Came for a Reason

Africa without any boundaries is my home. However, once in a little while I meet someone who makes me question whether South Africa is my home.

South Africa is my temporary domicile (until my studies are complete). As a proud Lesotho citizen, I have all the intentions to go back home and when that time comes, no one will have the benefit of saying to me: “khomo, boela hae u holile”. This literally translates to: “cow, go home you have grown”.

In the meantime, to anyone who is intent on making me feel like this is not my home, I came here for a reason. My reason is not to play a game like morabaraba (a strategy driven board game); my reason is to get a dose of knowledge. So please listen to my plea (captured poetically below) and let me be!

Moleko, tloha ho ‘na!
Ha ke ea tla morabarabeng.
Ke tlile ngakeng:
Ke tlisitse sebono eteng.
Ha ke ne ke tlile morabarabeng,
Ke ne ke tlare:itekanye mesikaro!
Ke namane e ts’ehla;
Motho a ka thiba ka ‘m’ae,
Kapa a thiba ka monoana!

Moleko, haeba o na le litsebe, libule,
Haeba o na le mahlo, le oona a bule,
Le kelello haeba e teng, e sebelise!
Hoba ke namane e ts’ehla;
Ha ke rore feela, ke ea loana!

Translation of the above, without getting into the depth of the language is as follows:

Evil one, get away from me!
I didn’t come here for morabaraba.
I came for the doctor:
For my arse to be injected.
If I had come for morabaraba,
I would say to you: weigh your “capabilities”!
I am a yellow calf; 1
A person could defend with their mother, 2
or defend with their finger!

Evil one, if you have ears, open them;
If you have eyes, have them open as well;
And if you have a brain, use it!
For I am a yellow calf;
I don’t just roar, I can fight!

The bold part of the translation is arguably inaccurate. Doctor is ngaka in Sesotho. Ngakeng refers to any place that a doctor practices his/her craft e.g. hospital or sangoma’s chambers. People go to these places to see doctors; hence, my translation. Actually, to be exact, they go there for cure. Just to be indulgent, in the above context, the disease that needs cure can be regarded as either poverty or ignorance. Its all a matter of interpretation!

  1. Yellow calf is a term of endearment for a lion/lioness.
  2. The potency of this statement is lost in translation.

Sing and dance through it all

This evening I went to Rhodes University Chamber Choir concert. I must say the performance was impressive—but if the truth be told, Wits choir is a little bit better than us. This is not really about comparing the two choirs, my point is while listening to the choir, I was reminded of an article I read not so long ago — the jive that kept us alive —a tribute to John Matshikiza.

The gist of the article was about dancing and singing through all that life has to offer us. Yesterday, we were hit by a mini tornado here in Grahamstown; it is still relatively windy to be at ease, but despite this, it was impossible not to enjoy the singing and dancing. Strange as this may sound, it suddenly made sense to me why music is such a huge part of our culture. For example, in my own culture, we sing virtually for every occasion including war. We have songs known as mokorotlo (war songs) and koli-ea-malla (sad songs), which I provide as support for my statement.

Much as I had never thought about singing and dancing as part of culture, I never underestimate the power of song. The repertoire included songs in isiXhosa, Sesotho, IsiZulu, Germany, English and I think Latin as well. It wasn’t just the language factor but some compositions were dated as far back as the pre-Christ era. This means that the choir, through song and dance, was able to transcend it all — language, time and differences in culture.

So, as food for thought, we should consider singing and dancing through it all — be it we are in pain or filled with joy. Whilst, of course, taking heed of advice given in a song Nna Na (I think it should have been: Nnana). In this song, a person called Nnana is asked to remember that life is like a spinning wheel (bophelo ke lebili); what goes around will surely come around!

Sesotho the language

The language is deep and very artistic. This is a fact and perhaps the only fact I know about Sesotho as a language. In recent years I have come to know that the dynamics of the language can be very confusing. For example, growing up, the plural of teachers was ‘matichere’ and not ‘litichere’ (or is it the other way round?)

For purposes of this post, I will not venture in what is confusing to me. I shall instead discuss the artistic depth of the Sesotho language. To me, Sesotho seems to be layered, with some layers only accessible to people I would label as “submarines”. At the layers of submarines, the language is rich but far from direct. It is filled with insinuations and innuendos that are presented in a very subtle and delicate manner: to give the speaker total deniability (if needs be).

So what makes the language rich at those layers? In my opinion, it is a combination use of riddles, deliberate distortions of words, and, of course, the manner of articulation. And the latter is important! I have seen individuals prepare to fight to the death (‘ho loana ea khumamela’) for being called ‘ngoetsi/makoti’ (daughter-in-law). This, at a superficial level, may seem strange unless one recognises that the reaction was due to an invocation of a deeper meaning to the word; the word is a distortion much like ‘mokhoenyana’ (son-in-law) is, but I shan’t elaborate on them. Instead I will choose a neutral word like ‘majakane’.

Majakane is a distortion of the expression ‘ba ja, ba ikana’ (they eat and vow). This word to many (land-dwellers) is accepted as an alternative word for referring to the elite, the affluent, etc. To an extend, in the context of today’s world, the interpretation is valid. However, the historical origins of the word suggest to me that the word was “coined up” to jeer at the Christians (after Christianity was introduced). The reason for this was that the ‘newly converted’, aside from publicly making a vow before eating to live by Christ loving ways, they were overly critical of the non-converts. In their interactions with them, there was no element of humility— since they thought they were better, as they had seen the light! In a nutshell, the word originated as a response to this behaviour and for this reason, it was deliberately loaded, with what I term, the double ‘dees’: disdain and defiance. Defiance because if the utterers were overt about their disdain, they would have suffered the fully wrath of the law, since Moshoeshoe believed in peace. So, by using ‘majakane’, the burden of the proof lied with majakane to convince anyone that the reference is pregnant with any other meaning, other than ‘they pray before eating’.

With the above, I hope I have illustrated my point. Sesotho is a language of depth and one has to always establish whether they are on land or sea. If at sea, above or under? Whatever the case, I think one is better assuming he/she is deep under swimming with the sharks. But this becomes a very bad and dangerous habit….ask me I know!