Birding: An Inspiration for Courtship

What do I know about birding? Very little, indeed! Still, since I have already entered the realm of birders in my last posting, I thought one additional flight wouldn’t possibly hurt.

However, to ensure that I don’t overstep on any boundaries, I will confine my flight to the courtship zone. This zone appeals to me for a number of reasons, but mostly because it gives me a rare insight into the minds of the men from my part of the world.

I come from a world where birding is an activity that is generally enjoyed by members of the opposite sex, especially those who have herded and cared for livestock as young boys. I suppose this can be explained by the fact that herding typically happens in the wild where mother nature happily provides her lessons while inspiring most of the entertainment for the lads. Naturally, I could be wrong to assume there is a connection between spending time in the wild and having an affinity for birding. But frankly, my experience as a “supposed bird” suggests otherwise.

During courtship, I have been enthralled by prose filled with awareness of nature (the environment including the birds) from those with herding experience. They have proven to have an ability to spin a mundane expression like “nonyana e ts’oaroa ka menoto”, which suggests that a bird is ‘captured’ by its legs, to flatter a star like Tina Turner and mortal like me.

Of course, given the magnificent legs of Tina (that apparently go on forever), the prose used would liken her to a mystical secretary bird — yet to be seen, even by twitchers of note. This mysticism, in my opinion, is possibly conveyed by a spirit of another bird that can satisfy a deep yearning for reciprocity. My guess would be a bird in the sparrow hawk family. Apparently if you ask really nicely, “seotsanyana, nkopele” 1 (sparrow hawk, flap your wings for me), it spreads its wings and hovers in the air as though to say: “happy to delight you”.

Unlike with Tina, for me attention would be on something else, perhaps the colour of my feathers (personality). The legs wouldn’t play much of a factor. The legs would be mere instruments for grabbing hold of me — or to be precise, my attention, so I don’t escape before considering the prospects of nestling the would-be beautiful babies that my suitor and I could have.

On this ‘nestling’ note, let me gracefully land and/or end my flight. I hope the view has been spectacular. And to a degree, I hope through my courtship experience(s) I have managed to provide a small insight into some aspects in my language and/or culture that I am yet to find the words to fully articulate ;-)!

  1. This comes from a traditional (folk) song, which was perhaps popularised by the late Sefatela at the turn of this century.
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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!

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Vuka and Spruce up the Language!

Vuka, awake! A season of rebirth or new beginnings has arrived. For many people, including myself, it is a season for de-cluttering our emotional, intellectual and physical environment. A season in which we are inspired by nature itself to create space for new ideas, people and things.

As we de-clutter, we ask ourselves a number of critical and reflective questions to rid ourselves and our environment of certain things, while we keep or protect those things that we cherish. The question is: do we ever remember to ask questions that may allow us to value language in the context of our environment? I don’t just mean in terms of using language to send positive vibes in our environment; I mean in terms of truly reclaiming ourselves, and connecting deeply to our environment and heritage!

Indeed, I am well aware of the increasing and commendable efforts by many countries and individuals to protect their environment and heritage. But when it comes to dealing with language, I feel the spirit of lumping together the protection of the environment and heritage is lost.

Otherwise put, although language is central to heritage, I think we have done a poor job in framing its importance within the context of the environment and its protection. As such, I think people still have difficultly in seeing the extend of the overlap between issues of the environment and that of heritage (cultural or otherwise). They fail to see the embeddedness of issues of heritage within the broad set of issues of the environment. Mathematically speaking, they fail to conceptualise heritage issues as but a proper subset of environment issues.

In my mind, without this conceptualisation, being connected to the broad vision of the country, continent or planet would remain a challenge. At the moment, though saving the rhino is as important as saving my Sesotho language, I sometimes forget this truth. While this is an embarrassing admission to make, with the arrival of spring, I hope to wake up permanently from a slumber that sometimes denies me of this truth.

Happy spring to all. May the beauty brought by the season inspire us to spruce up our views on language … to see beyond its functional use … and be moved to find ways in which we (re)enchant its use to (re)connect to the richness of our heritage and the environment as whole!

