A shoe brand with style
MASERU – FALL down seven times, rise up eight. This Japanese adage sums up Masibo Mohlakola’s journey in the treacherous world of business.
Growing up in the rural, mountainous area of Semonkong, about 80 kilometres south-east of Maseru, Mohlakola experienced poverty that nearly robbed him of an opportunity to pursue education.
The 30-year-old wriggled out of poverty and is now leading a business, the first of its kind in Lesotho, which is rapidly making an impact in the market.
His innovation, honed through the many falls he experienced, led him to think of how the Basotho traditional attire and the country’s geographic features could be turned into a viable business venture.
Mohlakola and his partner, Pusetso Solane, have come up with a shoe brand that they have blended with Lesotho’s mokorotlo hat, which itself is a depiction of the Qiloane Mountain.
Both the hat and the mountain are national symbols that also feature on Lesotho’s banknotes.
So much has been taken for granted about the evolution of the dress over time and the symbolic meanings that have been attached to different dress practices.
“We felt a need to bring one of our Basotho clothing symbols into our modern lifestyle so that it can be forever remembered,” said Mohlakola.
He calls his brand “Be Nice Authentically” or BNA, which has now become the talk of the town. It is also making waves on social media.
He said the BNA is the first trainer-shoe brand in Lesotho to join the Basotho culture and a modern lifestyle.
The trainers have the Mokorotlo symbol all over them. The uniquely styled trainers come in different colours and a unique style.
According to an article by Andrew Knapp on The Design Train for Clarens Butterfly Beds, Mokorotlo is said to depict the mountaintop of Mount Qiloane that sits beside the Thaba-Bosiu plateau.
Mokorotlo is the object which was used to cast rulings in customary courts, similar to the symbolism of a gavel which is seen in western societies.
Mohlakola said after trying several businesses which ended up failing, they thought of coming up with their own shoe brand.
The hardships of his growing up, however, are the ones that have molded Mohlakola into the man he is today.
Mohlakola grew up in a family of four siblings and he is the youngest.
“I was forced to enter into business at an early stage when I was still in high school.
“My father was unemployed and as a result there were times when payment for my school fees was delayed,” he said.
He recalls how he used to joke about his frequent expulsion from school due to failure to pay school fees as a means to cover up his embarrassment.
This affected him academically and emotionally.
“I had to repeat Form C,” he said.
His financial problems took a huge toll on him.
“It reached a point where it was a struggle to get proper uniform. This was affecting my confidence, hence my poor class performance,” recalled Mohlakola, who had to forego playing with friends after school and during weekends to take part-time jobs.
He said he was introduced to carpentry which gave him some income to buy school uniforms and help pay household bills.
“As much as I had to grow up at an early age, this instilled in me an entrepreneurial mindset,’’ he said.
He said the wage of M60 each week for part-time jobs made a difference.
“A pair of school trousers was around M70 then.”
However, he had to learn the hard way how to balance school and work.
“I did not have time to read so I had to vigorously participate in class so that I could grasp the concepts,” he said.
Mohlakola said after completing Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC) “with poor results I was now expected to work full time as an adult.”
While he was still working, Mohlakola says he engaged in so many advocacy community programmes. However, he said he got “too much pressure” from his friends who were pursuing tertiary education and this forced him to rewrite exams in 2012.
“I did not have time to study and I failed again. I wanted so badly to have at least a qualification,” he said.
Due to his interaction with various people, Mohlakola got the chance to work in South Africa as a horse caretaker for three months. He returned home with about M7 000, which he had planned to use to supplement his COSC.
However, he says he found his family in deep financial distress and he used the money to ease the situation. Mohlakola had to swallow his pride and ask for help.
He opened up about his problems and plans to some ladies who were working in the area as Peace Corps while he was participating in one of Semonkong tourism projects.
Peace Corps is an independent agency and programme of the United States government that trains and deploys volunteers to provide international development assistance.
The two women contributed to pay the fees that he owed, providing him with a chance to return to school.
“However, the challenge was on how I would finance my daily school needs.”
He talked to one woman who was working remotely from Semonkong to give him a job as a house helper. After passing his COSC examinations, he enrolled with the National University of Lesotho under the Social Work programme in 2019.
He said since the passion of entrepreneurship “was flowing in my blood”, he thought of what he could do to increase his income streams.
“With my first Manpower (the government’s scholarship agency) lump sum, I bought carpentry equipment. I would make student tables on weekends and in my spare time,” he recalls.
That was where he met Solane, who was also studying social work and doing photography in his spare time.
“We started a clothing brand called Dynamites. However, the business failed.”
Nonetheless, he said they felt a business idea around what they had been trying could be viable.
