Obituary of Ntate Ntsukunyane Mphanya, 1931-2016
By Motlatsi Thabane
ON 13 April, 2016, various news media announced the passing-away of Ntate Ntsukunyane Mphanya. He died peacefully surrounded by family in the early hours of that day. He was 85.
One of the first times I saw Ntate Ntsukunyane Mphanya in his person was at the first meeting of the National Dialogue in 1995. The Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) government was opposed to the Dialogue because the party leadership felt that they, who had been elected by an overwhelming majority, in 1993 parliamentary elections, were being forced to discuss issues of governance with groups that had lost elections, and who were not sincere. Ntate Mphanya was leader of BCP delegation at the Dialogue.
After we became friends I often joked with him that the BCP team had been mandated to torpedo the Dialogue, and that he played role of ‘destroyer-in-chief’. He agreed. I told him that they were partly right about lack of sincerity among some groups because, I told him, one lunch-time, during the Dialogue, a BNP stalwart came to a table where a group of us rapporteurs were sitting, and, probably mistaking us for BCP opponents, asked to be helped with ‘tricks’ of making it difficult for the BCP to rule.
In 2001, Neville Pule and I started interviewing Ntate Mphyanya for his autobiography. This lasted close to ten years. A large part of the account that follows is based on his autobiography.
Ntate Mphanya was descendant from the very Bafokeng family that produced Kholu and Mabela, Moshoeshoe I’s mother and first wife, respectively.
He was born on 10 January, 1931, in Mapoteng—home of Josiel Lefela and headquarters of the organisation Lefela led, Lekhotla la Bafo (founded 1919).
In 1959, he married a Mosia girl, Matšeliso Nkejane, in an unorthodox ceremony where he had persuaded a Roman Catholic Church priest to dispense with normal procedures and marry them ‘on the spot’. ’Mé ’M’a-Tlotliso, as his wife was named after the birth of their first-born son, has been Ntate Mphanya’s quiet pillar of strength in all his political and other life tribulations. Like me, anybody who has been at their house, and spent some time with them, will have ‘felt’ the depth of their connection in his voice when he called her: theirs was something way, way beyond contended love and understanding.
Ntate Mphyanya grew up in an environment rich with clean politics, which featured men who were true patriots. His father, Malitsane, was a member of Lesotho’s early intelligentsia—bahlalefi—a social standing which qualified him for a job of an interpreter at colonial courts of law. He received, and read, South African English struggle newspapers, Inkululeko and Egoli. He had great admiration for Basutoland Progressive Association (BPA), and named one of his sons Phamotse, after leader of the BPA. Like members of the BPA, and unlike his neighbour and friend, Lefela, Malitsane believed that chiefs had become corrupt, and that the institution ought to be abolished.
At home, Ntate Mphanya’s father and mother—’Mé ’M’a-Clovis—sang Lekhotla la Bafo songs together, most evenings.
As a little boy, it was his duty to take his father’s newspapers, once his father had finished reading them, to Josiel Lefela, who lived nearby. Lekhotla la Bafo documents that Lefela received, and read, went the opposite direction, by the same ‘courier service’.
In 1921, Malitsane, founded, and led, an organisation, Lekhotla la Toka (LT), whose members maintained that, contrary to what Basotho had begun to be told, hereditary chieftainship was not a Sesotho political custom. In 1938, members of LT, led by him, left Mapoteng, and rode to Paramount Chief’s residence, in Matsieng, where they told Paramount Chief Griffith to step down. Griffith asked them whether they were Lekhotla la Bafo ‘lunatics’, and ignored them.
Ntate Mphanya absorbed elements of this political atmosphere to the last bit. He remembered that, among pictures that appeared on various issues of the Inkululeko and Egoli that he couriered between his father and Lefela, he felt very strongly drawn to pictures of people who were protesting. He wanted to be like such people, when he grew up!
He joined Basutoland African Congress, (BAC, predecessor of Basutoland Congress Party, BCP), in 1953, months after it was formed.
Amidst political tensions and political repression of the 1970s, early in 1974, he led an attempt to seize weapons at Mapoteng Police Station, in line with a party decision for uprisings across the country under leadership of party members. Although the attempt he led was poorly-organised, and failed, at least he had tried: when an agreed time for action struck, many of his colleagues in other districts had fled Lesotho, instead.
