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The engineer who sells grass hats

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MASERU – AS a mechanical engineer, Lehlohonolo ’Moka, 25, is an expert in the design and production of heavy machinery.
’Moka says he loves engineering and has always been fascinated by machines. Yet it is away from the buzz of heavy machinery that ’Moka has found a new love – the designing and production of traditional Basotho grass hats.

It is a solitary endeavour that is bringing him huge financial rewards and a deep sense of personal satisfaction.
’Moka’s new career stands far away from what he dreamt he would do for a living while in the engineering lecture theatre at Lerotholi Polytechnic.
’Moka says after graduating in 2015, he immediately realised he would struggle to get a job in his preferred area of expertise.
But he says he remembered the inspirational words of one of his lecturers at Lerotholi Polytechnic, Teboho Mohapeloa, who used to encourage him to think broadly and not just focus on engineering.

“He used to tell us that we will get our diplomas but should not expect to get jobs (because there were none). We should start thinking about what we will do to employ ourselves,” he says.
It was that candid conversation in class that drove ’Moka to venture into the business of hat-making when he could not get a job.
Lesotho’s unemployment rate stands at a staggering 25.8 percent, according to a 2008 Lesotho Integrated Labour Force Survey done by the Bureau of Statistics, a government agency.
A shrinking job market has seen most college graduates fail to secure jobs, pushing most of them into the informal sector.
The bulk of the graduates are absorbed into the civil service which is the biggest employer in Lesotho.

The report says there were currently 192 119 people who were unemployed with 94 322 being males with the rest being female.
Unemployment was also said to be higher in the 20-24 and 25 to 29 age groups. Although ’Moka initially toyed with the idea of starting a small engineering business, he soon realised he did not have the capital to start the business.

That was when he realised why his late father used to make grass hats for sale and how he himself would help his father to make some hats.
He says he realised that although he did not need much capital to kickstart the business, he was not convinced he had the necessary experience to get the business going.
’Moka decided to hone his skills first.

He began making grass hats and selling them to his neighbours.  They all loved the product.
He says through research on the internet, he discovered that he could run the business with very low costs.
‘‘At first, I made some hats for neighbours who all loved the products. I was surprised when some people showed real interest in the product and gave me some orders.
“That was when I decided to advertise the business,” he says.

’Moka says he is grateful to his late father who implanted within him the love of business.
“Before my father got sick, he taught me how to make hats,” he says.
‘‘He gave me a big ‘inheritance’ which I have now passed on to my younger brother,’’ he says.

’Moka recalls the gratifying times when he was able to pay his own school fees through the sale of grass hats after his father died.
“Grass hats made me who I am today; that is why I still make them. During the day, I deal with baskets but before going to sleep, I do some touch ups here and there on hats,’’ ’Moka says.
He says he fell in love with engineering when he was still in Form C.

‘‘I was interested in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering. I approached students who did those courses to seek their opinions which helped me in my career choice,” he says.
’Moka says he is grateful to his family which has remained supportive in his new venture. “Whenever I tell them what I want to do, they stick with me rather than criticise me. Realising how much they believe in me gives me strength to make sure I finish what I started,’’ he says.

’Moka says he finds inspiration in reading about people who started their businesses from scratch, not millionaires who bought shares in big companies which were already successful.
“It is high time we change that negative mind-set we have and start doing something to reduce the high rate of unemployment,” he says.
“Let’s put into practice the skills we have. Let’s appreciate what we have and more blessings will come our way.”

’Moka says while selling grass hats has helped keep hunger at bay, he still dreams of setting up an engineering company one day.
“It is a company which will specialise on manufacturing. I want to venture into pig slaughtering plant, incubators, pedestal grinder, pedestal drilling machines as well as a welding plant business,” he says.

’Mapule Motsopa

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Jobs galore for Lesotho

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94 000 jobs.

That is what the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA-Lesotho) will create in the next 10 years, according to Prime Minister Sam Matekane.

The MCA-Lesotho was created by the Lesotho parliament last year after the United States’ Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) found Lesotho eligible to receive development funds.

The MCC gives development grants to poor countries that respects democratic principles and human rights.

