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Lelosa’s pouch of melodies

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MASERU – “COME, make a circle around me, sit down and hear me, oh children of the same pouch.”
This is how Thaabe Lelosa, praise-poet and singer popularly known as Thari-ea Tšephe (pouch made of eland skin), introduces himself to Sesotho poetry followers whom he refers to as “children of the same pouch”.
The imagery of the Basotho nation carried by a single mother on her back in the same pouch made of eland skin is the nub of Lelosa’s songs, which are highly blended with Sesotho praise poetry.

The 29-year-old Lelosa’s new hit song, Phato, released to mark Basotho’s traditional first month of the year (August), is the epitome of how the Sesotho musician is blending traditional music with modern styles to adequately portray the changing culture of Basotho.
In the song, Lelosa eloquently conjures up the nostalgic memories of Basotho people as they drive oxen to the fields to till the land for summer cropping.
“Ntho ena ke Phato ea makoatle pulula marole (This is August of puffs of dust, blower of dust).” This is Lelosa as he interjects with the poem’s first stanza, just as the harmonious interaction of supporting vocalists is about to end the first part of the song.

Lelosa’s music, highly blended with original Basotho praise poetry, brings values articulately prepared for a modern-day Mosotho but seeking to instil in the listener the identity of the Mosotho of the past.
The image displayed in the Phato song is that of men in the old Lesotho of Moshoeshoe as they prepare farming implements in the morning, in a village nestled on the slope of a mountain.
The men are seen early at dawn driving their oxen to the fields. Behind them is the sequence of clouds of dust from animals’ hoofs, raised to the sky by the strong winds of August.
A social anthropologist who taught in Lesotho decades ago, Robin Wells, had this to say about the Sesotho language regarding its harmony in poetry and song:

“The nature of Sesotho language itself affords the potential for a richly rhythmical poetry through its system of grammatical agreement. The majority of noun classes in Sesotho demand concords in the adjectival case which are phonetically similar to the noun prefix.”
This quality is exhibited in Lelosa’s songs. Leveraging on the language that is itself musical, he sings Phato in a simple but richly used Sesotho language.
“Liphali li tla jabela lipholo ka mahetleng (whips will beat oxen on the shoulders),” he goes. But now the focus is on the use of language.
The prefixes ‘li’ in liphali (whips) li tla (will) and lipholo (oxen) make a sound in the song that gives it that needed elements before Lelosa ushers in the next stanza in the poem.

Thari-ea-Tšephe, his self-given music name, officially released the Phato album this week, the first under his newly-found troupe Bana ba Thari (Children of the same pouch or the same womb) and it is already trending in the market.
The album is meant to celebrate the beginning of the Basotho year, the festive season and to embrace the Sesotho culture and values.
Lelosa’s followers had been long waiting for the release of Phato after teasers ran on many local radio stations, ‘tickling’ ears with the harmoniously joined together melodies and deep, but simple Sesotho poetry.

The record is a follow-up to his 2015 self-titled EP and marks the release of the first single from the album, Phato.
Lelosa deems himself the legitimate heir of the lithoko or praise poetry tribe, a passionate artist with praise poetry uniquely infused in AfroJazz music — a culture-driven style.
He recorded all of Bana Ba Thari album tracks in BK’s studio in Maseru, working with SaMoqhRa as his producer.
The album features musical giants such as Tlali-Mothoana, Thaathe, and melodious female, Mosimoli.
The bass guitarist, Mega, proved his skill on songs like Phato, Litau, and Lesotho.
Bana Ba Thari is composed of 10 tracks that Lelosa wrote over just one month.

Throughout this new album, his relaxing praise poetry style remains present yet matured, with a more refined worldview.
Having successfully completed the album, Lelosa and his team will now sell the album through flash drives encrypted to be non-rewritable.
Lelosa told thepost that “in this way it will be difficult, if not impossible, for pirates to steal my music”.
“This is because we now live in the modern world where CD’s are slowly fading away,” he said.
“Truly, we didn’t expect the whole album to turn out so well, especially having in mind that we have been recording it in the midst of Covid,” he said in a statement released earlier.

