Lesotho’s constitution provides for religious freedom. Basotho are predominantly Christian, with diverse denominations. There are smaller religious affiliations, Muslims, Hindus, Baha’i, and indigenous religions. Banchof’s the World Faith Dialogue, states that 90% of the population comprises 45% (one million) Catholic and 45% Protestants. The largest Protestant denomination is the Anglican Church of Lesotho – with 370 000 members, followed by the LECSA (Lesotho Evangelical Church of Southern Africa) and the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) with 300 000 and 150 000, respectfully.
Despite Basotho being believers, many practise traditional rites. For example, burials, traditional cleansing, and ‘pha-balimo’ strictly follow customs, bohali continues to be part of weddings rites. Pha-balimo is where a family sets aside a sacrificial portion of food to share with ancestors. This practice is common in most Basotho ceremonies.
Apart from spirituality and scriptures, churches play essential roles in public services and Basotho lives. In the education sector, over 90% of schools are church-owned. The Christian Health Association of Lesotho (CHAL) has eight hospitals and 71 healthcare centres nationwide.
Also, there are several Faith Inspired Organisations (FIO). FIOs work with the government and other organisations to address education, health, social justice, and civic engagements issues. They are involved in national pandemics such as HIV/AIDS and TB, the current Covid 19, the triple challenge of hunger, poverty and unemployment.
The missionaries extended their control over Basotho society through the school system. The Catholics used schools to push for denominational separation. In sports events, they put Catholic pupils separately under priests’ strict supervision.
This article seeks to explore the role of the church in developments in Lesotho. I will show that the method missionaries used to implement their Eurocentric religion was detrimental to Basotho. This method adversely compromised our culture, customs and values leading to Basotho being at war with themselves.
The first missionaries (of the Parish Evangelical Missionary Society, PEMS) arrived in Lesotho in 1833. Two more generations followed before the first crop of Basotho evangelists were ready for ordination. In the meantime, other missionaries, from different denominations, followed.
Jacottet stands out amongst all missionaries. His intellectual contributions to Lesotho are worth commenting on separately. He contributed tremendously to linguistics, traditional literature and education.
Early missionaries played significant roles in the formative stages of Lesotho. Apart from their ministry, they advised and facilitated Moshoeshoe’s agreements with the settlers and the British. They converted Sesotho into a written language with its dictionary. They founded school and biblical education, the printing press, including the first mission periodical, Leselinyana and translating the Bible into vernacular.
The mandate of missionaries was to indigenise Christianity in Lesotho. They eradicated Basotho traditions. The policies depersonalised Basotho thereby losing their self-being and nationhood. Disconnecting Basotho from their culture destroys their being and creates another personality. They created what Wilson Blueprint Black Power calls two characters in one body.
The first missionaries sought to convert the nation. However, they first wanted to convert the individual. At the same time, Moshoeshoe allowed his wives to be converted. But Moshoeshoe was never baptised himself. When the missionaries demanded his baptismal, he asked them to all baptise him together.
Rev Sekoati OMI, observed that Eurocentric religion was considered ‘superior’ to Basotho culture and customs. Indigenising the Eurocentric religion rendered Basotho traditions a misfit. This creation mentally enslaved Basotho to a culture that is entirely foreign to them. Enslavement of the mind yields dependence. Letting the missionaries to determine our culture allows them to choose our personalities and our consciousness. The European subjugated Lesotho as a nation.
Jacottet reflected that Basotho were not as primitive, simple-natured and easily-read people as the Europeans naïvely imagined. Casalis acknowledges that Basotho believed in the existence of a supreme being they called ‘Molimo’. They believed in the immortality of the soul and resurrection of the body. They requested the ancestors to intercede on their behalf and buried their dead in a particular manner. Ancestors could intercede for the living. The Supreme Being can punish offenders for violating his laws and customs. Casalis recognised the resemblance and connections between the doctrine of Christianity and Basotho’s ancient thoughts. Yet, the missionaries sought to substitute Basotho religion with a superior Christianity.
