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Lesotho’s monetary history

Posted on April 18, 2011
Courtesy of Central Bank of Lesotho

Central Bank of Lesotho introduced new bank notes in the circulation in March this year in celebration of its thirtieth anniversary and this was heralded by 'know your money' campaigns in the spread of the gospel about the new monies to take off. The launch intersects pretty much with this month's (March) mandate since it connects the entire country with their cherished past as March 2011 has been labeled Moshoeshoe month in honour of Morena (King) Moshoeshoe, the father and founder of the Basotho nation. It should be clear that this originates from 12th March 1960 which was celebrated and honoured in memory of Britain's protection given Lesotho in 1868 at the request of Morena Moshoeshoe that led to protection of Basotho (People of Lesotho) from conquer by the Boers and this resulted in their native land not being annexed by then Orange Free State. Later in 1996, in promotion of our national symbols and identity and to commemorate this national icon the celebration of Moshoeshoe's day was changed to the 11th of March, the day he died owing to scanty information regarding his birth date. This year, as a way of fostering cultural understanding and our roots as Basotho, the national department of Culture has showcased an exhibition promoting the legacy of Morena Moshoeshoe and the Sesotho culture at the National Library and Archives that will run for the entire Month.

With the Central Bank of Lesotho having launched new banknotes, I undertook a study on the representation of these newly introduced notes and for the first time I realized how belief in the power of images extends beyond the work of human hands through the visual language depicted on the banknotes. This really indicates that works of art are inspired by the recognition of forms that already exist and the wish to capture and preserve them. It registered in bold that this visual language is another expression of nationalistic value of art and noted the respect that should be accorded bank notes on the basis of their nationalistic value inasmuch as they express the pride of Basotho (people of Lesotho) and accomplishment of their culture. Depictions on the notes represent national figures as the 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 Maloti notes bear the portrait of Lepoqo, (Morena Moshoeshoe I), the founder and father of the Basotho nation, His Majesty Kings late Moshoeshoe II and the current Letsie III. However, it should be made clear that these figures gave disregard to other tabled options like the Paramount Chiefs, the Lesotho Prime Ministers since independence in 1966, the Royal Family inclusive of Her Majesty Queens, and various Lesotho's natural landscapes.

The question that was brewed in my mind was with regard to the flow of information, people and ideas since these notes reach beyond their national boundaries especially considering the fact that the notes are still operational in some parts of South Africa that are close to Lesotho. They serve as public spheres as they influence formation of a set of opinions since they are now part of global networks of information and cultural flows. Having browsed a litany of banknotes that have been in use in Lesotho since independence, my own feeling is that the representation need not be bias if the role of banknotes in public culture is to be properly understood and this is going to explore the absences and silences in the representation on the notes.

One huge observation I made in these notes is that there has been a gendered aspect to the process as they explicitly assemble male identities. Will masculine superiority and gender stereotypes that have been in existence for ages never cease even in these years of democracy? How do the notes inscribe our identity when they are bias? How do they devise new relations, perceptions, respect and recognize the previously marginalized or repressed histories and provide them with opportunities by authorizing their own stories visually as this has been a challenge inherent in the current representation?

My own vision is that to curb this bias representational ambit of Lesotho notes reference was to be made on heroines like Chief 'Mantsebo, born in 1902, who one would think her representation would have added a deeper message in the notes especially having been the only woman who left marks in the Lesotho leadership history (1941-1960) much like the already said personalities. What makes her exceptional? 'Mantsebo, a woman who relentlessly fought for national equality and cultural wellbeing, was rooted in the soil of obdurate religious beliefs and political dogma. 'Mantsebo was regent for nineteen years during the Prince Mohato's minority (late King Moshoeshoe II). She was indeed a woman of conscience, compassion and courage. Among other features that force tribute to be accorded her was her skill to offer platform to the voiceless and the most forgotten figures in national dialogues and forums as the very heart of change. How come that such an outstanding figure ranks among forgotten heroines? This finally leads to manufacturing of questions like: Does the depicted artwork give what is real about Lesotho in her monetary expression and the representation she takes through the notes? How do the notes provide and give insight to Lesotho history?

This therefore implies discrepancy and sidelined social hierarchy and proves that bank notes are artworks deliberately constructed and it could be one way through which dominant ideologies locate their own histories and not necessarily social realities of the past and present and therefore end up with one-sided approach as the representation has now taken a selective overview.

The notes take note of the logic as follows: they consist of three main figures, that is, the late Morena Moshoeshoe I, the late His Majesty (HM) King Moshoeshoe II and the current His Majesty King Letsie III. Attempts at depicting more than just kings in the notes include various practices and norms of Basotho like herding which is one of the oldest professions dating back some six thousands years, horse riding which is the major mode of transport in the Lesotho mountains and it also showcases the hard-to-find traditional Basotho settlements depicting Sesotho competence in artistic design through decorated houses as Litema (decorations) serve as essence of traditional Sesotho settlement.

These factors create a sense of value as in their own sense convey a sense of history based on the Lesotho leadership and kingship and her outstanding natural features, norms and practices. The uniqueness of the notes is evidenced by the Sesotho language printed on the labeling of the depicted Moshoeshoe I, who was indeed a Morena not a king as among others his attire as well says it.

As its security features the notes bear the water mark of Moshoeshoe I. and a 'see through' feature of Mokorotlo (Basotho hat),which is an enduring national symbol and pride of Sesotho Culture.

In the light of this, it becomes crystal clear that money has a potential of bringing life and sustenance to our country and our heroes and heroines irrespective of colour, gender or any other circumstance and serve as memorial to those who deserve respect and honour in nation-building. It also becomes one way of projecting national identity, while promoting and preserving significant events and people that tell of the country's rich history.

The launch heralded the annual heritage route (Menkhoaneng to Thaba-Bosiu) undertaken on the 11th-13th March this year, which commemorates the formation of Basotho. It is undertaken in the footsteps of Moshoeshoe from the place where he was born (Menkhoaneng) to where he manufactured the nation today known as Basotho (Thaba-Bosiu) where he founded them as a unified nation. The route, which marks a walk through history, Menkhoaneng to Thaba-Bosiu, was in its fifth edition this year. It is in the footprints of the route Moshoeshoe embarked on in the hard times of lifaqane wars around 1824.

And still finally the question remains, where do we now position our stand with regard to Marx's view of history as a record of oppression and domination?

Sebinane Lekoekoe heads the Archives section at the Lesotho National Library and Archives and writes in his personal capacity.