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Writing about writing

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A word . . . stems from somewhere, is inspired somehow by something, some occurrence at first not clearly understood, but with the passage of time unravels its meanings in their full magnitude as defined; by the word.
Commonly penned somewhere in the subconscious of the utterer that in simple terms ‘speaks’ it (for the term is in its basic definition related to the act of communication, passing the message on and receiving it via various senses), the word is what becomes the nexus of the act of communication, a bridge that connects the dots in the act associated with connecting the human and animal and plant races of the world; the word is on its own the core of the process of communication, the definitive element that gives the act of communication its character and meaning: for without the word communication is non-existent.

In many shapes, scents, colours, sensations, flavours, and other stimulants words have their form; and they are thus used to serve the one primal purpose of connection in the world: communication.
What I feel inside or outside my skin is a sensation felt only by me, what I see is thus seen as viewed from my perspective and not the next individual’s, what I taste can only be described as tasted by my tongue, what I hear goes only into my auditory senses and however loud, cannot be deemed to have been heard by all in spite of their proximity to the source of the sound I hear, and the smell of the wild rose reaches only my nasal nodes and affects each person that comes across the thorny plant on a level individual.

Processed and interpreted in my brain; what I see, taste, smell, touch, and hear carries only a certain level of meaning applicable only to me.
It is only after I pass it on to the next individual in the form of words spoken, scribbled, or signalled that it begins to make sense to those that themselves have a certain level of understanding of that which I am trying to describe.

Without the understanding of that which is being described, the process of interpretation out of which meanings are drawn is rendered temporarily impossible, as the transmitter is forced to find similar entities in the immediate environs to try and describe that which they are trying to pass on in their words.

A clear example can be made of the description of the eel. To the individual that does not know what it is, it just looks like an aquatic species of snake.
The transmitter (the speaker), has to define that it is a fish on the basis of the physiological characteristics it displays which confirm its state of being as a fish. If the receiver (listener, audience) is not familiar with the characteristics of both types of creature (reptile and fish) used as points of comparison to define the one creature that is of interest in the conversation (episode of communication), then it would be hard for the meaning (that the eel is a fish and not a reptile) to be understood, and this renders the whole episode of communication as failed.

Communication exists only if the entities associated with the words are familiar or have familiar relatives from which meanings can be drawn.
Without the simple element of familiarity present in an episode of communication, the whole episode is non-effectual in terms of the basic purpose of conversation between the two or more parties involved; because then, the two parties involved might as well be talking to rocks or staring at the sun, and the only meanings they can make out of the whole episode are drawn out of what is little understood or instinctively understood.

Robinson Crusoe in Daniel Defoe’s classic of the same name finds himself alone on the island he is marooned (stranded) upon. He is forced to train a parrot for communicative company, and he is literally shocked when he sees a human footprint on the beach one day.
For the extended period he is alone on the island, his explorations have shown no evidence of the existence of any form of a civilisation human, and he therefore declares himself king.

The reality however, is that there is a human civilisation that precedes even his marooned existence on the island, it may be that he could not see the signs because the society that uses the island regard it as their sacred ground and they therefore leave only subtle signs, or, that nature somehow always manages to erase the signs of human civilisation completely with each advent and departure of the tribe of cannibals who one day arrive in the wake of the footprint he sees in the sand of the beach. Crusoe observes the rituals of the previous civilisation from a hiding place and only intervenes at the point where his instinctive knowledge triggers him into hero mode, and he saves a man from the jaws of death after scattering his capturers.

Whether the man (whom he later calls Friday based on the day he rescued him) was at peace with being the sacrifice, or whether he had accepted his fateful end as dinner to fellow tribesmen does not really matter to Robinson Crusoe.
What counts for more is that his Christian ethos would not let him see a man killed in his presence, for according to the tenets of his faith the ritual in which the man (Friday) he rescues is of a kind that is considered heathen.

One at this point sees the erasure of the primitive culture and its meanings at the point of a musket (a gun) in the name of Crusoe’s (the stranded man) personal understanding of the events that unfold in front of his eyes on the given Friday.
More than the meaning behind the ritual, one senses the author’s justification of Robinson Crusoe’s uninvited intervention in the affairs of the aboriginal inhabitants that can at its most basic be termed intrusion.

The basis for this is Christian, the Mosaic Law that states, “Thou shalt not kill,” and whether one is justified to kill or not does not count; what counts far more than anything is the law: out of which any or all of the meanings of existence in terms of the words of the story are drawn.
Crusoe and Friday finally understand each other after rigorous but partial teaching in the English tongue, after which Friday can utter a few words that serve the needs of Crusoe (whether they serve the utterer remains unclear).

