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Xenophobic hypocrisy



There are ironies and contradictions when it comes to understanding the relationships between man and man, family and family, community and community and the bigger spheres of state and society. The understanding of the different entities that make up the phenomenon we call social living is what remains salient in maintaining the core essence of human behaviour: relationships.

Without the connectedness and the interconnectedness of the human being with other human beings all we would be as a species on earth would come to nought. In every essence, a human being’s existence on earth is governed and determined by the relationships the individual has with other human beings whether they be in the family, the community or in the larger entity we call society.

Societal or social living means that one has to embrace one’s relativity, that is, one has to understand the simple fact that the relationships one has with other members of their family, community and society depend on the manner of relating with them. If people relate on the basis of their familiarity or foreignness, then it means that the basis of their coexistence is based on a fickle entity. It is fickle because it means that the human element gets erased in the instance where other members of the community come from a different location that is foreign to the individual.

The right way to relate should be on a clear understanding that all of us are at the most basic and primal human and therefore worthy of the respect and integrity we give to those we know or are at least familiar with. The manner of relating should be cordial regardless our origin or location of such a place of origin.

One of the most notorious racists and supremacists, Adolf Hitler, was a mere struggling artist living in Germany. His family surname, Schicklegrubber, is unknown to many because many remember the latter surname by which he came to be known in the years of his Third Reich, Hitler. The simple artist from Austria in his bitterness begot the world the Second World War, because he could not relate with the people and held the warped reality that some of the people living in his adopted country were less human than he was. In brief, the poor artist who came in from the cold forgot that he was a mere human like all the other mere humans around him.

The likelihood is that some of the Jews he later came to gas and torture in his concentration camps at Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka, Sobibhor and other places took pity on him in his early years of poverty. It is not right therefore that he came to kill them en masse in the days of the Third Reich, but it could have been prevented had the boy from Austria been taught of the one fact – that they were human like he was. Had the council of fools that hung around him in the days of his rise to power not been racists, maybe Adolf could have ended up a Da Vinci or Michelangelo.

It is an only if situation, because what we got instead was a murdering megalomaniac that threw the world into the clutches of war because his racist tendencies were not put in check. We could have reaped a harvest of fruits and not thorns had Hitler been taught that he was just a mere human being like the rest of the people around him in the early days of his rise to power.

Insincerity by virtue of pretending to have qualities or beliefs that you do not really have is called hypocrisy and the unfounded attack on the countenance and integrity of a well-meaning waitress of Zimbabwean origin by a South African woman at a Wimpy food outlet raises questions with regard to the real intentions of given individuals when it comes to relating with other individuals from other parts of Africa. The abuser, or Shokwakhe, who joined Twitter in June this year, wrote: “Today I had breakfast at Wimpy Clearwater Mall a waiter by the name of Nomatter from Zimbabwe came to serve us at our table. I politely told her that I wanted to be served by a South African. Normalise refusing to be served by aliens #PutSouthAfricansFirst.”

There is clear misconception of what it means to be a member of any society on the side of the complainant, there is also the lack of understanding when it comes to the history of modern South Africa coupled with apparent lack in manners on the part of this lady who made the Tweet. One as a customer is supposedly right; but what of the rights of the worker? Regardless of place of origin every worker holds the basic right to humane treatment by patrons that come to the establishment. It is plain tribal abuse and racism to refuse to be served by ‘anyone’ on the basis of their being from a different geographical location or ethnic group. It is neo-apartheid in my personal opinion to continue the racial or ethnic abuse of fellow family members from other parts of the continent. Whoever does so is in plain terms mentally colonised.

We have broached the subject of xenophobia on several occasions without apparent success because tendencies that define xenophobia always find their way back into society. I often think xenophobia is a nice term; so nice that it hides the real and ugly face of the phenomenon. We are here in this world to help each other out and it means that it does not make any logical sense why we should begin to view each other on the basis of the colour of our skin or place of origin. Circumstances of our own creation and intention often land us in strange places and hardship forces us to work even in the caves of cannibals.

The young ‘woman’ from a privileged background should have understood ‘the other woman’s’ circumstances before taking the rash decision to be rude to a fellow African. South Africa in the first got its democratic independence on the basis of the united efforts of other Africans from other parts of the continent. It therefore sounds uncouth and conveniently amnesiac for South Africans to be allowed to carry on with their xenophobic tendencies. The South African government should by now have installed laws and enforcement policies to stem the tide of unfounded xenophobia amongst its ‘local’ population.

