The Congo River in literature
The Congo River which has a length of 2 900 miles (4 700km) is considered Africa’s second longest river, after the Nile. But I first heard about it through Joseph Conrad’s monstrous descriptions of it in his novel of 1899, Heart of Darkness.
With its many tributaries, the Congo forms the continent’s largest network of navigable waterways. It flows out of the African equatorial zone where heavy rainfall occurs throughout all or almost all of the year.
In Conrad’s novel, the river and its swampy terrain is a devilish place full of savage Africans who are the pathetic children of evil. It is a difficult novel to read when you are a conscious African.
That is probably why I have enjoyed Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God in so far as it is a novel that counters Conrad’s novel. Contrary to Heart of Darkness, Arrow of God shows that Africans were always a decent and erudite people and not a primitive race.
But more recently a young African, a Zimbabwean soldier, Mashingaidze Gomo, has actually set his novel, A Fine Madness, in the same Congo River area. A Fine Madness contrasts even more directly with Heart of Darkness.
Heart of Darkness (1899) is a novella by Polish-English novelist, Joseph Conrad. It tells the story of Charles Marlow, a sailor who takes on an assignment from a Belgian trading company as a ferry-boat captain in the African interior.
Heart of Darkness begins on the deck of the Nellie, a British ship anchored on the coast of the Thames. An anonymous narrator, the Director of companies, the Accountant and Marlow sit in silence. Marlow begins by telling the three men about a time he journeyed in a steam boat up the Congo River.
Heart of Darkness centres around Marlow, an introspective sailor, and his journey up the Congo River to meet Kurtz, reputed to be an idealistic man of great abilities. Marlow takes a job as a riverboat captain with the Company, a Belgian concern organised to trade in the Congo.
As he travels to Africa and then up the Congo, apparently during the Scramble for Africa by Europeans, Marlow encounters widespread inefficiency and brutality in the Company’s stations. The native inhabitants of the region have been forced into the Company’s service and they suffer terribly from overwork and ill treatment at the hands of the Company’s agents.
Marlow arrives at the Central Station, run by the general manager, an unwholesome, conspiratorial character. He finds that his steamship has been sunk and spends several months waiting for parts to repair it. His interest in Kurtz grows during this period. Kurtz is rumoured to be ill in the interior, making the delays in repairing the ship all the more costly.
Marlow eventually gets the parts he needs to repair his ship, and he and the manager set out with a few agents (whom Marlow calls pilgrims because of their strange habit of carrying long, wooden staves wherever they go) and a crew of Africans described as cannibals on a long, difficult voyage up the river.
After many adventures, Marlow and his companions arrive at Kurtz’s Inner Station, expecting to find him dead. A half-crazed Russian trader, who meets them as they come ashore, assures them that everything is fine.
Apparently, Kurtz has established himself as a god with the natives and has gone on brutal raids in the surrounding territory in search of ivory. There is a collection of severed human heads adorning the fence posts around the station showing what Kurtz can do to disobedient natives.
The travellers bring Kurtz out of the station-house on a stretcher, and a large group of native warriors pour out of the forest and surrounds them. Kurtz speaks to them, and the natives disappear into the woods.
A savagely beautiful African woman, apparently Kurtz’s mistress, appears on the shore and stares out at the ship. The Russian implies that she is somehow involved with Kurtz and has caused trouble before through her influence over him.
The Russian reveals to Marlow, after swearing him to secrecy, that Kurtz had ordered the attack on the steamer to make them believe he was dead in order that they might turn back and leave him to his plans.
Kurtz disappears in the night, and Marlow goes out in search of him, finding him crawling on all fours toward the native camp. Marlow stops him and convinces him to return to the ship. They set off down the river the next morning, but Kurtz’s health is failing fast.
Marlow listens to Kurtz talk while he pilots the ship, and Kurtz entrusts Marlow with a packet of personal documents, including an eloquent pamphlet on civilising the savages which ends with a scrawled message that says, “Exterminate all the brutes!”
The steamer breaks down, and they have to stop for repairs. Kurtz dies, uttering his last words—“The horror! The horror!”—in the presence of the confused Marlow.