Even with this knowledge, a European Jacottet’s colleague noted that even though they lived amongst Basotho, and were in contact with them, they lived separate and far from them. In short, the two lived worlds apart, yet they committed to change the lives of Basotho.
Synopses of biographies of missionaries who arrived in Lesotho and their societies’ histories do not show any European knowledge of Basotho customs and culture before their arrival. But, as Sekoati lays it, the missionaries saw everything about Basotho as evil and ancient. They equated Christianity as civilisation. They saw the European religion as superior.
Contrary to acknowledgements, on numerous occasions throughout his book, Casalis refers to Basotho as caffres, which he defines as men without beliefs, (the word, caffre or kaffir is derogatory, insulting and offensive). Scholars argue that religion is a product of one’s culture. Christianity, like any religion, is itself a product of culture. It evolved in line with the European Western traditional culture. Nonetheless, the missionary sought to deprive Basotho of pursuing the religion emanating from their culture. Here, the missionaries chose the culture Basotho must follow. Determining culture for Basotho takes away their power. They become dependent on others.
Under Emperor Constantine, the Roman Empire sought to and institutionalised Christianity in his Empire beginning around 320s AD. He sought to spread his influence and dominate other nations. As a result, the Emperor summoned his clerics and scholars to translate the Bible to his native language. He used Christianity as a tool for conquering the world, as the Romans knew. We see the evidence of religion’s power on things like the calendar and the western governments and Christian holidays.
A white anthropologist visited Lesotho to gather anthropological data on Basotho. There are no records of this study. Sekoati’s master study criticises the missionaries arguing they outrightly rejected our indigenous religions without sufficient investigation. Obliterating Basotho culture and values leads to their intellectual enslavement. Put differently, destroying Basotho would render them dependent on others. They were being enslaved by those who brought these new traditions and ways of believing.
The missionaries demanded that Moshoeshoe and Basotho abolish initiation – lebollo, polygamy and payment of bridal price or dowry – bohali customary practices. They refused to baptise women in polygamous marriages, forcing them to divorce their husbands before converting.
On the other hand, Casalis and much later, Couzens, point out that lebollo was critical to nation-building. Basotho lads are initiated into manhood.
They were taught Basotho traditions, laws and customs, the art of warfare, hunting, self-defence, the responsibility of manhood and family life.
This is whilst Casalis, himself, saw many resemblances between the Hebrew and Basotho initiation rites. The two nations attached a state of stigmatisation and dishonour for being uncircumcised. As with the Jews, lebollo is core to Basotho. At least to me, it is not clear how this culture is contrary to Christianity.
At some point, Moshoeshoe acceded to the pressure and suspended lebollo. The suspension of lebollo was short-lived, though. Moshoeshoe reversed the suspension of lebollo after the missionaries betrayed him by instructing Basotho parishioners to disobey the call for all men to join a war expedition against Batlokoa. Jacottet acknowledged the church’s blunder.
This is not the last interferences of the church in Lesotho politics. Khaketla’s book, Lesotho 1970 an African Coup Under the Microscope, and Sekoati, much later, detailed church-sponsored political meddling in Lesotho. The Catholic Church formed and propelled a political party into government. They effectively used the church machinery, pulpit, schools, print media, the clergy and other resources to ensure success.
Teachers and employees were threatened with expulsion and ex-communication. It was a sin not to vote, but the parishioners must vote with a ‘conscience’. The bishop prescribed this ‘conscience’. The outcomes of this ‘unholy’ partnership could not be more catastrophic.
Banchof claims that the main Protestant church aligned itself with a major party. Sekoati disagrees arguing that even if they tried, the protestant churches were too divided dealing with their issues. They did not have the resources to sustain such campaign machinery.
I have shown that one policy of the missionaries was indigenisation of Christianity. It is critical to underscore that these missionaries were either French or Swiss-French. France practised the colonial policy of assimilation, where the citizen of its colonies became French and lost their cultures, including languages.