It sounds nonsensical for an individual to be raving and ranting about bullpoo attitudes on social media platforms and the government is silent about it. This passive attitude is what led to the proliferation of the xenophobic behaviours in some of the ignorant members of the South African society. These are the people that have conveniently forgotten that their struggle heroes found shelter in the homes of the very people they are now insulting when times were hard and the apartheid security police were hounding them.

It is a reality of history that cannot be ignored, and the current reality is that the current crop of citizens should understand that their freedom equals their indebtedness to the other parts of Africa. The truth of the matter is that favours should be returned, it is the law of Karma, it is the rule that spins the wheel of fortune: I help you today because nature dictates that you will return the favour tomorrow. In short, South Africans should understand that they owe the rest of the continent and the world their freedom, and however bitter the reality is to swallow, the fact remains – it is payback time and the citizens should begin to learn to be cordial when it comes to relating with their fellow human beings from other parts of the continent or the globe.

The reality and the fact of the matter is South Africa is not an island. It is economically, socially and politically fully integrated with the rest of the African continent and the global community. SA is the current chair of the AU, and currently holds a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. This means that South Africa is in a sense the guardian of the spirit of Pan-Africanism that says all should feel at home no matter their country of origin on the continent.

The sad truth is that however, since the 2008 killing of 62 fellow Africans across the townships of South Africa, the issue of xenophobia has not gone to rest; it has adopted a more subtle form that is however equally poisonous if the facts of the reality of the attitude of fearing or hating other individuals on the basis of their foreignness is to be tackled head on. A paper by Ude Tochwukwu South Africa Xenophobia Sentiment Analysis Project that examines the attitudes of the South African people on the spate at which foreign nationals (especially Black Africans) are being abused and killed as a result of Xenophobia by the host communities in South Africa states:

The nation has suffered apartheid for a long time and through the effort of other African nations, was liberated. In 2008, 62 people were killed in xenophobic violence across Johannesburg’s townships. South Africa as a nation is seen as a pride in the continent of Africa and stands for freedom for all irrespective of their nationality, ethnicity, language, tribe or culture.
South Africans should understand that their country has essentially gotten to the point where it is on the sweat and toil and blood and tears of other Africans. The Johannesburg they now so revere began as a mining town in 1864, and it became the Mecca of the continent on the backs of labourers that came to work the mines from as far as Central Africa. This means that South Africa has never been for the ‘locals’’ from its inception; it has always been our land not matter whether anyone can argue to the contrary.

The current attitude goes against the grain with the reconciliation Mandela taught and is totally out of line with Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness philosophies. One cannot claim to love the fruit but hate the tree, one cannot be singing along to Todii, or Neria and still go on to hate the man, woman and child from Harare, Abuja, Lilongwe, Maputo or any other African city. The radicalism of some of the movements based on hate cannot liberate the continent in the true sense of the term. A Tweet by one South African of level minds states that:

“Movements like PutSouthAfricansFirst could trigger a mass wave of xenophobic violence and severely undermine SA’s race relations and international relations in Africa and beyond,”
The question of who the rightful South African is should have been stopped the moment South Africa gained her independence in 1994. As much as they should be given first priority when it comes to being hired, there are also the issues of qualification, skill, experience, and affordability that are real to the employer that have to be considered. One cannot be hired only on the basis of their citizenship even if they lack the requisite skills or qualifications. It takes more than owning an identity document to meet the demands of the market. It takes a certain level of wisdom to wear the other individual’s shoes and to understand the circumstances that put them in the position they are in at any given point in time. Judging anyone on the basis of their localness or their foreignness should be done on a justifiable basis.

What was Shokwakhe doing arguing at a multinational franchise with a fellow African over fried eggs and bacon anyway? A Tweet by a Matigary asks rather bluntly:
“An idiot goes to a foreign-owned restaurant chain to spend South African rands and complains about being served by a foreigner? Why didn’t you go to spend at a South African owned restaurant? Your brain is on the wrong side.”

Other Tweets by Grand Master @GrandmasterE2 responded @Shokwakhe16 arguing:
“Patriotic should never mean Afrophobic. I bet you buy from Chinese, get served by Italians and Greeks and never refuse the service from those. You get your cellphone and computer repaired by Pakistani but never question them. But come a Zimbabwean then suddenly you are patriotic!”
The questions posed reveal the hypocrisy of the rather obtuse madam of the unfounded brothel where Africans learn to hate other Africans on the basis of their foreignness. This is the colonial hypocrisy that has to be done away with if we have any dreams for this continent. Where certain skills and expertise lack, the wise move would be to consult with the other neighbouring African states instead of importing labour from other parts of the world at a higher cost than we would if we got it from nearby. As Southern Africa Consultant at the International Crisis Group, Piers Pigou @PiersPigou reacted to @Shokwakhe16:

“This kind of discriminatory thinking if replicated globally would simply feed ignorance and intolerance. Perhaps this xenophobic posturing is unintentional, but i wonder whether you would like fellow South Africans working in the UK for example to be treated this way.”
There is just one piece of advice for those that are tempted to adopt this xenophobic and hypocritical attitude: do not throw stones if you live in a glass house. Learn to be tolerant of other individuals from lands you don’t know, in fact, learn to love them because they will at the end of the day save your sorry behind.



