A Cozy Blankie with your Coup d’Etat?

Blog 7 by Tan: A Cozy Blankie with your Coup d’Etat?

In the last blog I mentioned that there was a coup type situation going on in Lesotho while we were there. Call me cynical but it appears that it was a squabble between two sets of political elites, all keen to secure the top job for themselves in order to facilitate the efficient plundering of the country’s wealth into their own pockets. I have been noticing a theme in African politics where leaders seem to be in a race against time.   They know their period of gathering (read: stealing) wealth is limited so they look to get as much as they can, while they can. It reminds me of the chocolate game we used to play at children’s birthday party (dare I say it) back in my day.


Post 7 01_newPlowed fields waiting for rain for planting… and what is known locally as Tit Hill (also the Two Tits or just the Titties, the little mound in the middle called “Middle Tit”) in the background. They look more buxom from the other side of the valley.


Post 7 02_newCommon country here in Lesotho


The game involved a 1kg block of Cadbury chocolate, a dice, a pair of oven mitts and a knife and fork. Kids would takes turns rolling the dice and when you rolled a 6 it was go time. You would don the oven mitts and grab the knife and fork and get cracking on the block of chocolate. You had until the next person rolled a 6 to consume as much chocolate as physically possible. It became a frenzy of unadulterated greed and led to many a near choking death. I excelled at this game as I adopted the squirrel method of packing my cheeks full to the point of bursting. When someone else rolled a 6, I would bow out of the game with feigned dignity; then set about enjoying my chocolate wealth, by then a pile of spittle covered, half chewed chocolate in my hands. I recall it tasted all the more sweet for having deprived others of it. I see a lot of parallels with this game and the actions of many politicians I’ve been hearing about here. Of course the any self-respecting African strong man leader would not let a someone else rolling a 6 throw them off their task. So there you have it; my high level analysis of the governance problems in Africa.


Post 7 03_newNew tar on the way to Semonkong


Post 7 04_newWhere we stocked up on supplies for our hike.


Now getting back to the coup, the general agreement among those we spoke to was that the leader of the opposition (himself the former PM), backed by the military, had a crack at a coup d’etat. This happened when the Prime Minister got wind of a possible vote of no confidence. The PM responded by dabbling in a bit of authoritarianism by getting the King to dissolve parliament before the vote. Well played indeed. He then sacked the head of the military. Another wise move. Only he did not count on the leader of the military engaging in high-level statecraft by saying that the letter of termination didn’t arrive and must be stuck in the post. Therefore he was still in charge.

The army then surrounded the PM’s house, sending him running off to South Africa for help. The army also raided police stations to get their weapons, which led to the death of at least one policemen. At one point the leader of the military was said to have had missiles aimed the capital, all the while denying that there was a coup going on at all and claiming to support the government. Rrriggghttt!


Post 7 05_newSourcing fresh bread and exposing my legs to the sun for the first time in months.


Post 7 06_newThis shop was owned by a Chinese guy who was only mildly surprised when I spoke Chinese with him. He didn’t speak Sesotho and almost no English. Apparently this is the case for a lot of the Chinese shop owners in Africa.


All this activity was mainly restricted to the capital Maseru so we mostly avoided the place. I have since read that a few days ago parliament was re-opened with MPs singing and dancing in parliament chambers in celebration. This naturally conjured up horrifying mental images of Australian politicians (overwhelmingly composed of humourless middle-aged white guys) doing the same thing. I shudder at the thought.

Dancing MPs aside, it doesn’t look good for Lesotho long-term as the PM still has the support of the police while the Opposition Leader still has the support of the military and each of them is accusing the other of corruption; making them both almost certainly right. And old mate, the defense force commander, still refuses to leave his job. With all these dramas going on I guess it is easy for them all to forget that a quarter of their people are unemployed, half are under the poverty line and the fact they are only living to 48.7 years due mainly to AIDS. Meh…politics!

Anywho, back to the fun stuff.


Post 7 07_newOn the way to Katane Falls


Post 7 08_newLittle dude on his way to town. So impressive seeing such young kids on their own riding bareback up and down mountains


Post 7 09_newWindy as..


Post 7 10_newOne of the many characters on their way to town. We found the people in Semonkong to be the most outgoing and friendly people we came across in Lesotho. The local chiefs encourage everyone to be friendly to the tourists as they bring important funds into the community.