That they finally understand each other is not the main point here, for the main point lies in the fact that they can finally communicate with each other as humans should, however promontory their communication episodes are, the two figures on the island can now work together; because they can now talk to each other.

I prefer the use of this book to present the concept of writing, the act of speaking, and the essence of talking.
Writing is done from the comfort of some corner where the writer presents their observations on some phenomenon of worldly and other lives, speaking is done almost everywhere by everyone, but the process of talking (which by association is similar to speaking but in form different) is closed in-depth conversation between a select number of individuals over a specific issue that is salient for the correlation and cooperation between human and other individuals in world society.

The writer has the benefit of being both able to speak and talk in their writing through their characters, their choice themes, and the settings or landscapes they choose to use in their work. One is dismayed when what is under usual circumstances plain gibberish is termed writing. These works, without theme, plot, character, or setting often land in the open public space under the guise of writing, and through their disguise end up convincing the gullible that they too can write, which ends up flooding the world with a tonne of scribbled garbage that flouts the primary purpose of the process of writing; to present the world as it is in reality through borrowed themes, created characters, well-thought plots, and well-designed (designated) settings.

By choosing to present the main character as Robinson Crusoe, Defoe sets the stage by presenting a castaway on a deserted island, to present the basic human theme of survival under uncertain circumstances which in turn unravels the colonial plot where the westerner presents himself as the saviour of that ‘savage native’ whom he cannot at first even speak to.

One of the possible interpretations of this work is that the human being sometimes needs to be isolated to rediscover who they really are, to give them room to see new experiences, to learn new things, to find out how they can do much with the little that they have: to reinvent the world and render it suitable enough to live comfortably in.

Our writing should not be for the sake of sensation all the time (that is the work of comedians and comics); it should tend toward exploring themes that answer what we ‘talk’ about when we speak.
One knows the challenges of global warming, rising unemployment, escalating levels of poverty, rampant crime, worsening health concerns and other issues core to peaceful human living.

\Of these issues in discussions and ‘talks’ one hears very little ( a piece on a braai festival and nail polishing actually garners more interest), and the condition of the continent worsens due to the ‘useless’ pieces of writing one comes across in the varied media platforms.
We never really progressed as we should because our governments adopted European models of economic growth and expansion but actually never use them, because they do not understand them; sort of like Friday learning English from Crusoe and never getting to use it again once they split paths at the end of the tale.

We did borrow a lot from the English in terms of language and façade qualities such as dress and fake accents. Of the core elements that make up most of their writing which they follow to the tee, we took none.
Just because you can speak like the English and borrowed their systems of governance and rule does not mean you are English.
Equally speaking, just being able to order a few lines or sentences and phrases does not mean one automatically becomes a writer.

The why, the when, the what, the where, and the who of writing count far more than the syntactic rules because they in their basic form actually determine how the piece one writes actually makes common sense that can be used by society in practical ways.
Works that are well-written should actually carry a certain degree of practicality in their paragraphs.
If they merely prattle on for the sake of filling the three requirements of composition writing (the introduction, the body, and the ending), they deserve to be shelved in the darkest corner of the basement where they shall present no harm to the unfortunate children that may open of their pages.

When one writes about writing, the argument is that there is freedom of expression; what I wonder is why this freedom of expression should be encouraged in certain professions and discouraged in others. I can write a lot on literature, development, and politics.
I can write none on law and medicine, not because I cannot write anything on how to dissect a cadaver or how to defend a statute: the truth is that these fields are protected ‘by law’.

I often wonder why an engineer thinks they can write literature better than those that studied creative writing in depth.
The speakeasy speak is that anyone can write. Well, anyone can calculate the gradient, pick a spanner and cut through the epidermis with a scalpel given enough time to practice.

Not everyone can pose the question: when will writing in all its forms be respected enough to be declared an exclusive profession in this country? We have spoken enough on copyright, music rights and intellectual property, and nothing has come out of the speaking episodes.
This is perhaps the time to begin understanding each other through real talk; unless you are still of the colonised opinion that some professions are better than others as taught by your colonised dimwit of a fore parent.

Everyone is king only if they respect other kings in their lands. Writing is my land doctor, respect me like I do when I come to your consulting rooms. This is my land . . .

Tsepiso S Mothibi

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Harnessing imagery in writing

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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: mhlangavuso85@gmail.com

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Politicians’ propensity to score own goals

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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

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Painting mood effectively

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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: mhlangavuso85@gmail.com

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