‘Without hope the people perish’
LESOTHO is celebrating 50 years of independence this year. The country gained self-rule from Britain on 4 October 1966. In this wide-ranging interview, Stephen Gill — the curator of Morija Museum and Archives since 1989 — speaks with Lesotho Times ( LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, about the role of the museum in preserving Basotho history and how Lesotho has transformed over the past 50 years.
LT: Could you start by telling us how and why Morija Museum and Archives was established?
Gill: When the first missionaries came to Morija, they were coming to introduce new teachings, and you might even say a culture, or a process of cultural interaction which would lead into something new. But nothing can ever be completely new; it has to build upon the foundation which is already there. And so you will find that this legacy which grows out of Morija, becomes a process of preserving, creating and to a certain extent, transforming. So that, for example, you have people like Thomas Mofolo, who takes what we might call older forms of storytelling, for example Litšomo (fairytales), and transform them into novels. I am writing a biography of him now and you will find that his father, Ramofolo who was born in the late 1840s, was himself a master storyteller. So Mofolo comes from a family of storytellers who were strong Christians. In a sense, he was perfectly balanced in a sense that his father would tell him all the traditional stories relating to the Lifaqane (Basotho wars against the Boers).
Mofolo grew up against this rich atmosphere of Sesotho storytelling, at the same time the parents were from Christian tradition. So he was able to create new literary forms in Sesotho, which no one had done. And yet it built upon the older traditions. This, in a sense, is what Morija is about. We don’t just have a museum, which is a place for collecting material artifacts, but side by side with it is an archive, which records history, traditions,ions, stories on paper or photographs s or maps. It’s a very multifaceted collection. llection. In some countries, a museumm may be largely based upon material objects, cultural artifacts. In other places, it also has a significant archivee or library with it. We are very lucky to have both in Morija because the two wo are complementary. They show us the he history of our people for at least 200 years, if not longer. You can then see thathat the museum and the archives are a repository of different cultural and historicalal materials which help us understand who o we are and how we have evolved over time. me.
LT: Lesotho is celebrating 50 years of independence ndependence from British rule this year. What is the role of the Morija a Museum and Archives rchives in relation to o this commemoration?ion?
Gill: Our people eople will perhaps say we used to have certain traditions ions of peacemakingg or decision- making ing which we needeed to reincorporatete into our deemocracy today.y. Sometimes deemocracy is intererpreted as the rule ule of the majority.rity But we know that in Sesotho, the greater or stronger tradition was to try to create a consensus, which means we tried to listen carefully even to the minority. So I think the value of institutions like Morija is they might help us to rethink. Where we are now, we have certain prob- lems which are facing the country. Perhaps we need to re-evaluate how we got to where we are now. Is it possible that within our own traditions, there are mechanisms which we need to bring back into either our democracy, families or organisations in order to find a better way forward because clearly over the last 50 years, we can see that some things have worked and others have not worked. If things don’t work, like the Chinese say, a crisis is an opportunity.
It’s not a problem but an opportunity. So when we have a crisis, learn from your crisis. Try to find a way forward, which will help you and the society. For me museums and archives are resource institutions. They can help policymakers, leaders and even the average persons to look at themselves differently. We also find in Lesotho that because of colonialism and other forces, we sometimes don’t even respect our own inheritance. I think Lesotho has not, until very recently, invested in things like art, creativity and innovation. But the more they invest in those areas, the more they will find that Basotho are quite excellent, it’s just that they never had the opportunity.
LT: After 50 years of independence, do you think Lesotho is heading in the right direction?
Gill: Life is never positive or negative. It’s always a mix. Much as we may see progress in one direction, in another direction we see the opposite. I think what we must ask ourselves at this juncture of 50 years is what are our strengths? What are the qualities, virtues and characteristics that we have as individuals, families and communities, which have proven to be useful in nation-building? And then we also have to take stock of ourselves and say what qualities and tendencies do we have, which have hurt us. We then have to introspect and say why are we doing those kind of things? Is it something we can correct?
How would we correct it? Sometimes when people get frustrated, they want to throw the whole thing out and start all over again. But it’s very difficult to do that. It’s a bit like the Prasad (Dr Rajen Prasad) report. When people came back from New Zealand, there was a great deal of hope. Not that we were just going to take the report and implement it wholly without thinking, but the people thought there was a good deal of sense and that some of those recommendations would be useful to us.
What I find hurtful is that was in July 2014, it’s now about 20 months later. We need to recapture that sense of oneness where government and the opposition are saying together ‘this is something so important that we need to do it together’. I think as we look forward to the next few weeks, we need to recapture the opposit opposition and ruling coalition which are prepare prepared to accommodate one another and work t together for the good of the nation. This is not to say they will not have differences.
Obviously they will have differences.di Even within the ruling coalition, th there are differences. Being different is not a problem. The question is how do we handle our differences. Ultimately, the ruling coa coalition has to be a good listener and the oppos opposition has to be constructive. It works both ways. Nobody is going to rule forever. We must put ourselves in the other man’s sho shoes. If at all we can somehow come together, t then I think we have a great future. That, pe perhaps, could be the biggest lesson we learnt from our first 50 years.
But I think what would be frustrating is if we don’t learn. If we don’t learn we will continuously have these confl conflicts and we will begin to feel like we don’t ha have a viable future. Without hope the peop people perish. People now need hope.
LT: What should happe happen in the next 50 years?
Gill: Building partnerships, w whether it’s with internal organisations anda associations, or the private sector and regional a and internationalti organisations,tion is the key we should concentrate on. This should not only be the issue of the government. I think the former Minister of Development Planning, Ntate Majoro (Dr Moeketsi Majoro), was very good in that position because he was looking at key factors that can transform our economy. It’s like what people said about King Moshoeshoe I. He was thinking ahead and people were not able to grasp what he was driving at. I think it’s the same way today. Some leaders, who are quite ahead of us, and other people, cannot quite grasp what they are trying to achieve.
They might even oppose them, not understanding where we need to go. Or they agree with them but then try to use the initiative only for their own advantage. I think the government should be a facilitator. It doesn’t always need to do things. Sometimes it needs to stop doing things. Sometimes it needs to create a framework so that others can become more active, so that theirs is just to delegate. Because the government is so large, it is so easy for government to sometimes think that it is the most important thing.
But sometimes the importance of the government is actually to step aside and allow other people to drive processes. It will create laws, regulations and frameworks, but then it should then capacitate and empower others so that they can drive processes forward; so that the public and the private sectors are balanced. This does not diminish the government, but rather balances society and the economy. Over the next 50 years, the government will have to become more efficient. The private sector and private initiatives will have to grow and become much stronger if we are going to have a healthier society.
LT: Of late, there has been talk of reforms for our nation. What can you expect the authorities to change?
Gill: I’m not a constitutional expert, but I would say we need to study the past 50 years and say, are our democratic institutions achieving what we intended them to achieve? I think in some respects there are some imbalances. Probably, the power of the prime minister is perhaps too great. Or rather I could say the checks and balances on the power of the prime minister have perhaps been reduced. And perhaps that was a mistake.
There were more checks and balances in 1966 than there are now. I think perhaps we could look carefully at the powers of the monarch and say are there certain roles or functions which he (the King) can perform which he doesn’t presently do, which could be of benefit to the nation? I think parliament is going to have to be far more dynamic in future because parliament is supposed to be not only the focus of legislation but also the focus of oversight of the executive.
Morija Museum and archives Curator Stephen Gill