One is quickly drawn to the historical point that Conrad set his story in the Belgian (king Leopold II’s) Congo of the 1890 when the Belgian colonial system was at its highest ebb, forcing the Congolese to extract ivory and rubber for the Empire.
Those who resisted got killed or got dismembered.
Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as “the other world, the antithesis of Europe.” The following description of non-whites in the novel has received endless citation as evidence that Conrad sets out on a pejorative or reductive portrayal of Africa and its people:
“…as we struggled round a bend, there would be a glimpse of rich walls, of peaked grass roofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes rolling…
The prehistoric man (the black man) was cursing us (white men), praying to us, welcoming us – who could tell”.
The following passage has further enraged many critics, from the green graduates to the retiring professors, because of its suggestions that Marlow’s revulsion is towards a shared humanity with blacks:
“It was unearthly and the men were – no, they were not inhuman. Well, you know that was the worst of it – this suspicion of their not being inhuman.
It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped and spun and made horrid faces but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity – like yours – the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar.”
You will notice that the Thames River is shown as representation of modernity against the savage muddiness and hazardous Congo River of Africa. There is also the “wild and gorgeous apparition of an (African) woman” pitied against the serene civilised mood of the intended (white woman).
The “worst insult” is the pitying of the thoughtful life-like white men against the grunting men of Africa.
Now switch over to this century and modern Africa and see how an African author treats the same Congo River and its environs.
A Fine Madness is a book in which a Zimbabwean soldier is reflecting on African history from the point of view of Africa.
Whilst fighting in the Congo, when Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia had intervened on the side of Kabila against the rebels in 1999, the soldier narrator is wondering why Africa is always having these conflicts and why each of the conflicts appear to involve, directly and indirectly the super powers of the world.
The soldier is a Pan Africanist thinker.
A Fine Madness is a collage of verse and prose narratives, memories, images, thoughts and characters against the background of the 1998 Congo war following the death of the Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and the senior Kabila coming to power.
Historically, Kabila, a Lumumbaist was a long time foe of the Mobutu dictatorship hence challenged by dissident guerillas seemingly backed by the West suspicious of Kabila’s links to the earlier Lumumba and his avowed leanings towards Marxism and Moism.
From the air and on the ground the soldier-narrator is able to observe and contemplate the chaos in the Congo and in his eyes becoming the story of an Africa that has seen so much blood and tragedy.
Unlike Conrad in Heart of Darkness, Mashingaidze Gomo looks at the Congo from inside.
This time the people of the Congo are not scary features. Gomo’s Africa is not dark but is home to the Africans, regardless of the war.
The women in Congo, or back in Zimbabwe, are not witches but extremely beautiful and can be held in one’s arms in order to be loved and understood.
This is a case of one Congo and two different authors from two different races and centuries.
So when an excited friend brought to me the manuscript of what later became published by Ayebia Clarke in London in 2010, as Mashingaidze Gomo’s A Fine Madness, I was in the office at the University of Zimbabwe’s Department of English.
When I first read that manuscript, I thought it was one of those scripts that new writers often bring to me just to satisfy themselves that they have given their story to someone.
Gomo, a Zimbabwean soldier in the army who had been to the Congo, had written this story just after his tour of duty in the Congo and I wondered if he was not suffering from the fevers related to the Congo area.
I was cautious and respectful, as usual.
I thought I could read a few pages as a way of snooping into this war.
Suddenly I thought that there was something unfinished (and spooky too) about Gomo’s manuscript as the jagged lines of this novel in prose ran and ran seemingly incongruous:
“ African history must be made in African constitutions
that do not accord human rights to oppressors who do
not have respect for black human rights…
African history must be made by hard old men who can
Withstand colonialist arrogance and demonization if
posterity requires it of them…”
I began to sense that the script was deceptive and that I could have been fooled into dropping it.
I started reading it in the middle of the night and I was alone and I never went to sleep afterwards.
I felt that the room was peopled by all the heroes and traitors we read about in African History.
With such works of art, the act of reading becomes a long and wide dream in which you are taken through the paths of human joy and agony, ending in a whirlpool of emotions.
You want to curse.
You want to laugh. You want to revenge.
