Building a nation with cheap cement

Building a nation with cheap cement

In the property and construction industry that I work in, there is often a temptation to cut corners in a quest to save costs.
For contractors that have bravery in their hearts and stupidity in their minds, the order of the day is to use cheap cement in order to realize a healthier profit margin. However, the end result will be a headache of maintenance problems that sometimes last a lifetime.

Some contractors often cut corners by importing cement from as far as Pakistan and China. They usually put more sand + crushed stone and less cement in the concrete mixing ratios.

A case in point is the way our roads are built in Lesotho. Our local contractors have a tendency of using very cheap cement or very few bags/quantities in the bed surface of the road.

The end result will be endless potholes and wobbly road surfaces. The disappointing part is that local contractors don’t have a conscience. They often carry on with life as if nothing has happened.

Their roads never last a year before pot-holes start appearing. Sometimes, you find that our local contractors start maintenance work whilst the other end of the road is still in construction. They simply don’t take pride in their work. But, what can we do? We have accepted mediocrity as a standard in Lesotho.

When constructing buildings, cheap cement can even have far more devastating effects such as cracked slabs, cracked walls as a result of uneven foundations. Sometimes, a contractor will use cheap cement on a slab coupled with very weak reinforcement (rebar).

This is very common with our brothers from China. Bo-Thabo. Bo-Thabang. Sometimes you even find a Chinese man named Sebolelo Mofokeng or Nthabeleng Mosito. That’s Lesotho for you! A country reduced to a game of ‘mantloane where a father goes to bed and wakes up as a child.

So our adopted brothers have a habit of using substandard cement especially when plastering. That is the reason why most of their buildings often have wobbly plastered surfaces or plastered surfaces that simply fall-off. Most often, the paint will start peeling off or start having bubbles.
Take a look at the State Library in Maseru, the Manthabiseng Convention Centre or even the Parliament Building (a shame of this country). The build quality at the parliament building is shameful to say the least. That’s what happens when a person accepts just about anything as a gift. When a person has lost all his pride.

There is a Sesotho saying that says, “Mphe mpe e’a lapisa. Moketa ho tsosoa o itekang”. Which is roughly translated as a person that begs for anything and everything never gains any work ethic to feed him/herself.
My business partner Karabo Maitin said acceptance of the Parliament building as a gift can be compared to accepting a nightdress and gown as a gift for one’s wife from a male neighbour.

On the other hand, my friend Ramahooana Matlosa once said, acceptance of the parliament building as a gift can be compared to a man living in a house that has been built by another man. Well, as a gift by a boyfriend of one’s wife. There are certain things in life that one should never accept as a gift.

What I wanted to illustrate here, is how cheap cement can have devastating and long-term results that become costly to rectify. The same goes for education. There are no shortcuts in building a nation in a quest to cut costs. Furthermore, there is no way a country can build a healthy and educated nation by providing its citizens with cheap education.

Where am I going with this point? My friend ‘Moea Makhakhe once asked a pertinent question on when the pillage of the National University of Lesotho (NUL) will ever be discussed. When will the NUL ever be on the national agenda?

I felt the need to pen something after writing a piece on the success of Botswana, a couple of weeks ago. It is disappointing to note that the roots of the University of Botswana started in Lesotho at a time when the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (UBLS) was established.

Ever since the University of Botswana and Swaziland (Eswatini) became independent from the UBLS, they have thrived and the NUL has been left playing catch-up. Basotho have been fighting each other to the detriment of the NUL and the nation at large.

Basotho ba maonatso (Basotho are very clumsy people). The National University of Lesotho is not the only institution of higher learning that has been destroyed by its own people.
There are many others such as the Lerotholi Polytechnic, Lesotho College of Education (LCE) formerly known as the National Teacher Training College (NTTC), Lesotho Agricultural College, National Health Training College (NHTC) and The Lesotho Opportunities Industrial College (LOIC).

And of-course, not forgetting institutions such as Leloaleng and the many high schools that have been destroyed such as Christ the King High School (CKHS). That is how clumsy Basotho people are with their institutions.
There isn’t even a single institution that is publicly owned that I can say is properly managed or has been protected by its own people. There seems to be a common thread to all the institutions I named above and the common denominator is mismanagement, corruption, lack of political will on a government level and just pure bad leadership from the top.

In advanced economies, the common thread is to build and preserve institutions of education. They are always clean and well kept.
On the other hand, our institutions of education are usually the filthiest places you can ever find in the country. Just take a look at the entrance of the National University of Lesotho or the Lerotholi Polytechnic. What about the condition of the toilet facilities at our high schools?

My friend Chalane Phori used to shout at us at one youth in business forum. He would shout and say, “Bo Ntate, bo Ntate, bo Ntate, ha re se keng ra saoang ka litaba”. Meaning, let’s not play with delicate matters. That was way back in 2008/9 before he was captured. We used to call him the Julius Malema of Lesotho. The current Chalane Phori is not the Chalane Phori I know.

You see, I bring this up because Basotho have played and joked around with a sensitive and delicate matter named education. Look at the comedy at the Ministry of Education where there are three ministers. What for? But the negligence and pillaging taking place at the National University of Lesotho brings tears to my eyes.

There seems to be a deliberate intent to kill the National University of Lesotho. How does a government provide a subvention/budget support of 75 million Maloti to run a national university? The NUL deserves 1 Billion Maloti if we are serious about education.

I understand that the subvention is yet to be reduced to 65 million Maloti and I’m sure that after the Covid-19 effects, the budget support will be reduced to 30 million Maloti. This simply demonstrates that we don’t give a damn about education as a country. How does one run a university with a budget of 75 million Maloti?

Running universities is very expensive. Very, very, very expensive. In order for a university to be rated high and to offer the best education, it has to be prepared to pay premium salaries in order to attract the best talent.
The result of not having a substantial budget to run a university is to cut on staff costs and that usually starts with teaching staff. Once the teaching staff is paid peanuts, then you should know its downhill from there. Once an institution pays peanuts, it gets monkeys.

There is no way of providing good quality education for the nation with poor salaried teaching staff members. There’s simply no way. That is where the illustration of “cheap cement” comes in. The net result is inexperienced and ill-disciplined teachers/lecturers. And what will those teachers transfer to the youth? Poison!

Take a look at the Lesotho College of Education. If a student in Form Five gets bad grades and fails to qualify to enter into the NUL and the Lerotholi Polytechnic, the option left is to either apply to enter into the police service, Lesotho Defence Force or to apply to enter into the Lesotho College of Education in order to train to be a teacher. U’a utloa hee! To train to be a teacher!

Like my friend Chalane used to say, “ha re se keng ra saoang ka litaba”. Without offending anyone, what is the quality of lecturers at the Lesotho College of Education with a budget support from government of about 26 million Maloti.

What quality of training are we providing for our future teachers? Is it quality cement or cheap cement? What will our future teachers transfer to the learners in the rural areas? Will it be quality or cheap cement?
In closing, I hope and pray that what I heard in our political circles is a lie but I have been reliably informed that there is one politician that has a deliberate intent to destroy the NUL. The politician believes that the NUL is not a viable institution and Basotho students should be sent to South Africa. As, I said, I hope it is a lie.

But we can all agree that we messed-up as a nation. Lesotho should have invested in four more universities such as the University of Maseru, University of Morija, University of Leribe and the University of Mafeteng. That would have happened had Basotho loved themselves, loved one another and loved their country.

‘Mako Bohloa

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