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.


An intersection of mathematics and politics

The past Saturdays I have been volunteering as a Maths tutor for the Upstart Youth Development Project. As far as many of my beloved learners were concerned, Maths wouldn’t reside in a planet designated for languages. Maths would reside in a different and very distant planet with a hard to pronounce name— I would imagine, to banish it properly from the memories of people.

I found this disappointing but not entirely unexpected. So, in a slightly determined fashion, I decided one of my key priorities will be to help the learners locate Maths within the language planet. And, of course, allow them to gradually come to terms with the fact that another planet for Maths is as non-existent as Pluto.

In pursuit of this priority, I found myself in an unusually happy space where my politics intersected with Maths. We were discussing functions, which naturally one can’t discuss without establishing an understanding of relations: for a function is but a special relation. Different examples were given to describe multiple everyday relations. Most of these examples were not very exciting until we explored a relationship between Dr. Jacob Zuma and Mr. Mbogeni Ngema. Both men are polygamists and whether or not they have gone on record as pro-patriarchy is detail we suspend. I asked my beloved learners whether a polygamous relationship qualified as a function.

First, there was a reasonable pause in the classroom, as the learners work out whether such a relation qualified as a one-to-many or many-to-one relation. Then, we proceeded to do the obvious, represent the relation on the board, like as shown below:


Almost feverish with excitement, I realised that we had proven mathematically that polygamous relationships are not functional. And, of course, I used the moment productively. I brought into the discussion the idea of “contexts” as sensitively as I could, to explain why the two relational sets may not be swapped around. I argued (without using the term patriarchy) that the instinct to put the male set before the female set defines a very particular context to understanding polygamy as a cultural practice; a context in which a man is defined, for example, as the head of the family—ergo not an equal partner to a woman. I stressed that their instinct was tied to that context, as such, swapping of the sets will lead to a contradiction.

These are high school learners who are familiar with topics like ratios; so it really wasn’t difficult to leverage on this familiarity to cement my point. I simply reminded them that in ratios, the ratio of males to females in the classroom is different from that of females to males —a fact that has been drilled into them by their teachers and one I may need to revisit later with them.

With my learners reasonably convinced that the sets could not be swapped, the conclusion stood: polygamy, expressed in English, is not functional despite what the patriarchs may think!

I remain delighted by the conclusion. In entering what I regard as my political space, I managed to communicate, in subtle ways, how concepts are incrementally developed in Maths such that it eventually becomes possible to bring the idea of contexts to answering questions. I also found the language to communicate the embedded ethics in Maths. As a result, I was even able to dutifully explain the rationale I (and many other beautifully minded Mathematicians) use in marking:

You present me with just an answer and no work (or context to appreciate your thought process)…I will give partial marks on paper but I will certainly give full marks in my heart. Not in my (beautiful) mind but in my heart because that will be a loving act of instilling the value of labouring for your rewards.

This Saturday I will be playing around with the idea of restricting the domain of functions, I hope the idea of contexts will become even much more clearer. In the meantime, I am just looking forward to finding more “inspired” examples that may be useful in concretising concepts and the view of Maths as a language of variables, sets, functions, etc.


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.


Demystification and captured moment(s)

shift happensLast week wasn’t very amazing for me. Still, I had a few pure moments of feeling like I am not insane nor am I alone. The purity of these moments made it feel like peace as it ought to feel. And everything to combined into one glorious moment of feeling understood. A moment of forgotting why Soren Kierkegaard ever resonated with me, when he wrote “People understand me so poorly that they don’t even understand my complaint about them not understanding me”.

Upon reflection, it was also a moment of awaking to my own lack of appreciation: it seems to me that in my struggle for recognition I easily take for granted the core people that form my support system. What does this say about me? Not quite sure but I will trouble this shortly.

First let me put it on the record that I am grateful for all the support I have. I forget on many occasions to overtly express my gratitude but it doesn’t mean I am unappreciative. I know exactly who to count on for support. Just as I know that aside from my family and friends, I have people like Alfredo, my supervisor, who support me and accept my view of the world as sane.

I called out Alfredo by name for one reason: his presentation this past Wednesday was the source of my dear moments of being and awakening. The presentation was titled “How blue is the blue sky? A reflection on a research and (social) engagement”. It was a basic demystification of what is qualified as true and (by implication) false research.

