Ham’s Relation

This poem is as much about me as it is about my youngest sibling—Hamster, the baby of the family. It is for this reason, though it would have been apt, I don’t declare myself an ancestor of Ham, the supposed father of all black people based on colonial mythology.

I am Ham’s relation
A proud sister
And true daughter of the soil

But I am more than my skin colour
I am a being toiling at becoming
Like a thorn bird, I shall sing my song
A liberating song for my true existence
Death I shall not fear
For mine is a search of meaning

I am Ham’s relation
I am, I am, I am!

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A thought on chronicling Lesotho’s woes…

With everything that has been happening recently in the beautiful Kingdom in the Sky—motions of no confidence, abrupt closure of parliament, heads of trusted individuals rolling, and innuendoes about the military leadership–I have been rather worried.

And why wouldn’t I, with our uncomfortable history of instability? Personally, I hear there is much ado … I pray it better be about nothing, and if it is about something, it better be about the welfare of Basotho and not about protecting interests of individuals. I also pray that should anything happen, Basotho will have the wisdom to stand together in unity like Teyateyaneng (TY) folks when the city went up in flames: theirs was a remarkable story at so many levels that include the fact that this is where ‘Black Jesus’ hailed from.

Black Jesus was a real living human being–political, complex and controversial. He is worth at least a chapter in a book that chronicles the instabilities in Lesotho post military rule.

As a citizen of this era, if I were tasked with writing such a book, I would start deliberately with BBC’s transcript of an interview with ntate Qhobela, Minister of Foreign Affairs, when His Majesty plunged Lesotho into the first of the many crises that awaited her post the military rule.

Ntate Qhobela was asked a question along the lines: “So, Honourable Minister, what can you tell us about what’s happening in Lesotho?”

“The young boy woke up one fine morning and walked to the wireless station to topple a democratically elected government”, was pretty much his response.

Shell-shocked, the reporter asked, “Honourable Minister, are you really referring to His Majesty as a young boy?”

Ntate Qhobela sounding ever so defiant responded as follows: “I say … this young boy walked to the wireless station to topple a democratically elected government”!

The reporter attempted again to get ntate Qhobela to withdraw his words, but failed and moved on with the interview.

Sadly, I can’t recall what came next, in part, because that bit didn’t make the cut in creating a ‘sound bite’ that was to be repeated over and over again–when giving a report on the latest happenings in the small Kingdom, surrounded by its single neighbour, South Africa, which had but just had its first elections.

The ‘sound bite’ without doubt served its purpose. It stirred very interesting debates around the question: what really … really was ntate Qhobela saying?

This is a question that opened my eyes to the intercourse that exists between language and politics–both with a capital and small ‘p’.

His Majesty at that time was unmarried. Culturally speaking he was a young boy, if at all he was not born into the royal family. I put emphasis on ‘if’, for in my opinion, it is the ignoring of the conditional that proved problematic.

But to a level of causing anyone to be shell-shocked and left totally exasperated…? This, I am uncertain of. I know there is infantilising language, but there is also context.

In ntate Qhobela’s response, there was an embedded ‘we are from a different generation’ message. He made it perfectly clear he was part of thee generation: the last standing generation taught by teachers who learnt Latin extensively. Or if you like, the purist generation that cannot bring itself to utter words like radio and fridge. But most importantly, a generation that defines the concept of respect differently.

So, while indeed it might not have been proper to call His Majesty a young boy, I would argue the reference was made at a level of merely getting us to engage with a question of what it means to be born a royal in a country founded by a minor chief, who was far from the apex of aristocracy. Basically, how do we make sense of the privilege that is so profoundly linked to democracy?

In all probability, at that point of the book, I would leave the question unanswered. Instead, I would ease myself to the 1998 moment, where Basotho went to their father, the King, Rabasotho, for refuge. In narrating this moment, I would attempt to make visible yet again the intercourse between language and politics. I would explore at some length what caused a respected leader, Thabo Mbeki, to assert that the truth was being prostituted with gay abandon. What was the truth? And why the need to use words laced with sexuality?

Anchored in the idea of the truth, I would fast forward to this current moment of uncertainty in search for the truth. And here, I mean any other truth except that there are no permanent enemies in politics!

