Aloe, Aloe!

Aloe, Aloe!

…………School teacher strikes gold with aloe products…….

MASERU – “YOU cannot become great by working for a salary.”
Maleshoane Qofa, an English and drama teacher at Machabeng College, seems to have been mindful of this phrase – written by Sunday Adelaja in an inspirational book titled How to Become Great Through Time Conversion – when she ventured into business in 2013.
The driving motivation for Qofa was to supplement her salary.

The 53-year-old found a passion in the business of aloe jelly, creams and soaps as well as ginger drink and motoho – a sorghum sour porridge delicacy for Basotho.
She calls her products Qloti, a mixture of her surname and the Lesotho currency, the Loti.
A mother of two girls, Qofa, who was born in Borokhoaneng, Maseru, is a product of her daughters who learnt the production processes through cooperative societies and passed the knowledge on to their mother.

She was later joined by two of her friends and established an aloe business in 2013. The venture failed because, according to Qofa, her colleagues did not find the business as “important” and they gave up.

“I did not have money and things did not go my way as I did not have a say in the day-to-day running of the business,” she says.
And her past seemed a barrier.

Qofa had her first child at age 16 and her second when she turned 18, forcing her to drop out of school at Junior Certificate level to become a single mother.
She overcame, but not without a struggle.
“I did all sorts of odd jobs, including being a maid and working as a petrol attendant to support my children,” she says.
When her last born was in Form E, she decided to go back to school.

“I went for supplementary classes as I could not afford to go for full-time studies being the main bread winner in the family,” she says.
“I made it into the top 10 and proceeded to the National University of Lesotho where I graduated with a Bachelor of Education, studying English and Literature. I also studied creative writing though it was not part of my programme and theatre arts studies,” says Qofa.
Qofa said her choice of university programmes was informed by her passions and the need to diversify her options.
“I had always loved writing and acting. Besides, I felt that if I were to teach students to write creatively, I had to be well equipped and this also provided me with optional extras in case I decided to quit teaching,” she says.

In the meantime, she said she was working as a part-time lecturer at the NUL, teaching literature to third year students.
She said it was only last year when she invested M58 000 to restart the project.
She could not continue with business after its initial collapse because she was still going to school.
“It was challenging to do both. My family and I paused for a while and decided that I would pursue it once I had my own money,” she says, adding: “I knew it was a good project, all it needed was perseverance.”

“I have for a long time been interested in aloe and its health benefits and the fact that many people are now aware of them makes aloe products very popular,” she says.
“Lesotho aloe, being one of the best in the world and being readily available, makes my work easier,” she says.

Her business employs 10 workers, apart from her family members and some men and women from the community who are part of the project.
She cites the medicinal values of aloe, for instance, as one of the properties that cure many skin ailments and its nourishing properties for the body.
“Its uniqueness lies in extensive research on aloe as one of the primary ingredients and thorough training of the employees to ensure the best quality,” she says.
“It has also passed the South Africa Bureau of Standards (SABS) test, and it has been difficult for other (competing) products to pass the test,” she adds.
She describes the competition in the market as “healthy”.

“It only enables me to work hard to ensure that my products turn out to be the best. I think competition is good and healthy for any business,” she says.
Lesotho products often struggle to penetrate the South African market and find space on the shelves of big retailers such as Game.
“But, because our jelly was SABS approved it will have an opportunity to be sold in big shops in South Africa,” she says.
Feedback from the customers has been encouraging.

“I am getting a lot of orders even from South Africa,” she says.
She laments that she has to do with limited local resources at the moment hence she still buys the bulk of her materials from South Africa.
She plans to begin producing packaging containers for her products rather than continue importing from South Africa.
Breaking into the international market, which is one of her primary aims, also has not been easy.

“In two years’ time, I hope to have fully penetrated the international market and to have started producing a full range of aloe products, including drinks and sweets,” she says, adding that she is working on the challenge. “I will overcome it soon because I believe that the sky is the limit,” she says.

‘Mapule Motsopa

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