Day 76: Facts! Southern African Edition

Alternate and overly-long heading: “Facts! Featuring Southern African Countries Whose Capital Cities Start With the Letter ‘M'”. I group a lot of countries together by their capitals, that’s how I learned my knowledge of the capitals in the first place. Rote learning for the win! So anyway I looked them all up today. Like before, this is information that anyone can find with just a cursory Wikipedia search of a country (which is where the information below comes from, by the way, even if it’s not specifically referenced), and just goes to show you what you can actually learn with just a cursory Wikipedia search of a country. Of course I’d encourage everyone – including myself – to dig deeper and find out more from sources other than Wiki, but we all have to start somewhere – including myself.

– The linguistics of Lesotho intrigue me. Lesotho is thusly named because “lesotho” in Sesotho (the language of Lesotho) translates roughly as “land of the people who speak Sesotho”. But people who are from Lesotho are called Basotho. BUT only collectively; the singular of Basotho is Masotho. I…yeah. What.

– Lesotho actually invests a substantial amount in education and has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa. Female education even outstrips male education, in some good news for women.

– In bad news for women, Lesotho has the highest rate of rape in the world, according to the UN. Just no.

– By the way, Lesotho is the tiny country in the middle of South Africa. Swaziland is the other tiny country that is kind of in South Africa, but more to the side.

– Sobhuza II was the King of Swaziland from 1899 to 1982, making his 82 year reign the longest documented reign of any monarch in history. Now that is a cool fact. He succeeded to the throne aged just four months, when his father Ngwane V died suddenly while dancing the incwala, a sacred ritual of the Swazi people (too detailed to go into here, but utterly fascinating). Sobhuza II amassed a casual haul of 70 wives, 210 children and over a thousand grandchildren in his lifetime. Not bad old mate.

– The official language of Mozambique is still Portuguese, even though it is only used by a fraction of the population a fraction of the time. There aren’t many Portuguese speakers left there because as soon as they gained independence in 1975, the Portuguese population was ordered to GTFO within 24 hours with only a maximum of 20kgs luggage allowed. Sounds like getting on a domestic flight these days, except replace “max 20kgs” with “bugger all”.

– Ironically, booting all of the Europeans resulted in the complete collapse of the Mozambican economy and infrastructure, because the Portuguese were the ones doing the ruling for decades and thus nobody left in the country had any idea how to run the thing; no one knew what the Wifi password was, how to use the printer, where the bloody stapler was… Chaos.

– And so thus Mozambique, in the shock of all horrors, descended into civil war soon after independence. I feel like an important part of my research into Africa will be in finding out just how many African nations have survived post-colonial life without some form of civil war or internal strife. I imagine I’ll be able to count them on one hand. Maybe two.

– Anyway, the Mozambican Civil War gets bonus points for also allegedly being a proxy war of the Cold War, although the anti-colonial, communist FRELIMO were supported by both the Soviets and the UK and U.S. governments. The West wasn’t quite so much in love with the pinko commies as much as they had significant issues with their opponents RENAMO, who had such a reputation for being utter bastards that not even the U.S. would support them against the communist party. In Africa communism was linked to black nationalism, and so when the FRELIMO won independence from Portugal and became the dominant ruling party, the reactionary, opposition party RENAMO was created and funded by the white-minority governments of Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and South Africa. Another good reason why the U.S. government was reluctant to support them. My favourite part is that Hastings Banda, the fantastically-named President of Malawi, just backed both sides. Geo-political fence-sitting at its finest.

– As an aside, there was a Portuguese military operation during the independence war with the FRELIMO called ‘Operation Gordian Knot’. That is amazing on so many levels and takes over from Operation Amaryllis as the best name for a military operation that I have yet discovered.

As an even asidier aside, why do African political parties have such long acronyms?

– I shouldn’t try to be funny though, there really were some horrific war crimes going on during this thing. The RENAMO were ruthless in their indiscriminate targeting of civilians, use of child soldiers, and in the institution of ‘Gandira’, which forced the rural populations to work for the rebels (resulting in the neglect of agricultural responsibilities and starvation) and forced women into sexual slavery. The FRELIMO forcibly moved rural populations into centralised communes in keeping with their socialist ideology. Both parties engaged in abominable practices such as the use of landmines, targeting civilians, coercion and forced labour, wanton execution, and laying waste to houses and villages. The war ended in 1992, and in the next few years, almost 2 million refugees who had fled to surrounding countries returned to Mozambique, making it “the largest repatriation witnessed in sub-Saharan Africa.” (Wiki)

– The craziest thing of all about this is that it happened again! In 2013 RENAMO became dissatisfied with the governing party once again and re-armed, resulting in clashes with government forces for the next year and over 100 casualties, until a peace accord was signed in September 2014. These guys just don’t know when to quit.

So once again my light-hearted search for quirky facts has ended with the discovery of some pretty heavy information and a reminder that while I’m sure we’re all lovely people, humanity is seriously, genuinely batshit insane. Have a nice day.

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