Tlaitlai: No time for self-pity

Tlaitlai: No time for self-pity

MOHALE’S HOEK – BOUNCING back from the loss of one’s job is a feat far more difficult to manage than what your typical life coach or motivational speaker would have you believe.
Losing one’s source of livelihood can be so damaging to one’s sense of self-worth and social wellbeing; many often sink into depression.
For one to then derive from such a debilitating setback – as 39-year old entrepreneur ’Mamotebeng Tlaitlai did – inspiration to launch a business calls for one to be possessed of the sort of eternal optimism that must have driven Albert Einstein to say: “in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

Like the proverbial grass that suffers the worst when the elephants fight, Tlaitlai and her colleagues were the biggest losers when the medical services company they worked for, Ampath Laboratories, locked horns with the company that runs Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital when they were based.

The dispute saw Ampath Laboratories eventually withdrawing from the hospital and in the stroke of a pen Tlaitlai, who is a trained medical laboratory technologist, and her 14 colleagues, lost their jobs.
But rather than wallow in despair and self-pity Tlaitlai, said the job loss was just the spark that she needed to begin on a journey that saw her today running a small but thriving business, while she has also received recognition as among the country’s more promising emerging entrepreneurs.

“I am employed,” Tlaitlai said, a smile lighting up her face as she narrated her journey into the business world in an interview with thepost at her blankets and tapestries shop in Mohale’s Hoek.
Recounting how it all started, Tlaitlai told of how following the loss of her job she searched high and low for any opportunity to start some income generating venture that would avail itself.
But there was none.
Then, she says, out of the blue her eureka moment came: “I recalled that our father, Ntate Ralebese, had a small shop that closed down and the place was not being used.”

According to Tlaitlai, she “sat down” with her husband, Likhang Tlaitlai, and pondered over all the possible business opportunities in Mohale’s Hoek, the small town tucked among the mountains, about 200 kilometres south of Maseru where Ntate Ralebese had operated his shop.
In Mohale’s Hoek the groceries and household appliance selling business is a ready opportunity but one heavily dominated or rather oversubscribed by mainly immigrant Chinese, Indian and Pakistani traders whose prices are always so low it’s almost impossible to compete against them.
“We were stressed up,” recalls Tlaitlai.

Stressed they might have been, but husband and wife were determined not to give up.
The shop that Ntate Ralebese, who was the father of Tlaitlai’s husband, used to operate before his passing on in 2015 sold blankets.
Tlaitlai decided to follow in her late father-in-law’s footsteps.
Last year she registered the blankets business under the name, Kobo Blankets Boutique, and took over from where the old man had left off.
But she ordered her first stock of blankets worth M25 000 and used social media to advertise her business and products.

Typical of the new age entrepreneur Tlaitlai utilised social media to the full, targeting WhatsApp groups she knew would help drive up sales and to her astonishment, she says, orders were not just coming through but were virtually pouring in.
“I didn’t expect business to be good,” she said, adding it even made her wonder why Ntate Ralebese had closed his old shop.
Tlaitlai said besides doing her own marketing on social media she was also on the ground busy building the vital networks any business needs to have to succeed.

She established links with veterans and big names in the industry such as Libuseng Titi of Blanket Parlour who is known countrywide and beyond for her special blanket designs.
“I learnt a lot and realised that this industry has prospects of success,” Tlaitlai said, in the air of someone who sees the sky as the only limit to her ambitions.

But Mohale’s Hoek’s enterprising blanket seller would never have been your natural candidate for the part.
The daughter of a nurse in Morija and a father who was an official at the defunct Lesotho Airways, Tlaitlai had a relatively privileged upbringing, cushioned from the kind of hardships the average Basotho child must grapple with growing up.

Even the type of schools she attended are more well known as breeding ground for Lesotho’s elite class not blanket traders and some such other hustlers.
Tlaitlai went to Machabeng College, which has always been the preserve of children of the well-to-do.
She obtained the International Baccalaureate before enrolling with the National Health Training College (NHTC) to learn medical laboratory sciences.

Her dream was a hospital job, helping carry out the vital tests of excreta, blood and tissue without which doctors would struggle to accurately diagnose disease.
After completing her studies in 2008 with the NHTC, Tlaitlai worked with Dr ’Molotsi Monyamane in his lab at the Maseru Private Hospital as his lab technologist, then moved to Queen Elizabeth II Hospital government lab.
She worked for two years, from 2008 to 2010, before moving to Ntškhe Hospital in Mohale’s Hoek.

She later in 2011 secured an even more plum post with Ampath Laboratories, the South African medical laboratories company.
Along the way she met and married Likhang Tlaitlai whose family is well known in business in Mohale’s Hoek.
It had all come together, a job she liked and a dearly loved husband from a family with means, what else could one ask for?
However, as fate would have it, by the time they got married her husband’s family’s businesses were sliding south.

A brick making business that her husband was trying to get off the ground was struggling.
Then came the business dispute that saw her employer quitting the contract and the next thing the lady that seemed to have had it all stitched up was in the streets, without a job.
But Tlaitlai was never the type to give up and Kobo Blankets is testimony to that.

The blanket selling venture is still a small project but one with lots of potential to grow, a factor which Standard Lesotho Bank recognised when it invited her for the Lioness of Africa event, which led to a training in entrepreneurship.
So, what happens if someone were to offer her a job in a medical laboratory?
“If I got a job offer, I would find someone to run the business while I concentrate on the job. I am very passionate about it,” she said.
She will try to have the best of both worlds, so to speak.
But that’s if the job offer comes by.

For now, Tlaitlai is not thinking about job offers but about how to grow her blanket business.
She said was busy cracking her head trying to come up with new blanket designs “so that my business will grow, and I will be known as a businesswoman with special designs of blankets”.

And, of course, she says while she is busy trying to create new designs, she is a little worried she might in the process unwittingly step on the toes of some of the famo gangs that fight over certain colours and makes of blankets.
But still Tlaitlai is not deterred because to her the Basotho blanket is more than a piece of fabric to keep one warm.
It is, she said, part of Basotho’s “national identity” and one every patriot should work to improve and promote.

Caswell Tlali


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