Basotho party on despite simmering tensions

On the mountains: Mmegi correspondent Dumisani Ncube enjoying the Maseru view from the highlands
On the mountains: Mmegi correspondent Dumisani Ncube enjoying the Maseru view from the highlands

In recent months, Lesotho has hit international headlines for the turmoil in that country. However, during a recent trip to the mountainous kingdom, Mmegi Correspondent, DUMISANI NCUBE, found that citizens appeared unperturbed by the military disquiet and instead, preferred to enjoy their braai and Maluti lager

Lesotho has not been the most peaceful place in recent months. In fact, for the past several years, a political and military conflict has simmered in the mountain kingdom, frequently exploding to the surface and necessitating the intervention of regional diplomats and peacekeepers.

A SADC commission of enquiry is currently in the country investigating the recent assassination of a prominent military leader, Maparankoe Mahao, which has once again set the country on the edge.

However, crossing into Lesotho from South Africa at the Maseru Bridge Border post, I was reminded of the fact that political and military leaders from the mountain kingdom had frequently escaped through the same border into South Africa throughout the tiny country’s troubled history. I imagined that former Prime Minister, Tom Thabane, could have used this very same border when he escaped to South Africa and eventually Botswana last August, fearing an attempt to end his life.

But when I arrived in Lesotho, instead of evident signs of tension, mokorotlo hats and seanamarena blankets up for sale greeted me, with Basotho going about their every day lives without a care in the world.

Driving to the hotel I was booked into, I noticed that Basotho still have immense respect for their traditional garb, as many of them donned colourful blankets wrapped around their shoulders, and the conical grass hats proudly on their heads. When I arrived at the hotel, located on a mountain, giving an aerial view of most of Maseru, I did not waste any time…I straddled my camera around my neck and stepped outside to capture the breathtaking scenery. Taking pictures of the humble city and the mountains was fun, and I felt like a crewmember of the National Geographic team on an expedition to Africa as I marvelled at the untouched beauty that surrounded me.

Before the trip, the highest point I had climbed was Kgale Hill in Gaborone. When I took on the mountains in Maseru, I felt like I was at the peak of Mount Everest and capturing the universe!

Surprisingly, Basotho did not seem to acknowledge the military and political tensions so heavily reported about in the regional media.

In fact, I arrived on a Friday, and the major topic was where to ‘turn it up’, or where the party would be.

A fellow journalist and film producer, Lerato Matheka, suggested a number of places available for nightcrawlers in Maseru, and together with a few friends, we headed to ‘4 Fordy’ an old school hip hop club for young urbanites.

As I was settling in, a friend called Leatile asked me, ‘O nwa eng?”  My personal rule has always been that when you travel to a foreign land, you should have what the locals have. It’s a case of: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

On this night, this meant I would take Maluti premier lager. After a few swigs of this tasty brew, the merriment began. The conversations flowed like the River Nile, in both Zulu and Sotho, and while talk ranged from parties, politics, travel and work, there was no mention of any conflict in the small country.

What I found quite interesting is that at that nightclub, some revellers still wore their mokorotlo hats and seanamarena blankets!

The following day was my first good look at the city, without using the lens. Although it has a small population, Maseru is a busy city with many people walking up and down, running their errands. The city is always buzzing regardless of the time.

We drove around different high and low-density suburbs sight seeing, and only then did it hit me that the kingdom is quite under-developed and poverty stricken. On almost every street we drove through, a group of young prostitutes were gathered at corners, shouting out their services like kombi touts calling out their routes.

We wound up at C-point, a kind of ‘free state’ where more than 40 vendors were braaing meat and selling it with pap. There were taxis all over and imbibers walked freely around, drinking alcohol and dancing to music. And of course, the mokorotlo hats and seanamarena blankets were everywhere too. We had our pap and braai, with a bottle of Matla-a-Motoh, which tastes like Mageu but has a smooth mouth-feel. Feasting and chatting to the locals, it was clear that Basotho were content to let the politicians and the soldiers sort the mess out while they instead enjoy their life and are left to their devices. This was a very fun weekend and I know that I will return to Lesotho again.

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