You want to walk about the room. You want to go away and be mad. You want to forgive and be forgiven.
Immediately after, I asked to see the author because I had been told that he was a gunner with the Air Force of Zimbabwe.
I wanted to see him in order to believe that he had indeed written A Fine Madness.
Then the man I saw was a soft spoken gentleman. It was really an anticlimax!
Then I gave the script to a colleague, a professor of African literature.
He threw the script among his old papers saying, ‘We will see.’ He was used to many pretenders over the years that showed him things they called stories.
Things that ended up eating up one’s time for nothing.
Then one day the professor came to me in the morning with red eyes and said, ‘I didn’t sleep, last night’.
It was because he had made the mistake of reading the first pages of A Fine Madness. He was not able to stop!
We both agreed that this script should be published because A Fine Madness is a charmed, mad and maddening prose poetry in which an armed man snoops into Africa’s history of deprivation and strife to do the painful arithmetic.
At the centre of this story is the anger and the question why the West is always at the centre of African conflicts, siding with one side and arming it against the other, as in the 1998 civil war in the Congo.
The narrator who is out at Boende in Congo sometimes reflects on his relationship with Tinyarei, an African beauty back home in Zimbabwe:
“The woman I am missing now is a beautiful woman
An older woman aged in beauty
A beauty that hangs on even as age takes its toll
Lingering on like a summer sunset… reluctant to go
A beauty digging in…making a last stand around the
eyes where her smile is disarming.
I missed Tinyarei with a wretchedness that was like
A very fine and enjoyable madness
And it always feels pleasant to miss a woman
Sometimes it is even better to miss than to be with her
And at Boende, it felt nice to miss Tinyarei…”
But, Tinyarei is a lover, a mother, a trophy to be won and sometimes she stands for mother Africa herself.
Sometimes the narrator watches the Congolese men, women and children dance to Ndombolo and wonders why poverty sucks and stinks and erodes self confidence.
The Congo war which pitied brother against brother and neighbour against neighbour, gives Mashingaidze Gomo an opportunity to listen to human voices and messages from the Congolese flora and fauna and come up with multifaceted pan African philosophies.
He also wonders why we often give in easily, why we think less about our dignity, why we are turned against the real substance and asked to take in abstract values, why we don’t wonder why we are considered ‘the whiteman’s younger brother’… and why… and why?
I agree with Ngugi Wathiongo when he says (in the preface to this book) that this prose poetry book is not only about ‘the horror and loneliness of war; but also the beauty of resistance’ and that Mashingaidze ‘can yoke the most contradictory into a searing insight.’
And yet I do not agree with Ngugi when he says that the emergence of postcolonial dictatorships and their actual relationship to the Western corporate bourgeoisie’ can always be explained better by always taking a class perspective.
This book’s forte surely transcends explaining the emergence of postcolonial dictatorship in Africa.
A Fine Madness dwells on the varied patterns of the relationship between the North and the South from before colonialism to date.
In order to understand any book, the reader has to understand at least two things: the historical context in which the story is set and the historical context in which it was written. No story or poem is neutral. All stories are written from an ideological position.
We need to hear of redemption plans
ON October 7, 2022 Basotho had an opportunity to decide the future of Lesotho. They did by overwhelmingly voting for the newly formed Revolution for Prosperity (RFP). The party won 57 percent of Lesotho’s 120 seats, confirming it was Basotho’s preferred alternative to combat, amongst other things, the high unemployment rates, devastating poverty, rampant corruption, and alarming everyday cases of gruesome homicides. The time of campaign promises is over, and for the “mighty RFP” as its advocates refer to it, the moment has come to act; to deliver.
So far, it appears that the RFP is cruising smoothly towards the right trajectory; the cabinet of Lesotho’s 11th government is forthcoming about pressing challenges to our economy, as well as mitigating steps it intends to take.
Nonetheless, I should mention that the delivery of the Medium-Term Budget Review in December, was followed by distrustful comments on the free streets of social media.
The Review described the mid-year performance of the economy in reference to the 2022/2023 budget as well as changes that were made in response to emerging problems. However, numerous people stressed that they wanted to hear about redemption plans in lieu of being reminded of the sorry state our nation is.
