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.


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.

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!

Bokholoa Monologue!

Ao chehe …kea bots’aba bokholoa! Ke ne ke lumetse e le kannete hore ha e le ‘na ha ke lekholoa la puo. But to my utter shock and dismay, it does seem like I am a “foreigner” when it comes to language—my mother tongue language. I have lost that easiness of navigation and articulation of what could be expressed even in sleep. Hmmmm… if my understanding is not lacking, then I must belong to a group of those otherised individuals known as “makholoa”—the people, who after being away from their native land for ages, are sometimes laughed at for making incredulous remarks about the changed (or unchanged) landscape of what was once familiar to them at an intimate level.

Lekholoa? ‘Na taoana ea lihlaba le lithaba tsa eena Thesele, ruri ha ke lumele! Ke hlapanya joalo ka majakane hore hona ke toro—toro ea Fako! I am/should be a dual citizen—or, if you prefer, a proper bilingual. So, what went wrong? Ke fihlile joang moo molepellaneng1? Ke bua ka oona molepellane oa ho ts’oana le oo libali-bali, matjelo-tjelo2, a o rehileng “fiscal cliff”. Ke re: ke fihlile joang ho iphumana ke lutse leralla leo ke sitoang e le kannete ho fumana mantsoe ka puo ea ka a ho itoloka ka botebo hore le haeba lebitla le ne le se le ahlame, Seokamela thapeli ea ka a e utloe?

Ha ke na karabo empa le ha ho le joalo e re ke hakanye feela. Morero ha se ho nyela lehala kapa hona ho luka metsi a liliba tse etseng hore kajeno e be ke thope ea ho ts’oarisoa teu3—hoba chehe, ke ithutile “ho lema” fats’eng la bokholoa hore ke tsebe ho ikemela le ho ja ka mofufutso oa phatla ea ka. Potso-kholo ke hore: na ha metso ea puo e fokola, ke tla hola ho le ho kae? Kapa bo-nkhekhe ba fositse ha ba re puo ke mmetla-tsela oa boitsebo? Clearly, this can’t be!

I am here with poor roots stemming from soil fertilised with love. This is the undisputed truth: ‘nete ea ‘mamaruri. Taba-tabelo e kholo ea baholisi ba ka e ne e le hore ke be le lenyora la ho noa selibeng sa thuto: seliba sa maphetlaka libuka oona matjelo-tjelo! I am here because their quest and sacrifice to ensure that I have a bright future came at the expense of compromising my potential to grow in my own language, ergo cultivate a strong sense of identity rooted in my own Sesotho culture.

I wrestle with the language just to be nuaced enough to tell my truth without being insulting or disrespectable. But, I really shouldn’t wrestle with Sesotho: I should be able to use the language in a powerful manner that even allows, if needs be, to address royalty as peers in a formal setting—and, more importantly, get away with it! Invoke a simple idiom like “e khotjoa e le maoto mane”, or daringly declare: “ngoana o nyela kapa ho rotela ‘ma’e a mo pepile; haeba ke fahlile ‘muso ka lehlabathe, thupa shapa fats’e boo!”. As it stands, it seems I can potentially be expressive at this level in English not Sesotho; even though, for reasons I still cannot articulate, I had assumed that I possessed reasonable command of both languages.

Senyesemane se re: “it’s never too late”. So, instead of wasting more precious time thinking up reasons of why you are deficient in Sesotho, taoana ea thaba, namame e ts’ehla, just work hard to increase your proficiency. Hoba ruri ha li na motloha-pele. U noele, u bile u futse lefats’eng la bokholoa, joale e fihle nako ea ho fula hlabeng sa puo ea heno. E fihlile nako ea hore: “khomo boela haeno o holile”!

  1. steep downward hill
  2. Batho ba bohlale –the clever people
  3. “handle” of ox drawn plough

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!

Translation Woes …

Recently I was engaged in a brief translation task aimed, in part, at promoting multilingualism in our society. On the surface—despite the embedded politics, which I shall attempt to avoid—the task seemed easy. There was but a single expression to translate: “a proud service co-creator”!

The expression in question is the new tag line for the project I research under: Siyakhula Living Lab project. Living Labs operate under the philosophy that to create (or build) meaningful services or products, end-users have to be involved actively as innovators together with those who will provide or develop the services or products. To highlight this partnership between users and providers, words like “co-creator” and “co-innovator” are typically used.

Using the above as context for translating the tag-line into Sesotho, I crossly underestimated the dynamics of the language. I attempted to create a more or less direct translation: “moetsi-mmoho ea motlotlo oa lits’ebeletso”. This translation is not flawed, but from what I gathered, “moetsi” as a representative word for creator, brought a degree of confusion. Of course, I found this a bit surprising given we do have idioms in the day-to-day Sesotho that suggest “moetsi” is a familiar word that can be understood in context; the most popular idiom being “moetsuoa ha a lebale” (the victim never forgets) and by implication “moetsi oa lebala” (the perpetrator forgets).

As always, I took the criticism in my stride. And through the help of those who speak the language, I began to interrogate how the simple idea of working in partnership is communicated in Sesotho, particularly in a context of trying to emphasise the individual. As I re-engaged myself to the task, one thing was clear: anything with “ts’oarana ka matsoho” (holding hands) would be a lazy translation—precisely because the expression is popularly used and I didn’t want to take part in reinforcing a prevailing and very misguided idea that our African languages lack the capacity to serve the knowledge society.

Driven by my ‘politics’ and, of course, the desire to see the task to completion, I generated a number of translations. Ironically, many of these translations stemmed from attempting to run away from the holding hands metaphor. Some were literally centred on how the word ‘hold’ is used to convey different kinds of participation in collaborative work.

As an individual, I can communicate, in at least three ways, my role in collaborative work: 1) “ke a ts’oarisa”, 2) “ke a ts’oarisana” or 3) “ke a ts’oarisoa”. The first two expressions are similar in that I would (supposedly) be defining my role as one of helping (lending a hand), but in a manner that may suggest differing levels of commitment. In the third expression while the idea of teamwork is not lost, I am not necessarily being coy about my role and that of others in performing the task at hand: I am the lead and others are the supporting act. If you detect a hint of militancy, then it means you grasp the depth of the language; you appreciate that such an assertion is occasioned by circumstances that deviate from the norm—circumstances that warrant clarity on whether we are all in this (work) together as equals—“re Makaota, mmoho ts’ebetsong na?

Again, I should stress that Living Labs operate under the ethos of ‘perfect’ partnership. That some animals may be more equal than others is a taboo.

With the above in mind, the following translation won hands down (or should I say hands out of the picture): “Tjaka ea tlama-thata kahong ea lits’ebeletso”!

In my (not very humble) opinion, this translation brings some oomph to the tag-line. “Tjaka” (used often as a synonym for “seithati”) embeds pride at a level that is dependent on how one chooses to interpret the word: epitome, role model, heroine or hero are a few possible candidates. The translation then becomes: A role model for building services in tight-unison!

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.