Connect with us

Insight

Women’s poetry of resistance

Published

on

Today, I want to settle on a few names of special women from our liberation movements, who, other than participating in resisting colonialism, racism and apartheid; were also able to write poetry.
Samora Machel’s first wife, Josina Abiathar Machel (neeMuthemba) who tragically died on 7 April 1971, at the very young age of 25, was a poet and a key member of the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO).

It is not known how many poems of Josina have survived, but she is a distinguished guerilla and “an exemplary educationist and a high quality cadre…” During the struggle for the freedom of Mozambique, Josina was to write a poem that has actually gone viral over the years. It is called “This Is The Time.” It goes:
“This is the time we were waiting for
Our guns are light in our hands
The reasons and aims of the struggle
Clear in our minds

The bloodshed by our heroes
make us sad but resolute.
It is the price of our freedom
We keep them close in our hearts…
revolutionary generations
are already being born.
Ahead of us we see bitter hardships
But we see also
Our children running free
Our country plundered nomore.

This is the time to be ready
And to be firm.
The time to give ourselves
to the revolution”

Josina was born in Vilanculos, Inhambane, in the southern part of Mozambique, into a family committed to anti-colonial activism. She once observed: “The colonialists wanted to deceive us with their teaching; they taught us only the history of Portugal, the geography of Portugal; they wanted to form in us a passive mentality, to make us resigned to their domination. We couldn’t react openly, but we were aware of their lie; we knew that what they said was false; that we were Mozambicans and we could never be Portuguese.”

At the age of 13, whilst at school, she became active in politics. At the age of 18, the politicised Josina fled the country with other students in order to join FRELIMO in Tanzania. Among her comrades were the future President of Mozambique, Armando Guebuza, and seven others (both young men and women). Josina went to Nachingwea, the name of the military training camp in southern Tanzania for training in 1967.

It was in the liberated area of Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique, where Josina trained that she met Samora Machel. He was director of the training center in the province. In May 1969 she married Samora Machel in southern Tanzania. In November of that year they had a son, named Samito. She died in Dar es Salaam from leukaemia.

Josina’s photographs are often used as iconic embodiments of what a woman can do and achieve if she sets her sights to it. Together with Samora Machel, they scribbled a few poems in the middle of the night for Mozambique Revolution, FRELIMO’S official organ/journal and these have lived to the present day.

Carolina Noémia Abranches de Sousa Soares, known as Noémia de Sousa who lived between 20 September 1926 – 4 December 2002, was a poet from Mozambique who wrote in the Portuguese language. She was also known as Vera Micaia.
In the early 1950s, de Sousa became involved in the Moçambicanidade movement. Moçambicanidade was the name for a new and revolutionary literature that spread throughout Mozambique during the 1940s and 1950s. This literary movement was an open platform for the citizens of Mozambique to open dialogue on issues concerning race, class, and politics.

In her very long and elaborate poem called “The poem of Joao,” she writes about Joao the typical everyday Mozambican because Joao was the mother, the father, the brother of multitudes, a person who goes to the Asian bazaars, Joao could not have been Joao without Mozambique, he longed to live and to conquer life but the system killed him as he resisted exploitation but:
“Joao is not alone
Joao is a multitude
Joao is the blood and the sweat of the multitude,
and Joao, in being Joao, is also Joaquim, Jose,
Abdullah, Fang, Mussumbuluco, is Mascrarenhhas…”

As you read this winding poem, the ultimate message is that individuals do not matter much because they are a drop from a whole pool of expectations and consciousness that lives longer in the multitude, even long after the demise of the individual.
During this period, anti-colonial literature in Mozambique was at its peak and de Sousa was one of many Mozambican women writers active in the resistance. One of de Sousa’s initial contributions to the movement was sharing her literary works with news outlets that supported the resistance.

From South Africa, the late poet and diplomat, Lindiwe Mabuza, grew up in the resistance of apartheid. That saw her travel the world as an activist and ambassador and her poetry speaks for itself. In one of her poems, she sings praises to the heart of revolutionary conscious Soweto. She is militant:
“With gun in hand
I could feel the fire of joy
for I would be one with many.”

In an interview in 1995, she stated: “Poetry is part of the struggle. You use the armed struggle; you use political methods…. You recite a poem. It’s better than a three-hour speech. It gets to the heart of the matter. It moves people.”
In the late 1970s, Lindiwe Mabuza, sent out a call for poems written by women in ANC camps and offices throughout Africa and the world. The book that resulted, published and distributed in Europe in the early 1980s, was banned by the apartheid regime. Lindiwe felt that her poetry was part of a bigger international movement against exploitation of man by man. She saw the role of women beyond biological motherhood.
The late Freedom Nyamubaya, a Zimbabwean rural development activist, dancer and writer, cut short her

Secondary School education in 1975, she left to join the Zimbabwe Liberation army (ZANLA) in Mozambique. While battling on the frontline she achieved the rank of FFOC (Female Field Operation Commander), later being elected Secretary for Education at the first Zanu women’s League Congress in 1979.
Until her death, Freedom published 3 books : “On the Road Again’’ published in 1986 by (ZPH) Zimbabwe Publishing House; “Ndangariro” 1987 published by Zimpfep Zimbabwe Foundation for Education with Production; “Dusk of Down” published by College Press 1995. She died in 2015.

