The dirt roads in the mountains of Lesotho are always busy on a Sunday afternoon. Outside every village small groups of men wait for the taxis that criss cross the countryside.
On the side of the road the men talk quietly with their wives or mothers. Some make last minute plans for the children, or for the fields or the cattle. Others, trying not to think of the dangers that wait ahead, talk about the things they will do when they next come home.
For over a hundred years the poor villages of Lesotho have seen such farewells. Since its birth, the nation has lost its men to the mines in South Africa. The women have been left to bring up the children, plough the fields and care for the villages.
The mothers and wives wave goodbye as the minibuses full of men disappear down the road on the way to the border gate. The lucky ones will be across the Caledon River by nightfall. Then it’s easy to find a bus that will get them to the mine by the early hours of Monday morning.
“THINGS FROM THE BAG”
In the old days it was not so easy. The men often had to spend three or four days on the road to get to their mines. In those times the women used to fry pieces of mielie meal and mix it with salt and spices. They put the food into a bag and gave it to their men before they waved goodbye. It was the women’s way of wishing them well.
The men called the tasty pieces of maize “litsoakotleng” — the things from the bag. When they met each other along the way, they would say: “Mampoli koaholla litsoakotleng li monate li nokiloe ka letsoai — Comrade, can you give me food from the bag that is so nice and salted and spiced.”
By sharing these “things from the bag”, the workers from Lesotho gave each other courage for the new and dangerous world they were travelling to.
A NEW LITSOAKOTLENG
Today the women of Lesotho no longer make the tasty pieces of maize. But if you go into the smallest village of Lesotho, or if you visit the compounds on the mines in South Africa, you will find a new Litsoakotleng.
The people do not take food from this Litsoakotleng. They take words and knowledge. The Litsoakotleng of today is a magazine.
The magazine is written in Sesotho, the language of the people of Lesotho. Each magazine also comes with a pull-out English translation.
The magazine shows the people how to grow crops and how to keep animals like pigs and chicken in the villages. It tells them how to build stoves outside their stone houses. It talks about the problems and dangers that workers will find on the mines. It explains how women can make sure they get the money their men send home. It has stories about the proud history of the Basotho — and much more.
AN OFFICE IN MASERU
Molefi Pitso is one of the people who works for Litsoakotleng. He says he works for the magazine because “it looks after the needs of the people — like the litsoakotleng of old”.
Molefi and his comrades work from the top floor of a small building in Maseru. From their office they can see the shacks and ‘joala’ huts all around them. The joala huts are full of men who have come back from the mines with no legs or arms. There they can drink beer and find some peace for the few remaining years of their lives.
This view from the window helps to remind the people from Litsoakotleng of their task.
Don Edkins is one of the people who decided to start the magazine. “The people of Lesotho are well educated,” he says. ”Most people can read and write. But today the people have few books and newspapers they can call their own. The church and the government print some newspapers. But few of them touch the everyday lives of the people. They don’t tell them how they can improve the world they live in.” Don, his wife Marianne, and a small group of people started the magazine three years ago, at the beginning of 1985. They first printed one thousand copies of the magazine.
“From then on we have never looked back,” says Don. “The first magazine sold out so we printed 4000 copies of magazine number two. Today we print 16000 copies of each magazine.”
DONKEYS AND AEROPLANES
Litsoakotleng magazine reaches into every corner of Lesotho — even into the mountain villages that cannot be reached by road. Sometimes a doctor visits these places by aeroplane. Litsoakotleng asks the doctor to take a pile of magazines with him.
Other magazines are sent by post. If 41 there are no roads, the post office sends a postman on a donkey across the mountains. So often the villagers are greeted by the sight of a donkey arriving with a pile of magazines on its back.
Every month many letters come from the villages to the Litsoakotleng office in Maseru. People ask for help with a problem, or send a poem or a story for the magazine. Sometimes they write about the way the magazine has brightened their lives.
The people who work for the magazine are: Lineo Nketu, Seeiso Rampa, Motsamai Mohlali, Thabo Sehlabo, Marianne Gysae-Edkins, Don Edkins, Molefi Pitso and Mokotso Phakasi.
These people, like the litsoakotleng of old, are giving strength to the people of Lesotho. They are giving the people knowledge, and knowledge is power. Long live Litsoakotleng magazine!
If you want to get Litsoakotleng magazine write to: LITSOAKOTLENG P.O. Box 929 Lesotho 100
Cost for 6 issues: Lesotho: M3.60 (M6 with English translation) South Africa: R6.00 (R8.00 with translation)
NEW WORDS criss cross — in all directions farewell — goodbye courage — strong and brave their task — the work they must do