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Tsepo Tshola: a life well lived



MASERU-SONGS are like windows into the souls of musicians. But as you peep into those windows you see your soul as well. Perhaps that’s because the song is meant for you as much as it is for the musician.
When musicians claim to be singing for society, they mean you, me, others and themselves. They are speaking of you and to you. Of themselves and to themselves.

This is why your favourite song is most likely to be one you wish you had written.
It sounds as if it was penned for you by you. Or for others by you. It is at that moment you realise what distinguishes you from the musician is that they possess a rare gift of putting your thoughts and theirs into song. Sankomota’s Exploration – Another Phase, released in 1991, is one of those songs for me.

One more bridge
One more dream
I search the horizon
I must keep moving

It must have been in 2000 or somewhere thereabouts when I first heard that verse from a shrieking radio on a chicken bus whose driver seemed to deliberately drive into the ditches that punctuated the treacherous and torturous road to my rural home in Zimbabwe.
Ten years later I would discover it was written by Frank Leepa, Sankomota’s leader and guitarist. Then last week, after another ten, there was an epiphany of sorts.

It came with the numbing news of Tšepo Mobu Tshola’s death at 68.
As we hurriedly tried to cobble the anecdotes of Tšepo’s life into an obituary, I realised that this song was for Leepa as much as it was for Tšepo, who provided the backing vocals on it.
It aptly epitomises Tšepo’s career. Always looking for new frontiers to conquer. Unafraid of change. Forever on the move. Never bound by the world or time.

Even as he lay on his bed in the Covid-19 ward, Tšepo was thinking of the next phase.
“He said we should meet as soon as he recovers because he had an exciting project for us,” says Budhaza Mapefane, his protégé with whom he briefly played in Sankomota and then recorded his first two solo albums in the 1990s. That was a few days before he died.
He oozed the same confidence and optimism when he spoke to Bonner Seakhoa, his friend of more than six decades.

“I could hear he was not well but he was already talking about meeting soon to talk about some new projects,” Seakhoa recalls of their last phone call a few days before the tragedy.
There is no remarkable story about how the two met.
They were together from the start, introduced to each other by geography, church and age. Their fathers were ordained on the same day as ministers of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Teyateyaneng, a small but vibrant town that bred them and to which Tšepo would ‘return’ to die after a musical career of more than half a century.

Tšepo, his parents, three brothers and two sisters were the church’s jukebox on Sundays, during prayer meetings, weddings and funerals.
Away from church, which was rarely missed, they would get up to ‘boy things’.
“He was my friend who later became my brother,” Seakhoa says.
That’s not a riddle but an apt way to describe a lifelong friendship.
Theirs was an ordinary childhood in which boys do “naughty but harmless things”.

They once called a ‘crisis meeting’ after bumping heads over a girl. When the girl could not decide who she liked, they reached a pact to both leave her.
There was also the day they got drunk stupid at Blue Mountain Hotel in Teyateyaneng. Sozzled in both limbs and head, they staggered out of the hotel and tried dragging each other home until Tšepo said he could go no further. As if on cue a man on a bicycle passed them.

They stopped the man, Seakhoa pulled ten cents from his pocket and hired him to take Tšepo home. Tšepo arrived in one piece but slept under a tree in front of his house because he couldn’t face his father and chorister mother in that state.
“In the morning we swore never to do it again,” Seakhoa says, “but it happened a few more times because we were just boys”.

One day Tsepo announced that he was moving to Maseru for a carpentry course at Lerotholi Polytechnic College. Seakhoa wasn’t surprised because he knew it was his friend’s nature “to no not only move but move fast and frequently”.
For him, this was just another phase for Tšepo.

What bothered him slightly, though, was his friend’s next destination: carpentry.
“I knew his passion for music and was sure it would not be long before he returned to it.”
Seakhoa was right because the music would however occasionally steal Tšepo from his studies.