Freedom Nyamubaya’s first collection of poems, On the Road Again contains, as indicated by the sub-title of the book: ‘Poems (written) during and after the National liberation of Zimbabwe’.
On the road again seeks to investigate how post-independence developments in Zimbabwe make her revisit and recount Zimbabwe’s liberation war of the 1970s. Her poetry revisits the war to reveal its pains and horrors, and to appraise the sacrifice made by the freedom fighters who participated in it. Her recollection of the war poetically reinscribes into Zimbabwean society’s memory of history the sordid details of the experiences of the past.

Her very first poem carries the idea of being ‘on the road again.’:
“Now that I have put my gun down
For almost obvious reasons
The enemy still is here invisible
My barrel has no definite target
Now
Let my hands work –
My mouth sing –
My pencil write –
About the same things my bulletaimed at.”

This means that it is the creative artist who should intervene to bring about positive change through an imaginative review of the socio-historical processes within the newly independent country. This is evident in the transition of the persona from soldier to writer. Nyamubaya thus perceives writing as a tool for social criticism and by saying the enemy is still around, she is very much aware that colonialism has shifted to neo-colonialism and that the enemy is nolonger necessarily white.

Nyamubaya’s idea on the role of the artist in an independent African country ties up well with one of her poems called Poetry:
“One person said,
you are not a poet,
but forgot that,
poetry is an art and –
Art is meaningful rhythm.

Now what is rhythm
If I may ask?
Some say it’s marching syllables,
Others say it’s marching sounds,
But tell me how you marry the two.

We fought Shakespeare on the battlefield
Blacks fought the Boers with their spears
These are marching syllables
And is art to some,
But how can I marry the two?

How about a different rhythm?
People die in the ghettoes,
From police raids and army shots.
Workers suffocate under coal mines,
Digging the coal they can’t afford to buy
For cooking daily to feed themselves.
Poetic stuff this.
Then let’s agree to disagree –
Art serves.”

That poem intrinsically suggests that Art should be in the service of humanity, much as the war of liberation was meant to liberate people. Art should not be an end in itself and it should highlight the oppression and the suffering of the people. There is even a more acute suggestion that a community creates a type of art that is relevant to the needs of that particular society. Once more, the war to totally liberate the people has to be carried on through art.

The idea of the persona staying on within the struggle of the common people is also handled in the title poem itself, “On The Road Again.” In that poem, Freedom Nyamubaya , is refusing to disengage from the struggle and this theme is central to her poems in this book. Life is an endless struggle.

Nyamubaya is more comfortable with describing the war itself, coming very close to merely worshipping its physicality. In “Daughter of the soil” the woman fighter’s “blood spurted above the trees” and she was laughing the laughs of pain” . Nyamubaya’s is a rigorous poetry, not comfortable with quiet reflection. It hurries combatively and undigested even in the face of peace as in:

Mai emotion is hurt
I see blood
I hear bombs –
I smell gunpowder –
I taste napalm –
I eat fire –
I chew hate –
Can’t swallow this earth!!!”

In her other poem called “The Train Was Over –Booked” she draws an illuminating parallel between the fate of the former freedom fighters and law-abiding Zimbabweans who are excluded from the country’s resources, when, on a train journey from Mozambique, where Zanla guerrillas, war refugees and some politicians were based, those with tickets fail to make the journey.

The train journey itself is not only a metaphor symbolizing the dissoluteness of the ‘crooks’ who have opportunistically hijacked Zimbabwe’s independence to exploit its resources at the expense of the majority of Zimbabweans, but also connotes how such practices militate against social justice, one of the underpinnings of the ideology on which the liberation struggle was premised.

For the Nyamubaya persona throughout the anthology, the war is associated with love and the erotica. There are images of longing, betrayal and sometimes divorce that litter these poems. Good examples are in poems such as ‘A mysterious marriage’, ‘Hey man, Come with me!!’, ‘Loving and struggling’, ‘Thinking narrowly’ and ‘Home sweet home’.
In ‘A faked love’ the gun is considered an intimate partner: ‘I liked it / I loved it/’ and ‘A cuddle at night/ and daytime pillow…/ falling in love with my SMG…’ The connection between the fighter and the inanimate gun goes to show commitment to the struggle on the part of the persona.

Advertisement

Insight

An open letter to President Hichilema

Published

on

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

Continue Reading

Insight

Culture quibbles

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Insight

The Joker Returns: Conclusion

Published

on

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

Continue Reading
Advertisement

ADVERTISEMENT

Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending