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A journey from ‘high’



THABA BOSIU – AT nine Thabo smoked his first cigarette and had his first taste of a beer. He didn’t quit until he was 30.
By the time he turned 11 Thabo was hooked to dagga and glue. At 12 he was peddling dagga to fellow students.
By his mid-20s he was a drug dealer whose marriage was on the rocks. In his late 20s he up-scaled his drug business to cocaine, heroin and cat.
The cocaine habit that started when he was in high school was now a full-blown addiction wreaking havoc in his life. Drugs had given him money but stolen his life.

“I was always high on my own drugs,” he recalls.
The police were literally sniffing on his heels as his drug dealing reputation spread.
“It was only a matter of time before they caught me red-handed.”
At 30 Thabo was estranged from his mother and his wife was threatening to leave him.
Then in January this year things fell apart. His long-suffering wife took their only child and left. He had brutally assaulted her after she asked why he had not been home for days.

Thabo says he was high when he attacked his wife and he regrets his actions.
“That is when I realised I had to change my life or I will either die or rot in prison.”
Eight months later Thabo is a recovering addict at Blue Cross, a rehabilitation centre in Thaba Bosiu, some 30km from the capital.
“I see the future clearly now. I am in a good space,” he says.

Blue Cross is the only rehabilitation centre in the country but only takes in 30 patients every three months.
The waiting list runs into hundreds, according to Malefetsane Matlali who manages the treatment department.
“Statistics show that there is a huge problem of substance abuse in the country. It’s a ticking time bomb,” Matlali says.
“The centre is overwhelmed. I suppose those who don’t make it to this place waste away in their homes.”

When Matlali joined the rehabilitation centre 26 years ago most of the patients were alcohol and smoking addicts. That trend has since changed dramatically in the last few years.
“Now we are dealing with dagga, heroin, cocaine and cat,” he says.
The demographics too have also changed. In the past they received applications from people between 24 and 40 but now they are dealing with people aged between 14 and 35.

That, Matlali explains, means that while the “use of hard-core drugs is increasing the users have also become younger”.
Matlali says their research shows that the main cause of drug abuse among the youth is peer pressure.
“These are young people growing up in villages where there is no other form of entertainment apart from doing drugs and drinking. There are no recreational facilities in the villages.”

He says among those slightly older they have noticed a strong link between drug use and economic hardships.
“They come to town to look for jobs but they find none. So they become disillusioned and resort to drugs and beer.”
But he notes that in recent times they have seen a new emerging cause.

“Some come from broken homes. They want to know their fathers but no one wants to give those answers. They use drugs and beer to suppress the emotional pain and anger.” Thabo believes he falls into this category.
He tells the sad story of a childhood in Roma with unnerving calmness. He has just come from his afternoon counselling session when he agrees to share his story on condition that his real name is not published.

He was raised by a grandmother and has never met his father. His mother was rarely around as she worked in Maseru.
“My grandmother died when I was seven and I had to raise myself. I don’t have a parental background.”
He dropped out of school in Standard Two and started hanging out with adults.
Soon a puff became a whole cigarette and a sip became a whole bottle.

Dagga and glue came a little later. Street gambling is what helped finance his new habit and when the days were bad he nicked anything he could get from neighbours. He was addicted to dagga and glue by the time he went back to school at 12.
“I no longer had the time to gamble or steal when I went back to school but I still wanted my dagga and glue. So I started selling dagga.”

The dagga market at school was huge. He says his biggest clients were boys and girls from rich families who wanted to get high but lacked the ‘street smarts’ to get the drugs.
Thabo knew the streets because it is where he had lived since his grandmother died.

It is some of those students who encouraged him to sell other drugs like cocaine and heroin. “It is them who would sometimes loan me some money to buy my stock.”
As the business expanded Thabo started selling cocaine to university students at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) in Roma.
“I can tell you that as much as 40 percent of the students at the NUL use drugs at some point.”

He was now addicted to cocaine.
“It was necessary for me to use some of the drugs that I was selling because the suppliers might cheat me. I had to be sure that I was selling the real stuff.”

Thabo says with time he realised that “the real money was in cocaine”.
“There were just too many dealers in dagga. Cocaine is a high-end drug because only those with money use it.”
A gram of cocaine, he says, cost M300 while a “ball” of dagga cost as little as M30.
“Beside, dagga is almost readily available in the country.”

Soon Thabo was dealing in other drugs like cat and ecstasy.
He took his operations to Maseru when he came to study marketing at Lerotholi Polytechnic College.
“By that time I was always out of the house. I never got to spend time with my wife and daughter. Being a drug dealer means you have to be always away from the family.”

As he made more money his drug use spiralled.
He recalls how he would make M1500 per day and then spend half of it on his own cocaine. “On some nights I would use as much as M1000 just to get high.”

His market, he says, now included prominent people in power and those who have good jobs.
“You won’t believe the calibre of people who used to call me to deliver drugs to their homes. They get high behind closed doors.”
Thabo tried to quit drugs when his wife left in January this year.

“I thought I could just quit taking the drugs but keep selling because I needed the money to survive. But things became worse because I was now taking even more drugs as I was depressed after losing my wife.”
His business started collapsing as he used much of the profit to feed his habit.
“I realised I was now taking more drugs than I was selling.”

The police too were now catching up with him.
“They had arrested me a lot and interrogated me a lot of times but never had anything they could use in court.”
One day some police officers decided that if they could not catch him red-handed they would beat a confession out of him.

Thabo didn’t confess but says he immediately stopped selling and using drugs. A friend later told him about Blue Cross and he enrolled for a three month programme.
When thepost spoke to him in September Thabo had been at the rehabilitation for three weeks.
Matlali says most of the patients come to the rehabilitation centre broken and hopeless. The first few weeks are the most difficult as the patients are in denial and struggling to cope with withdrawal symptoms.

“You are dealing with people who are not used to being sober. Some have not bathed or eaten in days because they are always high,” Matlali explains.
The fees for almost all the patients are heavily subsidised by the government.
Each however pays M650 to be enrolled but there is a special arrangement for those who cannot afford to pay.
Foreigners pay M3000. Matlali says it is the subsidy that has kept the centre open.

“But more importantly, it is what has ensured that people continue to get help. Without government support it would cost as much as M15 000.
A five-week programme at a similar centre in South Africa costs M10 000.”
Thabo says there was a time when all that mattered was money and his drugs.
Being in rehab has given me time to introspect, he says.

He says he now appreciates how his actions hurt his wife and child.
“Part of my plan is to rebuild my relationship with my wife but I also feel helpless because I hurt her a lot.”
He also wants to reach out to his brother, with whom he used to fight when he was drunk.

“I also want to repair my relationship with my mother. They called to tell her that I had been admitted here.”
After several sessions Thabo is also beginning to take responsibility for his actions. For instance he regrets selling drugs to teenagers.
“It used to be about money. It was a simple business decision and I should have known better.”
Interactions with other patients have also helped change his perspective about life.

Thabo now spends his time encouraging fellow patients to stay focused on their treatment.
He says to avoid relapse he will change his environment, cut off bad friends and seek what he calls “spiritual help”.

l The story is part of Lesotho’s Drug Scourge series thepost will publish over the next few months.

Shakeman Mugari &
Rose Moremoholo

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Lesotho’s own brandy



ROMA-“Go, eat your food with rejoicing, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for already the true God has found pleasure in your works,” so says the Big Book.

Driven by that divine, Mohapi Pule has gone a step further – by coming up with a new type of brandy – to make you merry.
The brandy, Mountain Spels Brandy, will make the heart of the dying man rejoice.
“The healthy nutrients in fruits that make brandy, end up in you when you drink it,” he said.