I am not sure how that book would end; all I know is that the truth as a central theme might prove to be stranger than fiction. I suppose because at the moment I feel, there is the truth, and the truth behind the truth. And the only way to disambiguate is to read between the lines or wait patiently for the real truth–for apparently in the end there is but one truth, hence the saying “nnete e mokoka”! Hmmm…but really?!

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In congress…we trust(ed)?!

“Hopes were high that elections in Lesotho on the 27 March 1993 would restore democratic rule and establish the political stability that eluded the country since its independence”, wrote Leslie Gumbi, a researcher in the Institute for Defence Policy, in a 1995 article titled: “Instability in Lesotho: A Search for Alternatives”.

Today, 21 years later, Lesotho remains (d)eluded! What then will it take for us to attain political stability? In the last few weeks alone, there have been serious talks about removing the Prime Minister and reconfiguring the government in a number of ways that may see the leader of opposition possibly being at the helm of government.

I cannot really say whether this is for the best or not. All I know is that— for a population of just around two million— we need to seriously rethink our politics. Otherwise, how else can we improve the quality of lives of Basotho?

One thing we need to think about is the number of political parties we (should) have. Pre-1993 elections were contested by not more than five political parties, which included Basotho Congress Party (BCP), which won the 1993 elections. This party has since split into more than five political parties, each a “Congress” of sort –except perhaps Hareeng Basotho Party, which in fact was the only splinter party of the BCP in the 1993 elections.

Just looking at this one party, which was supposedly meant to liberate Basotho, what really is at the heart of its fragmentation? Is it really all to do with nation-building? Why the failure to congregate together—ho hata mmoho— to build a peaceful and prosperous future we are all longing for?

I would imagine this is one of the reasons the word “congress” features ever so strongly in the names of the splinter parties. If so, can we sincerely trust in the spirit of congress? Here I don’t mean in political party terms, I mean trust that in congress we can attain stability: re ka ba le tumelo e phethahetseng hore lets’oele le beta phoho… hoba ruri mphe-mphe ea lapisa!

This is my humble thoughts for today. May we ponder about this day in history and (re)commit ourselves to a better tomorrow.

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My relationship ABCs

It is that time of the year when one just sees red—or rather, when one has to endure the perversion of Valentine. My thoughts haven’t changed much about this supposed romantic holiday. It can well be because I haven’t been lucky in the romantic department, but who knows?!

All that I know, and can declare with some conviction, is that I have at least worked out my ABCs—Absolute Basic Cs—for being in a lasting relationship, as I wait in vain for love or romance. I will not discuss how I arrived at them, suffice to say, they resulted from some serious internal dialogue.

Anyhow, for me to consider the cost of committing, I have decided it is not a bad idea at all to vet my would-be partner against a list of five Cs (aka my ABCs). Basically, to stand a chance, the person must be a Consistent, Caring, Courteous, Conscious and Communicative being.

Getting the five Cs in one being has certainly proved to be a tall order. But as far as I am concerned, none of the Cs can be compromised, except when we are talking in the short term, where the goal is just to get a candidate through the door. In this particular case, the two Cs that count the most are Courtesy and Communication; with these two Cs, I am sure willing to throw some caution to the wind and have luck as my backup.

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Death, questions and revival of memories

“Lefu ke ngoetsi ea malapa oohle” is one of those sayings that Basotho evoke when one has passed on. A literal translation is: death is the daughter-in-law of every family. Of course, there is something to be said about the daughter-in-law comparison, but the gist of the expression is really to convey that death knows no boundaries and is an eventuality for us all—or as some Basotho would put it: “lefu ha lena hore o morena kapa mofo, bohle re tla finyella bo-ea-batho”, death cares not whether you are royalty or commoner, it is a destination all people shall reach. I know these words (and many others like them) are often uttered to bring some form of solace, but death always seems so unexpected for one to find comfort in them.

Each time death visits, we enter a new uncharted emotional territory. Random memories, mostly centred on the dear departed, flood in ungraciously, with absolutely no warning whatsoever.

In this post, I wish to share a memory that stems indirectly from being flooded by memories of one woman, worthy of being celebrated for living a life of very few regrets. Although this woman has passed on, I certainly believe her memories will live on. 

But, as I said, this post is not directly about her memories: it is about a memory that decided to suddenly resurface after hearing of how her mother responded to a statement that she must trust God in the dark hours of her grief.