Their grievances of course, are valid when we begin to contextualise the numbers. Behind every unemployment statistic are university graduates with grim futures and parents who are unable to provide for the fundamental necessities of their children.
Behind every corruption scandal are deserving Basotho who are denied a chance because of nepotism, bribery, and extortion among others.
On the flip slide, I found it crucial that Dr Matlanyane accurately depicted the state of our economy because it confirms that the government is cognisant of the urgent need for reform and the mammoth task of selflessly serving our nation that is on the brink of disintegrating.
With reference to the Statement on the Economy and Finances which Dr Matlanyane presented to parliament on January 5, 2023, the previous ABC-led government ran a series of substantial deficits which ranged between 4 and 8 percent of the GDP in the last five years. This was due to the expenditure that had been growing much faster than the revenue and it perhaps elucidates why the African Development Bank estimates that the ratio of our debt to GDP was 50 percent in 2021.
Simply put, by taking out loans, the government spent more money than it was making.
This poses challenges; increased and persistently large deficits and debt can lead to increased geopolitical risk, rising interest rates, weaker economic growth, higher interest payments, and chronically high inflation. Thus, the RFP-led administration deserves commendations for its intention to challenge the status quo.
The principal goal of the 2023/2024 budget, “From Reconstruction and Recovery to Growth and Resilience” to hasten economic growth that creates jobs, is inclusive and reduces poverty.
In response to persistently large deficits and debt, the 2023/2024 budget promises a fiscal surplus of one billion maloti which will be 2.5 percent of the GDP. It is pertinent to underline that until the end of this fiscal year, these numbers are just aspirations. In any case, I find them to be invigorating aspirations that must eventually become a reality.
On the administration of the budget, Dr Matlanyane and her Finance and Development Planning team need to do some improving. Regarding paragraphs (a), (b), and (c) of Section 12(1) of the Public Financial Management and Accountability Act 2011 (PFMAA), each programme of the government should submit the receipts and expenditure estimates together with the objectives and performance indicators of the programme, and the details of new policy initiatives.
However, at the time of writing this piece, no documents which speak to the aforementioned paragraphs of the PFMAA are publicly available on the website of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. Not only does this obscure the budget’s openness, but it also deters citizens from holding government entities accountable.
Additionally, uploading a PFMAA document with missing pages on the website is utter negligence on the part of the Finance and Development Planning Ministry, excluding any indication that it was done on purpose. Page 268 of the PFMAA which I assume begins the legislative mandate of the budget is missing from the PFMAA document that has been uploaded as of the time this article goes for printing.
Concerning recurring expenses, it is unnerving that in this day and age, so many millions of Maloti are spent on printing. Prospects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution including the widespread accessibility of knowledge in digital form. Of course, there is a significant digital divide in the country, but acknowledging the fact that there are circumstances in which printing is unnecessary should be a top priority.
In addition, M249.3 million is proposed for the Ministry of Information, Communication, Technology and Innovation to fund phase II of the e-Government infrastructure project and the expansion of broadband access among other things. For this reason, I anticipated seeing a significant decrease in projected printing expenses over the next two years in lieu of the projected increase.
One thing that needs explanation is why the M567 956.00 proposed for international fares for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations is lower compared to some ministries.
The same goes for the Ministry of Trade, Industry, Business Development and Tourism for which not even a single Loti has been proposed for international fares.
This is because, theoretically speaking, these two ministries are mandated to play a major role in implementing our foreign policy, therefore, it is only reasonable that their international travel costs should be higher than those of other ministries.
On the contrary, according to the draft budget estimates for the financial year 2023/2024, over one million Maloti is proposed for international fares for the Ministry of Health as well as the Ministry of Information and Communications, Science, Technology and Innovation, M587 640.00 for the Ministry of Education, over two million maloti for the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, over three million for the Prime Minister’s Office, and M477 645.00 for the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Employment. The big question is, what is the purpose of international travel for these ministries?
Then there is the big elephant in the room, the unending construction of the Royal Palace. It is now a decade since hundreds of millions of Maloti have been pumped into the building of the Royal Palace.
