Saturday, June 2, 2012

Welding, Politics, and a visit to Katleho’s school

As usual, this week was very eventful and exciting. Though exciting things are usually the exception, this summer they are the norm.

On Sunday I had the opportunity to go teaching with the missionaries. After church (in which I taught Sunday School—I have either spoken or taught without warning each Sunday. At least next week I have been asked to teach again (my impromptu lesson must have been alright!)) I went teaching with the elders. Another brother also came for the afternoon, so Elder Shaw and Mothepu went with the bakkie (pickup truck) and Elder Jonga and myself went by foot. Elder Jonga wanted me to introduce him to some people I used to work with in Masianokeng. I gladly obliged, visiting some of my dear friends throughout Masianokeng and Ha Nelese. At each house we shared an inspiring message and a prayer together.

On Tuesday I worked with Mme Matebello in the metal work department. I was impressed by the many different things that the trainees learn to make—everything from dustpans to shovels, rakes, and barbeque stands. Mme then asked if I wanted to do some welding. Of course I did! I don’t know how welding usually works, but in this case we had something that looked very much like a car battery that started the welding rod. We took cables that were attached to the battery (like jumper cables) and clipped one on the metal table we were working on and the other to a welding rod. By touching the rod to the table, the circuit was completed and the electricity ignited the welding rod. I got to wear one of those cool hood-like helmets with the tinted flip-visor to tone down the brightness. I don’t think I was very good at welding, but Mme said I did just fine.

Tuesday evening was a very exciting night. Lesotho had their general elections last Saturday, May 26th. Everyone was so excited about politics leading up to the elections. In the taxi, at work, at home, at the internet shop, everyone has been talking about it. Well the election results were announced all day Sunday, all day Monday, and continued into Tuesday morning.

I may or may not have mentioned that as part of my studies here, I am doing a correspondence course studying Lesotho politics. (If politics bores you to death, you have my permission to skip this and the next paragraph. Otherwise I encourage you to keep reading :) I have been writing papers on the history of government organization and structure in Lesotho and sending the papers to my professor in Utah. It has been a lot of fun, even more so as everyone else has been talking about politics. Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliamentary legislature. The upper house is composed of the highest tribal chiefs, while the lower house is elected using a mixed-member proportional representation system. In Lesotho’s case the MMP system is a compensatory system. Basically this means that each voter selects the candidate (and party) of his/her choice within the constituency where they live. There are 80 constituencies being contested by a total of 18 political parties. The results are tabulated and the winner in each constituency is announced. After they have counted all the votes, they allocate an additional 40 seats according to the percentage of votes that each party received. If a party received 20% of the vote, then they ought to be represented at approximately 20% of the seats in the Assembly. The reasoning for this system is that it is possible for a party to receive 20% of total votes, yet not win in any constituency. These compensatory seats are the way that smaller political parties can still achieve representation within the parliament.

For some interesting history (at least I think it is interesting!), we can consider Lesotho’s 1998 and 2002 elections. In 1998, the party in power received barely 60% of the vote, but won 79 out of the 80 constituencies. At that time Lesotho did not use an MMP electoral system. Because 40% of the population was upset by the election results, there were huge riots. Much of the capitol city of Maseru was burned to the ground. A peacekeeping force was sent in from Botswana and South Africa to restore order. Under international observation, all of the political parties in Lesotho met to discuss an alternative electoral system. After over two years they agreed on their current system. It was a good thing too—in the 2002 elections, the party in power received even less of the vote, a meager 55 percent. Despite getting just over half of the vote, they again won 79 of the 80 constituencies. However, this time the opposition parties were still represented. Because the leading party already had more than its share (55% of the 120 seats) they did not receive any of the 40 compensatory seats—all of these seats were allocated to opposition parties according to the percent of votes they received.

If none of that was interesting to you that is okay. This part may be interesting. In the May 26 2012 elections, the leading party failed to get a majority of the seats of parliament (coincidentally, they received just over half (41) of the constituencies, which would have been a majority under the old FPTP electoral system). The party that received the second most number of seats agreed with the third and fourth largest parties to form a coalition. Together this coalition numbers over 61, thus allowing them to be in power in government. These three parties met together to agree on the terms of their coalition, and finished their plans late Tuesday night.

As soon as the announcement came over the radio, there was cheering throughout Maseru. After 15 years of rule by the old majority party, there is new leadership. The leader of the All Basotho Convention Party (ABC) had widespread support throughout the capitol, and the people were glad to hear the announcement—especially since they were discouraged when the opposition party again received the majority of the constituencies. The MMP system is pretty neat because it gives a more accurate representation of the will of the people. Though the party in power received over 50% of the constituencies, it did not receive over 50% of the vote, so the compensatory seats were allocated to the opposition parties.