Our next stop was Semonkong Lodge where we splashed on a great room with a fireplace and did little for the first couple of days but chill out and read by the fire. The staff at the lodge were great and we had some really interesting chats about life in Lesotho. Many were worried about the coup as it was already affecting tourist numbers and therefore the money they were taking home. With the tourist high season just a month off people were right to be concerned.


Post 7 11_newThis guy had a guitar made out of a ~6L container and rubber bands. And a kick-arse hat to boot.


Post 7 12_newThis gentleman is sporting the playing cards design of Basotho blanket. Can you see the spades? More on this shortly.


DSCF2159_newOur guides and pack horse. Sadly we had a issue with our exposure adjustments but thought the photo still had a good setting…


Post 7 13_newOur kindly guide and pack horse


After 6-odd weeks in South Africa, Mick and I have both been noticing that our clothes are becoming tighter and we have been using a little more effort than usual walking up hills. We were fairly certain this can be explained by the soap powder used in Africa causing our clothes to shrink and the altitude causing us to move like geriatrics. However, we started to suspect that we might actually be getting fat off good food and cheap beer. I, for one, started to wonder if dessert for lunch and dinner was not a bit excessive. In the end we decided to leave the bikes and go for a two-day hike to get the heart pumping. We walked through villages, across plains and up and down many a mountain over the two full days of hiking to get to Katane Falls and back. The falls are stunning and as they are quite an effort to get to, they are not heavily touristed. We spent the night in a traditional rondavel and cooked a passable dinner of Lesotho’s most beloved canned semi-food, Chakalaka. After the hike we slept like the dead. All in all it was a fantastic walk but I couldn’t help but think it would have been far more enjoyable on the DRs.


Post 7 14_newPackhorse on his way to graze while we schlepped up more mountains


Post 7 15_newWishing I had hiking boots


Post 7 16_newAlright, we’re here…now where’s my beer?


Post 7 17_newKatane Falls 162m. Quite impressive.


Post 7 18_newThe view at sundown. Also impressive.


Post 7 19_newThe last bit of the hike to the view point was rather steep indeed.


After we returned from our hike one of the waitresses asked us if we could now appreciate how hard it was for people living so far from town. It was clear to us that despite the beauty, life is HARD for these people in the mountains. Our waitress Elizabeth explained that by law, pregnant women living remotely have to come to town a month before their due dates in order to ensure the safe arrival of their babies. Women are not permitted to have their babies at home as it is seen as too dangerous for mother and child. When we mentioned that in Australia there were people who chose to have their babies at home she looked at me in horror and seemed utterly gobsmacked that anyone would do this when they had access to doctors and proper medical facilities. I felt quite embarrassed and didn’t go on to discuss how there were people who chose not to vaccinate their children as well. It seems that in these places where life is so much more difficult they embrace anything that is going to help to make life a bit more secure for themselves and their families. Or perhaps back home infant mortality is such an infrequent occurrence that it is not a reality for the people who make those choices. Anyway I’ll shut up before I upset the angry mummy blogger hordes.


Post 7 20_newLocal sheepdog – this is the mother and her puppies live in the kraal (stockyard) with the sheep and goats so the dogs grow up to see them as their pack and protect them.


Post 7 21_newAll the animals in the kraal for the night.  Note the donkey rubbing his arse on the rock?  He did that for a good 5 minutes.


Post 7 22_newKing Cock


Post 7 23_newOur abode for the night.  Our Rondavel doubled as a primary school during the day.


Post 7 24_newMoon through the trees


Post 7 25_newOur packhorse getting a brush before the hike back to Semongkong


Post 7 26_newShepard with his homemade guitar. Note the corn cob used as the bridge (I think thats the right term anyway?)…


DSCF2343 - Version 2_newThis guy had a really eerie and beautiful voice as he sung in Sesotho


That same woman, Elizabeth, happens to be the only person in the country that gives talks on the Basotho blanket that Lesotho is famous for. Just to clarify, the people who live in Lesotho are Basotho while a singular member of the Basotho is a Mosotho and they all speak Sesotho. Anyway, Elizabeth is passionate about the Basotho blankets and we were curious to know more so went to her house for her presentation. It turned out to be one of the best things we did in Lesotho.


Post 7 27_newThe Malasunyane Falls drop 196m into the canyon.


Post 7 28_newAnd rather impressive gorge. This is big waterfall country.


