I am really trying hard to get ‘clicking’ in order to communicate in isiXhosa. Enunciating X and C words is proving to be somewhat challenging. The Q words on the other hand are easier to deal with. I suppose this could be explained by the fact that we actually have Q in the Sesotho alphabet — C and X do not exist; “nxa!” in all good conscience cannot be used to contradict my assertion.

With the above said, may I quickly point out that we don’t necessarily have a tide of ‘Q words’, though Q exists in the Sesotho alphabet. I know I could be wrong, but being innately in love with knowing (or speaking from a relatively infallible position) I decided to embark on a little pet project to verify my “facts”. In this project of mine, I tried to find Q words that were not associated with mountains, rivers or other types of landmarks e.g. Senqu, Qiloane, Qhobosheane, Qoqolosing, etc. Then moved on to consider words that could possibly be classified as mundane like: moqoqo (conversation), qabola (to incite laughter), qhibiliha (to melt), seqha (bow or sling –if we make technical accuracy expendable), seqhaqhabola (sour soft porridge). I then progressed to those seriously “cool” words that hardly come in everyday conversation.

An example of a “cool” word that came my path is moqasea. Moqasea is a Sesotho synonym for ‘khethollo‘ (discrimination). Observe how I have decided to go the synonym route, so as to avoid nuances that may exist between the words discrimination and prejudice. This, of course, is intentional and self-serving! First, it allows me to retain my “relative infallible” position. Second, and most importantly, it helps me to (hopefully) hype up the word, which I regard as cool –be it only because it got my poetic juices flowing, see below:

Ka terapola, ka lelera ‘na nthoana batho!
Ke ne ke batlana le makhulo a matala,
Ke batlana le liliba tse sa psheng.
Ka teana le moqasea, ka makala:
Mofuta oa feela oa tšoana le qoba la koae!1

‘Nete ea ba sebabetsane ho ‘na.
Pelo ea hlonama, ea hopola lihlaba tsa Thesele.
Ea re e khutla mafisa, bofifi ba apoha.
Ha luma mantsoe a nkhere, Mohlomi: “pelo ke setlhare”!
Ha hlaka hore ho nena moqasea e le kannete ke pheko.

Ka hona, ke etsa thapeli ke re:
“Ha re neneng moqasea, khotso e rene;
Hoba Seokamela ke ‘Mopi oa batho bohle”

A contextualised translation of the above poem is as follows:

I travelled, and wandered with naivety!
I was in search of greener pastures,
And wells that never go dry.
Instead, I met prejudice and got astounded:
My own humanity was precariously in doubt! 2

The truth became bitter.
My heart, depressed, yearned for Moshoeshoe’s land.
But as it lifted, the dark was illuminated.
Words of the great sage, Mohlomi echoed: “The heart is medicinal”!
Sincere hatred for prejudice was and is a cure.

For this reason, I appeal to all:
“Let’s truly despise prejudice, so peace may reign;
For we are all beings of one Creator!”

  1. “Mofuta ha o nkhoe ka nko e se qoba la koae” — is an old adage that suggests you cannot treat a foreigner like a pitch of snuff, which you can sniff to determine its quality
  2. Worded to invoke Judith Butler’s idea of precarity, where some lives may be deemed more precious than others: if, for example, one were to consider the reality where the humanity of foreigners or outsiders can be reduced to a point of it being “ungrievable”. In my mind, this invocation fits well with the Sesotho adage -see above footnote- that was initially used to capture the idea.

Part 2: Moshoeshoe I’s meeting with Chief Mohlomi

The role of initiation in the past was to transform boys and girls into responsible men and women with a strong sense of duty to serve both their family and community. As I understand, Moshoeshoe indeed came out of initiation transformed although not necessarily clear about how he will ‘serve’ his family and community. But this is not at all surprising since wisdom comes with age. His grandfather Peete (who obviously had lived long enough to have gained wisdom) decided to take him to see Chief Mohlomi, a man often referred as a sage and the greatest healer of his time.

When Chief Mohlomi met Moshoshoe (then called Lepoqo or Letlama) he embraced (or hugged) him in a manner only fitting for a great leader. In addition, he gave Moshoeshoe an earring (in those days the ‘great men’ put earrings as a symbol of power… ). This surprised many since Moshoeshoe was but a son of a minor chief. However, coming from Chief Mohlomi this was interpreted as a prophecy that Moshoeshoe will in the future be a leader of note.

In this meeting, Moshoeshoe asked Mohlomi the secret of great leadership. He posed his question in the following manner: “setlhare sa ho haha motse ke se fe?” (non literal translation: what is the medicine for building a formidable ’empire’?) . To this question, the great sage responded by saying there is no such medicine, the only true medicine is the heart. (“Motse ha o hauoe ka setlhare, sethlare ke pelo”). Chief Mohlomi went on to give Moshoeshoe the following commandments centred on using the heart to rule (I will try to explain them a bit but my interpretation might not be that good :():

  1. O ba rate – love them: this is obvious I hope 🙂 ! Love breeds compassion and generosity. Further, love promotes peace—for even fight when governed by love it is not just a mere fight; it is an exercise of seeking understanding. Consider, for example, fights between parents and their children.
  2. O ba tsebe – know them: In knowing the people, the sage was alluding to the importance of appreciating that all individuals are different and necessarily need to be treated as such. As far as Mohlomi was concerned, this appreciation was fundamental in a establishing true justice. For example, fining a rich man six cows might seem like a slap on the wrist while to a poor man that might be a different story all together!
  3. O ba nyalle – marry for them: Ok, let me start by saying those were the days when polygomy was official not unofficially endorsed with a clause: ‘be discreet’! That said, I will try to delicately deconstruct this ‘commandment’. First it is important to remember that at the heart of Chief Mohlomi’s advice to Moshoeshoe was promotion of peace (and love of course). So using this as a premise for peace, by marrying for his people Moshoeshoe would in a sense be uniting them since marriage unites families. Following this advice, Moshoeshoe married well over a hundred women from different clans and tribes. (By the way, I am well aware that this might come as shock to others but I have been reliably told that the figure is probably a very modest estimate.) So how did he handle having so many wives? Well in the spirit of delicacy I will answer by posing yet another question. If in every society not all men are rich, and to marry a man needs to pay ‘lobola’; how can each man have a wife? Alternatively put, how does one expect a poor man to get married?

    a) Marry for them because as the Chief you are indeed the richest man in the land.
    b) Let them not have wives of their own and deal with the inevitability of them trespassing into other men’s territories, i.e. “ho kena ts’imomg tsa banna ba bang”.
    c) None of the above.

  4. Balimo ba hao u ba hopole kamehla – remember your ancestors always: The idea embodied in this statement is that one has to believe in a greater power than themselves. As a result one has to constantly be grateful for their existance.

The above are the core commandments given to Moshoeshoe by Chief Mohlomi. And, it is safe to say that Moshoeshoe indeed worked hard to make these ‘commandments’ his principles of leadership and his continuous growth. Consequently, he was nothing like the ‘boy’ he was before initiation; a boy that believed a great deal in his own strength (due to strong physique).