In a police crack-down that followed, it was a Basotho National Party (BNP) neighbour who saved him from police arrest and brutality that might have ended his life. A policemen, who was a member of the BNP, stopped other policemen from setting fire to Ntate Mphanya’s house, which the police had doused with petrol, and into which they had forced ’Mé ’M’a-Tlotliso. On his flight into exile, in days that followed, at least once, members of the BNP helped Ntate Mphanya escape arrest by the police, who were looking for him all over.
In exile, in 1978, he undertook a trip to Washington, on BCP business. Not for the first time, somebody in BCP ensured that he did not receive money, from party coffers, for his upkeep in USA. Among those who saved him from financial embarrassment in USA was a BNP supporter who was Lesotho ambassador in Washington. These lessons—of people’s ability and preparedness to show human kindness to other human beings, despite political differences—were not lost to him, and they guided him in many things he did in life.
In Botswana, in the 1980s, he asked too many awkward questions regarding what he considered the wrong direction in which the party-in-exile was being taken, and he refused to be part of what he considered un-BCP-like conduct. In response, those who controlled the party-in-exile made it clear to him that he was not wanted in the party. Against that background, he decided to go into business.
’Mé ’M’a-Tlotliso had joined her husband in exile, towards the end of 1974, after months of harassment by the Lesotho police, and months of untold hardship in South Africa. Having to flee and leave her children in Lesotho had torn her inside. She had already made significant strides in business, when Ntate Mphanya decided to follow her. It was the foundation she had laid that served as an important building-block for the success they had in business.
For many years, Ntate Mphanya was Deputy General Secretary of the BCP. In that capacity, he conducted a lot of party business, at a huge personal cost. Years later, he became Leader of the BCP. He was not a very successful political party leader, for a number of reasons. In particular, anyone who knew Ntate Mphanya would know that he would never have made a successful political party leader. He was too honest, and was hugely incapable of the conduct of many of those who lead political parties in Lesotho, today. That was his ‘problem’.
All his life, Ntate Mphanya lived for the BCP, and worked selflessly for the party. His reward for this was naught. When the first BCP cabinet was drawn up, in 1993, he watched as men, including those who had hitherto been unknown in BCP, allocated themselves ministries. He was left out from the initial list of Cabinet Ministers. Although Dr Mokhehle did not say a word as Ntate Mphanya was left out of Cabinet, privately, to Ntate Mphanya, he expressed his dismay—and helplessness—at the conduct of the ‘new forces’ that had taken over BCP.
Ntate Mphanya was able to get into BCP 1993 Cabinet only because nobody was interested in the Ministry of Home Affairs. When it was discovered that, that Ministry had not attracted any ‘taker’, Ntate Mphanya was appointed to it.
Ntate Mphanya was a brave and honest person, and a decent human being; and he brought these, his personal attributes, to his politics. He was an example of how our party-politics has, over the years, rejected good, scrupulous and decent politicians.
He loved this country and loved Basotho, dearly. It was for these reasons that, against enormous and well-argued opposition of his family, he returned to Lesotho, and left a life of relative comfort and peace in Botswana.
The poverty in which the majority of Basotho live today gutted him. He wrote many ideas proposing how poverty should be fought and ended. Other things that broke his heart to pieces included: the extent to which a political clique, in Lesotho, have enriched themselves leaving the rest of Basotho in utter poverty; the fact that Lesotho’s political elite are cultivating the nature and extent of their political divisions among Basotho; and the splintering of the BCP, several times over—fragmentation driven, mainly, by a sordid pursuit of self-interest.
He hated corruption with all his heart. He prided himself that he never stole even a penny, neither in all his service to the BCP nor in government, as a minister, where, seemingly, opportunities to steal public money exist in abundance, for individuals and groups who so are inclined.
Across Lesotho’s political spectrum, his generation of decent politicians are gone. In the BCP, only two of them, that I know of, remain. Those who know must tell us why it is that men like these are unable to get an opportunity to rule in post-colonial Lesotho. We have been reduced to watching, with envy, at well-led and corruption-free countries, such as Rwanda, as their governments make enormous strides in uplifting well-being of society.
Robala hantle, Ntate Mphanya. Robala hantle, Mofokeng oa ’Ma-Ntsukunyane! The Lesotho you pined for, and for which you worked so hard—that is, Lesotho free of the greed and corruption you so detested; Lesotho in which Basotho do not live in fear for their lives; Lesotho in which Basotho’s wealth is shared equitably among them—that Lesotho will happen.
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.”
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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!
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
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