Wednesday

Our National Anthem

Our National Anthem's first verse says Lesotho, fat'se la bo-ntatà rona, or Lesotho, land of our fathers. The music was composed by Ferdinand-Samuel Laur (1791-1854) and the lyrics were written by François Coillard (1834-1904), two Frenchmen. The freshly independent Lesotho adopted the tune as its national anthem in 1967, a year after gaining independence from Britain. You can listen to the anthem on the government website.
The two French fellows who penned it did a pretty good job. I quite like the way it sounds. The mothers, though--there are no mothers? We'll let that slide. We know how men are, don't we? Sometime in the future, though, we're gonna have to tinker with that line so as to include our mothers, who actually do the donkey's work but always get the lesser of everything. The issue is the same in almost every document written before the, and even during, the twentieth century, partly because the majority of human beings believe God is a man.
Is Lesotho the land of our fathers? We know that our fore-parents came from up north somewhere. My very own ancestors, Bakhatla or Bakgatla, came from Botswana. I've always heard talk of Ntsoana-Tsatsi, a place where the Basotho supposedly came from. "Ntsoana-Tsatsi" sounds like "From the Sun", so it could mean the East or the North-East.
When I was in Nairobi, Kenya, I met a guy from Zambia: Mukelabai XXXXXXX. What was funny was the fact that he would stare at my brothers and me when we spoke. We became friends and stayed in contact for many years after that, for Mukelabai was a Lozi and could understand almost everything we were saying. The Balozi from Zambia, it turns out, decided to go down South, and eventually formed a big chunk of what is today the Basotho nation. At least that's what one school of thought says. Mukelabai sings the Lesotho national anthem like it was the Zambian national anthem. Why? Because of François Coillard. Remember him? The anthem author had adventures all over southern Africa, especially in Barotseland, and must have written the tune in Silozi / Sesotho. The group that stayed around Zambia still sings it, as well as the one that trekked south! So who are we? Do we own this land enough to call it Fat'se la bo-ntatà rona?
What about the bushmen (Baroa in Sesotho, Basarwa in Setswana) we found there? Isn't it the land of their fathers more than it is the land of ours? I think we ended up blending with Baroa, which would give all of us together some right to the land and justify some of that first verse, Lesotho, fat'se la bo-ntat'a rona. Apparently

one important site of early settlement was Nts'oana-Tsatsi near present-day Vrede in the northern Free State. Archaeological investigations have revealed that this area was settled as early as 1350, probably by the Bafokeng clan. These were the pioneers of the Sotho groups who settled much of the Free State and Lesotho. They lived closely with the Baroa as well as with the ancestors of the Baphuthi, who were the first Iron Age peoples to settle by the Caledon River Valley. The northern half of the Free State is the true heartland of Sotho settlement. Lesotho, as we know it today, was the southern frontier of this civilization although the upper portion of the Caledon River Valley was very rich and fertile
The above excerpt also identifies Ntsoana-Tsatsi, which is where my mum had always taught me was the origin of the Basotho people. A myth by many standards. But judging by the age of the Basotho nation, I guess we do come from the North-East or the East somehow, and I guess we do have legitimate claim to this land and can go ahead and call it Lefat'se la bo-ntat'a rona. The next verse is Har'a mafat'se le letle ke lona, or Among worlds it is the most beautiful.

What does one say about one's country but that it is the most gorgeous of all? I certainly am not going to say that it is the ugliest. Yet, looking at that second verse of the national anthem's first stanza:

Lesotho, fat'se la bo ntat'a rona
Hara mafat'se le letle ke lona
I have often wondered what we mean to say. You and I have already agreed that yes, we can lay claim to the land and call it Land of our fathers, the first verse. Which gives us the right to make another claim: It is the most beautiful of worlds, the second verse. We're lying through our teeth. We're lying to ourselves and we're lying to the world, because we do not believe what we're singing. How do I know? If we believed what we were singing and really thought our country was the most beautiful in the world, then

We'd do a lot towards keeping it that way.We would be selfless, and go out of our way to help unfortunate Basotho.We would plant trees all over the place, instead of uprooting them.We would not have burned down Maseru, the capital city, because we'd lost an election.We would not be running away and draining Lesotho of its grey-matter.We would not suffer from IPS, Inverted Pyramid Syndrome, but back and support everything local.We would not have killed other Basotho for political gain.We would not throw paper and other rubbish in the street but in the rubbish bin.
That's how I know. And I hereby ask you, when you hear yourself chanting that second verse of the first stanza, to wonder what it is you are doing for Lesotho that gives you a right to proclaim its beauty before the world. As much as we have agreed that we can safely say the land is ours, I disagree as to its purpoted absolute beauty. Beauty, like love, must be maintained through deliberate action.
"I'm washing my car because I want it to look beautiful." When you're done washing it, then you drive it to town to boast, because at that instant you do believe it is beautiful, because you've done something to gain the right to believe that it is beautiful. Why should it be different when it concerns Lesotho? You shine your shoes regularly, you whiten your "liteki" (sneakers) and iron your shirt to a crease. When you go out at night wearing those clothes you feel handsome, you feel that you can conquer love, you try to conquer love. Why should it be different when it concerns Lesotho?
We're lying to ourselves and to the world. This must cease, if we're to "raise ourselves up and wipe off the dust." One of our common goals must be to ensure that Lesotho remains or becomes the most beautiful we can make it. Beauty rarely comes with the package. How? Look at the list above and start making that 2nd verse of the 1st national anthem stanza true.

Lesotho, fat'se la bo-ntat'a rona,
Har'a mafat'se le letle ke lona,
Ke moo re hlahileng.


