Sentebale

Happy new year! Nothing profound to say, may 2017 just be happy!

Like most people, with the end/start of each year, I make an effort to convey my appreciation to my beloveds. For the most part, I avoid a one-fits-all-solution. I tailor things to the individual—unless, of course, the person fundamentally believes e-wallet or a million-whatever-deposit is the only way to express my love and appreciation.

Below, is a poem that I wrote to one of my beloveds. Enjoy!1

Motloung!
Ba re tlou ke phoofolo ea ho se lebale,
Sentebale motloung e motle.

Ha letsatsi le chaba,
Sentebale.
Ha le phirima,
Le teng ke re: Sentebale!

Ha litsukunyane tsa bophelo lifihla,
Sentebale.
Ha khotso e phallaka se ka metsi a foro,
Sentebale.

Ha mariha a fihla,
sentebale.
Le ha lehlabula le fihla,
Ka ho ts’oana,
Sentebale.

Sentebale, “forget-me-not”,
Nna palesa ea lihlaba.
Sentebale,
Nna palesa ea botle ba bo siila-tsatsi.
Sentebale, “forget-me-not”!

  1. Ordinarily, I would have considered a translation. However, the elegance and/or simplicity of this poem lies in the false binary tone that qualifies it as an end/start of the year type of a poem (yes I am inventing a genre here…hahaha).

    On a serious note, I believe a translation could have rendered the false true. In translation, we could have lost the very essence of what lies at the heart of using binary opposition in Sesotho. Basically, we position things in binary for impact, while holding the understanding that things exist in continuum. #ExampleOfHyperboleInSesotho 😎
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Expressing Mistrust of Whiteness

Sesotho culture, like many other African cultures, is largely founded on orality. Transmitting knowledge orally is no easy feat contrary to what others might believe. It is an art that often carries some poetry or musicality to it. Okay, this is just my opinion based on how I rationalise, for example, the condensed format of clan knowledge.

Use of shorthand or brevity is for memorability. It is not, and I repeat, it is NOT for devaluing the importance of context. I needed to stress this because we seem to have forgotten this. It seems we are quicker to imagine or conclude that our elders were simpletons without nuance and/or a strategy for communicating with future generations.

This increasingly irks me. I suppose because I have set myself unwittingly on a path (particularly through this blog) that I can innocently be asked to translate clan praise poems. Often I have had to explain, with part tongue in cheek, that some ideas cannot literally be translated into English. Part tongue in cheek because I recognise that people know this already, but through some kind of whiteness logic they hope the translation into English will be more insightful.

Actually, I am not even sure what it is I mean. All I know is that it would seem it is easier to interrogate ideas in English than in our own languages. As a consequence we fail to understand why we having lingering sentiments such as ‘makhooa ha a tsoane’, which translates more or less to ‘whites don’t betray each other’.

The above sentiment is true on some level. However, I dare say, it did not become part of our conventional wisdom for purposes of valorising whiteness. Our elders, bound to the medium of orality, were trying to warn us. Basically, like Biko, they wanted us to understand that we blacks are on our own!

Think, for example, how class or race supposedly did not matter for the brothers in arms during World War II, until the end came. As captured in one of my favourite songs, disposable hero, when that end came, the question of who was to be the first on the breadline (or plane in my warped interpretation) was asked. The answer was clear: it was not to be the black man. The effort to pretend otherwise was but a dance; for, ‘makhooa ha a tsoane’!

MaAfrika we need to get this to reject whiteness. It has ‘fudged’ us up! A friend drove this point home for me by noting that whiteness as an imperialist system has not only messed us up as black people, but has destroyed the ecological base of the planet. This means aside from the socioeconomic and the psychological we need to centre the environmental issues as well. To succeed, we need plurality of thought, the wisdom of our elders and all the knowledge we have acquired so far to subversively and strategically work at reclaiming our throne.

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Barricading and opening doors with naked bodies

On Monday, Dr Stella Nyazi at Makerere University got the door to her office opened after she got naked. On Tuesday, a number of womyn at Rhodes University barricaded a road with their naked bodies.

These womyn were compelled by different reasons to undress; but that they did in their respective universities is rather interesting for me.

