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.

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!


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?!


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.


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.


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…


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.


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!