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Lesotho Fu Man Chu

by Montle Moorosi, illustration Alastair Laird / 01.08.2011

To every birth its blood… or something like that, that’s what the first South African black art fag said. When people die others are born. It doesn’t get more simple, loving and awful as that.
“Hey, why doesn’t Lesotho just become a part of South Africa? Wouldnt it be easier for Sotho people then?” I ask my cousin.
“Uhm… because we’re a fucking country, that’s why! You cant just erase a country.”
And with that, the King of the Yellow Bones was back home.

The last time I visited Lesotho was in 2007 for my cousin’s wedding, now it’s my grandfather’s funeral and I’m pretty excited to be back home for a good old Sotho time. In 2007 the city was still the slightly changed version of the Lesotho I grew up in during the 90s. It was still quiet, slow, shitty and African. Rumours of malls being built did the rounds but nobody believed a word of it. Our ingrained African cynism assumed that the funds would be squandered by politicians on sports cars. Who gives a fuck, theres over 4 KFCs in the tiny capital of Maseru, who the fuck needs a mall?

The border as usual is a mess. Rows of delivery trucks, with their cargo of various vital food items and other wares, all urgently needed in Lesotho, line the road all the way back to Ladybrand waiting to be searched and harangued by the Lesotho customs officials. Cars with South African license plates are given preferentially quick service.

We are spared the administrative raping at customs and a South African policeman ushers us to a queue-less line where they scan our passports, and just like that we’re allowed entry to the Mountain Kingdom. A strange rush of euphoria fills my body as we drive out of the border, to my left a dilapidated Jehovah’s witness church, to my right is a large billboard with the face of the prime minister and his illustrious title Right Honourable Mosisili and right below is an endorsement from the Lin Kwo Kim University. The new college of technology built and funded by the Chinese government.

Near the golf course I see the construction of townhouses that are going to cost R4 million each. According to the old Lesotho rumour mill, all the units have already been sold.
“Who can afford those houses? I thought people here are broke.”
“Probably government officials.” Says the old man.

Not very far from the golf course is the South African embassy, it used to be a humble looking thing, like any other government building. Now it’s like something that came out of Sarah Connor’s vagina, a big cybertronic-themed modern bauhaus turd with finger print recognition security surrounded by stray cattle, chicken shit, potholes, laundry lines and a whole bunch of some other third world shit.
“Why dont you become a part of South Africa?” I ask again.

I was told it would be blisteringly cold but I was sweating inside the old man’s Honda Ballade. No eating in the car allowed, and by now the old man was in one of those moods where he rips you a new colostomy bag is he doesn’t eat something because he has to wait for my mother and sister who are getting custom dresses made at dirt cheap Zimbo prices from a Chinese lady named Tsu-Tsu.
“Have you been to this new mall?” He asks.
“No, I haven’t been here in 4 years. Let’s go.”

It takes about two minutes to get there, and like all malls in the world it is nothing but a big block of cement with a few people thrown inside somewhere amongst the boxes of shoes and public toilets. Pioneer Mall. We park the silver Honda ballade amongst the other BMW’s, Mercedes, VWs, Pajeros and a plethora of SUV and 4×4 vehicles. Johannesburg with dust and a lot more potholes. If Soweto was a country they would call it Lesotho.  The mall only has two floors which consist of a Pick ‘n Pay, some clothing shops with fake designer labels, King Pie, Steers, another KFC, Spur, Ocean Basket and a Cinema. Which is great because the last time I was here the latest thing in town was Nandos. Before Nandos opened in Lesotho chicken fiends such as myself had to drive all the way to Bloemfontein or Ladybrand to taste fast food nkhukhu that wasn’t KFC. Colonel Sanders has a seat in Lesotho’s parliament.
“Where do you want to eat?” I say to the old man.
“You choose buddy.” Can’t do Spur because he has gout, so that’s out.
“Ocean Basket?” I say.
“Yes! Sounds good.” Creatures of habit the Moorosi’s.

We’re seated at the sunny patio section that faces the car park. The sweat begins again and I begin to undress as the plus sized gold tooth bearing yellow boned waitress by the name of Mathabo asks us what we want to drink. The old man orders a glass of white wine, I have the native beer, Maluti, which tastes better than any beer in the world. I could see it selling very well at The Biscuit Mill. “Brewed with Lesotho’s finest spring water”.
Unlike other Ocean Baskets this one has fresh Lesotho trout and Angelfish on the menu. We order both and start talking loud and boisterous. Let them know that we’re semi-rich out of towners.

Around us are business looking patrons on work breaks, big burly men and women of light complexion, a smorgasboard of yellowbones. There is one old frail red skinned white man eating alone behind us, and two tables away a group of Asian men with Indonesian features. They’re having a seafood platter, but the one guy looks like he’s eating a plate of shit. His friends are force feeding him prawns. His eyes are watering. I go outside for a cigarette. I see two white children eating candy floss, giggling… I never knew any white children my age until I went to boarding school in South Africa.

On the opposite end of the mall, on a balcony where the smokers congrgate, is a new grand building nestled on the top of a mountain. The new Lesotho Parliament, paid for by the Chinese government and built by Chinese companies. The old library has also been refurbished and modernised, all on the same deal with China. It’s very peculiar when a Communist state starts investing in a multi patrty government.
“It’s all about the economy, it wouldn’t matter if Hitler was ruling Lesotho, they’d still be investing.” My cousin tells to me.
They also built the long stretching and much needed Pioneer Road which eventually ends at the new House of Parliament.

Throughout out my stay I hear various versions of the story about how Lesotho has “evolved”. You can buy cocaine at the car wash near the golf course. A 22 year old Chinese guy in Mokhotlong, who owns four shops also pimps Chinese prostitutes now. And of course there’s a new KFC opening every year. When I used to live in Lesotho there was a large number of Italian immigrants who were shop owners and businessmen with Italian sotho families who spoke both languages fluently. There were also plenty of Portugeuse cafés with their greasy chips and magazine stands full of porn. They were all Sotho people, with the same mannerisms and typical slow drawl when they talk.

But now there’s a new regime in town. A new library, a new house of parliament, exotic hookers, a college… all this regalia but no palatial. All tits and no nipple. The Chinese only hire labour brought in from China and leave the local workers with the menial jobs. The improvement of Lesotho’s facilities are indeed a necessity, but at what future cost? Tanzania, Angola, Zimbabwe and many other African states are fast becoming psuedo Chinese colonies. But one has to ponder, Lesotho was in economic ruins before the huge surge of Chinese interest and it has had a covertly tense political climate for sometime with a few attempted coups which don’t seem to make major headlines back in South Africa. Who else gives a fuck but Uncle Yuan?

After my grandfather’s funeral while tucking into some chicken tripe and feet I get into a conversation with one of my cousins about how hilarious it was when I tried to buy a gas cylinder from a Chinese vendor who spoke an awkarwd but fluent Sotho. I insisted on speaking English because I found the whole situation a litle too Fu-Man-Chu in Blackface.
“It looks good for now when you see these new roads and shops.” Says my cousin. “The Chinese aren’t poor like we are. I can’t afford to go to China and start a new life. I’m stuck here. Basotho people are dumb.” He spits.

*Illustration Alastair Laird.

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