Pule studied nutrition at the National University of Lesotho.
His brandy is made by fermenting fruits into wine. The wine is then distilled into a brandy. It carries the flavour and the aroma of the original fruits.

The story began when Pule was born in Quthing, Mphaki. He was born to a hardworking mother who brew traditional beer like no other.
“She brew beer well before I was born. She is still making it to this day,” he said.

His passion for brewing was probably “born” even before he was born. Mothers have a hidden way of passing not just their looks but their passions to their children.

As he grew up, he found that he was still intertwined with his mom’s brewing business in one way or another.
“Mostly, I am expected to fetch water for the brewing process. That, I still do to this day when I visit home,” he says.
Two decades later, Pule found himself in the Roma Valley, doing BSc in Nutrition.

“At some point, I found that I had lost purpose in life. There was not a thing that I could say, well, I was passionate about this thing or that thing.”
That situation, of course, threw him into some serious soul-searching.
It brought him back to his roots.

“During this period, I recalled that when I was younger, I used to imagine helping my mom do the packaging of the beer she was making and helping distribute it countrywide,” he said.

From a young age, the issue of subsistence business didn’t appeal to him. But that imagination came and passed. Now here he was, worried that he might not amount to anything in life.

Then, boom! An idea came!
What if he produced an alcoholic drink?

He could have thought about anything to do as a business but, lo and behold! He thought about his mother’s passion!

One of the things he loves about alcoholic beverages is that they are popular.

“I haven’t seen products as popular as alcoholic drinks,” he said.
He might be wrong or right but the reality is, the rest of the world has for generations found delight in alcoholic beverages – some to the extent of overdoing it to their injury!

“Mabele khunoana ralitlhaku thabisa lihoho. Mabele u tsoa kae e le khale re u batla re sa u thole? Ueeeena mabeeeele!” (Loosely translated beer brewed from sorghum make men happy. We’ve been looking for you from afar, you sorghum. In short, this is a praise poem for the Sesotho sorghum brew).
But then came the most difficult part. Which specific beverages should he focus on and how would he do it?

He decided that he would focus on ciders. He realised that not many people in Lesotho were making ciders.

He started experimenting at home and realized how difficult the process was. He just couldn’t get it right. To worsen matters, he also did not have the right equipment.

But like most successful innovators, he just knew that he had to start his business right away.

Pule says he then learnt about other forms of beverages: the spirits. Spirits are very high in alcohol content. Here we are talking the likes of whiskey, vodka and brandy.

He was particularly interested in vodka. He went into one NUL laboratory and, with necessary permission, began testing a number of spirits and doing a lot of research about them.

He began saving some of the money he earned from the National Manpower Development Secretariat in the form of student allowance so he could buy equipment. Saving was not easy. The subsistence money was already not that much. Having to share it with a business was asking a little too much.

But Pule was so determined that he did it, bought equipment that allowed him to develop what he thought was “vodka”.

However, after buying the equipment he immediately realised that the equipment was to make brandy not vodka.

“Now I was forced to get into brandy by chance,” he said.
It was a mistake that he has never regretted having realised that there are very few individuals who were making brandy in Lesotho.

Pule had to throw himself fully into experiments. He read books about brandy production. He even enrolled for an online course on distillation.
In the end, he began to see some light.

“I began to feel some difference in the taste of my produce,” he said. “When I shared my produce with my lecturers, they were over the moon!”
With that encouragement, Pule began packaging his brandy and is now selling it to family and friends.

“My small equipment means that I can’t produce much. However, If I were to get bigger equipment, things would be much better.”

Own Correspondent

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Ready-to-cook vegetables



ROMA – ’MATUMANE Matela, a National University of Lesotho (NUL)-trained nutritionist, is an example of how a nutritionist should think and act.
Matela makes and sells ready-to-cook vegetables out of produce from her own farm or produce she preferably buys from local farms.
“When I make a dish, as a nutritionist, I make choices that ensure a typical package is packed with nutrition,” Matela said.

