April 2011 Edition 9

Aranda Basotho Blankets

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Welcome The "Lesotho" Blanket Wrap

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Blanket Wrap

Welcome to the 8th edition of the Blanket Wrap, The newsletter where you are kept up-to-date with all the news and views of the magnificent mountain kingdom of Lesotho. In this edition:

The Sani Pass has become synonymous with Lesotho but do you know how the pass came to be?

The 11th of March marks the 141st anniversary of King Moshoeshoe's death. Find out more about this remarkable leader and his story.

Katse dam is more than just a fantastic monument to man's engineering achievements. For tourists there is also a tour of the structure and botanical gardens to keep the whole family entertained.

Have something to add? Get involved and send a quick email with your thoughts and requests to the editor.

From the Editor

King Moshoeshoe I

King Moshoeshoe I - King of the Basotho

Moshoeshoe is widely credited as the architect of the mighty Basotho nation – a nation with its own culture, language, customs and territory.

King Moshoeshoe (1854)

Early life:

Moshoeshoe was the son of Mokhachane, a minor chief of the Bamokoteli sub-clan. Born at Menkhoaneng in Leribe, Lesotho. He was given the name of Lepoqo (meaning "disasters") by his parents.

During his youth, he was very brave and once organised a cattle raid against Ramonaheng and captured several herds of cattle. As was the tradition, he composed a poem praising himself where, amongst the words he used to refer to himself, said he was "like a razor which has shaved all Ramonaheng's beards", referring to his successful raid. In Sesotho language, a razor makes a "shoe...shoe..." sound, and after that he was affectionately called Moshoeshoe "the shaver".

Reign:

Moshoeshoe’s reign coincided with the growth in power of the well-known Zulu chief, Shaka. During the early 19th century Shaka raided many smaller clans along the eastern coast of Southern Africa, incorporating parts of them into his steadily growing Zulu chiefdom. Various small clans were forced to flee the Zulu chief.

The attacks also forced Moshoeshoe to move his settlement to the Qiloane plateau. The name was later changed to Thaba Bosiu or "mountain of the night" because it was believed to be growing during the night and shrinking during day. It proved to be an impregnable stronghold against enemies.

Thaba Bosiu - Mountain of the Night

Moshoeshoe provided land and protection to various people and this strengthened the growing Basotho nation. His influence and followers grew with the integration of a number of refugees and victims of the Zulu wars.

It is therefore perfectly understandable that Moshoeshoe more than once expressed himself as follows:

“I want peace” – and then quite poetically: “Peace is the rain that makes the grass grow. War is the wind that dries it up.

By the latter part of the 19th century (1884), Moshoeshoe established the nation of the Basotho, in Basutoland (Then “the kingdom of Lesotho” since independence in 1966). He was popularly known as Morena e Moholo/morena oa Basotho (Great King/King of the Basotho).

Moshoeshoe1 gave site Thaba-Bosiu

Legacy:

Although he had ceded much territory, Moshoeshoe never suffered a major military defeat, just many minor ones. He retained some of his kingdom after all the wars, though the geographical extent of his kingdom is hard to measure, as South Africa was not very populated prior to the Boer expansion. His death on the 11th March 1870 marked the end of the traditional era and the beginning of the modern colonial period.

The date is now a national holiday (Moshoeshoe's Day) to commemorate the day of Moshoeshoe's death and remind Basotho of both their origin and how they should live as a nation.

In one of the best biographical studies of Moshoeshoe (Moshoeshoe, Chief of the Sotho, published in 1975, almost a hundred years after the reign of Moshoeshoe), the author (Peter Sanders) comes to the following conclusion after doing thorough scientific historical research:

“In terms of achievement, he (Moshoeshoe) was one of the most successful South Africans of the nineteenth century; in terms of perception, one of the most far-sighted. In a period of conflict, he strove for peace, and his tolerance and humanity far transcended the bigotry and racialism of so many around him.”

In his obituary of King Moshoeshoe in the Cape Argus of 6 April 1870, Orpen wrote the following:

“It is the fashion to look down upon those whose skins are coloured, but all who can raise themselves above such vulgar prejudices must acknowledge that in Moshoeshoe were united qualities which made him one of the greatest men in South Africa.”

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Current News - Moshoeshoe's Day

Lidia & Kaye Teachers Kaye Young & Lidia Mancini

“We came to teach and ended up learning.”

That was the response of  two Australian teachers, Lidia Mancini and Kaye Young, who travelled to the highlands of Lesotho to help in the education of  local youngsters.

The directors at Maliba Lodge, Australians Nick King and Chris McEvoy and Lesotho engineer Stephen Phakisi, have established a community trust in the area both to improve and protect the environment in the Tshelayanne National Park and better the living conditions of the local villagers.

Lesotho’s literacy rate of 85 % is one of the highest in Africa but this small country has major problems with high levels of HIV, poverty and malnutrition. It is estimated that 60% of the population live below the poverty line.

