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Literature and reality

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“The shadows are long on the valley’s floor, and the evening beckons with its lulling songs of ancient folktales sung around fires, it is not the time to mourn, it is the time of the early morn; For all of those that have yet to sprout their first, It is twilight for the figure with grey hair telling these ones in a tone forlorn. Reciting the poetry of some mystic figure of yore recounted in some ancient lore.

Twilight is telling dawn the tale of yesterday, and dawn is listening, no! Dawn is not listening, lulled to sleep is he by the warmth of the fire…lulled to sleep is he by the cadence of ancient folklore recited by the one with grey hairs in the twilight of his life…dawn will wake up tomorrow!”
As I type these words from a poem I wrote long ago living at a government tenement at Ha-Hoohlo in 2006, autumn is around the corner, and those whose nostrils know the smell of the season’s change know that the time of torrential rains and fading leaves is here.

It is the end of the season of warmth, and the frosty mornings and chilly evenings are soon to begin; it is like that every year.
Where other creatures are going into hibernation, some will come out and play: it is a nocturnal diurnal type of exchange in terms of existence, where some creatures function better in the day and others are more comfortable working in the dark stillness of the night. The words by the French-Algerian writer, Albert Camus, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer…” describe the relationship between the writer and reality, between literature written and reality, and the core of the industry of writing. Seasons do have an influence on how one writes, they provide the stimulus for some of the best concepts in writing literature.

The rest of the sentence further describes exactly what it is that drove Camus the author to churn out the finest literature of the absurd of his era and perhaps the latter eras where the search for the actual relationship between literature and reality continues. Views may have shifted somewhat, but the core to the questions literature poses remains stuck to the private quest to make meaning of life and the realities associated with it.

The Camusian perspective states that, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” Fiction is part of literature that to a large extent is seen as a distortion of the truth for the sake of telling the truth. However, it is not a distortion of the truth but is to a certain level an exploration of the truth through an imaginative means, that is, fiction sets out to describe lives in the real through the extensions provided by imaginary character, created themes, well-thought-out plots, and imagined locations.

Fiction in every modern sense is the ‘avatar’ of truth such that the character with a different name in a far city may actually turn out to be the exact behaviourally replicated image of an actual figure living nearby. A stone may represent a virtue, and a flower may be the image of beauty, and that is the whole irony of the lie used to tell the truth that we call fiction.

Most writers are most creative in the midst of winter, and others still find their pen hand in the middle of summer. That which they write on makes them happy, for the pursuit of the pen says that no matter how hard the current trends in the world push in the less favourable, the spirit within the writer pushes him to the page. There is always something the writer can write on going on at any point in a day, and no matter how sad the day may seem, there is always something better to inspire him to write.

Albert Camus stated, “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself…” it is a noble pursuit that demands careful observation before jumping to the pen and paper mating session as a writer. The question of how real the world the writer is writing about usually comes to the fore for the critics (in their abundance), the issue of the work’s relevance in terms of the time it was written in, and (lately) the life story of the author with its associated interviews come to the fray. All these issues are irrelevant if one does not consider the simple question: does the given work explore real truths?

It was at the end of 1954 that Roland Barthes, the French essayist, wrote a review of Albert Camus’ masterpiece The Plague. He pointed out a lack of coherence between the real history of French Resistance against German occupation during Second World War and the fictional struggle of Oran’s citizens against a disease. For Barthes, the problem was that ‘in reality’ the struggle of resistance could not be presented, without reservations, as an allegory of people fighting a lethal disease.

The view however autocratic it may sound, can be held true by the average man in the street that does not understand the gist of the act of representing reality when it comes to literature. While it is true that French underground resistance members, in their fighting of the Nazis had to confront real people, not a disease or an abstract metaphysical problem, Camus needed to distort the picture a bit to pass the message on.

Barthes argues that: “The evil has sometimes a human face and about this, The Plague speaks nothing” (Barthes, 1955, p. 7). This observed difficulty according to Barthes has important, moral consequences. The consequences of war are similar for the majority of the people, but the real fact of the matter is that Barthes may in his review have missed one glaring factor: evil in the case of the theme of war explored in The Plague had a face.

The face had a Charlie Chaplin moustache and could rouse entire crowds into frenzy with his raving episodes of rhetoric: that figure was Adolf Hitler, the true face of the evil that sent the whole world into the arms of World War II.
The unity of the people, as presented by the struggles of the port city of Oran in Albert Camus’ novel, is formed against a dehumanised threat, an invisible enemy very similar to the current COVID-19 pandemic. The discussion about what the bubonic plague does amongst the citizens does not according to Barthes address the real moral consequences of the actual confrontation episodes between human beings. The people are fighting a plague, and they have to engage in combat with other humans to avoid being infected themselves.

