Mahlehla walks her own lane at  CT conference

Mahlehla walks her own lane at CT conference

ROMA – WHEN she went to the Fifth African Higher Education Week and REFORUM Biennial Conference 2016 in Cape Town, South Africa, Motšelisi Mahlehla, a National University of Lesotho (NUL) Master’s student had no clue she would bring a big prize home. “I knew I did my homework,” Mahlehla said. “What I did not know, was that I would get a second prize, beating 26 other students from universities all over Africa. I surprised myself.”

She may have surprised herself! But are you surprised? Not really! You know very well that she is just part of a team of NUL hard-hitters who African universities are learning the hard way never to take for granted. NUL is not only repositioning itself as a winner, it is making that statement in the most emphatic way possible, for everyone who has eyes to see. Her project, entitled “Prevalence and Control Methods of Gastro-intestinal Parasites of Merino Sheep in Lesotho” proved to be on its own lane at the conference. However, if you consider the brains nurturing the dreams of Mahlehla, it is easy to understand why she had to win.

“I am supervised by Dr Setsomi Molapo and Dr Puleng Matebesi-Ranthimo from the Faculty of Agriculture and Professor Mpho Phoofolo and Mr Moeketsi Phalatsi from the Faculty of Science and Technology,” she says. Who wouldn’t win under the coaching of the people who do not only know their stuff but are passionate about it as well?  Before she arrived in Cape Town, their projects were already categorized in a variety of subthemes and the competitions were within each subtheme.“My project fell under the “Sustainable Intensification within Smallholder Life-stock Value Chains,”” she says.

“I faced 27 other competitors in this area and I won the second prize.”
Over and above the content, the judges looked at how brilliantly the project was presented before them. In the end, Mahlehla impressed them with her interesting project, a brilliant body of work and her exceptional ability to communicate that work.

With such clarity from a young hardworking lady who hails from Mokhotlong, the place that may have instilled in her the love for sheep, the fair judges felt compelled to award her.
“I am the first to admit, the award took me by surprise,” she says. Having surveyed the African giants with whom she were competing, she had all but given up on the idea that she would beat them. But as fate would have it, her project was judged top. When the judges made winning announcements, “first they called the title of my project”. “Of course I thought I didn’t hear well. Then they called my name. Then I knew it was me! It was unbelievable!”

It is true that the recognition of her efforts at an international stage and against Africa’s best, was enough to keep her buoyed. So when part of the prize involved a $2 000 (about M30 000) award, it was a welcome bonus.“I immediately used the bonus to celebrate with my NUL colleagues. Of course I don’t drink, but I enjoyed a hearty self-congratulatory meal,” she says.“But I did not use all the money, some of it is still with me. I am taking my time in enjoying it while it lasts.”

Nevertheless, you may wonder, what does her research work involve?
“I closely follow the gastro-intestinal parasites in selected Merino sheep of different ages and sexes,” Mahlehla says. In fact, her survey involves examining their fecal matter every month and using the microscope and other laboratory analyses and techniques to examine the frequency of the occurrences of the parasites over time. She is focusing on different agro-ecological zones both in Maseru and Quthing. As part of the project, she does not only focus on the sheep but sheep owners.  The idea is to learn from the farmers, their management and control methods.

“Once we are content with those, and based on what we learn from our laboratory analyses, we can comfortably show the farmers how to better manage and control their sheep to control the parasites,” she says. As Lesotho slowly enters into the territory of the knowledge based economy, it is amazing to see young people, not to mention young ladies like Mahlehla, taking the lead. NUL may as well be the least funded university of its kind in the world. But, it turns out, it is capable of winning, notwithstanding the proverbial lack of funds. “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog,” Mark Twain once said.

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