The mother’s response, which barely came a day after receiving the news of the tragic death of her daughter, was: “ke tla ts’epa Molimo joang?”, how can I truly trust God? After some pausing and general silence in the room, the mother continued to explain how she had been praying to be spared the pain of burying another child she had birthed, as she had already buried three.

The mother’s question was, at least to me, very profound. I suppose primarily because it was unexpected. Women, in particular, are (culturally) expected to sit, grieve and accept all words offered in condolence. Some of these words, even though they are intended to be comforting, are said with little regard to the fact that with each mourner coming in to pay their respects, as woman, mother and grandmother in this instance, she is expected to relive the ordeal of her loss through the repeated telling of a story that captures how death entered her household. 

I am in no way making light of the intentionality behind any words offered in condolence. I am merely just trying to make sense of a few questions that are tormenting me.

Do I really have a basis to find the mother’s question unexpected? Is it really culture, or just evidence of my warped understanding of things? What is the possible significance of connecting the question to a memory of another mother in an entirely different context?

I have no answers. But I think I have provided the necessary preamble to proceed with my sharing of a memory that was deeply buried deep in my subconscious until not so long ago. This memory is still about words of a grieving mother. This mother, at the funeral of her son, who was being buried with his kids, literally stopped the funeral procession to the graveyard, and started praising and praying.

Even though this was years ago, I remember almost verbatim the words she started with. She said: “chehe! Ekaba ke lekoala le lekakang e re Morena a nketestse e be ke sitoa ho tlotlisa boholo bae …”. This, more or less translates to “wow! What a coward I would be if I failed to praise God and speak of his greatness when he has visited my family …” .

As she continued, I stood in absolute paralysis listening. I was captivated by the strength in her voice, but at the same time, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing was real. I suppose because I had bought into the idea that tears, within that space and time, were her only allowed form of expression. Please don’t ask me why; this is yet another question I cannot answer, especially in the context of understanding why in the unexpected, I seemingly have expectations.

I will hopefully find my answers, for I know it is no coincidence that the memory just decided to resurface…

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A case against ‘no strings attached’

A relationship with ‘no strings attached’ … what a misnomer? Aren’t relationships all about attachment? Or am I missing something?

Personally, I am all for strings, albeit I don’t ever want to be a puppet—stringed senselessly by the puppet master for sheer amusement or misguided notions of affection.

I am for binding strings, but not the tangible fifty shades variety. I prefer the invisible sort, which bind beings to each other through the promise of give and take. In my humble opinion, these strings weave a tapestry of (mutual) understanding.

What that understanding leads to … is another story altogether, but understanding remains. And as such, to me, an individual whose romantic nature is admittedly piqued by the ‘no strings attached’ line, it is clear that we must banish it—for the line is not only a misnomer, but an unbearable paradox.

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2013: a year that was

I can say without a doubt that 2013 was a memorable year for me. It was a bitter sweet year.

Interestingly, a lot that happened seemed to happen in a timely fashion. I was, for the most part, emotionally and psychologically prepared for the twists and turn of my journey. Instead of drifting with events and trusting others or the Universe for a safe landing, I was standing behind the steering wheel, navigating my way through the decisions I was willing to make for myself.

One of the major decisions that I made was to change my surname. Shakespeare’s words stopped providing me with solace: this rose was simply in want of a different name. This is something that I cannot explain well to others, except perhaps to say, it was necessary.

In fact, I think all I have for most of the decisions I made are fanciful-sounding answers. But I am not fazed much about this. I take full ownership of these decisions—for better or worse, I cannot blame anyone for them.

Frankly, accepting that I am fully responsible for my decisions—and indeed happiness— was one hard truth I had to face. In part, because I wasn’t sure how I felt about embracing my third palindromic age. Unlike the previous two, I had serious concerns about my body. It was not only failing me, but in some ways, it was reminding me of the woes of being a woman and/or possessing a bleeding body.

Yes, it can suck to be a woman; but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I am a woman and will continue to be one, even if I don’t birth a child. This realisation is one of the gifts I got in 2013, as I pondered on whether I could legitimately sustain my choice to be child free.