A product of assimilation policy is the French 2018 Russia FIFA world cup winning team. Twelve French players boasted African ancestry. They came from nine nations in Africa. The native countries were deprived of their talent.
However, Banchof found that many Basotho continued to practise Christianity and traditional rituals. According to Wilson, this duality of beliefs by Basotho leads to multiple personalities. A person with this condition displays personalities depending on the context or environment.
This is contrary to the view of Casalis and Jacottet about Basotho. In the preceding paragraphs, I have already highlighted that Basotho inherited a religion regarding their culture, customs, and values as inferior.
They allowed others to determine their experiences, history and consciousness. According to Wilson, in doing so Basotho gave their power to the missionaries. Other people decided what was suitable for Basotho.
Lesotho offers an education system whose principal is to develop the Christian character where the teachers’ role was evangelists first, and pedagogy came second. The system aimed at acquainting children with the Bible and instilling the scripture into children. They gave less attention to practical subjects like mathematics, geography and the sciences. Others would go into government and take up offices as civil servants and as police officers.
In the meantime, teacher training colleges, whose purposes were to perpetuate the denominational doctrines mushroomed alongside the Christian church denominations in Lesotho. The main churches at the time built three denominational teachers’ colleges. These churches were the Roman Catholic Church, the Lesotho Evangelical Church and the Anglican Church.
Banchof found that Basotho trusted religious leaders and their organisations. This trust places them in strategic positions where they could influence the attitudes of Basotho on sensitive developmental issues. For example, the Christian Council of Lesotho played a crucial role in establishing the national reforms dialogue.
This article shows that the missionaries made tremendous contributions in many sectors of the country. Their contributions spilt beyond the borders of Lesotho. These sectors include the administration and international relationships, in education, both school and higher education sectors, language and linguistics, health and wellness – with local and international organisations. Today they continue to make an enormous contribution in sensitive national issues such as the constitutional reforms.
The missionaries came to Lesotho with preconceived policies irrespective of Basotho traditions. These policies undermined Basotho projecting Europeans and their religion as superior. They alienated Basotho culture and customs. Dislocating Basotho from their traditions yielded catastrophic consequences. It produced chaos, with people losing their cultural identity, the very foundation of their being. Even though Basotho are predominately Christian, they continued to practice their traditional rites. Some Basotho culture and customs survived ruthless efforts by the church to uproot them, even with the threat of ex-communication.
The article reveals that missionaries brought an education system that put too much emphasis on Christian spirituality. This system neglected aspects of personal and national development. The doctrine of the denomination was deemed more important than the country’s needs.
Wilson suggests that individuals who mix traditional culture and customs with Christianity display a medical condition called multiple personalities disorder. This person as possessed by evil spirits and is at war with him- or herself and the community. The symptoms that the individual displays include self-destructive behaviours such as substance abuse and lack of peace.
There are other consequences at the community and national level. Even though the impact may be minimal at local community levels, the denominational religion caused fatal outcomes at the national level. The article shows that the church’s involvement in political developments of a nation is a sensitive business that should be handled with maximum caution.
Instead, the missionaries needed to consolidate Basotho culture and religion by integrating them with Christianity. Today Basotho are a lost nation that has lost their sense of community, goals and purposes.
In conclusion, the church made significant contributions to Lesotho, spiritually and socially. Many of these landmarks are recognisable today. However, their contributions came at a cost. Missionaries projected themselves as superior. Basotho lost the power to determine their lives. The loss resulted in individuals with multiple personality disorders manifesting in self-destructive tendencies.
Basotho strongly believed in Molimo with ancestors interceding on their behalf. Basotho traditional practices entrench their religion. The missionaries acknowledged the similarities with Christianity. Yet, the church elected to neglect this knowledge. All conquered nations had religion imposed on them.