Yet again, a whopping M393 million has been allocated for the completion of the long-delayed construction of the Royal Palace and Senate. Dejectedly, this allocation surpasses proposed budgets for urgently required development projects which will benefit the whole nation.
While hundreds of thousands of Basotho scrape by daily, why are hundreds of millions of Maloti spent on a single household? Can we, the taxpayers, once and for all get a detailed report of what is going on with the Royal Palace? At the very least, we deserve that much!
- Mosebetsi Khobotlo holds a Bachelor of Political Science cum laude where she majored in Politics, International Relations and Public Administration. She is currently studying for BA Honours International Relations at the University of Pretoria.
Varieties of African women’s poetry
I want to show just a few varieties, out of many, through which African women poets tell the stories of women through poetry from about 1840 to the present. Sometimes the women appear to be silent and conservative but with the passage of time they have become direct and radical in their poetry.
Aisha Taymur the Egyptian woman poet writes in a complicated way about her relationship with the traditional Islamic cloth, the hijab. In “With pure virtue’s hand I guard the might of my hijāb” she indicates that far from oppressing her, it identifies her as a free Muslim woman. Contrary to the feeling that education and writing makes a Muslim woman rebellious, Aisha is of a different view:
“The arts of my eloquence, my mind I protected:
talisman dear, hijab’s amulet: danger denies
My literature and my learning did me no harm
save in making me the finest flower of minds wise
Solitary bower, scarf’s knot, are no affliction
nor my gown’s cut nor proud and strong guarded paradise
My bashfulness, no blockade to keep me from the heights”
She is comfortable in her culture and religion. She was one of Egypt’s most distinguished poets, novelists, and social activists. Born in 1840 into a family of Kurdish origins and literary roots, Taymur was a symbol of the women liberation movement since the Ottoman rule. She was well-versed in the Holy Quran and Islamic Jurisprudence, and also wrote poetry in Arabic, Turkish and Persian.
Contrast that with the other Egyptian female poet, Doria Shafik. She was a rather more open and radical voice. She found her environment rather oppressive and indicated that her poetry was going to save as one of the few spaces that allowed her to be herself. In her poem, “Solitude”, she writes:
In this desert,
where I am drowning
you open more than one way.
In this silence,
the horrible silence
that encircles me,
in the torment of my becoming
you permit me
She wrote a lot of poems in the mid 1940’s. In an intelligent way, she wrote and spoke about gradually rising within her culture, going outside but not moving rather too far from tradition which she ironically saw as a shield. She once said the aim of her writings was “To catch the imponderable thread connecting my own very existence to my own past, as well as to my own country’s history and civilisation. The Egypt I knew in my early years was an Egypt awakening from a thousand years’ sleep, becoming conscious of its long sufferings – that it had rights! And I learned in my childhood that the will of the woman can supersede the law.”
Philosophically, she felt that the boundaries of the laws can be extended through both existence and negotiation. For her, freedom is attained even as a woman is holding herself together. She believed in a careful and methodical fight. She ends her poem, “Unburdened” thus:
“My heart is in my hand
Hold it…here it is!
But do be careful with it
It is made of crystal.”
She saw an opportunity to steal the thunder of knowledge which she would use in her home country. Travel and education were not just for the sake of it if the new Egyptian woman was to rise beyond her woes: She was rooted in her quest for growth and freedom. She saw her education and her travels abroad as something that was central to her growth:
“Conquest of my soul,
with which to revive myself
and our land that is dying.”
Sabrina Mahfouz is a more contemporary Egyptian woman poet, having been born in 1984. She was raised in between London and Cairo. Her most famous works are a poetry book, How You Might Know Me of 2016. She is very direct, quick and radical. Her poem, “In the Revolutionary Smoking Room” is spontaneous and breaks from traditional Egyptian women poetry traditions:
“Open the window. Isn’t it –
despicable deplorable disgraceful suspicious untenable untouchable delightful delicious unbelievable unstoppable grateful curious
tweetable filmable this is fucking serious
debatable inflatable never ever tedious
remarkable reliable spiteful pretentious
responsible blameable beautiful ferocious
– Yes. Can I have another cigarette please?”