The Maliba community trust sponsors a work programme for the five local schools and experienced teachers are being flown in from Australia to help with the tuition and improve the skills of the local teachers.

Mancini and Young, who are from a high profile Melbourne school, Peninsular Grammer, have just completed a month’s stint at Maliba Lodge, running workshops and helping teachers and pupils at the local schools.

“We hope this programme will continue with at least two more groups of teachers travelling to Lesotho from Australia each year,” said McEvoy.

Both teachers described their experiences as “amazing.”

“We thought we were going over on this noble quest to teach all these poor people but we ended up learning so much about ourselves,” said music teacher Mancini.

“The children and teachers were very accepting and warm. The musical experience was phenomenal and really moving. They are in their element when they are singing and I was so excited that I can now sing in Sesotho.”

Kaye Young teaching in Lesotho

Young was taken with the enthusiasm of the children and their ability to work in the most demanding of conditions.

“Children were so affectionate and love school and learning. Honestly, the whole experience exceeded our expectations and it has changed the way I teach.

Young said that “one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to others.”

“That is one of the great things about our job. In teaching the students in Lesotho, and working with the teachers to provide them with ideas to improve their teaching methods, I found that I was also learning myself and improving my teaching skills.”

Young said that she had to produce creative ideas and activities for teaching students in their second language - English - and under difficult circumstances.

“The class sizes were large and there was a lack of resources and equipment. In doing so I have added to my teaching repertoire which I believe will make me a better teacher when I return to the classroom in Australia.

“Also, in running workshops for the teachers on  a variety of topics, I have furthered my own knowledge and understanding of these areas and will therefore be a more effective teacher myself. “

While the two teachers are quick to acknowledge that they have benefited from the experience, they did feel they had also made an impact.

They both immersed themselves in the culture, attending church and spending the days with the children.

Lidia with Lesotho school children

“We now eat pap and veg with our hands,” said Mancini.

Both were astonished at the natural beauty of the area surrounding Maliba Lodge.

“The scenery was simple spectacular,” said Young. “It brought tears to our eyes - it sounds corny, I know, but neither words nor pictures can adequately describe the beauty of this part of the world.”

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Village life with Juliana - American Peace Corps

Juiliana Fulton

My Impoverished Village isn't so Poor

I have recently begun to see my village in a new light.  Going on vacation, spending time with people who’ve never lived in a developing country (basically me nine months ago), made me realize how much Lesotho has changed me.  I think Peace Corps changes everyone.  Scott one of my friends back home, told me before I left that I could come back a different person, and the idea terrified me.  Living in completely new place, with my surroundings changing drastically was not nearly as scary a thought as myself changing.  But with one-third of my service done, I think it’s been very good for me.  I’m not afraid of many things that I used to be, like spiders and poverty.  I’m much more patient and stronger.  Sometimes I worry that I’m becoming hard-hearted.  People here live off the land and have very hard lives.  They’ve become accustom to seeing people all around them die from AIDS.  I have to let my students out early on Fridays because it’s funeral day.  When I get upset with witnessing something cruel or tragic, it’s a comfort to know that I haven’t become numb to it.

Hauling water up a hill and walking up to seven miles a day aren’t easy, but the physical hardships are minor compared to the mental ones, adjusting to life in an entirely different culture and language.  As with any culture there are inspiring and frustrating aspects.  And often I get caught up on the frustrating ones.  Like my lack of privacy, even when I’m at home.  A friend recently visited me and commented on how much everyone smiles here.  I had stopped noticing.  Almost everyone I meet smiles and greets me, and I had stopped noticing how wonderful it is.  When I first got here, I was happy that the Basotho are such a clean people.  Lately I had become annoyed that I’m expected to keep everything so clean, while nothing remains clean for long.  I just can’t bring myself to mop the floor every day.  I happily did when I first arrived, I guess I’ve just become dirtier, like the Peace Corps stereotype.

Ha-Mali-102-Juliana-Fulton

Being in Lesotho has given me a new perspective.  Many of the people here are happier than the average person back in the states.  While they still often want material things that are beyond their reach, the culture is mostly based on community ties and socializing.  When my parents visited in February, our car got stuck in the mud.  Neighbors in that village, who I had never met before, took off their shoes, rolled up their pants and helped dig us out.  (They don’t have toing services in rural Lesotho – just neighbors).  And when my roof needed rethatching before the rains started, a neighbor climbed on my roof and sewed new thatch on it for me.  This social capital that makes up village life here, seems more valuable than any material capital we have back in the US.  In a much more independently minded and materialistic America, I think we’ve lost something.  It makes me nervous about going back home in a year and a half.  I can now see why most volunteers have a hard time readjusting when they return home.  That and I can’t seem to keep my shoes on in public places anymore.

The contents of this article are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.

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Activity Focus - Katse Dam Wall Tour

Katse Dam

Among the different adventure sports enjoyed in Lesotho, mountain biking occupies an important place. Lesotho takes bikers amidst the highest and most beautiful mountain ranges in Southern Africa. It has therefore become one of the more popular activities among the young adventure loving tourists who visit the mountain kingdom on a regular basis.Mountain Biking Above the Maletsunyane Falls, Lesotho

What makes Lesotho an excellent biking destination?