The church involved themselves in the political development of Lesotho to the detriment of Basotho. They compromised Lesotho’s politics by manipulating them to their desired end, depriving Basotho of their nationhood. Instead, a Mosotho became the enemy of a Mosotho. The self-destruction here is at a national level.
Banchof found that most research studies on religion in Lesotho focused on the history of the church. There is little contemporary research. The church knows little on what appeals to its parishioners. At the same time, this article questions the indigenisation policy. Basotho and the church must consolidate the two religions.
Basotho must come to terms with their values and consciousness and the way they would like to take Lesotho forward.
Dr Tholang Maqutu
Reforms: time to change hearts and minds
A very important milestone is gradually being reached in Lesotho politics. On April 6, 2022, I attended a National Reforms Authority (NRA)’s High-level Forum on the State of the Implementation of the Lesotho National Reforms at ’Manthabiseng Convention Centre.
For the first time, I heard at that meeting politicians acknowledging that Lesotho’s political problems have a lot to do with politicians themselves, and not with written clauses of the Constitution.
This is a point that this country’s intellectuals and academics have made for years. Lesotho politicians have refused to listen both because of their dislike for the country’s academics and because of absence of any communication between the two groups as a result of that dislike.
If politicians could use their newly-acquired wisdom as a basis from which to proceed in attempts to solve Lesotho’s political problems, there is potential for great strides to be made, finally.
Political instability bedevils Lesotho because the hearts and minds of politicians continue to be inclined to break the law, or to look for ‘loopholes’, in pursuit of narrow interests; and continue to change clauses of the Constitution when such clauses do not allow the pursuit and achievement of narrow interests.
We need a change of heart and mind-set among our politicians in order to make headway in building a politically stable society. Politicians’ narrow interests should not be a basis for what needs to happen in Lesotho. The need for constitutional changes and the search for loopholes will persist but they should not be inspired by the pursuit of narrow interests, as has hitherto happened.
Instead, to us the public, it should become necessary to reform the constitution on two conditions only. First, when it is found that the constitution does not adequately address concerns with the socio-economic welfare of Basotho. Second, when it becomes necessary to ensure that Basotho exercise real power on who rules them and on how they are ruled. These conditions are cardinal.
And they should inform all thought and action in Lesotho’s politics.
As has happened many times already, even these costly ongoing reforms of clauses of the Constitution will be all for naught if concern for politicians’ own welfare continues to be a primary motive behind their pursuit for parliamentary seats, and what they do once in parliament.
It may well be that the current and next generation of politicians will be short of men and women with hearts and mind-set fit for service to Basotho’s welfare. But serious attempts need to be made to ensure the generation after the next has a critical mass of such politicians.
This cannot only be wished for. It has to be worked for. One thought is to introduce a curriculum that teaches people the capacity to think of others, and care for others. These are some of the attributes mostly missing among our politicians. Their incapacity to think of others leads to their lack of a sense of public duty that we see and experience every day.
We have neglected the task of socialising and educating empathetic hearts and mind-sets claiming that Africans and Basotho naturally and culturally subscribe to, and live in accordance with, ubuntu (humanity). It is quite obvious that this is not true. People who make this claim loudest are the middle classes who, while claiming to subscribe to ubuntu, live in houses surrounded by six feet high perimeter walls.
There may be other thoughts than socialisation on this. What we have to hope for is that from here onwards, in our search for solutions to Lesotho political problems, we will proceed from the recognition that, primarily, these problems emanate not from inappropriate written texts of the Constitution but from hearts and minds of men and women.
We have lost our moral indignation
I remember when the allegations that Tšeliso Nthane had shot and killed one of his employees first came to the surface. It was in 2019, back when the air was not so poisonous and Basotho still had much of their hope. Well not much because this is generally a hopeless, desolate wasteland but some small pretence of hope still remained. The nation was angry, and rightfully so. The consensus was that men like Nthane, no matter how deep their pockets, should not be allowed to act with impunity. A man was dead and we were baying for justice.