“The new songs are inspired by some great life-changing events in my life, including a glimpse to my past – my real roots.”
While each song varies in tone, they all are originals and circle back to one universal theme.
“Bana Ba Thari is a poetry-filled, catchy collection of reminders that our cultural roots, love, harmony, diversity, and unity can co-exist in our modern world”, he said.
Lelosa is not singing a ‘Sothofied’ hip-hop or RnB but Afro-jazz that is preserving the Basotho oral poetry, the lithoko or praise poems, the lifela (poems of travellers) and the liboko or family odes.
Proud of being a direct descendant of Lethole, the 18th to 19th century chief of his Makhoakhoa clan, Lelosa says his lithoko do not praise war like his forefathers did.

In those years the lithoko were inspired by the wars a chief fought and won against his enemies or those he raided their cattle.
His great grandfather Lethole’s praise poem goes like this: “The shooting Lethole, the one shooting at people’s cattle while shooting he raided the pack animals.”
It is a self-praise poem that shows how Lethole shot arrows, for in his time Basotho had no guns, at a community he attacked and raided their cattle.
Similarly, another of Lelosa’s ancestors Matela I son of Lethole who lived in the late 19th century, said in his poem: “Go and tell ’Mota (chief of the Batlokoa), that an elephant is waiting at his cattle post, it is waiting with its long sharp horns, with sharpened horns.”
Matela showed how he was waiting at ’Mota’s cattle post to raid his livestock, his spears likened to the long, sharp horns of an elephant.
“I am proud of my ancestors who have their own praise poems,” Lelosa told thepost.

However, his own poems are not based on wars because he lives today when war is looked upon with contempt and his praise poems are rather inspired by socio-economic and political situations.
His songs are displaying the changing socio-economic-political conditions, brought by what others call civilisation while others say it is colonialism that made Africans disdain their own origins.
Lelosa blames Christianity for “the waning of appreciation of our African identity in favour of what the West regards best for mankind”.
“It is Christianity that has brought all this and because of this we have lost our national identity as Africans, as Basotho,” he said, referring to every black African as a Mosotho.
He says it is high time Basotho go back to their roots and appreciate what their forefathers fought and lived for.
Through song, Lelosa hopes to achieve this attitude towards Africanism.

Caswell Tlali

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A night of horror

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THE police arrived in Ha-Rammeleke, a Mokhotlong village, in the middle of the night.
They stormed one house and found a couple sleeping.

They then dragged the man out and ordered him to follow their instructions if he didn’t want to be killed. Their order was that he should scream while announcing to his neighbours that his wife was gravely ill. The villagers who responded to the man’s plea for help didn’t know that they were walking into a trap.

The police rounded them up as they arrived at the man’s house.

Their night of horror has just begun.

Dozens of men and women were frog-marched to the edge of the village.

The police assaulted the men with sticks and whips. They kicked others.

In the crowd was Tebalo Lesita, a 48-year-old Rastafarian with dreadlocks.

He was called to the front and ordered to act like a Rastafarian.

First, they said he should sing Reggae while shaking his head so that his dreadlocks would wave from side to side. He did and they laughed.

“They also ordered me to mimic Lucky Dube.”

Lesita says he only shouted like he was singing because, due to fear, all Lucky Dube’s songs he knew had slipped out of his mind.

“I just mumbled some words as if I was singing. I have never experienced such torment before.”

“I only kept saying ‘Ye ye ye!’”, he says.

They laughed again.

Meanwhile, the police were hurling insults at him.

“I was told that I was smelling rubbish in the mouth.”

Lesita says the police then instructed him to act as if he was having sex.

And when he said he was tired of the act the police ordered him to act as if he was ejaculating.

He did and his tormentors roared with laughter.

The police, Lesita says, wanted him and other villagers to confess that they knew men who had shot and killed a man earlier in the village.