In looking deep within and outside my being, I realised that motherhood doesn’t really scare me that much. I have seen many wonderful women, single and partnered, do it with grace to have the confidence to also do it—trusting, of course, that some of these women will be more than willing to help me overcome all forms of adversity and pressure associated with motherhood.

What truly scares me is wrapped in the question of conception, the ‘who’ part: who will share his genes with me? I haven’t really been lucky in the love department. It would seem for the longest time I lacked the recipe for having a fiery romance with a hint of freedom and autonomy.

I still don’t have the recipe. But I am hopeful. I am hopeful about the future and many other things. I am full of hope because I believe 2013 gave me an opportunity to close old wounds; ironically, through gaining a somewhat massive physical scar—a scar I hope to cherish forever.

On this hopeful note, I bid the year that was farewell. Goodbye 2013: adieu, adieu!

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Spurred on by shoes

My life in the last few months has been punctuated by bitter-sweet emotions. But I live to tell it all. I live to share experiences of my increased sensitivity to my environment, and surprise at finding joy in the mundane acts like admiring a pair of shoes.

I must make this disclaimer before I continue: I had never, ever, imagined that a pair of shoes—aesthetics aside—could, for a moment, arouse imagery that fills me with glee. But they did.

A couple of weeks ago, following the return of my principal supervisor from his home country, he walks into our group meeting wearing a new pair of suede shoes—or at least new to my eyes, for I too had had to go home shortly after his return. The shoes were top-capped, laced and olive green in colour. In Lesotho, when these shoes are dual toned in black and white, we affectionately call them phele-phatsoa.

Although I have knew that the design was actually Italian by origin, in that moment, with phele-phatsoa in mind, I just wanted to claim it solely as part of my African heritage. For me, that was but a classic design that is worn by litjaka, men who care about their appearances full-stop, class is a non-issue.

In fact, when I saw the shoes, I was reminded specifically of the blue and white collar professional men that put on these shoes with great panache.

The visualisation of these men actually made me giggle mid way through complimenting my supervisor on the shoes. Thus, out of politeness, I felt rather compelled to explain myself. Explain the possible irony embedded in my realisation that liclever tsa Hlotse (the clevers from Hlotse) and likoata tsa limmaneng (the supposedly unsophisticated men from the mines) can easily be qualified as men with the same good taste when it came to specific Italian shoe designs.

So, here I was in a somewhat awkward position of having to paint a picture that is very representative of these guys, who some may regard as different.

I described Hlotse guys/clevers, especially those born in the pre-80s, as men who believe they were born with a refined fashion sense, the kind that makes them equals to the Sicilian Godfathers. Except, instead of suiting up, they put on Italian shoes, chino pants and collared shirts—preferably Pringle, but the Thomas Pink and others will do. This look, although one may regard it a norm for many white collar professionals, the Hlotse guy carries it with some subtle Jazzy confidence that has a slight Sophiatown feel. Here I am not describing the type of guy who might respond to a compliment with a puffed up line like: “ke nare, ke tsoa Hlotse habo semate”–which really, in my opinion, I find very wanting or problematic for how can someone practically respond to compliment with “what do you expect? I am from Hlotse where folks understand smartness”.

Moving on. In contrast to the Hlotse guys, my description of the dressing sense of the miners was abuzz with sexual energy. I guess partly because I am in awe of the ability of these men to have sexualised conversations in public using idiomatic language. Being on any long queues with them, especially border queues on entry into Lesotho, is such a delight. The pent-up energy from working deep under the earth’s surface is given expression. And, suddenly it becomes clear why the first question to their kids when they come running to greet them is/will be, “mma-lona o kae?”, where is your mother?

I have digressed, back to what I call an apt description of how a miner that qualifies as tjaka may dress. If at all they wear a blanket, it is a design fit for kings and worn with a level of cheekiness that says, “I am someone’s king and could be yours if you so desire”! When it comes to Italian shoes, moccasins, loafers or the likes are just not their style; they limit themselves mostly to top-capped laced leather designs, polished and made to shine with a lot of TLC. The pants are the formal suit type, trimmed just slightly above the ankle, and sometimes with a hem deliberately turned up: the idea here is to reveal their clean socks—for they understand that cleanliness enhances sex appeal, as no woman appreciates smelly feet. To complete the whole look, they infuse an attitude of “I sweat to earn a living—interpret this however way you like—but I certainly know cleanliness is next to godliness”.

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