Ralikariki: young, smart and driving change

Ralikariki: young, smart and driving change

MASERU – WRITER Darren Shan’s most quoted words: “Destiny’s what you make of it,” could not be more true for Mohale Ralikariki, the Storm Mountain Diamond’s Corporate CEO.
Given the mountain of challenges that he faced earlier in life, it would have been easier for Ralikariki to give up. His father died when he was young leaving him and seven other siblings to battle it out with the support of their mother.

Despite the challenges, Ralikariki says he was quite fortunate to “attend some of the best schools in the world”. He completed his first degree at the Higher Institute of Mining and Metallurgy in Cuba, then went to pursue a Masters’ degree in Mining Engineering at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

“Through God’s mercy and hard work I have achieved more than what I had earlier anticipated,” he says.
Ralikariki served as the Commissioner of Mines, being the custodian of mineral endowment of Lesotho, serving and protecting the best interests of the nation.
Now he is the Corporate Chief Executive Officer of Storm Mountain Diamonds, the company that is mining the largest kimberlite pipe in Lesotho and the fourth largest in southern Africa.
“There is a saying that from humble beginnings come great things. I was one of those who defied universal laws of nature, overcoming poverty and various obstacles to achieve my dreams,” Ralikariki says.

Ralikariki is the sixth child in a family of eight children in which the “mother was a devoted widow who worked hard to provide for her family as a bread winner”.
“It was a nightmare for my tenacious mother to provide for a family of eight children. I was not fortunate enough to be born with a silver spoon in my mouth, we were wrecked by poverty,” he says.
Ralikariki says sometimes he would leave home so that he could live with relatives while his mother went to Mpumalanga, South Africa, to look for menial jobs.
He says “it was really hard”.

“I was brought up by grandmother in a small village of Ha-Jobo until the age of 10 when I went back home to look after the family cattle and sheep,” he says.
Ralikariki says when he was in Standard 5, he assumed his new role as the herd boy, a role he “continued to play until I finished my high school”.
In most cases young men in Ralikariki’s situation, especially in rural areas like Ha-Ralikariki in Leribe where he was born, opt to go to initiation school and thereafter enter marriage early in life.
Many of them leave their young wives and go to towns in search of jobs, which in most cases they never get. Ralikariki viewed life differently.

“Like most young men of my age who lived in the rural areas, farming and livestock became my main responsibilities, but my passion was education,” he says.
“I would read every piece of paper I came across being blown by the wind and (I used) every opportunity I got (to go to) school and after school I would be back to my chores.”
His school was about seven kilometres away, and every school day, he would go down the valleys, cross the streams and walk through some forests.
Sometimes, he would go to school on an empty stomach and have nothing for lunch. “The days were long, yet I never lost hope, I remained focused and committed to my school,” he says.  “My life at that time was defined by three things: farming, looking after our livestock and following my passion which was going to school whether I had eaten or not, barefooted or with safety boots,” he says.

Ralikariki says his belief in God and that everything was possible provided him with the inspiration that all would be well, eventually.
“I had a strong desire for success, I was relentless, persistent, committed and focused. I believed that success comes in small packages and all I needed was to assemble them,” he says.
“I looked beyond my reality and saw opportunity in every obstacle encountered.”  He says his mother was supportive and she loved education because “she had a strong belief that our lives could be transformed by education and therefore she spent every hard earned penny investing in our education”.

His desire for education intensified when he saw his elder brother, Paul Ralikariki, making it to tertiary and going to Egypt to further his studies.
“For us it was such milestone, I looked up to him as my role model. He inspired me a lot and he continues to do so,” he says.
Ralikariki says while at tertiary school, he was inspired by Cuba’s revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro. But Ralikariki did not always think he would end up in a mining environment. That is because as a young man, his passion was medicine. “I thought it was the best way to serve humanity, saving people’s lives.”

Later he realised that he was too curious, trying to discover the unknown territories of his mind, questioning the origin of the knowns and the magic that brought them into existence.
“No single answer was enough for me, as I grew up, I was hands on, fixing every broken appliance at home, then I started translating my dreams into reality,” he says.
Ralikariki says he developed a remarkable passion for engineering, to the extent that in 2000 when he enrolled with the National University of Lesotho to pursue a Bachelor of Science General degree he would miss lectures and spend days in the library reading engineering books and journals.

He says he did this for two years that he spent at the NUL until he quit and went to study Mining Engineering in Cuba.
Talking about modern age engineering, he says it is more exciting than challenging, from fancy classroom environment of virtual learning to addressing the real hard-core issues that are happening in a dynamic corporate ecosystem.   Engineers, he says, are now required to add to their package an understanding of the politics, the stringent regulatory framework, the fluctuating economy, the changing technological trends and the dynamics of the corporate environment.

“Our mining industry is nascent, but vastly growing, it needs appropriate skills to support its growth, engineers are needed all over,” he says.
Ralikariki says there are tremendous opportunities for qualified engineers, whether within the country or outside.

“Most of the engineers are ageing now, leaving a vacuum for the younger generation to fill in,” he says.  “There are different engineering fields, although I am inclined to mining, but I still encourage students to consider other engineering disciplines as well. We need innovation and creativity of engineers to transform the economy.”

He says Lesotho’s diamond mining industry is nascent and it has the potential to grow but “there is increasing concern about the over-regulation”.
“Regulatory entities continue enacting laws that have direct impact on the industry without proper consultations, this is going to have a detrimental impact on the business,” he says.
“Some of these legal instruments are too descriptive, inhibiting the growth of the industry.”

Ralikariki says political stability is key to attracting and retaining foreign investment adding that frequent regime change is considered high risk and will definitely limit growth.
“We have a great future for as long as we nurture it and create an environment in which investors can earn competitive returns while the nation is maximising economic benefits from exploitation of these minerals,” he says. Lesotho’s diamond industry has for long been dominated by one mine, Letšeng Diamonds, until Kao came into the picture in 2010.

There are exciting developments within the industry. Last year Kao commissioned an upgraded plant, with an increase of throughput from 300 000tpm to 400 000tpm.
“These are positive developments, there have been increased employment opportunities and definitely there will be increased contribution to government fiscals,” he says.
Ralikariki says for Lesotho to benefit more from the diamond industry, there is a lot that needs to be done, but change should be gradual and defined within realistic terms.
“There is a serious lack of understanding of the diamond value chain, more education is needed, both to ordinary citizens and even to policy makers,” he says.

If the country is to maximise economic benefits from mining, “the general thinking of milking the cow until it dies should be changed to feeding it to produce more milk”.
“Regulators need to create a favourable environment for investment by enacting appropriate policies and investment friendly legal framework,” he says.

“Some regulatory institutions need to coordinate their activities to avoid working in silos, it is affecting the operations.” Asked if he would take the same route if given another chance to start all over again, he says “I would still eventually get married to the same wife I am married to, at least at an earlier age to enjoy life more together”.

“I have had a stupendous life and I am grateful to God for all He has given to me, I do not wish to change anything.”

Caswell Tlali

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