Lesita says after the ordeal that lasted nearly an hour the police ordered him to pray. He claims his body is full of bruises, especially on the buttocks.

“My body is aching all over.”

Lesita says he wants to sue the police but doesn’t know where to start.

“I understand that my human rights have been grossly violated but I do not know which legal steps to follow,” he says.

A week after the assault, he still hasn’t sought medical help.

Nor has he opened a case against the police.

“I find it impossible to open the case against them. I will have to go to the police station to open a case,” he says.

“How can I open the case against the police at the police station?”

As a sheep farmer, Lesita says he cannot afford the taxi fare to travel to Mapholaneng to report a case at Tlokoeng Police Station.

Lesita says he cut his dreadlocks a day after the incident “because they have put me into serious problems”.

“I rue the day that I started growing those dreadlocks,” he says.

Police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Kabelo Halahala, confirmed that there was a police operation in Mokhotlong but said he didn’t know how it unfolded.

Incidents of the police terrorising villagers under the guise of fighting or investigating crimes are common in Lesotho.

It is rare for police officers involved in such incidents to be arrested or prosecuted.

Majara Molupe

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Anger over Chinese businesses

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FORMER Mining Minister, Lebohang Thotanyana, says Lesotho is shooting itself in the foot by allowing Chinese companies that win major construction tenders to import everything from China.

Thotanyana was speaking at the Basotho Business Empowerment Forum on Tuesday.

The forum was organised by the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Association.

Thotanyana told the forum that of all the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) countries, Lesotho is the one benefitting the least from hiring Chinese-owned companies for major infrastructure projects. 

 

Thotanyana said Chinese companies tend to “import everything save menial labour” in every government job they win.

 

“We only benefit minimally with the labour force,” Thotanyana said, adding that “more money goes back to the countries that have brought their own machinery”.

 

“This is exactly what is happening at the Polihali Dam which is under construction.” 

 

“There should be a value chain so that the economy grows.”

 

Tempers flared at the forum as local business owners accused the government of failing to protect them against Chinese businesses. 

 

The forum revealed the growing frustration among local business owners who feel the government is not doing enough to protect them against Chinese business muscling them out of sectors reserved for them. 

 

The local business owners criticised the government for failing to implement the Business Licensing and Registration Act 2019 that reserves certain businesses for indigenous Basotho. 

 

They told the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Trade, Thabo Moleko, together with a handful of MPs in attendance, that their patience had worn out.

 

“We want our business from the Chinese and Indians,” Thobei Motlere, the president of the MSME Association said.

 

“We are not afraid of these Chinese,” he added, adding that they could approach them head-on.

 

“We want to see the Act implemented now, not tomorrow or any other time. We want to push them out of the business peacefully. We want peace.”

 

Motlere said they have been pushed out of business by the Chinese yet there is a law to protect them “against unfair competition”.

 

“We have elected you as MPs but you are doing nothing to save us from the competition yet there is a law in place,” Motlere said.

 

The MPs tried to respond to some of the issues people but they were booed and heckled. 

 

“This is not the right place to answer. You should address this in parliament, not here,” said one woman in the crowd. 

 

Some MPs walked out of the forum in protest but were eventually coaxed to return to their chairs. 

 

’Maremi ’Mabathoana, a street vendor, said the Chinese sell almost every item.

 

“We buy from their shops so that we can sell small items. But the Chinese also sell small items,” ’Mabathoana said.

 

“When we sell a sweet for M1, they sell it for 50c,” she yelled.

 

“When we sell apples for M4, the Chinese sell them for M2. This is unfair.”

 

Moeketsi Motšoane, the Mafeteng MP who is the chairman of the parliament’s Natural Resources committee, said he is also facing similar challenges in his home district.

 

Trying to calm the irked traders, Motšoane said he could bet that some people were being used by the Chinese to kick Basotho out of business.

 

“There are such people amongst you who are being used by the Chinese to knock Basotho out of business,” Motšoane said.

