costs to the brokers, based mainly at the Wool Exchange in Port Elizabeth.

But the farmers see this as interference in their established trade relationships and as threatening a market that is picky about buying from untrusted sources — such as the new auction house in Lesotho.  They also allege that Chinese-owned Maseru Dawning doesn’t have the capability to grade their products to give them a fair price.
Even worse, Maseru Dawning first came to Lesotho as a partner of the farmers in a property development deal, but subsequently developed interest in the business, and now wants the farmers to sell to it.

Maseru Dawning went to court, but the court ruled that “forcing the farmers to go against their will would be prejudicial to them” and further that “the court declined to import a tacit term” into the parties’ agreement to allow sales between them.

Police and soldiers accompany the minister of trade on a crusade to shut down shearing sheds owned by the farmers’ association, but they are holding on to their produce as the mohair selling season draws to a close.
Human rights body Transformation Resource Centre is investigating possible infringement of human and economic rights.

Call for referendum

For listening to the opposition grievances about the chief justice and the wool and mohair farmers, Justice Moseneke is now criticised by the government as overstepping his mandate.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Lesego Makgothi said on a local radio station that Justice Moseneke should not think Lesotho is a 10th province of South Africa. But mainly young people in the country are beginning to ask if the 120 MPs should be allowed to decide their fate.

Born in Lesotho, former statistician general Pali Lehohla is one of many Basotho who have made South Africa their home. He believes the Mountain Kingdom, Eswatini and Botswana should propose regional integration with South Africa while maintaining their independence, to open borders, especially for trade.
He also believes that kings and chiefs should spearhead the process by calling on their people on either side of the borders to unite, instead of leaving the fate of Lesotho and the other countries in the hands of politicians.

As far back as 2014, then a former Reserve Bank governor and now South African Finance Minister Tito Mboweni wrote: “In this country, which is poor and with a small economy, control of the government is key to the most primitive forms of wealth accumulation . . . so the very thought of losing state power drives even the best men and women to go absolutely berserk.”
Mboweni said calls to make Lesotho a province of South Africa “are reckless and historically badly informed”, but suggested that the region should start work on establishing a “federal state” arrangement involving South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini.

“These processes should succeed if they are supported by the people. Thus, referendums should be undertaken in all three of these countries to obtain the support of the people,” Mboweni concluded.
But that was then. He recently addressed the annual conference of the Lesotho Institute of Accountants in Maseru as minister of finance. When Mboweni first went to Lesotho as a young refugee in 1981, he crossed the border without a passport to study at the National University of Lesotho. He has a passport now, but his new role requires permission from the president to travel outside the country, and to this he said:

“It’s precisely for that reason that I don’t like this border, because it just doesn’t make sense to me.”
It was met by applause that nearly became a standing ovation.
The Free Basotho Movement replied to Shivambu’s question, saying: “This debate is long overdue, we want to merge.”

Integration in numbers

As the politicians bicker, FNB economist Jarred Sullivan says Lesotho’s economy is struggling, the tertiary sector is stagnant, and dwindling bilateral trade with South Africa has hampered income from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), which accounts for 36 percent of government revenues.
Buoyant diamond demand and Phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project are promising growth, but Lesotho may have to forfeit its “least developed” status and eligibility under the US Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, Agoa, that has sustained an average 40 000 jobs in the textile sector.
Absorbing Lesotho’s debt, which is much lower relative to South Africa, amalgamating the respective national defence forces and getting the collective buy-in from other SADC and SACU member states may require long debates.
“However, unifying monetary policy to increase policy cohesion and integrating water resources to help streamline contracting processes and trade present some material and mutual benefits,” concludes Sullivan.

Motion to fund Lesotho referendum

Instead of endless mediation for reforms, should SADC and the AU consider a referendum to give all the people a voice to decide if Lesotho’s borders should be opened to allow free trade, education and health care for the masses, or remain closed until a solution is found?
In 2015 the Department of International Relations reported to Parliament that South Africa alone had spent R46-million on mediation in Lesotho in one year. This figure has certainly multiplied considering the missions undertaken by President Cyril Ramaphosa, several ministers and now Justice Moseneke.
Like they did with the land expropriation amendment, can and should Floyd Shivambu convince the EFF to propose a motion for South Africa and SADC to stop spending money on massaging the egos of selfish politicians, and instead direct that funding towards the referendum?
Now that Tito Mboweni holds the purse as minister of finance, can and should he put his money where his mouth is, and convince the ANC NEC and parliamentary caucus to vote with the EFF?
Or were they just talking and writing for the sake of it? – DM

l Nthakoana Ngatane is an SABC journalist based in Johannesburg who until recently was the public broadcaster’s correspondent in Lesotho.

By: Nthakoana Ngatane

Continue Reading


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.

Send your comments and questions to:

Continue Reading


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


Continue Reading


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:

Continue Reading