A journey back to the bottom

A journey back to the bottom

MAFETENG – BUSINESSMAN Benjamin Radiopelo Maphathe says he started from the bottom all the way to the top.
But a car accident that left him confined to a wheelchair and a recent High Court ruling stripping him of ownership of a business complex left by his late father are threatening to take him back to the bottom.
And the chances to rise again are severely limited due to the influx of Chinese businesspeople flocking the country with cheap goods that are driving local entrepreneurs out of business, he says.

“This is not acceptable,” he says, before turning nostalgic about the good old days when he quit his job to start a flourishing business empire.
Maphathe worked at Fraser’s supermarket for years but later resigned after garnering business skills to start his own businesses.
He had already been elevated to manager of the shop when he left.

As a son of the late Dr Kenneth Thulo Maphathe, a businessman of renown for decades, entrepreneurship ran through his blood.
But he also took the skills that he gained while still an employee at Frasers to run his own businesses.

Born in Ha Seitlheko, on the outskirts of Mafeteng town, Maphathe knows the lay of the land well. And he says what he sees today breaks his heart, particularly the way locals are being pushed out of business by Chinese businesspeople.
“These Chinese are not competing. They are pushing Basotho out of business,” he says shaking his head in his office behind Patsa Centre.
He says he is worried by the Chinese who are marauding into the market with cheap prices, drastic cost-cutting measures and bulk-buying through deep-pocketed syndicates.
Things were better in the old days, he says.

Maphathe says he started with a café on the southern part of Mafeteng bus stop selling mostly fast-food items.
In 1980, he opened a dry cleaning company called Likhoele Dry Cleaners.
“It was the only dry cleaning company in the district and I enjoyed that monopoly for years,” he reminisces.
“Competition was not as stiff as it is today,” he says.

So good was business that Maphathe says he even spread his wings to operate a brick manufacturing company where, again, he enjoyed a monopoly.
He was the only one supplying bricks for the construction of houses for low income earners under a Lesotho Housing Corporation facility.
The Lesotho Housing Corporation was an initiative of the late Chief Leabua Jonathan-led government to help low income earners acquire homes.

Next to become part of Maphathe’s growing empire was a fruit and vegetable business after he realised that there was a gap in the supply of fruits and vegetables in the district.
“I moved swiftly to grab that opportunity,” he says. “I ran the fruit and vegetable shop along with a butchery.”

During that time, Maphathe’s butchery became the place to be for those serious about braai.
“It was one of the most visited places in the town,” he says.
But then things took a knock in 1988 when he was involved in a car accident and subsequently confined to a wheelchair.
“That meant I could not run my businesses like I used to do,” says Maphathe.
The 70-year-old says business is slow in the district nowadays because of high unemployment that has led to limited disposable income.
“There is less purchasing power out there,” he says.

His biggest gripe, however, seems to be with Chinese businesspeople he accuses of leaving locals struggling to stay afloat.
“Basotho have a tendency of saying Chinese shops are cheaper as compared to those owned by their local counterparts,” he says.
“In Mafeteng district just like in other districts, there is unfair competition between the Chinese and the locals where Chinese sell small items that are supposed to be sold by the small business-people,” he says.
He adds: “For instance, the Chinese sell single cigarettes instead of selling them in boxes of 10 or 20 or at least in carton. In short, it is a legitimate expectation that investors such as the Chinese will sell goods in bulk so that they give the locals an opportunity to sell small goods.”

But the Chinese are not the only problem affecting Maphathe’s fortunes.
For the past decade he has been fighting for the control of Patsa Shopping Centre, which was left by his late father. He had been in charge of the complex but a court recently ruled that another tycoon, Ashraf Abubaker, should be in charge of the complex.
The court also ruled that Maphathe should account for rentals he has been collecting from tenants since 2008, leaving the 70-year-old businessman in the lurch.

Majara Molupe

 

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