Today, we examine an interesting story of the lady who is determined to ensure that you eat healthy despite your busy schedule.
It started with her experiences in life.
She describes herself as an extremely busy woman.
She likes getting things done.
As the busy amongst us will say, the busier you become, the less you watch your diet.
She couldn’t escape the trap!

“My busy schedule meant that I ended up eating junk and I was gaining weight,” she said.
With time, she came to her senses.
As a nutritionist, she recalled that the best way to preach was to preach by example.
So, was she preaching what she practised?
Clearly, she wasn’t.
She had to find an option to maintain the busy schedule and eat healthy at the same time.

The beautiful thing about nutrition is that the healthiest foods are the closest to us: fruits and vegetables.
Some scientists even claim that our bodies seem to be designed to thrive on fruits and vegetables.
“Have you ever wondered why looking at a ripe raw peach on a tree is mouth-watering but looking at a fat cow isn’t?” asked one scientist.
Well, whether we were designed for fruits and vegetables or not, the truth is that they are good for our bodies.
That’s what good science tells us.

And we somehow “know it” too if you have heard about anything called intuition.
So one day she found herself increasingly eating fruits and vegetables.
It’s easier to change a religion than a diet, they say.
So it is commendable that she changed her diet at all.
“The idea was to chop as much vegetables as possible and put them in a fridge so that in future, I will just pull them out and cook.”
She wasn’t proposing something new.
Who amongst us doesn’t enjoy the convenience of just pulling up chopped frozen vegetables and cooking?

Little did she know that what she was doing was putting her on a path to a brilliant business.
It took a post on a social media to achieve just that.
“I took a pic of the chopped and packaged vegetables and posted them on my social media account. The reaction was swift. I began getting questions like, “how much?””
It immediately dawned on her that she could be sitting on a great business idea, after all.

So she gave it a try and started selling.
To her surprise, people started buying.
In fact, “I get orders for my products almost on a daily basis.”
That is how interested people really are.
This to an extent that her business now gets up to four irregular employees, she included, when the demand is high.
She said her training in Agriculture, Home Economics and Nutrition has helped her to give a thought into what she was doing.

For instance, where possible, she grows her own crops and sells them as first preference.
She has grown spinach, butternut, green pepper, onion, herbs and beans.
She is also in the process of renting more fields to grow more vegetables.
Then she empowers Basotho producers by requesting them to supply.
Going for foreign produce is the last resort.
Look at her packages and you realise something.
The “7 colours” proverb comes alive.

Those seven colours (several colours actually) may have been designed to appeal to your eyes but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The colours of vegetables mean a lot in terms of nutrition.
Each colour gives you something different.
So, the more colours in one meal, the merrier.
To drive this home, let’s go a scientific route for a second.
Red, Blue and Purple: These vegetables contain substances that are good at reducing the risk of stroke, cancer and memory problems.
White: The likes of onion or garlic may help lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer and heart disease.

Orange and Yellow: Carrots immediately come to mind.
These vegetables contain substances called carotenoids which may help improve your immune system and help to improve the health of your eyes.
Basotho, it would appear, have long known a thing or two about the relationship between carrots and eyes.
Hence the famous saying, “o jele lihoete” (they ate carrots), often applied to good sportsmen or women with symbolically “good eyesight”.

Green: Green is life. Green vegetables come packed with chlorophyll, a chemical that scientists believe can boost your immune system, eliminate fungus in your body, clean your blood, lead to healthy intestines and give you boundless energy.
As a bonus, her Home Economics background is such that she is armed with a host of recipes for each of the packages she sells.
She has great dreams for the future.
“I want to see my products decorating the shelves of big supermarkets,” she said.
It’s time!