Their actions have, for better or worse, inscribed the naked body to the university discourse in a new yet old way. New in that the ‘man of reason’, it would seem, can only be reasoned with by staging (or perhaps erecting) naked protests. And old, in that, we remain, in a sense, and to borrow from Oyewumi, with the oppositional constructions of a ‘man of reason’ and a ‘woman of the body’.

At this stage, I am not sure how best to process all this. I am unsure how to express the pain and trauma of patriarchy. Still, I intend to hold on to the hope that all will work out.

Why? Because when Charles Taylor’s shit was no longer tolerable, the Liberian womyn undressed at one point, as part of their sustained prayer for the devil to go back to hell. For me, these womyn are a ‘historic’ reminder that naked bodies can, if needs be, open the doors of dialogue and act as barricades against brutality!

With this historic reminder—and as I take heart in the possibility of things changing a bit—I am beginning to slowly grasp why Basotho talk of “ntoa ea libono”, when fighting for that which matters! We are in this fight and overcome…we shall!

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Sekunjalo—Time to be Frank

I have been in hibernation. Alas, I have not really rested.

A lot has happened and is continuing to happen. It would seem the time to be frank has arrived. There is a need to think and re-think matters if we, Blacks, are still invested in a change that affords us dignity. 

This need to (re)think matters has caused me to meditate deeply about Frank Leepa’s Sekunjalo.

As some have come to know, I am a serious fan of Frank’s work. Frank has entrenched a deep understanding in me that the South African questions are indeed Black/African questions. He gave me a firm understanding of intersectionality–long before I learnt such a term existed.

So, based on the events of this year alone, I am of the opinion that Sekunjalo qualifies as an intersectional #BlackLivesMatters song. It is a protest song, but also a prayer. This comes out very clearly to me when the youth represented in the song declares that his determination to bring about change is, in a sense, a reason for the loved ones to pray.

If we consider how the song begins, these loved ones are the women being left behind; the father, though not explicated, is probably in Marikana.

I know this sounds like a leap. However, if you take Frank as nuanced and intersectional, you know there is a reason the father needs to be informed about the son’s departure. In fact, based on his style of writing, one should intuitively get that the reason has been omitted deliberately. My thinking is: to possibly aid the amplification of the single short line of “pray it”!

In my opinion, this line is loaded with meaning. It is a reminder to think about the women and the struggle. A reminder that many are forced to pray, fend for themselves, and hold on to radical hope that the men and children will return home.

Interesting for me is also how the “pray it” line is preceded by humming and the line: “I want to hear you sing”. This reminds me of the value of song/singing.

When I attended the Highway Africa conference recently, it dawned on me how much song is not understood in the context of a struggle. This is what happened: the Black Student Movement (BSM) entered the conference singing; there was a slight mild panic; and it occurred to me that in the imagination of some, protest singing is strongly linked to violence (despite the body language of those singing speaking a contrary truth). 

This troubled me. I couldn’t really explain to myself, why? My Senkujalo meditations have shed some light. Singing and spirituality are linked in my mind, even in a protest context. For me, singing is a deep spiritual act for expressing unison—or solidarity if you wish. Above and beyond solidarity, I also believe singing serves to soothe; and for this reason, I find it hard to understand the possible associations with violence. I mean…if I am making efforts to soothe my pain, do I really hold the intent to be violent?

This is a very pertinent question for me. It makes me wonder how much we understand Black pain.

Just so we are clear, I do understand how sometimes this pain comes through as anger—anger that seems to stem from nowhere, except this would be a lie. The anger comes from an embodied knowledge that one’s own truth in some spaces can/will easily be denied and delegitimized. This is knowledge of being rendered invisible. (At a very personal level, this knowledge has often caused me to speak in angry tones—because as I have often explained to myself, my body goes into internal convulsion mode to give weight to the spoken word.)

I have digressed. The point really is that Sekunjalo, for whatever reason, paints for me a clear picture of the moment we are in. Basically, the song makes me appreciate that 40 years of the Soweto uprising will be about the youth declaring:

We are the leaders
[Elders, there is] no need to be afraid
Batho bana ba re tlolisa khati!