An open letter to President Hichilema



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

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Culture quibbles



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.

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The Joker Returns: Conclusion



Last week I was talking about how jokes, or humour generally, can help get one through the most desperate situations (although it’s like taking a paracetamol for a headache; a much, much stronger resort is faith). I used the example of how Polish Jews, trapped and dying in the Warsaw ghetto, used humour to get them through day by day.

A similar, though less nightmarish, situation obtains in today’s Nigeria. Conditions there are less hellish than those of the Warsaw ghetto, but still pretty awful. There are massive redundancies, so millions of people are jobless. Inflation is at about 30% and the cost of living is sky-rocketing, with the most basic foodstuffs often unavailable. There is the breakdown of basic social services.

And endemic violence, with widespread armed robbery (to travel by road from one city to another you take your life in your hands) and the frequent kidnapping for ransom of schoolchildren and teachers. In a recent issue of the Punch newspaper (Lagos) Taiwo Obindo, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Jos, writes of the effects of economic hardship and insecurity on his people’s mental health.

He concludes: “We should see the funny side of things. We can use humour to handle some things. Don’t take things to heart; laugh it off.”

Professor Obindo doesn’t, regrettably, give examples of the humour he prescribes, but I remember two from a period when things were less grim. Power-cuts happened all the time — a big problem if you’re trying to work at night and can’t afford a generator.

And so the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was universally referred to as Never Expect Power Always. And second, for inter-city travel there was a company called Luxurious Buses. Believe me, the average Lesotho kombi is a great deal more luxurious (I can’t remember ever having to sit on the floor of one of those).

And because of the dreadful state of Nigerian roads and the frequent fatal crashes, Luxurious Buses were referred to as Luxurious Hearses.

Lesotho’s newspaper thepost, for which I slave away tirelessly, doesn’t use humour very much. But there is Muckraker. I’ve always wondered whether Muckraker is the pen-name of a single person or a group who alternate writing the column.

Whatever, I’d love to have a drink with him / her/ them and chew things over. I like the ironic pen-name of the author(s). Traditionally speaking, a muckraker is a gossip, someone who scrabbles around for titbits (usually sexual) on the personal life of a celebrity — not exactly a noble thing to do.

But thepost’s Muckraker exposes big problems, deep demerits, conducted by those who should know and do better — problems that the powerful would like to be swept under the carpet, and the intention of Muckraker’s exposure is corrective.

And I always join in the closing exasperated “Ichuuuu!” (as I do this rather loudly, my housemates probably think I’m going bonkers).

Finally I want to mention television satire. The Brits are renowned for this, an achievement dating back to the early 1960s and the weekly satirical programme “TW3” (That Was The Week That Was). More recently we have had “Mock the Week”, though, despite its popularity, the BBC has cancelled this.

The cancellation wasn’t for political reasons. For decades the UK has been encumbered with a foul Conservative government, though this year’s election may be won by Labour (not such very good news, as the Labour leadership is only pseudo-socialist). “Mock the Week” was pretty even-handed in deriding politicians; the BBC’s problem was, I imagine, with the programme’s frequent obscenity.

As an example of their political jokes, I quote a discussion on the less than inspiring leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer. One member of the panel said: “Labour may well have a huge lead in the polls at present, but the day before election day Starmer will destroy it by doing something like accidentally infecting David Attenborough with chicken-pox.”

And a favourite, basically non-political interchange on “Mock the Week” had to do with our former monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Whatever one thinks about the British monarchy as an institution, the Queen was much loved, but the following interchange between two panellists (A and B) was fun:

A: Is the Queen’s nickname really Lilibet?
B: Yes, it is.
A: I thought her nickname was Her Majesty.
B: That’s her gang name.

OK, dear readers, that’s enough humour from me for a while. Next week I’m turning dead serious — and more than a little controversial — responding to a recent Insight piece by Mokhosi Mohapi titled “A reversal of our traditions and culture.” To be forewarned is to be prepared.

Chris Dunton

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