Post 7 29_newSheep in one of Semongkong’s main streets on the way back from the shearers. All done by hand shears.


We learnt that there is a whole lot of meaning in the blanket designs, how they are worn and the various milestones in life that warrant a new blanket. Boys get them prior to and after initiations, women when they get married and have their first child and people get new blankets when they pass away to name a few.

There is a practical element to the blankets too. The good ones are usually about 90% wool making them rain and fire resistant, warm and lightweight. In the mountains it is said no one leaves on a journey without a blanket.


Post 7 30_newElizabeth in her grandmother’s 100 year old cow skin blanket


Post 7 31_newLaying out the Maize design


Post 7 32_newElizabeth folding he Moshoeshoe design


Post 7 33_newDiscussing the Playing card design


Women use blankets to carry their babies. This is done with two blankets and a couple of large safety pins. One blanket ties the baby to the mother and the other covers it from the elements. Elizabeth told us how there is the risk of suffocation of the babies so many women have the babies with their faces to the mothers back so they can feel the breath of the child. Clever.


Post 7 34_newElizabeth was a wealth of knowledge and had such a passion for her culture


Post 7 35_newOur 1.5 hour talk ended up going for nearly 3 hours as we kept asking questions and Elizabeth kept answering.


Post 7 36_newThe wheat design – my favourite


I asked the lady how women avoided getting baby poo all over their blankets as I didn’t see much in the way of disposable nappies in the shops. Her response blew my mind! In Lesotho they toilet train their newborns so there are only occasional accidents they have to deal with. Nappies are not necessary. It is amazing. I am not going to give you the details as to how this is done as it will be in my upcoming parenting book. The working title is The Lesotho Method: How to Make Your Baby Shit on Command. It will no doubt take the world by storm. Best be kind to me now before the riches start flowing in.


DSCF2447_new More discussion


Post 7 37_newHow men wear the blanket


Post 7 38_newElizabeth’s son… probably wishing he was playing football right now.


Post 7 39_new…in one of the kid sized blankets.  You should see how cute the ones for toddlers are.  


The patterns and the colours of the blankets all had hidden meanings behind them and it was quite gratifying spotting blankets ‘in the wild’ and knowing what they represented.  One of my favourite styles was the playing card blankets, which had hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades in their designs. The story goes that the King wanted them included in designs to show foreigners that they were viewed as equals and very welcome in the Kingdom of Losotho. Playing cards were an exclusively foreign game at that time so that is why they were used. Other designs had wheat, rams horns, the stones used for building the traditional rondavel houses and firewood to name a few.


Post 7 40_newMe getting dressed Lesotho style


Post 7 41_newElizabeth was clearly in her element and loved sharing with people the rich history and tradition of the blankets.


It was all very interesting stuff and if it weren’t for me being on a bike I would have taken one of the wheat ones with me. The highest quality of Basotho blankets go for about 800 rand, which is about $80. Not a bad investment for something that they say can last forever.


Post 7 42_new

Post 7 43_newLooking like the moron tourists we are


With that it was time to bring our ride in Lesotho to a close. We had such a great couple of weeks but it was time to be moving on. We travelled the impeccable, brand new, Chinese built highway to Qachas Nek using the brand new bridges over the Orange and Little Orange Rivers, which were previously 2 of the biggest obstacles in the region. Not any more, xie xie very much.


Post 7 44_newGetting ready to leave Semongkong


Post 7 45_new The new bridge over the Senqu (Orange) River.

6 Comments on “A Cozy Blankie with your Coup d’Etat?

  1. It was Nelson Mandela who said of corruption “once the gravy train starts it only stops to change drivers”. Kind of sums it up perfectly.

    • I believe it was said of Mandela’s government that “the gravy train stops only long enough for the next load of passengers to get on”.

  2. Fantastic post – fascinating place. I think your potted version of political situation hit the spot. LOVE the blankets – probably my favourite part of travel (apart from food) is the textiles from different cultures. Thankfully most are well outside my price range – otherwise I’d have a house swamped by blankets and rugs. The proper navaho rugs in the US southwest were incredible – thousands of dollars but WOW.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post. Funny you mention liking textiles. Given that I can’t buy souvenirs along the way I have resolved to collect a piece of fabric from every country we travel to. Once we go home I’ll get a quilt made up and that is bound to be a better moment then a magnet or a snow globe.

      • The quilt idea is fantastic! And absolutely 500% better than any ready made available tourist tat.

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