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.

A Shared Heritage Icon

sunflowerSeptember is the beginning of my favourite season: spring! It also happens to be heritage month in South Africa, where I currently reside. For me, the two add up to a month of musical appreciation—or at least, this is also why I believe the birds sing in spring time.

To join the birds in their singing, I think it is only fitting to show my appreciation by singing praises to my musical icon: Frank Mooki Leepa.

Frankly speaking, when it comes to heritage icons to be celebrated in South Africa—and indeed in Lesotho, but this goes without saying—Frank Leepa’s name should come up. This is an opinion, however, one that I hope to (continuously) defend with fervour.

My age says I more likely to have experienced in a tangible manner Bhudaza in his early days than I could have Frank Leepa. This being the case, perhaps a good place to begin my defence (in this blog piece) is to throw Bhudaza in the mix—for indeed, I experienced his blossoming into a celebrated musician from his days in Talima, a band with his late brother Mochoko, which also featured his late nephew Lekoane on bass guitar at a tender age of about ten, playing better than many adult guitarists.

The Talima days I remember very vividly. They were the prime days of my youth, beauty and free expression of my opinions about all and sundry. In those days, as a budding artist, Bhudaza was more recognisable by the soil that nurtured and allowed him to flourish. Here, I am referring directly to the influence of his brother Mochoko, who died in August 2001.

It took Google to get the year, but the month was etched in my mind. When the sad news reached many in Lesotho, I was actually with ‘mangoane Mpotla celebrating her birthday. The weather that evening was particularly nasty for mid August—it was cold, windy and sleeting—yet after our dining at Lancers Inn, we remained undeterred about ending our night at Victoria hotel with Bhudaza’s performance, alas…the night didn’t end as we planned!

That September, I called it the spring of Bhudaza’s career. He performed like I had never seen before. He was like a man possessed, a thorn bird even, playing each note to levels of unbelievable perfection. And we, the fans, loyal to the memory of Mochoko, allowed those notes to spring us to a level where spirits and beings commune with each other. We were mourning but also celebrating. And yes, while this may sound warped, it really was rooted in knowing Mochoko, who, for the record, I never did call ntate. A mere 10 minute conversation with Mochoko, when he talked music and/or the need for a music school for Basotho children, was to know him at some intimate level. A level that was inspiring and full of what some may refer to as ‘radical hope’ for the industry and the role it can play in transforming society. In a nutshell, you would understand why the show must always go on!

I have digressed; but not long the summer of Bhudaza’s career followed. He was in the studio recording his first album, which was super explosive.

Can we guess who was the man in the background assisting with production and arrangement of this album? It was none other than Frank Mooki Leepa. Sadly he died a few months before its release, but, in my opinion, his touch remained. For me, that touch was in how the spirit of Mochoko was infused into the album—I can’t really explain it, but I had this sense that the album had the same feel as one that Talima had hoped to record with the Germans, if life’s complexities and death had not gotten in the way.

Yes, life does suck and things never go according to plan, but again I digress. This post is about why I celebrate Frank Mooki Leepa and why I believe it is important to remember that his name deservedly should be counted among the heritage icons in South Africa during heritage month.

For me, it is worth mentioning that it is ultimately the words or lyrics that determine whether my connection to a song is superficial or not—unless, of course, we are talking about a pure instrumental. I can happily dance, for example, to Bhudaza’s song khera—a name for a potent Sesotho brew—but it doesn’t mean the song connects with my being. Contained in the broad message to caution us all of the dangers of alcohol (khera) is a gendered part that sits uneasily with me, captured by the following two lines:

Hey brother, life is yours, you better look after it.
Hey sister, come on let me change your life.

At first listen (or even read), the two lines can easily be dismissed, particularly because towards the end of the song, both sexes are called on with the same offer to be lead on to a path that will change their lives. Yeah … exalt to an end that recognises equality. But wait! What of the existence of the above seemingly innocent lines found in the beginning of the song? Surely they cannot be ignored. They perpetuate the notion that women lack their own agency: they need a man (like Bhudaza) to walk them to a path of redemption. In contrast, men simply need to be reminded of their own agency.

These two lines, without even getting into the politics of their positioning, sever any emotional connection I could have to the song. The idea that Bhudaza and Frank Leepa can be at the same conscience levels immediately becomes unimaginable to me. To just ward off the idea, my first urge is to listen to vukani— wake up. I am not talking about Sipho Hotstix Mabuse’s version, for his immediately turns the hot in his name to lukewarm. I am talking about Sankomota’s version with Frank Leepa leading the vocals (and, of course, involved in other background activities).

Vukani is a must listen to song for all who may have doubts about counting Frank Leepa among the heritage icons in South Africa. Every line in that song is conscience-raising and modelled around the necessity to end apartheid and all other forms of oppression.