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Race Matter in Disposable Hero

Not so long ago I wrote a post on Disposable Hero. However, in reviewing the song, I avoided entering the ‘race dimension’. On the one hand, even though I love the song so much, it really does a number on me emotionally. On the other hand, because articulating the ‘thinking’ employed by Frank Leepa in crafting this dimension is not necessarily an easy task.

Notwithstanding the above, I shall dare myself into entering this dimension. But before I start, perhaps I should mention that a play by David Mamet titled Race is to ‘blame’ for this self-daring exercise. Race was one of those productions that I recommended to all (and sundry) during the past Grahamstown National Arts Festival. It is an intricate piece that deals intelligently with prejudice and bigotry that stem (in as far as the storyline is concerned) from a potentially racially-charged criminal case: a rape of a black woman — possibly involved in the trick turning business — by a rich white married man.

In my opinion, both the play and the song carry the message: ‘race matters are not simple matters’ and/or ‘race is a nest of prejudice’. The only difference, again in my opinion, is that David Mamet in his writing was overt while Frank Leepa was subtle to the point that one may be forgiven for assuming that his composition lacks the message. In fact, I would argue that the only clue to the existence of this message lies with how Tšepo Tšola sings the line “they must be mad”: he is deep, emphatic and very purposeful in his delivery. (You really get a sense that he wants you, the listener, to appreciate that his powerful voice is a mere instrument or medium that shouldn’t distract one from engaging with what is being communicated.)

Basically, as Tšepo Tšola sings that line, curiosity builds up about the identity of the mad men. But as something to expect from Frank Leepa’s compositions, the ‘riddle’ is left for the listener to decode. My decoding led me to the conclusion that Frank Leepa was referring to a category of people that deserve the label racist. This deduction was made by tracking back to the part:

On the morning news, on television;
The big shots down split — split down in the middle.
[The Messiah-healer …]
So, who is going to be first on the plane?
They must be mad!

Aside, of course, from making note of the fact that television was still a novelty, I realised that a few things can be said in unpacking the above quoted lyrics. Fundamentally, we are reminded that we cannot make sweeping statements about a group of people. There was a split: the big shots — who happened to be all white men — didn’t all agree with the idea that, after fighting as brothers with black men, it was fair for them to be transported last. These few good men understood deeply what made the war, which had just ended, respectable. They understood that domination, of any kind, of one being by another is not fair or morally acceptable.

Unfortunately, because the good men in the big shots league were few, the outcome of the split favoured the wishes of the majority. Frank Leepa makes no direct mention of this fact; but very skillfully, he does put into perspective why an honourable man, a disposable hero (like his father), was disillusioned by the outcome. Disillusioned by the blindness of the majority to see injustice when it is directed to others. After a bloody war, how could they possibly fail to see the inherent injustice perpetuated by their ‘vote‘?!

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Reflect. Live. Celebrate.

We are all in our own different journeys and from time to time, we may find large boulders or other forms of obstacles in our path. However, this doesn’t mean we cannot reach our destination or even strive to go even further than initially planned.

The above reminder was encapsulated in the Sibongile Khumalo’s “Reflect. Live. Celebrate.” tour performance. A performance in which she shares her journey as she celebrates 20 years in the music industry and the legacy of her father.

The tour started here in Grahamstown at the National Arts Festival. The next stop will be Cape Town, then it will move/end in Johannesburg.

This tour performance is really a must-see-performance for any of Sibongile Khumalo’s fans. It is music across genres morphed with poetry and good old fashioned storytelling. In a nutshell, it is a spiritual performance, literally with a few gospel numbers — her own compositions yet to be recorded — and other numbers that simply reinforce the idea that music is the food for the soul!

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A New Dawn for Lesotho

A new government: a new dawn for Lesotho! Or is this just wishful thinking? I suppose time will tell; but the plain truth is that Lesotho is desperately in need of change.

We need a change where each person’s humanity can be affirmed positively. A change where all can get access to services not because they are “Semake le Semanyamanyane“, well-connected so-and-so’s!

Without this change, the idea that being known is to be human might permanently take root in our society and culture. And eventually, it might be deemed normal to equate humans to (unloved) animals — like Rakotsoane does, for example, in his poem “Re hetla morao” 1:

Ha u se ‘nyeo u katana sa Lesotho,
Mohofe oa ho ja ngoatho sa maobeng,
Farakatšana ea sefetjoa mahlatsa,
Monetoa-kamehla ka manotho-notho.

