Is guilt ever useful? When does it help to ask ourselves what we have done for others, or to fault ourselves for not doing enough? Should we do that at 20? At 30? At 50? A good friend who lives in Maseru, some forty minutes away by car, came to visit me with another friend of hers today. She and her friend are Basotho women, well-educated, in their sixties, now retired. They were educators and translators, skilled communicators., and their feelings about Lesotho are deeply pessimistic.
They are distressed by the over-crowding and decline of standards at the University; by the government’s favoring a Malaysian technical institution which they say gets more funding than the University; by the number of orphans growing up on the streets; by AIDS and the lack of medical care; by the paucity of services for the poor.
Lesotho’s two main natural assets are water (snow-melt from the mountains) and diamonds. If the infrastructure were ever developed, tourism would be a third, but that is pie in the sky. Do the people get any benefit from the sale of these assets? No. A few government officials rake off inconceivable benefits for themselves. But the people? Nothing.
The two women were hard on themselves. One said, “Our generation had superb education, both from our University in its heyday and by being sent abroad for graduate studies. We were handed privileges, we were encouraged, we were coddled and admired and primed to become leaders. We were raised in the spirit of Pan-Africanism, freedom, democracy, and power to the people. And what is our legacy? Self-interest.”
“Even me,” her friend agreed, nodding sadly. “I was a teacher, a fine teacher. But what did I do with my gift? I went off to teach in South Africa, where I could make a better salary, where there was more to do, more to live for. I worked there my whole life, and I have a South African pension, and now I come home for my last years and have to see what is happening and know I gave nothing to my country.”
Do Americans, do the British, do Israelis or Australians fault themselves for self-interest? Isn’t that what “success” is, in western cultures? Do people in my country ask themselves what they have done for their country?