The MCC has unlocked a staggering US$322 million (over M5 billion) to the government of Lesotho after the country enacted three laws the protect people’s basic rights this week.

Matekane advised youths to visit MCA-Lesotho offices to understand how best they can benefit from the fund and the projects that will be financed.

The MCC’s investments are aimed at increasing the availability of water for household and industrial use, enhance watershed management and conservation methods, rehabilitate health infrastructure and strengthen health systems, and remove barriers to private investment.

The MCA-Lesotho’s Health and Horticulture Compact seeks to assist the country in unlocking equitable and sustainable economic growth in partnership with the private sector by addressing key constraints to growth.

Matekane said the job creation potential of the horticulture project alone is estimated at 4 000 jobs.

This excludes indirect jobs that will be created through packaging supplies, logistics, cold chain activities as well as the processing of the output.

“Let us all be ready and ensure we spend all the funding that is available,” Matekane said.

He said the money is going to be invested in agriculture, trade and industry, value chains, infrastructure development, tourism and creative sectors.

“The Compact has come at a critical time when the country is in dire need of financial injections to revive the economy,” he said.

“This second Compact forms the core of Lesotho’s private sector-led economic growth, recovery and job creation agenda.”

He said the MCA staff should work diligently, to implement this Compact.

“There are several Basotho businesses out there that are eager to seize the opportunities that the Compact brings,” Matekane said.

“Serve them with integrity, accountability and dedication.”

Matekane said the government has established the Cabinet Sub-Committee on the Compact which is under the leadership of Deputy Prime Minister Nthomeng Majara.

The sub-committee is mandated to ensure that the government provides overall oversight, strategic direction and support for successful implementation of the Compact.

He said he expects the MCA-Lesotho to ensure the full implementation of the project within the next five years.

“Our economy needs this capital injection to boost productivity and job creation,” Matekane said.

Matekane said the government had to enact three pieces of legislation which were necessary to support the investments that the MCC is making.

The enacted laws are the Labour Code Amendment Bill, the Administration of Estates and Inheritance Bill and the Occupational Safety and Health Bill.

Majara Molupe

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Bank spearheads career expo

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Standard Lesotho Bank will tomorrow host a career expo at the ’Manthabiseng Convention Centre for high school students who will sit for their final exams this year.
The 14th Annual Standard Lesotho Bank Career Expo was launched in Mokhotlong on Monday where the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) welcomed students in areas around the Polihali Dam construction site.

On Tuesday the expo was at the Butha-Buthe Community High School, yesterday it was at Assumption High School in Teya-Teyaneng while today it is in Quthing at Holy Trinity High School.

The five-day nationwide event is dedicated to connecting ambitious Basotho youths with exciting career opportunities.

Standard Lesotho Bank says it’s career expo “is a cornerstone of the bank’s commitment to empowering Basotho youth and shaping the future of Lesotho’s workforce”.

The 2024 edition of the event is the 14th where the bank is now the headline sponsor of this important expo that reaches about over 10 000 students countrywide.

The expo promises to be an even better offering where over 35 institutions of higher learning from Lesotho and South Africa as well as professional bodies will explain different career options to Basotho students.

Standard Lesotho Bank communications manager, Manyathela Kheleli, said students in Mokhotlong did not only learn about different engineering disciplines but got to appreciate engineering in action at Polihali.

He said it was a lifetime experience for students from Mokhotlong, “thanks to the collaboration with LHDA, who are fully responsible for the Polihali leg of the event”.

There were also motivational speakers from different professions in the bank and other selected institutions.

Key influencers in the football fraternity, former Likuena captain and now Corporate Responsibility Manager at Letšeng Diamonds, Tšepo Hlojeng, and former Orlando Pirates dribbling wizard, Steve Lekoelea, are among the influencers that have been invited to address the students.

The event is a sponsorship initiative under Personal and Private Banking that is open to all youths, communities, and individuals, where the bank intends to use this event to drive the new Youth or student Customer Value Proposition and attract high school students to open accounts ahead of their enrolment into tertiary institutions.

The objective of this sponsorship is to first create an environment where future leaders of Lesotho will be nurtured and informed of top career choices that demonstrate various skills requirements for the growth of Lesotho’s economy.