But in her new book of 2020, For Women Trying to Breathe and Failing, Batsirai Chigama of Zimbabwe has, for me, one very special section called “How Love Should Be”. In that section, Chigama chooses to protest against men’s abuse of women by actually giving us the alternative man. This is a rare feat! Here is a man that the women would prefer…
In school we used to call that the control experiment!
When a male reader goes through that section, he may definitely come face-to-face with what he could have been when the world was fresh and the hills were still soft.
It is like coming home in the middle of a rainy night to find your better version sleeping in your very bed! When that happens, and you are able to control your nerves, you may see what you could have been and not the brute that you have become. We tend to come into the world too late or too early to be sane.
In one of those poems by Chigama, a woman gazes at a man and thinks, “of all the places (that) I could live, your heart is the paradise I choose.” In another, a woman refers to her man as “a best seller to me” and more specifically, “babe I would carry you around in the duffel bag of my heart, flip through you, slowly grasp(ing) every single word profound…”
Then she describes an imaginary good, lovely and well behaved man with:
“There are some rooms in your palms
Where I feel I belong
Full of you.”
These are the kind of men’s palms that women look for everywhere without finding. Those palms with rooms! But that is only the beginning because in yet another poem, the title poem to this section itself, the poet writes about her man’s “gentle softness” and her man’s “dewy kindness that drips each time you look at me and hold me strong in the embrace of each syllable.”
And the man is so good that the woman even admits her own faults, “I am a mess I know, yet the way each vowel curves in your iris is the magnet that centres my universe.” And that electric section of poems continues unabated.
In another piece, a joyful woman reads a book of poems by the window as her caring man wears the apron to prepare a toast for her, roasting a chicken drumstick for her and the sad part is that the man does this only on Sundays. If he could do it more regularly, the better!
Here you find a man who knows how to spell love even in his sleep. There is also talk about “a man who smiled with his eyes,” causing a woman bloom like a flower in season. That is not even enough because in yet another poem, “ a woman meets her former lover (so that she is able) to touch the wrinkles on his body and realises that she still loves him even more than before and that it was really “stupid (that they had) let each other go the way we did.”
Then there is a section called “For Women Who Forget To Breathe While Alive”, which has poems about how women’s woes affect their private and bodily lives. There are also sections about women failing to survive and another more reassuring section about “women finding their feet.”
There is also a section that carries “the random thoughts of a woman sojourner.” Maybe these are about the poet’s feelings at all the different spaces she has visited (at home and abroad.)
Still in Zimbabwean women’s poetry, when you move to Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure’s, in her latest book of poems of 2022, Starfish Blossoms, you find that this collection is decidedly based on the firm foundations of the wisdom of one’s female ancestors, both in mythical and real time. This book can be read as an archive of women’s thoughts and sweet secrets from one generation to the other.
In these pieces, there is the hovering presence of the persona’s paternal grandmother, VaChivi. She is the spirit of the lioness, hunting relentlessly for game in order to feed her pack of cubs. VaChivi is more vicious and runs much faster than her lazy and redundant male counterpart. Hunting is not sport. It is a matter of life and death.
There is also the maternal grandmother, aChihera, the woman of the Shava Eland totem. Charwe Nehanda of the first Chimurenga is among the strong Chihera women of Zimbabwe. They are renowned in Shona lore for their resilience and sometimes they are known to be strong-headed, fighting harder than their fathers or their husbands!
These two archetypes VaChivi and aChihera demonstrate that this poet is coming to the world stage already armed with ready-made stories of the brave women from her own community. She is not looking for new heroes. She already has the blood of heroines running through her veins. She is only looking for a broader audience. For me this is Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure’s greatest achievement.
In the very first poem the persona recalls her time with her grandmother out in the countryside. It is a return to the stable source and to roots that go deep.
Grandmother hides her monies everywhere; inside her crimpling doek, under the reed mat and even inside her g-cup bra. Meanwhile the corn is roasting by the fireside. When she asks her granddaughter to count her money, the younger woman says, “but you can’t see the money even if I were to count it for you!”