“We could not let it go just like that.”
The duo spent some nights discussing business ideas.
“We then thought that the Basotho culture was on the wane. We thought about what we could do about it. We were seeking to merge culture with entrepreneurship,” he said.
That is how the idea of the BNA brand was born. Mohlakola said they approached one of South Africa’s shoe manufacturing companies, presented their style and the quality they wanted.
He said after the design was complete, they had to go through testing. He said they then scored a durability test result of over 75 percent from China.
He said since all the processes were financed through their pockets, there was a bit of delay. But the feedback has been “amazing” since the product was introduced into the market, said Mohlakola.
“Many people are proud to see our cultural symbol on a modern sneaker.”
“Last month we received about 15 orders for cash. We have received more orders of around 50,” he said.
Despite the positive response, Mohlakola says some people associate them with scams since the business is still new in the market.
“This makes it hard for interested people to place orders and process payment online.
“We also have faced challenges related to financial constraints which limit us from producing more shoes of various sizes and colours on the go. We still produce on orders placed,” he said.
Looking ahead, Mohlakola says they want to open up a big manufacturing firm in Lesotho which would create more jobs for Basotho.
He says they also want their brand to reach international markets where the brand will become a representation of the Basotho culture.
“We want our culture to be known globally while accommodating everyone. This is not only our brand, but it’s the country’s brand,” he says.
The beauty queen of Lesotho
MASERU – WHILE many children her age were still adapting to the early years of school after kindergarten, Reatile Molefe was already plotting her life goals. Barely 10-years-old, Molefe already knew exactly what she wanted to do in life.
“I was already geared towards being a model at that early age. I was already portraying fancy and modest moves linked to modelling,” said the beauty queen, now aged 22.
It didn’t take time for her mother to identify the potential and found a need to sharpen it further.
“My journey in beauty pageantry started at the age of eight in 2009. The reason my mom thought I should hop into pageantry was because I was active and smart. I also had role models from the industry by then. I mean, I had an ambition of every little girl’s dream of being a star or being dressed in cute ball gowns so I also had a strong desire to be like that,” she said.
“I started my cat walking lessons at Little Miss Lesotho Companies but didn’t win. Not winning gave me motivation to work more towards my craft, it pushed me into wanting more as I couldn’t settle for less,” she said.
Molefe now boasts of 14 tittles to her name. She has donned the beauty pageant crowns in all stages of her life.
“I was crowned Queen in my two previous schools. I was Miss New Millennium High School in 2012 and Miss Lesotho High School in 2017. The 14th title I scooped made me believe in myself even more as I got to gain experience competing with people from different countries,” said Molefe, who has also made a bold statement by competing at the international level.
Molefe attributes her prowess to her high levels of confidence.
“Pageants create a bonding experience where women lift each other up, but what gives me an upper hand is being comfortable, secure with myself and being me throughout,” said Molefe, adding that her favourite category during pageantry competitions is when models are asked to strut the ramp in evening wear.
“That’s when the audience and the judges get to see the creativity, the poise and eloquence of the queens,” said Molefe, who believes that the audience’s response can destroy or build a contestant’s confidence.
“The audience can play either of the two roles during a contest. They may make a positive impact on females taking part because they teach them how to be resilient thus prepare them for real world situations. On the other hand, the audience may also make a negative impact and lead to a whole host of mental issues among participants who may be worried about their image and appearance. This can lead to harmful side-effects,” stated Molefe.
Like other women in the modelling industry, Molefe has come across some challenges.
“An example is trying to get enough support from the general public on my first international contest,” she said.
Another was the cost of competing in beauty pageants as well as evolving body changes, she said.
“Being a beauty queen is not a walk in the park, especially when being judged by the community. And, yes, pageants do help women grow in confidence but without proper mental health support, they can also create insecurities. But through all the struggles, I am thankful to my family and friends. They are my biggest supporters. I may have gone through it all but their unbending support has kept me going,” she said.
Molefe says she considers being crowned second runner up in the Miss Culture International competition held in Johannesburg in 2021 as her most outstanding achievement. She was also crowned Miss Culture Lesotho in 2018.
“What was intriguing to me about this contest was the fact that I was the youngest among the contestants. It proved to be a learning experience for me and it deepened my knowledge about what the modelling world really entails.
“I never doubted myself but I thought I wouldn’t make it as I was the youngest. I got to compete with people of different races, which got me even more motivated. I learned a lot in participating in a multi-racial event,” she said.
Pageantry isn’t just about looks, according to Molefe.