But being a stubborn man, Tšepo thought he could work the wood and still entertain with his baritone voice. He was wrong and it was Mokoenya Chele, who later became a friend and a business partner, who made Tsepo realise he was delaying the inevitable.
Chele says he had just formed the Blue Diamonds Bband and was looking “for a voice to shore up our vocals”.
“I had heard that Tsepo used to sing in a church choir with his family and looked for him”.

Tšepo would sing for the Blue Diamonds for a year, during which he dropped out of college to become a full-time musician. And thus, began an illustrious career full of twists, calamity, betrayal, stumbling and joy. The twist is how he frequently moved both bands and countries.
Lesotho, South Africa, Botswana and the United Kingdom played host to his musical career. He also spent a few months as a DJ in Swaziland. Calamity was when he lost his wife in 1984 (he never remarried, instead devoting his life to music and his two boys).

Betrayal is how he was repeatedly cheated by producers, record companies and promoters. He called them sharks who promised so much but gave very little.
He stumbled when he struggled with a drug addiction that almost upended his career.
And joy….well, that is for the thrills of making music and performing.
“He would sometimes tell me that he is not a musician but a presenter of songs,” says Budhaza.
Whatever that meant.

When the Blue Diamonds collapsed due to what Chele says were “managerial issues”, Tšepo did not stick. He simply said his goodbyes and opened another chapter.
That episode came in the form of the Anti-Antiques, a band Leepa had started while in high school. Tšepo spoke of how he met Leepa by chance.
“It was God’s thing. I was looking for a match, so one of us had a match and the other had a cigarette: sure, man, let’s share,” Tsepo said in a TV interview several years ago.

That was the beginning of a collaboration that sustained the Anti-Antiques for a year before it collapsed to be replaced by Uhuru which toured South Africa in 1979 but was quickly banned for its political songs. Back home, the group changed its name to Sankomota to avoid confusion with the Caribbean-based band Black Uhuru which was already established.
Sankomota’s first album debut, Sankomota, was released to much acclaim in 1983.

With songs like Vukani, Uhuru, House on Fire and Mad House, it was the first LP album recorded in Lesotho.
But by then Tšepo was breaking new frontiers. Never satisfied to do one thing at a time, he was already stirring several musical pots. It was as if Lesotho was too small for him.
“He had that spontaneity of a creative person. Always eager to break walls and conquer the next horizon,” says Budhaza.
Hugh Masekela hints at the same character in his biography, Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela when he describes how Tšepo showed up on his door with a suitcase.

“Very surprised, I greeted him with a welcoming embrace and asked: “Are you guys playing in town this weekend?” “Tšepo replied with a big smile on his beaming face, “I have come to you, Bra Hugh.” Just like that, Tšepo had left a band in Lesotho to play with Kalahari, which Masekela had founded when he briefly moved to Botswana from the United States where he had been in exile.
The next phase was the United Kingdom whose doors he would later open for Sankomota.

The keyboardist Sebabatso ‘Sunshine’ Mokoena, who toured South Africa with Uhuru, says it was Tšepo who persuaded Julian Bahula, South African composer and bandleader and drummer, to bring Sankomota to the UK.
“I know Bahula bought tickets for just a few members of Sankomota and the rest had to find their way. Others had to sell their cars to buy the tickets,” says Mokoena, whose career fizzled after Uhuru’s tour in South Africa.
In a way, one could say it was Tšepo’s rolling nature that gave the group its big break.

But first there were several years of lean cows when the group toured Europe largely as the musical voice of the African National Congress (ANC).
“We were paid with bread and salami,” Tšepo said.
It was a struggle on several fronts. They were trying to prick the world’s conscience about the evils of South Africa’s apartheid regime, chasing a record deal and trying to eke a living some 10 000km from home.
In the end, they achieved all with their tours and politically conscious music that produced three successful albums. The apartheid regime would fall much later when Sankomota had made it big but it was largely the fight against it that thrust them into the international limelight.