And the elder answers: “These eyes can see what they want to see.” Meaning I would not have asked you to count the money if you were not a trusted fellow. This poem is a story about the easy camaraderie between women from across generations.
In the poem “Hanyanani”, the poet goes even deeper into the Shona mythology. An old woman lives in the drought-smitten district of Chivi in a year when the famine is at its bitterest. There is danger that the many-many orphans that she keeps in her homestead may actually starve to death. VaChivi goes up and down among her neighbours and she finds no food to cook. But the orphans gather around her crying louder and louder…
VaChivi comes up with a plan which has become legendary among the Shona people. She lights a fire as if everything is alright and puts a pot full of water on the fire. There is still nothing to cook and VaChivi picks pebbles from the bare ground and throws them into the pot and she tells her grandchildren that she is now cooking something and she will make soup out of it. She dishes out the ‘soup’ eventually. It is the mere hope among these children that the hot water that they are taking in is real soup. That saves their lives;
“And there’s an old woman from Chivi
who cooked stones and drank the soup.
She did not swallow the stones.
Did she not know that those
who swallow stones do not die?”
The Chivi woman’s story is about intense hope and resolve. In the same area there is a contemporary tale about Hanyanani, a ghost that goes ahead with its ghostliness without thinking about what people say about her as a ghost. Sometimes Hanyanani terrorises wayfarers who walk the paths in the middle of the night from beer drinking binges.
The daring drunkards even think Hanyanani is a fresh new prostitute from more urbane places like Masvingo, Harare and Bulawayo and on being taken to her home, the men fall into deep sleep.
When they wake up they find that they are actually resting in the graveyard! In a more contemporary period, Hanyanani is often reincarnated as Peggy, the other terror ghost of the other Zimbabwean towns of Chiredzi and Triangle.
These are stories about woman triumphalism retold in poetic form. Vazhure does not exactly rewrite these myths but her allusions to them through her poetry are powerful and strategic. Vazhure uses local materials to talk about global issues.
Indeed, over the years, African women poets in different countries, have developed varied methods of telling their evolving stories through poetry.
We’re stuck to our old habits
Sesotho se re, u ka isa pere nokeng ho’a noa metsi. Ha feela e sa batle ho noa, ha ho seo u ka se etsang. The translation is; life is all about choices and we are all products of the choices we make.
I realise that this month marks exactly one year since the formation of the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party. The news of the formation of the RFP brought a ray of sunshine. A ray of hope!
I tell you, around this time last year, it was evident that Mathibeli Mokhothu would be the next Prime Minister but the RFP rescued us from a potential catastrophe of epic proportions. Ebe re ka be re le kae? Ke sure re ka be ntse re loana.
However, now that the RFP is firmly in power, that ray is unfortunately starting to fade away. Well, let me speak for myself. The euphoria is slowly starting to evaporate now that I see that the RFP has overpromised and is starting to under-deliver. It wasn’t ready to govern.
You see the problems started when the RFP failed to give an account on progress made in the first 100 days in office. Some people claim that it is actually 100 working days. So that excludes holidays and days that fall over the weekend. Friday is a half-day of course.
But why can’t the Minister of Communications say something on the promises made on first 100 days? Is it over? Is it in April? By the way, is Minister Mochoboroane the new Government spokesperson? When will the PM give an account on the first 100 days? We need a report.
Now what bored me the most was the recent budget speech. The message was just loud and clear. It clearly says this new administration undermines public servants.
I wish the government knew the level of debt that our public servants are currently swimming in. They are swimming in a pool of mud. They owe almost all machonisas in town because their salaries just cannot sustain their families. Hence the high rate of corruption. People need to survive. Le nna nka utsoa Diesel ea mosebetsing. Le parts tsa literekere. Ho ja ke ne ke le mohlanka. If only!
If the RFP administration is adamant to maintain the status quo on ignoring the wellbeing of public servants, then it must just forget about service delivery. We’ll re-open this conversation after the 2027 elections.
But the thing that got me concerned was to see blunders our ministers made at the recently held conference/summit on Least Developed Countries in Qatar (‘Moka oa Naha tse itlhotseng).
Haai! The questions asked in that summit were quite difficult and one of our ministers was dribbled by one simple yet difficult question. The question said something like; what you need to do to, in order to catapult your country out of the ‘least developed’ status.