Before I go any further about the presentation, let me make a disclaimer. I strongly believe that my research embeds my own biography in very nuanced and non nuanced ways. As a consequence, the slightest of things said in the academic arena, especially those that make me feel understood, tend to matter a lot to me. I put emphasis on a lot because I also view the academic space as one of my few areas of success; I am actually at that point in my life where it is no longer absurd that I can be married to the life of the mind – a life which with hard work, I can possibly flourish.

My disclaimer noted, I will proceed with the presentation details. Then, I will reflect on my precious moment(s) of awakening.

Salient points of Alfredo’s presentation

In my mind, there were two main points to the presentation. These points were weaved together by a number of examples that ensured you see them as strongly intertwined.

The first point spoke directly to the title. It’s all a fallacy that a dichotomy exists between “blue sky” and “ grass-roots” research. Blue sky research, as he qualified it, is believed to be “basic, fundamental and curiosity driven” while grass-roots research is “applied, directed and (possibly) community engaged”. According to Alfredo, the fallacy has been perpetuated by many claims left implicit about innovation; claims that unfortunately have a strong influence on how funding is channelled. He reminds us that we are society that loves hierarchies. That we assume blue sky research is “up there”, therefore it is much more innovative and deserving of funds comes as no surprise. What comes perhaps as a surprise, is that we fail to recognise that innovation doesn’t happen in vacuum. What may seem as fundamental and curiosity driven endeavour may in actual fact be a product of several well directed endeavours, which, without doubt, were curiosity driven. Curiosity, as he reminds us, drives everyone. To embellish a bit, curiosity is not a commodified resource, which some lucky few can afford while others cannot. Sayings like “necessity is a mother of invention” exist for a reason and, indeed, speak directly to a drive that is akin to how curiosity is used in blue sky research.

Now moving on to the second point, which is linked to the first, but stands by itself because it problematises funding and we all know that money matters can be tricky to deal with. Anyway, the point made –putting it as delicately as I can — is money doesn’t constrain a person to the point where we can imagine it adds/removes the possibility to innovate; money or no money, what remains fundamental is for the person to apply themselves (wholeheartedly) to the task at hand. To unpack this point, I will use one of the examples he made, but frame its interpretation on what he said as well as in what I believe he meant based on my own understanding of who he is. The example was, while it remains true that Michelangelo was paid to paint the ceiling of St. Peter’s Basilica, he applied himself and the result was ‘pure work of art’. Many researchers, especially those doing blue sky research, tend to be funded for their work. Like Michelangelo, they have a brief with all expectations outlined, but, as Alfredo reminds us, it doesn’t mean there is absolutely no room to innovate for the masses. That is, produce something “on the side” that may potentially be appreciated by the masses. The key however lies in how one applies themselves to the task. To truly grasp what I think he really means, one has to understand the following:

At heart, Alfredo believes while one may not receive a Nobel prize for their work, no contribution is invaluable. He believes creating hierarchies that suggest that some fields, area of expertise or any form of work is superior than others, is a fallacy. To him, any work done honestly and with the necessary effort that it deserves is worthy of recognition.


Back to my moments: what was the trigger?

Again, let me put yet another disclaimer. It’s almost always about me when I choose to pen anything down in this platform. To me, this a meditative platform that I can ‘trouble’ questions like ‘how do I easily forget that I have an awesome support system?’ And, of course, the question at hand, ‘what was the trigger for my precious moment(s)?’

My answer is simple yet difficult to articulate. I fail on many occasions to accept that while all people matter as human beings, not all matter within my small space of existence. This said, my moment put in context was also a moment of rejection. A rejection of those who think my work doesn’t matter. And a rejection of those who maintain hierarchies at all cost.

In my moment, I had the language given to me and I knew it was absolutely imperative to stop concerning myself with those in my outer circle, because, by so doing, I lose the plot and end up thinking that I am not understood. Worse still, I end up taking for granted people in my inner circle; the very people that cheer me on, fight with/for me and generally provide me with plenty of space to be me.