The terrain for starters is great, with wide valleys and mountain passes making for a varied and exciting riding.

Second, its network of bridle paths and tracks, usually only passable on horseback and 4x4, covers much of the countryside and provide bikers with predefined paths with which to navigate the countryside.

One of the most visited mountain biking trails of Lesotho begins from Underberg, a world heritage site located in Ukahlamba Drakensberg Park. The trail follows the Mkozama River and passes through the Sani Valley. While passing the Saini Pass, bikers can get a panoramic view of Hodgon's Peak and the Giants Cup.

There are a number of popular MTB races held in or around Lesotho during the year. Here are just a few to wet your appetites.

  • The Lesotho Thin Air Challenge is not just another race; it is an unforgettable fine mountain biking experience at a high altitude that takes you through breathtaking mountain scenery. This race is physically and mentally very challenging especially the weather and the altitude. If you don't have the mechanical knowledge or at least have a partner that is technically minded don't try this race.
  • The Drak MTB Xperience is geared toward a relaxed and fun event for the whole family and offers fully administered ROAG riding and event and will be a true and exciting test of mountain biking – with distances (20km & 40km Classic) and skill levels to suite everyone’s choice.
  • The Trans Lesotho Mountain Bike Trail marks the opening of the northern section of the Trans Lesotho Mountain Bike Trail. It’s a journey by mountain bike that will take riders to altitudes of 3000 meters and the isolation of remote peaks and valleys.  This promises to become an iconic event on the international mountain biking calendar.
Grant at the Lesotho Thin Air challenge MTB

There are many tour operators out there who can organise excellent mountain bike holidays throughout Lesotho. But, don’t go out on your ride without carrying some warm clothing, as the weather can change from sunny to freezing in minutes up in the mountains.

“After a week in the wilds of southern Lesotho, I had broken my bicycle and acquired a bandaged leg, torn clothes and a face covered in flea bites. Laugh if you like, but I still felt lucky. Lesotho had made a real traveller out of me.” - Alison Westwood

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Guest Article:

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Blue Swallow

Wing Beat by Fr. Tom Princelli

After my success with the rare blue swallow as number 2,000 on my world list, I figured things just couldn’t get much better.  I was proved wrong the following day.

A map of South Africa shows that its eastern portion actually surrounds two other countries as if they were islands in a vast sea: Swaziland to the north and Lesotho to the south. On day 13 of our tour we ventured into Lesotho.

The itinerary called for a trip to Sani Pass at more than 9,000 feet in the “Mountain Kingdom” of Lesotho. Our van was not able to traverse the steep, rocky track our local guides used two a 4x4 vehicles.

After we cleared passport control at the border we began seeing new birds: bush blackcap, greater double-collared sunbird, Cape weaver. As we ascended toward the pass the birds just kept coming: ground woodpecker (a truly odd bird), Gurney’s sugarbird, the amazing malachite sunbird (the male is extremely long-tailed and a brilliant, malachite green), Drakenberg siskin and yellow canary.

One species that was high on our list was the Drakenberg rockjumper and it didn’t take long for us to find one and then another and another and another. After awhile it seemed like they had taken over the mountain and I think we stopped for everyone of them as they are stunning birds.

Some eight miles up the “road” we reached the pass.

On the plateau the birding never let up. Our two guides knew the area intimately and it showed. grey tit, fairy flycatcher, Layard’s and Barratt’s warblers, wailing cisticola, karoo prinia and Cape bunting. In addition a whole bunch of new “chats: buff-streaked chat, sickle-wing chat and the wonderfully named familiar chat.

And then there were the pipits and larks, birds of the dry, rocky highlands and each tough to find and a challenge to identify. But with the expert help of all three guides we knocked off large-billed lark, mountain pipit and African rock pipit. These three were a real test of patience and endurance but, in the end it all paid off with marvelous looks at all three.

We had lunch at a “pull off” that sat across a valley from a sheer cliff. What was unique about the spot was that the cliff held the nest of a bearded vulture, Lammergeyer, and our pull off was the perfect location to set up scopes to get up close and personal with the adult on the nest. Later in the day we came across two birds on the wing but this first encounter was something special.

Not only were the birds something to write home about but we were privileged to make the acquaintance of a new mammal, the so-apply named ice rat and two new herpes, Drakenberg crag lizard and mountain lizard.

Lesotho is a poor country and everyday life for many is a harsh reality, but the people we met were kind and smiling and the land, although itself harsh, awesomely beautiful. And I will remember it for a lot more than just a place of Good Birding.

Original Article here

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Upcoming Festivals and Events

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Upcoming Lesotho Events

April Highlights

21-25th April - Splashy Fen Festival
26th April - Lady Grey Fonduro

May Highlights

13-15th May - Royal Drakensberg Mountain Bike Challenge
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