“There is to more to it, like being able to embrace glamour. Beauty is subjective and it can be interpreted in different ways according to the perception of individual viewers. I consider being beautiful as an inside and out perception but the golden rule is to brim with confidence to make it in pageantry,” said Molefe, urging parents to enroll their children in pageantry schools at an early age “even as early as three-years-old”.
“This gives them ample time to develop because the young ones are able to easily learn from others to improve their skills and boost their self-confidence,” said Molefe, who dreams of a day when a beauty queen is considered a legendary woman in Lesotho.
One of her goals is to assist in educating the youth, especially young women, about menstrual health and other sexual and reproductive health issues.
Her target group is mainly girls that live in rural areas and small towns.
“Pageants promote goal setting, encourage us to value personal achievement and community involvement,” she said.
The stock-theft menace
MASERU – IF you recently enjoyed a nice beef stew at a restaurant in Lesotho there is a high possibility that the slaughtered cow might have been stolen from a farm in South Africa.
If you are in South Africa, it is equally possible that the cow was stolen from a cattle post in Mokhotlong or any other mountainous region of Lesotho.
That is because cross-border stock-theft is on the increase between the two countries. In fact, it has become a thorn in the flesh for farmers on both sides of the border.
Since 1990, 85 percent of livestock owners on the border villages of Lesotho have lost animals to thieves as compared with 49 percentage from non-border villages, according to a study published by Wilfrid Laurier University.
Earlier this month, this problem came into sharp focus when four Basotho men were picked up by the police in Thaba-Nchu in the Free State.
These men, aged between 24-51 years old, were travelling in a car bearing Lesotho number plates. They were transporting cattle that did not have documents.
The SAPS informed their counterparts in Lesotho who rushed to the place to repatriate the suspects.
Maseru Urban Commanding Officer Senior Superintendent Rantoane Motsoela said their investigations uncovered that the cattle crossed into South Africa at Ha Tsolo through the Mohokare River.
Then they were transported from the border into South Africa.
S/Supt Motsoela said they have found that the cattle already had tattoo marks from one farmer in Ficksburg.
But the suspects had no documents to prove that the animals belonged to them.
Both the cattle and the car are still in the hands of the SAPS while investigations are continuing.
S/Supt Motsoela said the suspects are assisting the police with investigations.
In another incident police recovered five cattle of a Mosotho man in Qwa-Qwa, still in the Free State Province.
These cattle were reported stolen in Tšehlanyane in Leribe at the beginning of this month.
Police under their sting operation “Zero Tolerance to Stock Theft” launched their investigations that led to the discovery of the cattle.
The Leribe District police commanding officer Senior Superintendent Samuel Thamae said they were able to recover the animals with the help of the community who tipped them off.
S/Supt Thamae said they stormed Qwa-Qwa with their counterparts in South Africa to identify the stolen animals.
After convincing the SAPS that the cattle belonged to the concerned farmer, they were released to him.
The Mokhotlong District Administrator (DA) Serame Linake says they have been battling cross border stock theft for years.
He says Basotho in Lesotho would go to South Africa to steal the animals that they sell back to South Africa in Vanderbijlparkl after getting fraudulent documents.
Linake says these animals, cattle and sheep, are sold at an auction in Vanderbijlpark.
He says the South Africans on the other hand sometimes also cross the border into Lesotho to steal the animals.
To fight this theft, they have formed good relations with the SAPS, chiefs and councillors.
Linake says when animals are stolen from South Africa into Lesotho, their counterparts simply inform them on this side so that they could waylay them.
“Stolen animals are strictly sold in Vanderbijlpark in South Africa,” he says.
He says in his district animals are not sold in the butcheries like is the case in Maseru and other lowlands districts.
Linake says they are now struggling to control theft that takes place between the northern district and Qwa-Qwa because the perpetrators are Basotho who have now migrated to South Africa.
He says these perpetrators have lived in Lesotho and know all the corridors that they could use to come and steal animals in Lesotho and go back to South Africa.
Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli says stock-theft is a grave problem in the country.
He says they have formed a special team that is going to reinforce the team that is already dealing with stock-theft in the country.
When there is an alarm that some animals have been stolen, this new team is informed so that it can lend a helping hand.
S/Supt Mopeli says the theft happens within the country’s borders and between Lesotho and South Africa.
S/Supt Mopeli says they are managing to deal with the theft because they arrest the perpetrators and bring them before the courts of law.
He says the public should alert the police when they see animals being stolen so that they can be saved from the hands of thieves.
Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola says they have registered big successes in curbing cross-border theft especially after having a post in Mokota-Koti in Maputsoe.
He says they usually hold frequent patrols at the borders to fight this crime.
“We also hold frequent crossings with the South African army to share information regarding cross-border theft,” Lt Col Lekola says.
