From the streets to the boardroom

From the streets to the boardroom

MASERU – At 14, Khotso Radebe knew the streets of Maseru like the back of his hand. As a street kid, they were home – rubbish bins providing him with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now he discusses political and economic developments with an air of authority. After all, he holds a Political Science degree from the National University of Lesotho (NUL).

Radebe is also discussing business these days – no small feat for someone who used to walk barefoot and counted a worn-out blanket as his most prized possession. He now owns a printing business that he started during his university days.
“I am making a living out of this business. I pay my rent and buy food. I am also working with four other people,” Radebe says.
“I print any T-shirt a person needs, and at least I get M3 000 a month.”

It has not been an easy road though. Radebe was barely into his teens when his parents died in tragic circumstances.
At 14 years old, he ventured into Maseru after enduring rough treatment at the hands of relatives who had taken him in following the death of his parents.

Life as a street kid had started. He says he saw some of his age mates eating from dustbins and “because I was hungry I went to them and we started scavenging together”. Months passed and he became accustomed to the street life of scavenging for leftovers and sleeping under makeshift cardboard and plastic shelters together with other streets kids.

“After the death of my parents I was taken to my mother’s maiden home in TY where I attended school up to Standard Seven,” he says.
“But life was not easy with the uncles and aunts. I was not treated well as a child and I ran away from home to Maseru where I became a street kid,” he says.

Then he met Mavis Mochochoko, a Good Samaritan who was to change his life. Radebe describes Mochochoko as “a cassocked elderly woman with a smile”. “And she had a lot of food for us. The food was tasty,” Radebe recalls. Mochochoko was a reverend and founder of the Ministry of Insured Salvation and was known for her love of children.

She prayed, sang hymns and read passages from the Bible and distributed food for the children.
Radebe says he did not understand the Bible message neither did he understand the purpose of the hymns. But the softness of the woman’s voice and the “motherliness” of her hugs warmed him.

He loved her every visit. “One day she asked for a volunteer to pray. I volunteered,” Radebe says.
When Radebe opened his eyes after the prayer and looked at Mochochoko, tears were running down her cheeks.
“The old lady called me aside and invited me to go to her house to live with her but I refused,” he says.

“However, two years later when January came and schools opened my desire to go to school made me go to her and ask her to take me to school,” he says. Mochochoko took him to her Insured Salvation Children’s Home in Mohalalitoe.
For the first time in years Radebe had a thorough bath, slept in a house on a proper bed and under a clean blanket.
In 2000 he sat for his Junior Certificate examinations.

He passed.
Two years later he passed the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC) exams.
Appreciating what Mochochoko was doing for him, Radebe opened a children’s centre in Motimposo, one of Maseru residential areas known for all kinds of crimes committed by and against street kids.
The centre later closed due to lack of sponsorship when Radebe went to university.
At Roma, he opened another children’s centre while continuing with his studies.
While at university, Radebe started a small printing business.
“I started it right there, without any equipment but it worked,” he says.
“I started this business because I do not like to be hired out. My main aim is to help Basotho with jobs and help people to start their own businesses,” he says.
He pays tribute to Mochochoko.
“She wanted to know the story of my life. I told her,” he says.
It is a chilling story.

As a six-year-old, Radebe saw his mother and father die moments apart as a result of domestic violence.
He says he was at his home in Qoqolosing, a rural village on the foothills of the Maluti Mountains in Leribe district, when he witnessed the horrible death of his parents.

“I remember it vividly as if it happened yesterday. My father pulled out a gun from his waistband and shot my mother,” Radebe says.
“She died instantly, right in front of my eyes,” he says. “My father then turned the gun on himself, and blew himself up. He died there and I was left alone. I was full of fear. I did not know what to do or to say,” he says, chronicling how he ended up on the street before rising to become a respected small businessman at the age of 35.
Death, it seems, has a cruel way of dealing with Radebe.

Just last month, Mochochoko, his mentor and mother figure, was murdered at her home. Her body was discovered by her children in the morning.
According to the police’s preliminary investigations, Mochochoko was strangled to death. Her car was stolen during the attack.
Radebe says the death of Mochochoko had left him badly shaken. But he believes his story is a vivid reminder of Mochochoko’s rich legacy.

Thooe Ramolibeli

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