And, without bothering with the actual translation of the conveniently bolded line, it gets idiomatically understood that it will take a stick to deal with the anti-transformational human beings. For, the carrot has clearly failed.

From the youths vantage point, with this failure, the only prayer left is for the elders to prepare, if needs be,”to put out the fire”. For, “with defensive guts [and] determination”, they shall forge ahead to bring change and reclaim the throne for Black people. Senkujalo, beloved elders…sekunjalo!

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Thahameso

So, I have been in many conversations with a friend that range from education of the Black child to use of African languages to repress intellectualism and erode any sense of bolekane, equality amongst Blacks. Because as they say, talk is cheap, we have been thinking about what we can do as a contribution to realising the reality we aspire for.

In one of our conversations, the friend asked me if I have ever thought of writing erotica in Sesotho. At that point, I awoke to a new realisation that through sex we might actually make a breakthrough to the discussions that we are attempting to have, while pushing for the idea of producing content in our own languages that may revive the reading culture.

The above provides a short context for this snippet, I wrote.

“Reetsa, motho oa ka, linonyana li a tsoibila. Ke hoseng. Moshanyana e be o tsoile? E re ke utloe …”

Ha a cho joalo ka ho hoeshetsa, mabina-bina a pelo ea Moeketsi oa phethoha. Ka letsoho le bonojoana o pholla serope sa Moeketsi ho leba moshate—botoneng ba hae.

Moeketsi o bula mahlo butle ka seboso-selo hammoho le tsebo ea hore nako ea thahameso e fihlile.

A juice translation.

“Sweetie, hear the birds are chirping. It is morning. Is the boy possibly awake? Let me find out …”

As she makes her soft utterances, Moeketsi’s sweetheart turns. She gently strokes his thighs towards the kingdom—his manhood.

Moeketsi slowly opens his eyes with a gently knowing smile, the glory of a new day awaits.

 

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Blame the vulture…

When will Lesotho break the pattern it is in? This is a question I have been trying to answer for myself for several days now.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Some people have argued that ntate Tom has brought us to this current moment of instability that we are in. This, I don’t completely dispute, given that ntate Tom has practically been in senior government leadership positions of almost all governments since the 80s— including the period where I could have been forgiven for thinking “Lebua ke mmuso ngoanaka!” was Lesotho’s national anthem.

So, as I said, I cannot dispute that ntate Tom is partially to blame for recent events, at the very least, for perpetuating the use of legal instruments to pursue political agendas. But, lest we forget, the one person who truly helped normalise this use was ntate Ntsu in the very act of “ba furalleng“, when he basically established a new ruling party (LCD) in parliament: to rule through application of legal mechanisms not based on anyone having literally put a cross against its name.

The moral question was secondary to ntate Ntsu. He concerned himself mostly with the legal question(s). For him, once he had decided to turn his back on his own sisters and brothers, he swiftly moved on and extended an invitation for everyone to do the same–“le ba furalleng, ‘na ke se ke ba furalletse”! To be sure, I am suggesting that it didn’t take him long to forget that he had implored us “ho hata mmoho“: to take synchronised steps towards peace and prosperity because together we can!

Personally, I think that swift change in positions characterises the moral flexibility of our political leaders … too flexible for notions of negotiating in good faith to work. Thus making it easy to rely on legal instruments/mechanisms because the question of bending the law is mute as long as one doesn’t break it.

By the above albeit warped logic, Ntate Tom wasn’t breaking the law when he prorogated the Parliament; he was acting out of an existing script, which he was also party to crafting with ntate Ntsu and many others. To blame him exclusively is unfair, especially if all he is doing is to bind his peers to this very liberal code of bending and never breaking the law.

As it stands, even as I pen this view, I don’t know what qualifies as the truth in Lesotho. All I know is that a vulture is almost always to blame. And at times, it may indeed be the “bearded vulture”, which, should we dare to blame, we can but find solace in the idiom, “lebitso lebe ke seromo“.

Can we do away with the carcass called power, in order to do away with all the vultures including the patiently waiting ones like the Guptas? This is a question-cum-prayer for me and perhaps many other Basotho.

