Lesotho’s Politics Go Pop
Ngoan'a Nts'oana | March 17th, 2014


Lesotho’s Prime Minister and leader of the coalition government Tom Thabane has found love: ‘It is one of the best decisions that I ever made in my entire life,’ the statesman said in a recent newspaper interview (in Sotho). The circumstances in which the news was revealed, was less rosy: a bomb explosion and unidentified gunmen shooting at his lover’s house.

This all took place at night. In what now appears to have been a series of coordinated attacks, the assailants paid the police  commissioner’s house a visit before frolicking to the other side of Maseru to unleash their toys on the Prime Minister’s lover’s residence a few minutes’ drive out of the city centre. The assumption seems to have been that he would be staying over for the night. No fatalities resulted from both incidents.

In the same interview, Thabane–a man of many shades and a veteran public servant who has worked in different capacities under all of Lesotho’s Prime Ministers (there have been three democratically-elected ones since we attained independence 1966)–employed his excellent oratory skills when he got asked about the manner in which the relationship became public knowledge.

“It’s rather unfortunate that the  public had to find out this way, but it’s nothing new,” he said, adding that he has deliberately kept the affair out of the public’s gaze to avoid any misgivings before concluding that time for the affair to be known had arrived.

Frank, erudite, and headstrong, Thabane has been the source of both contention and praise among Basotho throughout his political career. Even as the country’s government is being run by two other deputies, he’s being accused of surrounding himself with cronies who’ll yield to his every wish, an accusation he has categorically denied yet is something increasingly difficult to overlook following the recent fraud allegations levelled against Molobeli Soulo, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office (that’s his full title), something certain quarters have interpreted as a conspiracy by Thabane against Soulo.

Lesotho’s rappers have latched onto Thabane’s larger-than-life persona. Using the myth – as opposed to the person – of Tom Thabane as a point of departure, the trio of Moji Mokotso (Jiji F; image at the top), Thulo Monyake (Lemekoane; second image below), and Mokebe Mohasoa (Skebza D; final image) have composed a song in which they liken themselves to the Prime Minister (and leader of the All Basotho Convention party) — from the style of dress, to the amount of power he wields. “Step up in the building like I’m Tom Thabane,” goes the refrain, half-sung in a style not much different from a lot of mainstream rap music currently.

It’s a forthright musical statement, much like the bold pronouncements of the person who inspired it, and hints at Lesotho hip-hop’s growing self-confidence and desire to explore new sounds. Jiji F puts it better:

The way people feel his presence; his inspiration to a lot of people and influence; the respect he is given. Also, the lifestyle that he lives that appears luxurious, and the fact that he is [a] Mosotho [whom] we all know and can relate to [...]

Lemekoane, a producer, rapper, engineer, and connector in the Lesotho music scene, says that he simply helped put the song together. He “figured it would be good to have three generations of rappers on it. Jiji F from the new school; me from middle school and Skebza from the old [school of Lesotho hip-hop].”

The All Basotho Convention is the party Thabane formed after breaking away from the then-ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) in the run-up to the general elections in 2007. Lemekoane concludes with a nod to the party’s colours (yellow, green, and red): “Three different colors so to say.”

Elsewhere in Southern Africa, South African rapper Cassper Nyovest’s ode to kwaito musician Doc Shebeleza got downloaded thousands of times (as well as getting him one of the best crowd responses when he opened for Kendrick Lamar during the LA-based rapper’s recent tour of the country), while Zimbabwean rapper Junior Brown entered the ZiFM charts at number one with his song ‘Phil Chinyangwa‘ (the mogul himself reportedly got on stage during the mixtape launch on which the song appears).

This trend of pop culture appropriating public figures’ names is nothing new (think: Outkast – Rosa Parks). It’ll interesting to see how it takes root in the African hip-hop landscape.

Bonus: Cassper Nyovest performs a snippet of ‘Doc Shebeleza’ in this video:

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Ngoan'a Nts'oana

A writer first and foremost. Interested in documenting people's lives and sparking a conversation using words

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