The Dreams come true album was released in the UK in 1987, with the hit song Now or Never which warned that Africa would wait forever if she folded her arms and waited for free things.
It was a general clarion call to Africa to take its rightful place in the world but given Sankomota’s reputation for politically themed songs many saw it as a warning to black South Africans that freedom would not be handed to them on a silver platter.

Indeed, the title itself seemed to tacitly remind South Africans that their dream for freedom would eventually come true.
Writing on the wall came in 1989 with songs like Bakubeletsa, Disposable hero, Papa, Greed and Tough Talk. It did not go unnoticed that the album was released when the Apartheid regime was on its last legs due to immense international pressure and internal strife.

In Sekunjalo, a son tells his parents he is going to fight to reclaim the throne because ‘Batho bana ba re tlolisa khati’.
Sankomota’s Exploration – A New Phase might just as well have been telling the regime that the wheels of freedom are turning fast. In Stop the War, Tšepo pleads for peace:

I cannot draw a line
To any man that rules
I can only plead
For the life of men
The generosity of God is unchangeable
He gave us life
So let us live
Sing along

To the heads of State (Stop the war)
Diplomatic cause
Pope and deacons
Presiding elders
Hey we got to stop the war
Stop the war
Political leaders
The list is endless

“There is no way you can keep quiet when you feel pain. We had to be vocal because we were driven by pain,” said Tšepo when asked about Sankomota’s political songs about South Africa.
What was going on in your heart when you sang Stop the war, asked the young interviewer.
“It goes to the pain. If you don’t do it (speak out), nobody will,” he said.
And he understood that as a musician he had the privilege to speak against injustices.

“I was given the opportunity to be vocal because I had a stage to say whatever I felt.”
Exploration-A New Phase was also somewhat prophetic on Sankomota’s future. Tšepo opened a new phase by going solo.
How he described the separation speaks to his refusal to be restrained.
“It just happened,” he said, adding that there comes a time when they “outgrow the imprisonment”.
Calling it a “natural transformation”, Tšepo said: “It wasn’t our choice. We got to a point where we say ‘Hey man, I am going this way’”.
Whether it was an acrimonious or amicable separation we might never know.

Tšepo however continued to revere Leepa, once describing him as the greatest guitarist and composer he had ever known. We cannot only speculate about Sankomota’s fortunes if Tšepo and Leepa had remained together.
Tšepo’s success as a solo artist however indicates that he could have indeed outgrown the band.
This could justify him describing it as a prison of sorts and possibly why The Village Pope, his first album, was successful.
Budhaza says “it was in Tšepo’s nature to try new things’ ‘.
He however says both Leepa and Tsepo “lost something in the divorce”.
“Frank (Leepa) was an amazing guitarist and composer while Tšepo was a brilliant vocalist. It was a great combination.”

Budhaza briefly stayed with Sankomota before joining Tšepo to record The Village Pope and later Let’s hold hands, the second album that Budhaza says he gave the title “because I always thought there was a chance for Tšepo and Frank to reconcile”.
Tšepo would go on to record including Rivers and Waterfalls, Leseli, New Dawn and Ask Me.
His later songs would gravitate towards his religion as if he was returning to his roots where he sang with his parents, brothers and sisters. He transformed regular hymns into hit songs.
In between, he found time for a stint in management as well as singing with Brenda Fassie, Rebecca Malope, Oliver Mtukudzi, Sands, Musa and Casper Nyovest.

Five minutes. That’s about how much I spent with Tšepo. We were driving from Maputsoe with a friend when a Sankomota song nudged the chit-chat towards Tšepo.
The friend said he had known Tšepo for years and we could meet him. And so, at my instance, a call was made. An hour later I was sitting next to a potbellied man in shorts, morning shoes and a vest.
Here was the legend in his simplest form, basking in what remained of that day’s sun.