It turns out the new Prime Minister, the leader of ABC, lives less than a kilometre from the house where I live. He lives in a simple cinderblock house with maybe four or five rooms. I was just getting into bed when I heard the cheering, so instead of going to bed I turned on the TV. We were all so excited to see what was going on, but the only Lesotho TV station, which is state controlled (therefore in the control of the party that just lost), had nothing to say about the elections. Instead they were showing something about sheep shearing. It was so funny to me that there could be a sheep shearing show playing while history was being made in the country. The cheering outside my house was so loud and intense. People were screaming, dogs were barking, cars were honking their horns, people were blowing whistles and vuvuzelas. It was nuts! Mme Moorosi suggested we go to Thomas Thabane’s house (the leader of ABC). Ntate didn’t want to go, so the two of us went. Somehow over 2,000 people gathered at Thabane’s house. Without any public announcement and despite the late hour, people came from all around. Most of them had to walk as the taxis were no longer running (and most people don’t have cars). It was an incredible sight. In the darkness the people were singing, dancing, and playing their vuvuzelas. I got to record some of the dancing and singing on my phone. I also saw many people I knew there. It was like everyone in the surrounding three villages had come together to be at Thabane’s place without any prior planning or announcement.

Wednesday I was back at work at Itjareng. It continues to surprise me how the school is both well off, and also so financially destitute. For example, the carpentry department, where I spent the day on Wednesday, has a brand new air compressor. After their old one broke, they got a larger one to replace it. The larger one requires a new electrical hookup, which has yet to be acquired. After more than a year of having this nice new compressor, the carpentry department has been unable to use it. It is now covered in dust and looks very old.

On Thursday I accompanied six-year-old Katleho to school. It was a very fun day. She attends the National University of Lesotho International School. The school has grades 1-12, with just one classroom for each grade. Katleho is in grade 1. I rode the bus with her to school (the craziest, most packed, loudest bus I have ever been on) and started the day in her classroom. When the bell rang we went inside, hung up our school bags, and sat on the floor and waited for the teacher. When she walked in everyone said good morning to her in unison. We proceeded to start with a song and prayer, after which the teacher had each student introduce themselves to me. (The idea of prayer in the classroom is found consistently throughout every school in Lesotho. To my knowledge it is also practiced throughout South Africa). While the children started their coursework, I helped grade some papers. Then one of the administrators came by the classroom to welcome me. You would have thought I was an important foreign dignitary by the way I was treated. I was introduced to each teacher and staff member and given a tour of each classroom. The younger students all wanted to show off their coloring and writing assignments, while others performed songs for me.

At recess I went out with the kids to play. The primary school is separated from the high school in playing area, so I played with Katleho and the other young kids. They had a swing set where a few kids were playing, and I thought I would push one of them higher than he was getting on his own. He loved it. Soon the whole playground was in line to be pushed on the swing by the white guy. I pushed each of them only three times because the line was so long. They all wanted to go very high, so I pushed as hard as I could, sending them high enough that they would have a bit of a jolt at the end of each swing. I then slowed them and held the swing while one got off and the other got on. Overall they were very orderly and well behaved. They were also very tiring. At least after pushing over 50 kids I was tired… I was sweating more than I usually do after my morning workouts!

On Friday I worked in the kitchen with Mme Thulo. I chopped potatoes and spinach and helped prepare the lunch—fish and samp. I enjoyed working with her and I even got to ring the bell for everyone to come and eat.

Around 3 o’clock my friend Jordan Roper came to visit. We served together as missionaries in Johannesburg in 2008. He has been here since April with the BYU Young Ambassadors doing a performance tour. Since he finished he has been touring Africa with one of his friends from the group. We talked for some time, and I told him all about my internship. We then shared some food together, and I ate my first PB and J sandwich since elementary school.

As they were preparing to leave, they found that the battery in the rental car was dead. Unfortunately, no one around had a car, and not surprisingly, no one had jumper cables either. Eventually the missionaries came by, but they also had no cables. Eventually we had to remove the Elders’ battery and put it in Jordan’s car to start it. It was an adventure.

This next week will be fun. I am teaching a class on personal finance to all of the staff at the school. I have prepared a sample budget on Excel. Excel is so easy to use for budgeting, but the largest difficulty will be to teach the staff to use the computers to be able to do the budgeting. Still I think that it is better than teaching them on paper. The files will stay saved on the computer and are easily adjustable for each month.

Sala le Molimo,


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