Secondly, the career expo is a clear demonstration of the bank’s intention to put youths at the centre of its initiatives.

This position is shown by the bank’s initiative to not only develop special products for youths, such as the Youth Account but also through several initiatives that promote youth empowerment. These include the bursary scheme and the Bacha Entrepreneurship Project.

“We are more than a bank for our youths, but a good corporate citizen and a partner for the education for Basotho,” Kheleli said.

“We believe that as we grow our youths, they will become assets to this country and by extension, develop into a feeder market for our banking products when they enter the job market,” he said.

The bank has invested M150 000 towards sponsorship of the annual Career Expo.

Staff Reporter

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Ministry launches fresh industrialisation drive

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A new policy to drive industrialisation in Lesotho was launched in Maseru this week.
The Lesotho National Industrialisation Policy 2024–2028 is being spearheaded by the Ministry of Trade.

The ministry says the policy seeks to accelerate economic diversification in the industrial base, enhance productivity and productive capacity for industrialisation and advance domestic and regional value chains for industrialisation.

It also seeks to promote and develop industrial clustering, promote inclusive industrialisation, support entrepreneurship development and strengthen business linkages.
The new policy will also seek to enhance energy efficiency and sustainability, promoting technology adoption and innovation, services-based industrialisation, and stimulating agro-based industrialisation.

This is not the first time Lesotho has launched an industrialisation policy. Previous policies have all failed.

The first attempt was the 2015–2017 industrial policy, whose aim was to accelerate the industrialisation agenda and address key challenges facing the country.

The second one was the 2018–2023 policy, which after its unsuccessful execution during the three years of implementation, the government extended it to the National Strategic Development Plan Strategic Focus (2023/24-2027/28).

The new industrial policy’s target is set to activate implementation on innovation to enhance the efficiency and competitiveness of domestic industries, create decent jobs and improve the welfare of Basotho.

Thabo Moleko, the Ministry of Trade Principal Secretary, said the implementation of the new policy is set to deepen economic growth, promote industrialisation and enhance competitiveness.

“The plan includes greater investment in industrial development with the intention to create employment and incomes while building on maintaining the existing industrial trade,” Moleko said.

Mamello Nchake, a consultant for the United Nations Economic Commission of Africa (UNECA), said the development goals of the industrial policy are set to ensure an achievable inclusiveness and equitable growth as they aim to create sector-led quality jobs for Basotho.

Nchake said the goals are meant to “develop and maintain enabled infrastructure that is critical to the private sectors and also to promote gender equality, environmental and climate risk management”.

“Moreover, the policy (will seek to) harness the collaboration with private sector firms to address common challenges and promote industrialisation,” she said.

The workshop discussed constraints that hindered the implementation of the 2018 – 2023 policy that undermined investment and trade opportunities.

The constraints include access to land for investment, inadequate provision of infrastructure, an outdated and a lack of appropriate regulatory environment, low productive capacity, market size and topological constraints, unstable macroeconomic environment, external factors, and over-dependency of trade preferences.

To address the strategic objectives, the previous industrial policies had proposed tax incentives for industrial development, trade policy and regional integration as the main vehicle for industrialisation and structural transformation.

They had also proposed mechanisms for policy coordination and implementation, institutional alignment and linkages.

However, several key challenges were identified in the implementation of the 2015-2017 industrial policy.

They included limited financial and investment capacity to effectively implement the industrial policy actions.

“Financing instruments are not aligned with the level of development needs of the private sector,” stakeholders heard at the workshop.

They also heard that there is “persistent dependency on few industries that poses risks in the face of global economic uncertainties and ever-changing consumer preferences”.
Another identified problem is limited investment climate that makes it costly for foreign firms to invest in Lesotho.

It was also observed that a shortage of specialised education and skills crucial for growth of industries impact the ability of firms to adopt advanced technologies and improve productivity and the productive capacity.

Stakeholders also heard that there is limited global competitiveness and access to global markets.

Lesotho’s industries, they heard, particularly textiles and garments, face competition from other low-cost manufacturing countries.

The country is also spooked by poor coordination between the implementing agencies due to a lack of a clear implementation framework.

Khahliso ’Molaoa

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