Saturday

Where Did We Go Wrong?

HISTORY AND GOVERNMENT Basutoland (now Lesotho) was sparsely populated by the nomadic Khoisan ("bushmen") until the end of the 16th century. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, refugees from surrounding areas gradually formed the Basotho (Bah-SOO-too) ethnic group. In 1818, the legendary statesman Moshoeshoe I (moh-SHWAY-shway) consolidated these Basotho groupings and became their king. Basing his people on a high plateau, Moshoeshoe built a strong following while simultaneously defending his kingdom from a variety of invaders. Gradually, this nation of cattle herders spread outward to incorporate fertile plains that today form part of South Africa's Orange Free State. Clashes with white Boer settlers, emigrating from the Cape of South Africa, led to loss of these lands. Once again, the Basotho nation was relegated to the mountain regions. Against continued threats, Moshoeshoe I appealed to Queen Victoria for assistance. In 1868, the country was placed under British protection. This arrangement set the Basotho nation on a political course separate from surrounding territories, which eventually united as the nation of South Africa in 1909. Basutoland began to move toward independent sovereignty in the 1950s. In 1955, the Basutoland Council asked that it be empowered to legislate on internal affairs and in 1959, a new constitution gave Basutoland its first elected legislature. General elections with universal adult suffrage were held in April 1965, with several political parties represented. On October 4, 1966, the new Kingdom of Lesotho attained full independence as a constitutional monarchy with an elected bicameral parliament. As with many new nations, Lesotho's first steps as an independent democracy were faltering ones. After national elections in 1970 indicated a loss to the ruling political party, the Lesotho parliament was dissolved and a new pro-government national assembly instituted. Opposition to the ruling regime led to internal disorder.
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Bingo! That is where we fucked up. As far as I can remember, we were on this nice, hopeful path toward country-hood when WHAM! A lot of people were suddenly arrested because they voiced disagreement with a dictator. Many more were tortured. And some were later assassinated or nearly assassinated. That has to be the period during which we screwed up. But how can we pick things up from that time and continue as if nothing of the kind had happened?

We cannot. The situation is far too different today, and it calls for sacrifice and guts, from both the government and the populace. The going is hard, but what else is there? We have to advance. And today our enemies have odd names, like HIV/AIDS, poverty and corruption. A spear doesn't kill them, like it used to kill our other, flesh-and-blood enemies. We have to find other ways of killing today's enemies, other weapons. These new weapons have strange names, too, like condom, voting, and patriotism. Not nationalism. Patriotism. I think what we did back in 1970 really did us in. We fucked up, and nobody can snap their fingers for us to unfuck-up. We have got to do it ourselves, on this day and in our lifetime, or perish.