Verse 3 is pretty straightforward. We've already talked about verse 1, Lesotho, fat'se la bo-ntat'a rona, and verse 2, Har'a mafat'se le letle ke lona. This is therefore verse 3, Ke moo re hlahileng, or It is the place of our birth.

Why shouldn't it be? I was personally born there, at Scott Hospital in Morija. My parents were born there, in the Quthing district on the southern tip. It is, it seems, the place of our birth. But we are supposed to have come from up north or north-east, if you recall. Ntsoana-Tsatsi, to be exact, and we found Baroa (Bushmen) inhabiting the area that is present-day Lesotho. In Sesotho, "boroa" means south, so that Afrika-Boroa is South Africa. Baroa means People of the South. They were there when we arrived!

We were born there but one of the previous generations must have got naturalised. Oh, it happens all the time. New-comers integrate their new societies frequently, and usually even become more nationalist than the folks that were already there. When the new-comers butcher the already established people, though, and grab their land, naturalisation it is not. I am told we lived and inter-married with the Bushmen so that we became one: Basotho. Ke moo re hlahileng. Hmmm.

Lesotho, fat'se la bo-ntat'a rona,
Har'a mafat'se le letle ke lona,
Ke moo re hlahileng,
Ke moo re holileng.


Verse 4 is in a way a continuation of verse 3. Ke moo re holileng, or It is where we grew up. I personally grew up and became a responsible and conscious human being outside Lesotho. But I don't suppose that's what the lyrics relate to, since they are more figurative than cartesian. I believe that a non-negligible minority of Basotho teenagers either left of their own desire or were driven out1. Either way they, just like me, grew up outside Lesotho. So what does the verse mean, then?

As far as I'm concerned, it is true that the most visible part of my growing up happened in exile, which means my voice deepened, I grew a beard, I almost doubled the size of my shoes, I got sloshed for the first time, and I became a hopeless fan of woman. But almost every seed was planted, and the seed-bed itself was, in Lesotho. That's where I first met hope, felt the joy of belonging, faced desperation, knew fear, and touched compassion. Seeds.

Perhaps things like these happen in other places, too. But my own seed-bed was no doubt Lesotho, so in essence that's where I grew up2.

Mum and I were driving north up Kingsway, toward home, having packed the blue Datsun pickup van with stock for the family shop. I glanced at the clock. Maseru was unusually deserted for six p.m. Perhaps there was a curfew that we hadn't heard about. Or perhaps it was due to the unfriendly looking clouds, stationed across the skyline as far as I could see.

--"It's going to rain...," I must have thought aloud.
--"What?"
--"Ah, it looks like it's going to rain," I said.
--"Don't worry. We will have long finished unloading when the first drops come."
--"I sure hope so."

We drove past the bakery on the left and the new shopping centre on the right. There was hardly anybody even there! We zoomed past the hardware store where a woman was sitted in front on the pavement with small mounds of potatoes for sale, and headed for Mafafa and the Cathedral Roundabout. And Mum jumped on the brakes and brought the Datsun to a noisy stop, and me out my dreamy stupor. She was looking at me, or rather through me at something I could not comprehend. It was my turn to say what.

--"What?"

She stopped looking at whatever it was in me or behind me, dipped her hand into her purse and gave me a zoka, a five-cent coin.

--"Get me some potatoes with this."

For some reason I just took the money and got the potatoes, two mounds, without bringing it to her attention that we had several sacks of the stuff in the van. I did ask her a day or two later, because I was genuinely intrigued. And her answer placed me a step further on my way to becoming a responsible and conscious adult, without actually growing an inch3.
So, yes, in my case, and I suspect in many other cases, I did grow in Lesotho, although I physically grew up elsewhere. And I suspect this of any place that has such a mixture of seed-bed and seed. If the English language does not already have a proverb or adage about suffering and suddenly becoming a model earthling, then I'll just have to invent one.

1 There is no more driving out of Basotho. That nasty bit of our history petered out with the first democratically elected government.
2 I'm not suggesting any correlation between this verse and how Basotho children are brought up or grow up. I just happen to believe that I actually grew up in Lesotho, although puberty came afterwards.
3 It is a true story, if you were wondering.

Lesotho, fat'se la bo-ntat'a rona,
Har'a mafat'se le letle ke lona,
Ke moo re hlahileng,
Ke moo re holileng,
Rea le rata.


Verse 5, Rea le rata, is not yet true. It translates into We love her, or She is dear to us.

1. Lesotho, land of our fathers,
2. Among worlds you are the most beautiful,
3. In you we were born,
4. In you we grew up,
5. You are dear to us.
No! Anything that man loves becomes an object of obsession. His car, his shoes, the woman he's in love with, himself. The latter are pampered and taken care of in unimaginable ways, but Lesotho isn't on that list and Lesotho isn't pampered in any way by any man, woman, girl or boy that I know. If you pamper Lesotho the way you do things you love, let me know. I'll be thrilled.

But what do I mean, pamper Lesotho? Glad you asked. Vote! Register to vote and do it. Don't vote blindly, though, but go ahead and listen to what the candidates say they will do. Vote for the most entreprising and convincing one, and--this is important--hold them accountable. Remind them that they lied to you, if they lied, and demand action. Bang your pots! Nothing will come of anything without your active involvement.

Voting is a right, and voting ensures that you are respected. There are many other ways of pampering Lesotho (One, Two), and I'm sure you can come up with one or two. How about planting a tree per year? And making sure that it survives? Otherwise Rea le rata, as part of our national anthem, remains little more than moot. It is a small enough country; we can all survive in it and we can all pitch in toward its development.