Lt Col Lekola says they sometimes use air patrols as another way to fight stock-theft.
He says they usually erect camps along the borders so that they can stop animals coming out of Lesotho or vice-versa.
“Last year we had a successful collaboration with South African soldiers where we patrolled the borders from Leribe to Mafeteng. The South African army was on their side and we were also on our side,” he says.
He says they were working together with the police and they reaped good results.
Lt Col Lekola says some herd boys report the theft of livestock long after first trying to track the animals themselves.
He says this gives the cattle rustlers a chance to hide.
He advised the farmers not to erect cattle posts near the borders because they are stolen easily.
“When the South Africans enter Lesotho borders to trace their stolen animals, they make the first encounter with the animals at the cattle posts and drive them away,” Lt Col Lekola says.
He appealled to farmers to work collaboratively with their herders to pay them their dues.
He says some farmers do not pay their herders and those herders usually bounce back to steal the animals in revenge.
“They enter the cattle posts easily because the dogs know them,” Lt Col Lekola says.
Because Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa, stock-theft takes place easily between the two countries especially in the provinces of Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.
The porous borders make it easy for the movement of animals to take place between the two countries.
And the theft between these countries has been happening since time immemorial.
The cross-border menace continues to take place despite patrols that are organised by the security agencies from both countries.
A Transnational History of Stock Theft on the Lesotho–South Africa Border, Nineteenth Century to 1994 Journal states that stock theft has long been a problem along the Lesotho–South Africa border.
It says from Moshoeshoe I’s cattle-raiding in the nineteenth century through to the start of the democratic era in Lesotho (1993) and South Africa (1994), the idea that stock theft is both prevalent and an international problem has been generally accepted by all.
According to Farmer’s Weekly livestock theft has a much more detrimental effect on the economy than previously thought, and is becoming more violent.
It says organised livestock theft feeds into other more serious types of transnational organised crimes such as drug, weapons and human trafficking.
And ultimately this results in the creation of illicit financial flows.
Challenges to safety included no fencing along large stretches, and the lack of a suitable roads to enable South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops to conduct border patrols effectively, Farmer’s Weekly says.
In a piece published in November on the International Security Studies (ISS) website, ISS Today, stock theft was on the rise in South Africa, with 29 672 cases recorded by the South African Police Service (SAPS) for the 2018/2019 financial year.
This represented an increase of 2.9 percent over the previous year.
The ISS said the problem is exacerbated by porous and poorly secured borders, lack of capacity to monitor the border, and mountainous terrain that is difficult to police.
“Such challenges create opportunities and trafficking routes for criminal networks to smuggle livestock, drugs and, at times, firearms across the border.”
The ISS said the transnational livestock theft affects farmers revenue and adds to consumer costs.
It says thousands of animals are stolen and sold through the black market.
And this hurts the economy and goes even further to impact consumers, as these animals could have provided meat.
Matekane to launch microchip project
MAPUTSOE – PRIME Minister Sam Matekane will this Sunday launch a new microchip project designed to combat the rampant stock-theft in Lesotho.
The launch will be held in Peka in Leribe.
Speaking at a rally for his Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) in Maputsoe last weekend, Matekane said the government is weary of the rampant stock-theft that impoverished rural farmers in Lesotho for decades.
“When your livestock leaves your kraals your phones will alert you and your families,” Matekane said amid loud cheers.
He asked the people to go to Peka in great numbers to witness the launch and learn from the livestock microchipping experts how the project will work to combat stock-theft in the villages.
The project was first spearheaded by Thomas Thabane when he was the Home Affairs Minister in 2003.
That year, 120 rams were implanted with the microchip identification system in Masianokeng.
The rams belonged to a company called Mahloenyeng Trading Company (Pty) Ltd.
The then police boss, Jonas Malewa, had microchipped 64 horses at the Police Training College (PTC) a year earlier in a pilot project.
The Home Affairs Ministry had contracted a company called Primate Identity Technology ran by a Jewish man, Yehuda Danziger, to carry out the pilot project.
Danziger was also tasked with observing any side-effects the animals could have after the implantation of the microchip.
The government introduced the microchip implantation technology after realising that stock thieves would easily erase the branding and tattoo marks with red hot metal and acid.
The stock thieves also cut off stolen animals’ ears if they bore the owner’s identification marks.
Microchips are tiny electronic devices, about the size of a grain of rice, which could be stored in a capsule and implanted near the animal’s tail to make it easy to identify and trace lost or stolen animals.
The project however never picked up with successive government not showing any political will to carry it through.
Things are now set to change with Matekane launching the project this Sunday.
Tšepang Mapola & Alice Samuel
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Matekane to launch microchip project
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