My favourite lines, by far, are the ones that point out the contradictions of the struggle, which unfortunately, continue to exist to this day, almost 30 years of the recording of the song. We have people that talk about freedom yet have no problems killing their own brothers. Just as we have people ready to shout “right on” but later refuse to move on with the agenda of building a just society.

The one line that absolutely takes the cake for me, which I shall not dare paraphrase is:

you go around screaming equality, but you paddle your own sister and destroy morality….no no no no no no no … vukani madoda …

For me, a proud feminist, this enhances by leaps and bounds Frank Leepa’s call for intersectionality. A call to recognise all forms of oppression. There is no denying or sweeping under the carpet the problem of patriarchal violence. A direct question is posed to the men fighting for a supposed life of dignity: how do you fight for freedom and equality when you see nothing wrong with beating or oppressing your women?

This question, I imagine, is asked in the spirit of “monna o tentsoa ts’ea ke bang”, a man is helped into his loin garment by other men. As such, I believe the intention was to actively initiate a dialogue that reminds and will continue to remind the men that equality is not a one narrow dimensional concept—otherwise why, for example, were the women willing to pledge their solidarity and support in the “struggle”?

For me, there is no doubt, therefore, that vukani embodies the kind of activism/politics that we should all align ourselves to. Singing or performing this song in the 80s was an obvious punishable political act. More so, because it was inevitably accompanied by a repertoire that included songs like woza, uhuru and house on fire.

Let’s pause for a moment. Can you possibly see why ordinary people would want to spring into action to bring about (positive) change in their lives from such a repertoire? If you can, then I hope you can also see why Frank Leepa qualifies as a musical heritage icon. With music as his medium, he made an effort to inspire people to blossom into being extraordinary: his lyrics encouraged them to act and deal with the contradictions that exist in their everyday struggles so that ours can begin to be a better world.

What is more, beyond the grave his work continues to inspire. It springs one from the doldrums when winter makes a sudden appearance in the emotional side of life. Or, at least, it does for me. Hence, my willingness to spring in celebration of his memory, heritage and the vukani or awakening season itself, where singing comes all so naturally to creation!

Malala Pipe Visualised


These pictures were taken by my friend Susan Hansen at Dwesa, on the day that Siyakhula Living Lab was having a “thanks-giving” celebration to acknowledge all parties involved in the project.

I share the pictures today as I ponder why we work, ergo why worker’s day should be relevant to me–given this remains a day of work except I have an excuse not to answer emails and be reclusive.

So, why do I work? If you asked me this a few years ago, I doubt I would’ve been able to provide an answer with an ounce of conviction.

I regard my work as in tune with Malala Pipe—the believe that children are latent with potential that can be tapped so they become “Malala pipe(s) no more” i.e. actualised beings that contribute to a fair and just society.

I work in service of “Malala Pipe(s)”. This is why I work and I absolutely take joy in this fact.

With each passing day, I regret less that the younger me ever believed that I could do better not working directly with anything related to children, specifically their education. Today, I know I am a better being for simply letting my inner child show and following the passions I have about children.

With a degree of certainty, I know the person who said I could do better than be a teacher was wrong: because I am better a person for wanting and working hard to be a better teacher/educator. This is my truth and my simple answer to why I work!

Right to Space

A disclaimer: I am not particularly interested in what happens in space. I am a grassroots type of a woman with strong views against projects like the Square kilometre Array (SKA), which, in my mind, divert, in the midst of economies collapsing, funds that could be used to improve lives of the ordinary women and men, deprived of living a life of dignity; a life where one can walk tall and just be.

Disclaimer aside, today being Human Rights Day, I thought I should allow myself to drift a bit into space. Not so much to have a holiday from grassroots matters, but to just take time to note the transcending nature of sexism that goes beyond our planet right into space.

Two days ago, this link was forwarded to me about some British woman, Kate Arkless Gray’s fight to go into space. Central to her fight is a disturbing advert that she challenges, which actually suggests that only men can qualify in a competition to go into space. One may argue, once they have read the article or seen the advert, that the company behind the competition had no (malicious) intentions to exclude women–given their product is male-specific. But surely someone in their midst should have detected (blatant) sexism just in the language used to lure the would-be entrants of the competition: “Lynx is scouring the world to recruit a few brave men for the opportunity of a lifetime”. An opportunity where you, “Leave a man, return a hero.

I mean really?! Can we believe whatever explanation that this company is willing to offer? What about the actual content of advert itself? In 2013, couldn’t they spend more of their money to find creative people capable of promoting different views to masculinity and femininity?

In my non-humble opinion, to believe this company is to accept that not even the sky is the limit for sexism. For this reason, I offer my solidarity to all women who have entered the competition and hope they get voted into space.

Now speaking generally (to all humanity), may we be granted the space to be. May we each recognise that we need this space to self-actualise and live a life of dignity. As such, moving beyond Human Rights day, may we embrace the right to space as a human right—a basic and fundamental right to be.