I broached the idea of a biography, which had always been my agenda, and his face lit. He pondered for a moment as he caressed his rice-like beard.
“That would be good. I have a lot of stories to tell. A lot of them,” he said. But then Covid-19 intensified and ‘sabotaged’ the project.
At least that’s how I consoled myself when I heard of his death last week.
The truth is however more nuanced. It was procrastination that swallowed the project. That, and the nervousness at the thought of telling the story of a musical giant like Tšepo.

There was going to be a time when I would summon the courage to do it but his death was swifter. Now here I am, labouring to gather sketches from his friends and fans when I could have let him tell his story.
Yet this is pointless regret for Tšepo has already eloquently told his story through music.
Which is why many will swear they knew Tšepo. They don’t mean the man but his music, which is precisely what Tšepo had wanted for years until age started creeping up on him and he became open to the idea of documenting the life story of the man behind the music.
“I want to tell the young ones what it means to be an artist,” he told me in our brief encounter.

Now that he is no more, having succumbed to Covid last Thursday, the colossal task of telling the story of the Bra Tšepo behind the music is left to his music and those who knew him. Seakhoa doubts there is a way to separate Tšepo the man and Tšepo the musician.
“He was his music and his music was him,” he says.
“The frankness and abhorrence for injustice you heard in his music were exactly what he was as a man.”
Tšepo died just as the ambers of the fires that ravaged South Africa in recent weeks were still glowing.

What would he have said were he to have been interviewed?
His answer could likely be similar to the one he gave when he was asked what freedom means to him during a TV interview several years ago.
“I think freedom is difficult. It is too demanding. It needs discipline. It needs focus. So, unless you learn freedom, freedom will destroy you,” he said.
Tšepo will be buried in Thaba Bosiu as a national hero on July 30.
That is a well-deserved honour but one that pales in comparison to the tribute Basotho would have paid him if they were to cherish his message of peace, love, hard work and respect.
There will never be another Tšepo Mobu Tshola.

Shakeman Mugari

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Lawyer in trouble



A local lawyer, Advocate Molefi Makase, is in soup after he flew into a rage, insulting his wife and smashing her phone at a police station.

It was not possible to establish why Adv Makase was so mad at his wife. He is now expected to appear before the Tšifa-li-Mali Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.

Earlier on Tuesday, he was released from custody on free bail on condition that he attends remands.

Magistrate Mpotla Koaesa granted Advocate Makase bail after his lawyer, Advocate Kefuoe Machaile, pleaded that he had to appear for his clients in the Court of Appeal.

Advocate Makase is facing two charges of breaching peace and malicious damage to property.

According to the charge sheet, on October 5, 2023, within the precincts of the Leribe Police Station, Advocate Makase allegedly used obscene, threatening, or insulting language or behaviour, or acted with an intent to incite a breach of the peace.

The prosecution alleges that the lawyer shouted at his wife, ’Mamahao Makase, and damaged her Huawei Y5P cell phone “with an intention to cause harm” right at police station.

During his initial appearance before Magistrate Koaesa, Advocate Makase expressed remorse for his actions and sought the court’s leniency, pleading for bail due to an impending appearance in the Court of Appeal.

His lawyer, Advocate Machaile, informed the court that an arrangement had been made with the police to secure his release the following day, as he had spent a night in detention.

Advocate Machaile recounted his efforts to persuade the police to release him on the day of his arrest.

He noted that the police had assured them of his release the following day, which indeed came to fruition.

Following his release, he was instructed to present himself before the court, which he dutifully complied with.

Advocate Machaile underscored Advocate Makase’s standing as a recognised legal practitioner in the court.

Notably, he was scheduled to appear in the Court of Appeal but had to reschedule his commitment later in the day to accommodate his court appearance.

Advocate Machaile asserted that Advocate Makase presented no flight risk, as he resides in Hlotse with his family and has no motive to evade his legal obligations.

He respectfully petitioned the court for his release on bail, emphasising that he had demonstrated his ability to adhere to the court’s conditions.

The Crown Counsel, Advocate Taelo Sello, expressed no objection to the bail application, acknowledging that the accused had a forthcoming matter in the Court of Appeal.