 

He told the Ministry of Trade to move swiftly to implement the Act.

 

“If you do not implement the Act, we will drag you before the committee to account,” he said.

 

 Moleko, the principal secretary of Trade,  promised to implement the law. 

Majara Molupe

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Labour unions in nasty fight

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TWO trade unions representing workers at Polihali Dam construction site have turned on each other.
Instead of fighting for better pay and conditions for members, the Construction, Mining, Quarrying and Allied Workers (CMQ) and the Lesotho Workers Association (LEWA) are locked in a nasty battle that could be linked to a fight over membership.

CMQ alleges that LEWA officials intimidated its members who wanted to vote for a proposed strike against companies working at Polihali Dam.

CMQ also accuses LEWA’s secretary general, Hlalefang Seoaholimo, of conflict of interest which it says renders him unable to effectively represent workers in their battles against employers in Polihali.

CMQ says Seoaholimo is working as a union leader and an employer at the same time. This, CMQ says, is because Seoaholimo’s company, Domino Blasting (Pty) Ltd, has been subcontracted by some companies working at Polihali Dam.

The allegations of intimidation and conflict of interest are part of the letter that CMQ’s secretary general, Robert Mokhahlane, has written to the Registrar of Trade Unions.

In that letter, seen by thepost, Mokhahlane pleads with the Registrar of Trade Unions to deregister LEWA over the alleged intimidation and Seoaholimo’s conflict of interest.

Mokhahlane tells the registrar that because of Seoaholimo’s shareholding in Domino Blasting, LEWA has “characteristics of a company, not a trade union”.

“At Polihali Dam construction, there (were) workers who were employed by Domino Blasting Services at various projects,” Mokhahlane alleges.

“They (Domino Blasting) have a long list of projects that have references and include some companies involved in the construction of Polihali Dam.”

Seoaholimo is one of Domino Blasting’s four directors and holds 300 of the 1000 shares in the company.

Mokhahlane tells the registrar that Seoaholimo cannot claim to be independently fighting for workers’ rights when his company is working with the same companies accused of unfair labour practices in Polihali.

He also accuses Domino Blasting’s human resource officer, Mpho Kanono, of being conflicted because she is also an official of the United Textile Employees (UNITE).

“Both the two officials (Seoaholimo and Kanono) are workers’ representatives within the Wages Advisory Board whereby Hlalefang Seoaholimo is the spokesperson of the workers,” Mokhahlane says.

Mokhahlane also accuses Seoaholimo of “intimidating workers who will be balloting for a strike action by encouraging LEWA members to observe and identify workers” who would participate.

He claims that Seoaholimo mocked a CMQ official who was mobilising workers for the strike at the construction site.

The Labour Code, which the registrar has been asked to invoke, says a union or employers’ organisation may be cancelled by the Labour Court on the registrar’s application.

Seoaholimo has however vehemently refuted allegations that his company is working at Polihali Dam. He told thepost that CMQ is in a campaign to tarnish his name and that of LEWA because “they are aware that workers do not want to join their union”.

He admits that he is a shareholder in Domino Blasting but insists that “as we speak now Domino Blasting does not have a job anywhere in Lesotho”.

“CMQ has to provide evidence that a company called Domino Blasting (Pty) Ltd is working and has any employees in Polihali,” Seoaholimo said.

“Domino Blasting does not even have an office anywhere in the country because it is not working anymore.”

“They should identify the people hired by Domino Blasting (Pty) Ltd among workers in Polihali.”

He said the company has not operated in Lesotho since 2016 when it completed a project. Seoaholimo, however, says he is aware of a South African company with a similar name working in Polihali.

“I as a person have nothing to do with that company,” Seoaholimo said.

He said it is true that Mpho Kanono used to work for Domino Blasting back in 2016 when it still had contracts but she has since left because “the company stopped working”.

“Mpho Kanono is an official of UNITE and has nothing to do with Domino Blasting at present moment.”

Staff Reporter

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