Translated in context, the above snippet by Rakotsoane states:

If you are not so-and-so you are Lesotho’s tattered-rag,
A destitute to eat beyond yesterday’s leftovers,
A piglet to be feed vomit,
A subject of perpetual abuse rooted in unending justifications.

With the above in mind, and a plethora of other equally troubling reductionist views arising from poverty, corruption, etc., I reiterate: Lesotho needs a change. Hence, I sincerely hope that a new government and a new opposition will translate to a new dawn for Lesotho. Further, I hope that we, as citizens, will also do our part.

Kopano ke matla! Ha re neneng e le kannete lisuoa le bobe bohle-bohle: bosoto, bokhopo, boipatlo, boikhantšo, boikaketsi, bomenemene j.j. ! (Unity is strength! Let’s passionately hate conflict and all forms of deplorable ills: malice, meanness, pomposity, arrogance, hypocrisy, dodginess, etc.!) 2

  1. In a book titled Sekoele Basotho! written and published by Lobiane F. C. Rakotsoane.
  2. Please note: I tried my best to avoid any words that may be considered offensive or profane; ho butsoa, ke butsoitse!
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A Stand Against Rape

For a holiday, I had a very productive morning: taking a moral stand. I joined an anti-rape march, organised in solidarity with community members of Grahamstown East, as part of an ongoing quest for justice for the two siblings, aged 6 and 7, raped by their school teacher.

We marched declaring proudly that rape was not part of our culture and necessarily not part of the curricula! What was troubling to me was how few men were actually present at the march.

I believe only a few men are rapists. I also believe in order to paint this reality we need to see more men taking a visible stand against rape. The question then is: how can we get more men to be visibly involved in activities that will allow positive construction of masculinity?

Men — speaking only on my behalf — I need to see more of you lest I start thinking what I see in marches, like one we had today, is representative of some reality. Please don’t wait until it is your blood relative or your partner to take a visible stand against rape, sexual violence and all other forms of patriarchy. Stand now to prevent false construction of masculinity; and more importantly, to help stop the war on women and children’s bodies!

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Disposable Hero

Disposable hero is one of my favourite Sankomota’s songs, albeit I try not to listen to it a lot. It is melancholic yet very enjoyable. Like a pendulum, it causes my emotions to swing from one extreme end to another: from wanting to seriously weep for days for humanity to deliriously wanting to jump up and down with no care in the world.

The song is a special tribute to a soldier who fought in World War II — a relation of Frank Leepa. Of course, this fact is not explicit in the song. I imagine because the grand idea in telling the story of this one soldier, is to acknowledge all other soldiers including those who fought other wars and/or belong(ed) to liberation armies.

The song, as aptly captured by its title, is about the dispensability of soldiers when it comes to fighting any war. As bravely suggested in the song, soldiers go to war as disposable heroes or mere pawns that may or may not be crowned. Thus, whether driven by patriotism or conviction, soldiers go to war ready to make the ultimate sacrifice: to die fighting. Unfortunately, as also suggested in the song, this doesn’t preclude the possibility of “silly jokes” being made at their expense by superiors who attend “parties with fat English ladies” or “drink whiskey all day long”.

Listening to some of these statements from the powerful and magnificent voice of Tšepo Tšola has an extremely sobering effect: the very kind that makes me want to weep for humanity. More so, when I get reminded in the song that there is a mother (or a loved one) who is staring at “faded photographs on the wall”; presumably waiting and praying for one of two things: the war to end or their beloved to return home safely.

Despite the apparent undertones of melancholy, I still find the song to be enjoyable. In my opinion, what makes it enjoyable is the gentle tempo that holds one’s feet more or less rooted to the floor until towards the end when Tšepo Tšola commands to be listened to; completely and totally unaware of how captivating and powerful his voice is. This very unawareness drives me into a frenzy that forces me to euphorically chant the chorus to the very last beat.

Alas, once the chanting ends, I wonder about my own morality as I will myself to swing to a restful place emotionally. And shameful as this may sound, this takes pushing away thoughts of disposable heroes in our midst, living “disillusioned” lives as “broken souls … with backs turned against the wall”!

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