Consequently, the court granted Advocate Makase bail without any financial conditions, with the stipulation that he must not tamper with state witnesses and must fully participate in the trial process until its conclusion.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Trio in court for killing ‘witches’



THREE elderly women were all stabbed to death with a spear during a deadly night after they were accused of being witches.

Three suspects, all from Ha-Kholoko village in Roma, appeared in the High Court this week facing a charge of murder.
They are Jakobo Mofolo, Oele Poto, and Pakiso Lehoko.

They accused the elderly women of bewitching one of Poto’s relative who had died.

The stunning details of the murder was unravelled in court this week, thanks to Tlhaba Bochabela, 32, who is the crown witness.

Bochabela told High Court judge, Justice ’Mabatšoeneng Hlaele, last week that he had been invited to become part of the murder group but chickened out at the last minute.

Bochabela said in March 2020, he was invited by Rethabile Poto to come to his house in the evening.

He said when he went there, he found Mofolo, Poto, and Lehoko already at the house. There were two other men who he did not identify.

“I was told that the very same night we were going to do some task, we were going to kill some people,” Bochabela told Justice Hlaele.

He said he asked which people were going to be killed and was told that they were ’Malekhooa Maeka, ’Mathlokomelo Poto, ’Mampolokeng Masasa.

They said the three women had successfully bewitched Rethabile Poto’s uncle leading to his death.

Bochabela said after he was told of this plot, he agreed to implement it but requested that he be allowed to go to his house to fetch his weapon.

He said Lehoko was however suspicious that he was withdrawing from the plot and mockingly said “let this woman go and sleep, we can see that he is afraid and is running away”.

Bochabela said the only person he told the truth to, that he was indeed going to his home to sleep instead of going to murder the three elderly women was Mofolo who also told him that he was leaving too.

He said he told Mofolo that he felt uncomfortable with the murder plan.

Bochabela said he left and when he arrived at his place he told his wife all about the meeting and the plot to kill the women.

He said his wife commended him for his decision to pull out.

“I told my wife to lock the door and not respond to anyone that would come knocking looking for me,” Bochabela said.

He said later in the night, Rethabile Poto arrived at his place and called him out but they did not respond until he left.

Bochabela said in the morning they discovered that indeed the men had carried out their mission.

The village chief of Ha-Kholoko, Chief Thabang Lehoko, told Justice Hlaele that it was between 11 pm and 12 midnight when he received a phone call from one Pakiso Maseka who is a neighbour to one of the murdered women.

Chief Lehoko said Maseka told him to rush to ’Mampolokeng Masasa’s place to see what evil had been done to her.

“I rushed to Masasa’s place and on arrival I found Pakiso in the company of Moitheri Masasa,” Chief Lehoko said.

He said he found the old lady on the bed, naked with her legs spread wide.

“I was embarrassed by the sight of the old lady in that state, naked and covered in blood,” the chief said.

He said he went out and asked Maseka what had happened but Maseka referred him to Moitheri Masasa.

Chief Lehoko said Masasa told him that there were people with spears who had threatened to kill him if he came out of the house.

He said Maseka said he knew that Masasa’s neighbour, ’Malekhooa Maeka, was a light sleeper and she could have heard something.

The chief then sent one Patrick Lehoko to Maeka’s house to check if she had heard anything but Patrick came back saying Maeka was not at her house.

“I immediately stood up and went to ’Malekhooa’s place,” Chief Lehoko said.

He said when he arrived, he knocked at her door but there was no response so he kicked the door open, went in and called out ’Malekhooa Maeka by name.

Chief Lehoko said he then lit his phone and saw her lying in bed covered in blankets.

He said he then went closer to her and shook her but she was heavy.

Chief Lehoko said he tried to shake her again one last time while still calling her out but he touched blood.

He said he immediately left and went back to tell others that Maeka seemed to be dead too.

