Pali Lehohla: No more Madiba magic

I grew up in a village of contradictions. Perhaps it was here where the transition was so obviously captured, helping our small community to define itself, shape us and make us take pride in it.

The village was small and had no more than an enumeration area, covering about 120 housing units. When I visited the village 50 years later it had changed shape expanding in parts and shrinking in others.

It reflected the vexed question of the effect of migration and a corollary of property relations in respect of inheritance and succession.

Many a property was destroyed, including our mission house – the foundation of which I could not trace. This was because the siblings moved elsewhere with none inheriting the property.

The story of this decomposing village needs to be told.

In its heyday it was a fountain of education where all the villages in the Qalabane constituency competed to attend school at the Hermon Mission School.

My parents were teachers who stayed and taught in the village. Our mission house – unlike all teachers’ houses which were on the mission property – was in the village which anchored us in this community.

My village of Qibing in Lesotho was indeed iconic in that it had a mission school and a church, a tap and a fruit garden with not only peaches but also pears, apples and berries.

French family graves were part of the village.

Children from surrounding villages came to Hermon Mission School expecting to find the “golden fleece” – if I may abuse privilege and borrow from Chinua Achebe’s book, No Longer at Ease.

It was while teaching at this mission school that my mother and father were married at beginning of the 1940s.

My maternal grandfather Samuel Moeletsi was a priest in this parish, who worked in many parts of Lesotho.

My paternal grandfather, after whom I am named, was a carpenter and roofer of note for houses across Lesotho from the 1920s – and they still do not leak to this day. I am told he would be at schools when results were read and handed two-and-half tickeys – about two cents – to the winning pupil.

Yet the village of Hermon, a wealth of knowledge and education, found itself not at ease from time to time.

This was particularly from a family-violence perspective which was very prevalent in households of migrant husbands working in the farms, mines and factories in South Africa.

This point is underlined in Sampie Terreblanche’s book, Lost in Translation. He discusses the devastating contribution of collusion in the maize and gold industries, which broke up communities and made them No Longer at Ease. And, now, South Africa is indeed No Longer at Ease.

The impending strike at Eskom, which workers correctly argue is not their fault, the wage demands civil servants are making, resulting from the menacing rise in the cost of food and transport, the threat of retrenchments at mines, underperforming municipalities, the malingering from those who should have been brought to book – from the Steinhoff saga to the Guptas – offer little prospect for material movement out of an economic abyss.

In many respects these make me revisit the column on family violence in my village and the sad conclusion that I drew about the experience of this family being reminiscent of what vexes our South African psyche today.

In my recollection we had traumatising experiences. I recall there were three murders within a short space of time. Severe assaults, often well contemplated and planned, were a frequent feature of our village.

But these assaults represented a level of organised justice against known perpetrators. We derived some satisfaction and a sense of security and justice from these.

One of the murders was of businessman Ntate Oumane, who was killed by a colleague as they walked together from my village after a work party at which alcohol was served. What triggered the murder I never came to know, but it was colleagues walking together and the son of Ntate Rikare (Richard) committed the murder. He was later arrested, found guilty and incarcerated.

Ntate Benoni Teele – or Seshemo as we called him because his mouth was cut off in one of the brawls – was the first to be killed in my village and by his own son.

Ntate Benoni terrorised village residents. You did not dare allow a donkey to cross his yard. He would be ready with a spear.

Not only that but, completely unprovoked, he would harass his wife and children in ways that traumatised the youth of the village.

I am told by my elder brother that he demanded inheritance from his mother. While throwing a tantrum, he would use his spear to tear up the bags of grain and throw them outside the house. His mother, Gogo Mmateele, would respond to Ntate Benoni gently, saying: “What you are tearing up and throwing away is inheritance Benoni, my son.”

In one of his rages against his children and wife in 1967, Ntate Benoni gasped his last breath of life at the hands of his son Lepheana, who stoned him to death to save his family from further abuse.

It reminds me of today, the way we burn schools and buses, destroy roads, maim and kill women and children.

Our anger is expressed in ways that inflict more destruction and increase the cost of construction. Our corrupt practices, revealed in the Gupta files and Steinhoff saga, go too deep. Our up-for-sale politicians and servant facilitators and gullible society have created conditions of conflict that deepen and worsen poverty.

Madiba said it is in our hands – this after securing freedom and respite for us and delivering change peacefully. It was Karl Marx who envisaged that even a revolution from one mode of production to the other can be achieved peacefully. Change need not be bloody albeit protracted and painful.

This is the change Madiba envisioned for us by sacrificing his and his compatriots’ lives for that eventuality.

But when the deliberators begin to point fingers at those who sacrificed for us, it is their gluttonous palates singing this song of demand for inheritance with scant regard for those who gave life and limb to get to 1994. It is then that we as a country emulate Benoni Teele.

We deliberately avoided the question asked by former president Thabo Mbeki at the ANC’s elective conference at Polokwane. When he asked how we would honour those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, our answer was a cowardly and morally bankrupt groan.

We face Madiba and Mama Albertina Sisulu today at a time that should have been one of pride. But, instead we face them with scandals and even more poverty.

Like Benoni, we have torn the bags of grain with our own spear. We tore what was “in our hands”.

The question in Benoni’s metaphor of dying at the hands of his son is – now that we have become a Benoni – who will be the ones to exact truth and secure a generation that will develop South Africa for the future of our children?

- Lehohla is former Statistician-General and former head of StatsSA

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