A lot has happened since then. The Covid-19 pandemic, mass retrenchments and job losses, the ever dwindling power of the loti. This and that but all has been more negative than positive in this place so when the time came for Nthane to be handed judgment we had mostly stopped caring as we had to deal with the business of living .
Anyway the man was found not guilty. I will confess I did not read the judgement for fear it will sink me lower into the abyss that is life in Lesotho. However, news of that sort cannot escape one even if they try, more especially if they are on social media. No sooner had judgment been handed down that social media debates began raging.
Suddenly everyone was an expert in punitive versus remedial justices and the pros and cons therein. Many argued that once more the rich had been proven to be above the law. A statement clouded in naivety really because had they been paying attention they would have realised that there is nothing to prove as the rich have always been above the law.
Those who fancy themselves the harbingers of remedial justice argued that Nthane had made certain payments to the family and thus paid his debt. I have no personal knowledge of these payments but I was of course curious to know how much the price of a life is amongst these parts.
They further argued that since Nthane owned many companies that employed many Basotho it would not be in the national interests to send him to prison as jobs would be lost. I am not sure how Basotho think companies work and if they have ever heard that they are a separate legal entity from their owners but no matter. This is certainly an elucidation on the finer points of company law.
I have in the past been guilty of judging my countrymen, perhaps a little too harshly as it is sometimes hard to make sense of their motivations but to hear young people speak so vehemently for letting a man walk free after another has died simply because he is in a position to provide them with a livelihood reminded me once more of the stark hopelessness when it comes to finding a job in this country.
Basotho youths are not uneducated, they are not immoral or unfeeling and they certainly are not pro-murder. At least I hope so. What they are however is hungry and desperate and desperation can reduce even the most pious man to his knees. What good is moral outrage if one is outraged on an empty stomach?
What good will it do for them to be out in the street being activists for social and moral issues when they barely can afford the nine maloti to hop into a taxi and arrive at such a demonstration? To argue that anyone who can offer them jobs should be treated differently as far as the law is concerned is a statement borne out of the worst kind of desperation and instead of making me angry, it made me sad.
Now, I have not enough knowledge of the case against Nthane to say whether I feel the judgment was fair and just. All I know is I certainly want it not to be in favour of him simply because he has jobs and livelihoods to give. It is however easy for me to judge from my privileged position where I have a meal guaranteed every night. It is easy to be morally indignant when one does not have to worry about the indignities of joblessness.
I spoke last week of how easy it is for us to condemn young people who lay their bodies on the human resource table. We laugh at older people who walk for kilometres to attend political rallies and sing for “baetapele” (leaders) and fail to take into account that in a moment of desperation a man who offers you promises of a job you badly need is someone you would follow to a rally.
To see young women in the arms of 70-year-olds who are not even good company. To see young men vehemently justify that murder should be forgiven if the alleged murderer can offer them a livelihood will quickly disabuse one of the notion that there is any progress happening in Lesotho.
So here we are in a country where people are willing to sell their bodies and souls for a chance at a decent life.
Here we are about to enter another election season and the only people who stand to truly benefit are the owners of guest houses. Whether Nthane got a fair verdict or not is immaterial to me, what remains shocking is how we have lost our moral indignation as a country. It appears Tom Thabane, that erstwhile leader was right when he said “sera sa motho ke tlala”. To quote the younger generations of Ma2000: “Because wow”.
Thakane Rethabile Shale
No peace plan, no economic recovery
The world’s struggle to reboot economies viciously disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic remains real. However, the impact could be more severe to countries that already had dwindling economies and lack a way out, chief amongst them Lesotho. The focus on recovery gets disrupted from time to time by new variants seemingly more infectious than the previous ones; we had the Delta variant and now Omicron.
Several countries seem to be putting their own nationals ahead of everyone else. The squabble between the European Union and the United Kingdom over vaccines was but an example of leaders who put the interests of their own people first. The leaders surely knew that the world would not win the fight over Covid unless the rest of the world is vaccinated as stated by the World Health Organisation.