Mother tongue delight

To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture.- Frantz Fanon

Today, as proclaimed by UNESCO, is International Mother Language Day. This is the day that each one of us is to delight in their mother tongue language: “to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism”.

I shall delight myself by exploring the potency of naming in Sesotho. As we all know, names are intended to convey a message. The question is why would anyone, for example, name a road curve “moqato khaola”? Moqato, if I grant myself permission to be reductionist, is akin to that string in g-string. In the past, when men used to wear that ‘loin garment’ called ts’eea, we referred to the string holding the garment together moqato. So, translated in context, moqato khaola simply communicates how dangerous that particular curve is. It is so dangerous that it can break (khaola) that vital string, which when broken can shame a man. Notwithstanding the dangerousness of this curve, what delights me, particularly as a feminist that I am, is that this confirms to me that indeed women are the best drivers! Otherwise why are they not told to heed the danger?!

Moving right along. If my point is truly to demonstrate the potency of naming, then I think it is fitting to explore names given to some alcoholic beverages in Lesotho. I hope through this exploration, it would be evident why I find the subject of naming delightful. Below is a table with a few of my favourite names given to locally brewed “beer”.

NameLiteral translationInterpretation to the translation
Hata-butle-nchanyanaStep slowly my boy.Drink this but remember to take it easy ... nice and easy my boy or fall you shall.
Ithoballe-nchanyanaGo to sleep my boy.Drink this, it's lights out my boy... the question of home or not becomes mute.
Lebitla-le-ahlameThe grave is open.To drink too much of this beverage is but to make an appointment with death.
Qhoma-o-checheJump and take a step back.Drink this and you might just feel light on your feet: you will walk with a bounce but it might just be a case of "moving two steps forward and one step backward".
Sekipa-se-ntekaneT-shirt is enough for me.Drink this and suddenly it gets so hot might just start stripping and possibly leave your blanket behind; blankets are expensive so this is not desirable at all.

Tears of Gratitude for a Rare Bird

[I] say not in grief ‘he is no more’ but in thankfulness that he was.- Hebrew Proverb

For over a decade, on this day I have a private sobbing session. This morning was no different! I woke up and allowed myself to succumb to overwhelming feelings of fondness from simply remembering memories of a life that is no more.

I snorted and cried like an inconsolable child, especially when I realised my own selfishness/foolishness. Until today, it never quite dawned on me that my loss wasn’t just mine. There are loved ones out there, who might have understood all this time, that I have this sobbing session to simply acknowledge that indeed I have experienced love in my life time. A love from an imperfect but caring uncle, who was very protective of his family. A man who convinced me, among many other things, that it is not blasphemous to declare Bob Marley a saint (and in my opinion, “a true heritage icon for the world” )!

My all-rounded uncle, malome-rangoane Sammy, graces us no more with his wings in the air, but I am sure glad that I remember with great fondness his flight. To me, he remains a rare bird that I am thankful to have seen fly and grace the skies of my existence, even if only for a fleeting moment.

So, with unabashed gratitude, today (and in the future) I will allow myself to sob and/or weep for this rare bird, for its flight (including the gliding away flight) remains memorable to me. In part, because a certain realisation of its glorious purpose (at least to my life) deepened in death, much like a thorn bird reaches its potential in death. (Arguably, this may sound warped, but I do believe in the idea of death bringing out the most glorious sound from a thorn bird.) For this reason, I cannot curse death; I can but cleanse my soul with tears of gratitude and let the words “memento mori” propel me forward!

A Tribute to African Rocks

As you may know, today is women’s day. It is a day we remember and celebrate the courage and the role played by women in building the new South Africa. Specifically, it is a day we remember the birth of an inspiring song for all women: “wathint’ abafazi, wathint’imbokodo”! Translated in context: “you strike a woman, you strike a rock”!

This song is an apt reminder that women, like rocks, are impenetrable and cannot be moved easily once geared for action. Their intimate knowledge of oppression, pain and joy fuels their inner strength, creating a bond which enables them to be rooted in their action.

With the above said, allow me to specifically pay homage to the ordinary women of Africa. I believe they are absolutely amazing beings 😉

I salute you, ordinary women of Africa! You are the rocks, the heart and soul of our continent. When hope ceases to exist, you become the embodiment of hope. You dig deep within you to find the strength to overcome the challenges and struggles of life. Through your actions, I know that the extraordinary comes from the ordinary. And through you, I know the African dream is realisable. African women, you rock!

Anguish of June 16 1976

When I look at some of the images of the Soweto uprising, I see anguish. Yet in that anguish I see bravery and much more.

I see souls that were able to see beyond themselves in order to make things a little better in society. I see consciousness that extends beyond the boundaries of myopic thinking, where the ‘self’ is sacrificed for the general good of society. I see passion, the anguish it brings, but still, I understand: June the 16th had to be!

I hope then that this historic day will inspire the youth like it is intended to. To all the youth of this continent, be inspired!