This is a difficult undertaking if one views it on moral grounds; one is forced to abandon their neighbour because contact with them may lead to their being infected with the plague. America in the two world wars came in as a reluctant latecomer to the fracas; because the country thought distance would mean it was safe: but Pearl Harbor came and America created Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One therefore can conclude that Camus’ perspective on the novel being the representation of the war was actually right despite the criticism by Roland Barthes, his critic of the moment.

It is not wrong to see matters according to the critic, but at that point in time one perhaps could not foresee the return of a similar plague that would be on a larger global scale. The world is seen on the basis of the novel by the critic, and the reader interprets what the actions of the citizens of Oran would be when fighting against the threat of a pandemic. First time readers do not see the threat posed by human beings; it is only after the critic has spoken that they begin to see the other perspective of the novel’s possibility of being the representation of something other than a bubonic plague delivered by dead rats in the street.

There are numerous rats on social media platforms in this modern multimedia world, and what they spread sometimes carries equal potential with other previous pandemics. The solidarity of the people as presented by Camus, according to Barthes, even when obviously successful when opposed against fictional evil, cannot be helpful in real, historical struggles of humans against humans: “The characters of Camus could not keep themselves away from being executioners or their accomplices without accepting being solitary and this is whom they truly are”.

According to Roland Barthes, “the solitude or the failure of solidarity based on morality of characters from the novel, does not await only Camus’s heroes. The author himself, firmly believing in such morality, as is presented in the novel, is consequently condemned to loneliness.” This conclusion by Barthes was that allegorical presentation of historical resistance, depicted as a struggle against natural epidemic, leaves the reader unaware of moral dilemmas faced by people engaged in conflict.

Barthes the great scholar here was in essence wrong in terms of literary technique; there is need to leave the reader room to imagine their own world through the scope of the novel they are reading. One as a writer cannot lay everything bare; one may as well just write a work and go give lectures and interpretations of the meanings behind the themes and motifs in the work. The reader should be left with the benefit of re-imagining what they are reading on.

Barthes perhaps meant that The Plague as a novel does not represent the persistent difficulty of being actively engaged in resistance, which involves killing people and taking responsibility for deeds done in the course of war, and also the dozens or hundreds of innocents that are executed as mere collateral damage that can be dismissed and forgotten.

Though Camus does not explain in detail his moral position regarding political violence in his memoirs, his personal beliefs were founded on his strong moral acceptance that violence against oppressive ideology or tyranny is permissible. This is one of the reasons why he was the supporter of the Algerian Arab uprising though he was a member of the upper class. Algeria, like South Africa was divided into two societies, and he belonged to the upper class but still managed to write for the Algerian general society. He was in essence the outsider, though he had the opportunity to benefit from his social status as a member of the pieds noir or black feet as Europeans living Algeria were known as in his time.

The life of the author reveals one factor; the water is similar to the rock that gave birth to the well, tastes like the well, because the water is of the well. Writers are observers that are forced by their profession to stand outside society and adopt an outside-looking-in type of perspective when making their observations. This means that good literary authors are often outsiders even if they spend their evenings at gala dinners or in private restaurants once their fame catches on. This is the reality of the author in the writing of literature, but that literature too can be twisted and extended by the state of mind of the author in certain instances.

The name of George Luis Borges is associated with stories that take his readers on labyrinthine journeys with no discernible exits that cannot ordinarily be expected from more conventional fiction. His 100 Years of Solitude is a tale without a head or a tail, a classic masterpiece of a work that takes the reader through time, out of time and in time because of its endlessness. The reader meets a single character in different centuries across the span of history and the character is relevant in all the eras he is met in each chapter.

It is a technique that according to one critic is used because, “It is in this way that Borges gives his readers a radical extension of reality. While a good story can transport the reader, under Borges’ direction you are transported further still.” Some tales need no end, because there are such tales in the world of the living under the reality of one fact, continuity: the show sometimes must go on non-end or until the last patrons have fallen into the arms of slumber in their seats in the theatre.

By radically extending reality through the power of his creative vision, Borges ensured that his art can be seen in the progressive light. Culture as a concept is broad, and it has shifted shape throughout the entire span of history, and the writings of Borges as art forms gave the definition of culture a kind of imaginative liberation, allowing it to thrive in books with endless tales.
The definition to the relationship between literature and reality is found in the 1968 Massachusetts interview he had with Rita Guibert in Cambridge. The reply by Borges with regard to his work in literature was:
People are generally wrong when they take reality as meaning daily life, and think of the rest as unreal. In the long run, emotions, ideas, and speculations are just as real as everyday events. I believe that all the dreamers and philosophers in the world are having an influence on our present-day life.

What we think ultimately ends up on a page someone will read and it helps them make a meaning of the world in which they live. That is the relationship between literature and reality.

Tšepiso S Mothibi

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Reforms: time to change hearts and minds

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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.

Motlatsi Thabane

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We have lost our moral indignation

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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

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No peace plan, no economic recovery

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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.

Potjo Potjo

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