They however made plans to keep their people safe first, protect their boundaries and then set stringent entry conditions into their countries to further protect their own people. Though this may seem selfish, who in their right mind would not do the same?
As countries draw and implement plans to get their economies back on track, Lesotho has very little to show if anything at all. Businesses shut doors and the few people who had jobs lost their only incomes. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Lesotho was already struggling to engage in much needed capital projects because it simply did not have the money.
Sadly, there is no watertight plan let alone a draft to increase dwindling revenue following the reviewed Southern Africa Custom Union’s approach. There is basically no plan to support entrepreneurs to scale up thereby increasing the tax base. Instead, the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) is expected to milk dry the remaining few dying cows.
With this hopeless state of affairs in Lesotho, one would be misled to think that Lesotho is not capable of making solid plans and sticking to them. The reality is, Lesotho, a country of around 2 million people only is indeed capable of doing more for her few people. She has abundant resources; minerals and human capital.
Sadly, the skills and resources are always misdirected to produce negative energy among Basotho. The only fully funded strategy that Lesotho is committed to at the moment and can be articulated clearly by all parties involved without having to consult is Mothetjoa Metsing’s arrest. Metsing is accused of treason based on a hard-to-understand incident where he was a coalition partner and a Deputy Prime Minister, yet he is said to have been involved in an attempt to unseat the then Prime Minister Thabane.
Thabane of course did leave the country but Metsing never dreamt of taking over the premier’s office. The police, Public Prosecutor and the executive are all on the same page about progress and what the next move against Metsing should be.
There are officers ready to do whatever it takes to bring him down. There is no shortage of resources when it comes to arresting him. Intelligence is on top of its game when it comes to him. The propaganda machinery is fully empowered. When will the government get its priorities right?
The army commander Lt Gen Motšomotšo and senior army officials Col Sechele and Col Hashatsi were shot dead in broad daylight, within the army barracks and there is absolutely nothing and no one who has been held accountable for their killing. This against the background that former army commander Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli and others remain in prison for years pending the case surrounding among others the killing of yet another army commander Maaparankoe Mahao.
Where is the logic here? No investigations, no arrests, absolutely nothing on the killing of the three high profile army officials. Yet the government is persecuting Metsing for allegedly plotting to oust a government which never happened.
Around 80 people died in cold blood in police custody under the All Basotho Convention-led operation – “Tokho”. The then Prime Minister Tom Thabane allowed the police to torture people and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy tried to force the premier to withdraw his instructions to the police. That however drew a blank.
The police chief has not yet been called to account for these deaths. The police are doing what Basotho were complaining about during the reign of the previous regime that the army was acting with impunity. Suddenly, it is ok for the police to brutally torture and kill Basotho.
Suddenly, it is ok for army bosses to be killed with impunity. That’s the only reasonable conclusion that one arrives at based on the hesitation of the government to do anything about the killers on the government’s payroll.
The government of Lesotho needs to focus on revamping this country’s economy, creating jobs, improving health services, building infrastructure, promoting peace and unity and managing the escalating crime rate. Lesotho fails to acknowledge that the country’s peace is a group effort and Basotho must all be in it to work.
Investors are unlikely to risk their money in a country that is not at peace with itself. Until the government get its priorities right, Lesotho will continue to struggle to have peace and a stable economy. This will translate to high unemployment worse compared to where it is currently.
Metsing had a peace plan that was unfortunately not supported by some parties. Those who opposed it could only assume that it would let him go free. They never weighed options nor tabled alternative peace-making efforts. To them the country would rather suffer, rather be divided than accept the fact that the government was never toppled. There are far more pressing issues in Lesotho. Instead of paying loads of money to a foreign prosecutor, and taking much valuable time from our courts of law, we should be focusing our priorities on something positive. We need to heal and move on as a nation, not as individuals.
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