Own Correspondent

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A new, co-operative chain store



ROMA – ’MAKUENA Lesiea is spearheading the creation of a cooperative chain store that will sell Lesotho products only.
The store is being developed under the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation Hub and it will be incubated by the Hub.
“Have you seen it? Basotho are producing like never before,” Lesiea said.
“However, their products are hard to see in the markets. We want to change all that.”

The store, she said, will open branches in all districts of Lesotho, starting from Maseru.
Visit any supermarket in Lesotho and check the products on the shelves.
You will be shocked to realise that, in general, just one percent of them are made in Lesotho.
The other 99 percent comes from elsewhere.
Is it because Basotho are not producing or can’t produce at all?

“Having worked directly with the NUL Innovation Hub and the Tsa Mahlale TV programme under the Hub, I have travelled the depth and breadth of Lesotho and I was amazed at the amount of work Basotho are doing,” she said.
What is the problem?
Basotho products are not given sufficient platforms to prove themselves.
“Credit where it is due, some shops are beginning to accept and sell Basotho products,” she said.

“However, they are barely making a dent because Basotho products, being at their infancy, cannot receive full attention unless by a store that is designed to give them full attention.”
Such a store doesn’t exist.

She said the idea is not to compete with any of the existing stores because “we are getting into a new territory altogether, we are addressing a different market”.
So listen to Lesiea as she presents some features of the store that will surely persuade you to join the bandwagon:

  1. Customer and producer confidence: The store, she said, will achieve two things.
    First, when they see masses of Lesotho-made products in one place, Basotho customers will slowly grow confidence in them.
    The confidence will shoot to the roof when the customers experience that many of the products made in Lesotho are already way ahead of foreign competitors in terms of quality.
    Secondly, the store will give Basotho producers an assurance that their products have, at least, one store that is willing to take them, dark or blue.
    More production will come from such assurance.
  2. Selling “everything”: The store will sell everything from fruits and vegetables to processed foodstuffs to clothing and building materials (if Thabure car will be in production by then, it will be on the shelves too).
    “Suppose what we want to sell is not locally made, we will never cross the border, any border, to find its equivalence. We will encourage Basotho to produce it until they do.”
  3. We mean business: whereas Basotho are beginning to produce, their products are still all over the place.
    You bump across them in some few willing stores, in expos and trade shows, or as being sold by individual resellers. Those are good efforts, but they are not enough. In fact, many in Lesotho have come to see producing and selling as being more of an art, a hobby, a therapy or a hustling than a business, “so we are seriously moving away from such a casual approach, we mean business this time around.”
  4. Ownership: So when you enter this store, you could be purchasing a product made by you in a store owned by you. What a difference!
  5. Reasonable standards: the store will only demand reasonable standards. As a struggling Mosotho, try taking your products to some of the local shops and you are, at worst, turned away without reason or, at best, given a long list of standards you must meet before they can take your product.
    “In our case, as long as your products are reasonably of good quality, you are in. NUL Innovation Hub is already testing many Basotho products. We won’t ignore quality, but we won’t use it as a way to prevent Basotho products from growing either.”
  6. A cooperative chainstore: From contributing as little as M50 per month, members will use a continuous financing model to ensure that the store doesn’t just end in Maseru but reaches the ten districts of Lesotho.
    Each branch will start at a medium scale in order to grow along with Basotho products. We won’t ask for investors to come from anywhere, “we will be investors ourselves.”
  7. An export launch pad. “We are often told to export our produce. The obvious question is, if you haven’t convinced your own people to consume your own products, how can you convince people in other lands to do so? Why should they take you seriously?”
    However, the store is not meant to be a local store forever.
    It will be a means by which we export our products to other countries in the future.
    When we export the store to Soweto, we export it along with products from Lesotho.
    Don’t say no because we have seen Chinese shops and Indian shops and, of course, South African shops, filled to the brim with Chinese products and Indian products and South African products in many countries.
    “If they can do it,” Lesiea ended, “so can we.”
    “Because if it is there in some of us, it is there in all of us.”

Own Correspondent

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