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Inyangas …

I have been in hibernation. Alas, not in a deep slumber waiting to be awaken by some kiss from Prince Charming. I have been patiently toiling for a future harvest that may or may not reflect my efforts at honest labour.

In between my toiling, I have allowed myself a few distractions. For example, during the famous Grahamstown Arts festival, I saw Marikana—the musical! It was an incredible piece flawed but in one way: it butchered, in my opinion, the inyanga scene.

All parties represented on stage but the inyanga were given voice. The inyanga enters and exits the stage twice to perform unexplained/unexplainable rituals on the miners. In his first entry, he hastingly walks in with a suitcase and opens it up to scatter in a ritualistic manner some “baby powder” on the men. After departing, the induna (aka leader) reminds the men to not have sex…yadi yadi yada! The second time the inyanga enters the stage, he performs a different ritual on the men—ea ho phats’a!

I cannot really translate. However, I can, to a limited extent, explain the personal trauma of that scene. The men just dropped down their pants and undressed—without doctor’s orders! The doctor then went about doing what needed to be done without a single word or musical note coming from his mouth. We, the audience, were literally left with the interpretative burden of dealing with what unfolded in the (caricatured-continue-to-think-whatever-you-like ) scene.

So why am I visiting this now? Well, a few days ago, I learnt that I could watch (on YouTube) the entire Marikana documentary—Miners Shot Down. I was ambivalent about watching. In part, because the idea of dealing with the inyanga bit of the story in addition to the brutality of men being shot down, is something that I find hard to bear.

I nonetheless decided to take the opportunity to watch the documentary while it was being made available for free.

The documentary, unlike the musical, treaded carefully around the inyanga story. This, I greatly appreciated, since a lot of nuance is required. Precisely because we are dealing with the belief system of people, on the one hand, and on the other because the inyangas, being human and all, are not immune from unethical behaviour and corrupt practices.

The latter bit is significant. It explains why we make a distinction between the good and the ‘questionable’. We, for example, call the good ones bongaka-chitja and the not-so-good bongakana-ka-hetla. 

Naturally bongakana-ka-hetla don’t declare themselves as possibly dishonest. They just use dishonesty to prey on others. To me, this is partly the reason I was incensed by how the inyanga scene in the musical was executed. I was denied the opportunity to discern for myself the kind of inyanga that the miners put their faith in, at a time when they could have also benefited from the counsel of ngaka-chitja— a well-rounded healer who knows at times dispensing medication/muthi may not be as effective as dialogue...hoba motse ho hauoa oa morapeli!

But then again, in the case of Marikana, the tragic of the situation has little to do with the distinctions that one may try to make about inyangas—good or bad, the miners were already condemned to death by exploitation or other means.

This in my mind contributes to the reasons we have done so poorly in understanding, for example, that the role of inyangas also has deep spiritual dimensions to it. Some miners in fact use muthi in the same spirit as those who use holy water and adorn rosaries.

As a very small and modest contribution to cultivating some appreciation that we indeed have different kinds of inyangas, below is a brief listing of terms we use to describe inyangas in Sesotho.

Ngaka-chitjaThis translates roughly to a well-rounded doctor. A classic historical example for me is Chief Mohlomo, who when King Moshoeshoe I (then Letlama) asked for medicine for building a formidable nation, he responded with: "Pelo ke setlhare", the heart is medicine (as in love conquers all).
Ngaka-matsetselaHo tsetsela is a form of a longing cry that is somehow subdued. A word like whining could be used but it is not quite accurate. Ngaka-matsetsela can therefore be regarded as a doctor with sufficient expertise to ensure that whatever the patient longs for, they get. These doctors also have the capability to commune with the spirits. Thus, can also be regarded as spiritual doctors.
Ngakana-ka-hetlaNgakana is a diminutive word of ngaka. Ka hetla refers to an act of looking back. In context, ngakana-ka-hetla translates to a fake (or semi-trained) doctor with paranoid tendencies like always looking back.
RamethokhoMethokho more or less translates to (herbal) medicine. ‘Ra-’ is a prefix indicating male. So, ramethokho essentially means medicine man.
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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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