“I decided to go and buy airtime from the nearest shop which I had passed through near ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s home.”

He said on his way he met one Sebata Poto who asked him who he was.

Chief Lehoko said he only replied by telling him that the two women, Masasa and Maeka, had been murdered.

He said Sebata Poto told him that “’Matlhokomelo has been stabbed with a spear too”.

Chief Lehoko said he rushed to ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s house where he found her seated in the middle of the house supported by her children with blood oozing from her chest, gasping for air.

“I stepped out and went to get airtime, but I found her dead when I returned from the shop,” the chief said.

The case continues.

Tholoana Lesenya

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Opposition fights back



THE opposition is launching a nasty fightback after Prime Minister Sam Matekane defanged their no-confidence motion by roping in new partners to firm up his government.

Matekane’s surprise deal with the Basotho Action Party (BAP) has trimmed the opposition’s support in parliament and thrown their motion into doubt.

But the opposition has now filed another motion that seeks to get Matekane and his MPs disqualified from parliament on account that they were elected when they had business interests with the government.

The motion is based on section 59 of the constitution which disqualifies a person from being sworn-in as an MP if they have “any such interest in any such government contract as may be so prescribed”.

Section 59 (6) describes a government contract as “any contract made with the Government of Lesotho or with a department of that Government or with an officer of that Government contracting as such”.

Prime Minister Matekane’s Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) has a history of winning road construction tenders. Other Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MPs, most of whom were in business, had had business dealings with the government.

It is however not clear if the MPs were still doing business with the government at the time of their swearing-in.
Matekane’s MGC Park is housing the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which is a government institution established by the constitution, getting its funds from the consolidated funds.

The motion was brought by the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Lekhetho Rakuoane who is a key figure in the opposition’s bid to topple Matekane.

The motion appears to be a long shot but should be taken in the context of a political game that has become nasty.
Advocate Rakuoane said the IEC’s tenancy at the MGC is one of their targets.

“The IEC is one of the government departments,” Rakuoane said.

“It is currently unethical that it has hired the prime minister’s building.”

“But after the motion, he will have to cut ties with the IEC or he will be kicked out of parliament.”

The Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said although the IEC is an independent body, it can still be regarded as part of the government because it gets its funding from the consolidated fund.

The Basotho Covenant Movement (BCM)’s Reverend Tšepo Lipholo, who seconded the motion, said the Matekane-led government “is dominated by tenderpreneurs who have been doing business with the government since a long time ago”.

“Now they have joined politics, they must not do business with the government,” Lipholo said.

He said some of the MPs in the ruling parties are still doing business with the government despite their promises before the election to stop doing that.

“Those who will not abide by the law should be disqualified as MPs,” Lipholo said.

“Basotho’s small businesses are collapsing day-by-day, yet people who are in power continue to take tenders for themselves.”

He applauded the Abia constituency MP Thuso Makhalanyane, who was recently expelled from Matekane’s RFP for rebellion because he withdrew his car from government engagement after he was sworn in as an MP.

“He set a good example by withdrawing his vehicle where it was hired by the government,” Lipholo said.

Rakuoane said during the past 30 years after Lesotho’s return to democratic rule, section 59 of the constitution has not been attended to even when it was clear that some MPs had business dealings with the government.

“This section stops you from entering parliament when doing business with the government. Those who are already members will have to leave,” he said.

Rakuoane said they are waiting for Speaker Tlohang Sekhamane to sign the motion so that the parliament business committee can set a date for its debate.

“The law will also serve to assist ordinary Basotho businesses as they will not compete with the executive,” he said.

“There are many Basotho businesses in business these MPs are in. They must get those tenders instead.”

The new motion comes barely a week after a court application aimed at disqualifying Mokhothu.

The government-sponsored application sought the Constitutional Court to declare Mokhothu unfit to be prime minister because he was convicted of fraud in 2007.

Mokhothu has been suggested as Matekane’s replacement should the motion of no confidence pass in parliament.

Nkheli Liphoto

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