This was a very difficult question. It’s like asking an alcoholic an unfair question and say, “what do you need to do to quit alcohol”. Or a question a poor person, “what do you need to do to become to rich.” Obviously these are questions that need deep introspection for one to deal with demons they could be avoiding.
Yes, of course, this was a difficult question to answer for our ministers. “What do you need to do to pull yourself out of poverty?” As I was watching this on Lesotho Television, my answer was, “Knowing Basotho, absolutely nothing.”
Why do I say this? When we were growing up in Mazenod Airport City, there was a gifted artist called Anikie. Well, that was a nickname he used for cartoons he drew for Moeletsi oa Basotho. Ka motseng a tsejoa ka lebitso la Taliban.
He was way older than us, e se e le abuti, and he was blessed with a very rare form of talent. I tell you, he could just sit and start drawing and the end result would be a masterpiece. That man was blessed.
But unfortunately, Anikie had a terrible habit that he had to feed and this habit just pulled him back. He was an alcoholic and drank until he looked like an old man. By the way, did you see the new President of Nigeria?
So, there were so many people that tried to intervene to save that precious talent. I remember that even Major General Lekhanya sourced a scholarship for Anikie to study fine-arts in Germany.
No, Anikie was not interested in that sh*t. He just wanted to stay in Mazenod, paint a piece, sell it, buy alcohol and drink until he couldn’t pronounce his name. Start a new piece, sell it, drink until he forgot what the day of the week was. This was a vicious cycle that just sank him. Anikie was addicted to his bad habits. No one could rescue him. Absolutely no one.
I remember buying his last two art-pieces, before he departed, at an exhibition held at Morija Arts and Cultural Festival about 22 years ago. No, that man was finished. The alcohol had turned him into an old man and he was probably 40-years-old then. But he looked like a 70-year-old man. No one could save that man from his bad habits.
He subsequently died after the art exhibition and I’ve kept those two art pieces for sentimental value. Well, I donated one to my sister but I’m thinking of repatriating it. But the story of Anikie is exactly the same as the story of a country Lesotho. Blessed with abundance but held back by its bad habits.
By the way, Anikie had a super talented younger brother named ‘Chipa’ but this ‘Chipa’ was a marathon runner. Why the name Chipa for a runner still remains a mystery up to this day.
So Chipa was a long distance marathon runner. That guy could run for kilometres on end and won various marathons in South Africa.
Yet again, Chipa had a terrible habit to feed. He would practise for a marathon. Win it. Drink the prize money. Be absolutely broke. Practise for the next marathon. Win it. Drink the prize-money.
Be absolutely broke. Practise for the next marathon. That was the cycle.
Chipa was such an alcoholic that he missed his son’s funeral because he was busy drinking at one of the shacks near Basotho Canners. How sad is that?
Yes, like his brother Anikie, Chipa departed this world a broke and broken man. No one could help him. I felt sad when Chipa died because he was someone I related well with and was always pleased to see me.
So, this is a quagmire that Lesotho finds itself in. Lesotho is just addicted to its bad habits and no one can save it. I’m telling you, the Americans can pour all the money from American tax-payers into Lesotho’s economy. But if the will to change is not there, no one can change Lesotho.
The Chinese government can donate all sorts of landmark buildings. However, if the will to change is not there, nothing can change Lesotho.
The EU has poured millions towards reforms but there is simply no will from Basotho to leave their bad habits. Lesotho is a country that is not prepared to reform because it is addicted to its bad habits.
How is it possible for a country to be inside a belly of a country that budgets R2 trillion and only budget one percent of that? One percent of R2 trillion? Ha ke tsebe hore na ke bolehe hona kapa bo…..(feel free to complete the sentence).
Do you want to tell me that Lesotho can’t at the very least target to budget 10% of what South Africa budgets? Okay, let me say, five percent of which would translate to R100 million. Re je mafoforetsane a South Africa. We don’t need to start anything afresh. Just pick and choose from what works and run with it.
But no, there’s no will to change from the bad habits. Lesotho will never change unless its people sincerely change.
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