Only through rejection I realised that I had the opportunity to reclaim myself as a unique being. With my strong support system and warped sense of humour (that cracks me up but also lands me in trouble) I can never be alone nor feel misunderstood. Understood even in those moments when I am the only one laughing because those are the “I am, I am, I am!” moments. Moments, I repeat, of reclaiming myself and remembering that it takes me to understand who I am, before expecting that understanding from others.

I am, I am, I am! Grounded in self and being; a being that also includes engaging with what lies below the blue sky. This is who I am. And I am because I believe once each of us begins to be, then in our collective being, we can all contribute to something significant. Who knows? That something could be a world without hierarchies. Just imagine that, and for a moment, meditate on being by considering, for example, Ghandi’s words: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”.


Yet another reflection in appreciation of the truth

In December when I wrote my end of year reflection for Bokamoso Leadership Forum, I embraced the 30s as a defining period of one’s character – assuming, of course, there’s any ounce of truth to the saying, “life begins at 40”. I wasn’t at all trying to be defeatist about being in the 30s. I was merely trying to communicate how I was making sense of my own agency.

Unlike in my 20s, I don’t feel like I have the luxury of time. In many ways, I feel this urgency to have my affairs in order so that I can make a proper transition to adulthood (whatever this means).

I certainly appreciate it would take some work on my part to make the transition. But why does it have to feel like I am in a rocking boat?

For reasons unbeknown to me, I feel more and more convinced that I deluded myself in my 20s when I thought I was fortified to make decisions that I could account for. I second guess myself regularly, like it is a sport of sort. As a consequence, I often find myself caught in the horns of the ‘to be or not to be’ dilemmas. Just recently, my dilemma was: to be or not to be the woman who wears her heart on her sleeve? After much thought, I decided being that woman is who I am.

The result, however, was not what I expected. The storm of emotions rocked my boat. A journey stopped before it began. Sniffling and tears streaming down my face, I still managed to squeeze a laugh or two. I realised that, more than ever, the truth in my 30s carries more weight and value. And, what would have been a humiliating truth became but a humbling truth.

For me, this shift is very significant. Precisely because I think I would always want to be that woman, who wears her heart on sleeve. For I now realise that, that woman can be vulnerable, yet strong enough to form a positive relationship with the truth. Another thing, because of the clumsiness that often accompanies the truth, she can have a laugh or two at the expense of this clumsiness – for storms eventually pass and crying stops, irrespective of whether the tears were caused by the winds of the storm or raw emotions rooted in fear.


2013 — A year of tribute

I awake from my slumber. Awaken by an article in the entertainment section of the last edition of City Press. A well deserved tribute paid to one of “Lesotho’s finest music export”, Tsepo Tshola.

The tribute in the traditional paper version starts with the “quintessence of Tsepo Tshola” captured through the lens of the photographer – a very gifted photographer, may I add. So gifted that I really had to pause and immerse myself in the sectional cover before I could proceed to page 6 and 7 for the written tribute by Lesley Mofokeng.

For the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed the tribute. The only thing that actually didn’t sit well with me was having Frank Leepa parenthesised. My reaction was: “really Lesley? You are that guy?!” (The guy who puts in parenthesis Frank Mooki Leepa – the man who has written some of the most beautiful lyrics that speak to the core of my being.)

But I have digressed, so let me quickly get to the point I truly want to make. In paying tribute to Tsepo Mobu Tsola — a tribute he rightfully deserves — Lesley allowed me to think deeply (or differently) about 2013.

For me, 2013 was but going to be a do-or-die year. And in terms of what to do, all I could do is work, work and work at finishing my thesis. But what’s work without taking a little time to pay tribute to people, things, and ideas that are dear?

I mean, how could I have allowed myself to have such narrow view of 2013? The year in which a movie that pays tribute to King Moshoeshoe I will be premiered. The year of celebrating 50 years of the coming together of African states (under OAU) and the birth of His Majesty King Letsie III. The year which, as I see it, provides an opportunity to celebrate both death and life – and other binaries that may exist — for if, say, you look through the prism of Sankomota, this is the year that marks 10 years of the passing of Frank and 60 years of living for Tsepo. How profound is that? Again, I ask: how could I have possibly had such a narrow view of 2013, when it clearly seems to be a year of tribute?!