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Cleaning the ‘passage’ to adulthood

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MOHALE’S HOEK – STAY long enough in any village in Lesotho and you might hear a story or two of horrible accidents and other mishaps that have left many a boy or girl badly maimed or even dead during initiation, the secretive traditional rite of passage of boys and girls into adulthood.
But it is doubtful that whatever you might get told can illustrate in quite the same way as the story of ’Mamvulani Monatho.
Monatho’s ordeal tells the story of the horror of traditional surgery botch-ups, ancient superstitions, claims of witchcraft and sheer ignorance that have combined to turn this noble tradition into a dangerous gamble that has left many young people with damaged bodies and souls.
Quite an old matter that happened more than two decades ago, the story of how Monatho ended up being murdered because of events at an initiation school for boys – that as a woman she had nothing to do with – remains a compelling example of why the government and society in general need to do more to ensure that observance of a beloved tradition does not needlessly endanger the safety of young boys and girls or anybody else.

During the initiation season in 1994 when Motheo Matjene’s three boys died at an initiation school he was certain their tragic deaths were the work of a witch.
Rather than having a pathologist conduct a postmortem to establish the cause of death – which to this day has never been disclosed – Matjene, with the blessings of the local chief and police, opted to consult a local seer to tell him what caused the death of his boys and more important, who was behind it all.
The seer ’Ma-Elia Morale was reputed to have immense powers to see what is hidden and to foretell what is to come. Soon enough Morale had pinpointed the ‘witches’ behind the deaths of Matjene’s sons naming them as Monatho, two other women, the elderly ’Mantsane Monatho and ’Mantsolo Lepheane Mantsane, and one man, Popotana Mqolombeni.
As is always the case with this kind of thing, no evidence whatsoever was produce nor any cogent explanation given as to how the unfortunate Monatho and her fellow accused had carried out the evil deed. But that mattered little to Matjene and the large crowd of villagers he was with.

After sjamboking the four ‘witches’ Morale handed them over to Matjene and his crowd, and that’s when their ordeal began in earnest.
Monatho and her colleagues were whipped and beaten up with all sorts of weapons and objects. They were chased on horseback, being beaten as they ran barefoot on the rocky and rough ground. They had been forced to take off their shoes to make sure the running would hurt the more.
The torture continued overnight and on the next day, the four were driven to the initiation school so Monatho could identify the corpse of each boy.
Monatho had, probably in bid to mollify the anger of her assailants and escape more punishment, admitted to causing the deaths of the three boys. She had told the mob that she would be able to point out the corpses. But on being brought to the school she couldn’t tell which corpse was for which boy, enraging her attackers even more.

The beatings carried on until Monatho dropped dead to bring the total body count to four all because a group of three boys had wanted, and rightly so, to perform a rite their culture prescribes they should.
An utterly needless loss of life. But that isn’t the most infuriating thing about it all. What is more galling is the fact that even today, many young men and women continue to get seriously injured with some even dying at initiation schools – injuries and deaths that can and should be prevented.
Thanks to the thick cloak of secrecy shrouding nearly everything to do with initiation, there is no reliable information or statistics on the number of initiates that have fallen sick or died while in the mountains performing the rite.

However, the Ministry of Health has for years expressed concern about initiation schools’ failure to ensure their charges can access health services, which it says has seen boys dying of injuries mostly sustained during bungled circumcision procedures.
The ministry is concerned because it is very easy for a boy to die from bleeding from a simple wound just because initiation masters usually do not permit initiates to leave camp to seek treatment at clinics or hospitals. Neither do they allow doctors and nurses into their camps to take care of the wounded and sick.
But the Ministry of Health need not look further than the districts of Quthing and Mohale’s Hoek if they want to know how to build cooperation between the public health service and initiation schools.
Eager to preserve the tradition of initiation while at the same time protecting the health of initiates, community leaders from Mohale’s Hoek have established initiation committees that coordinate the boys’ access to health services without compromising the code of secrecy and other requirements critical to the integrity of the initiation ceremony.
The committee also work to prevent initiates dropping from school or engaging in early marriages among other negatives that have over the years become increasingly associated with practice of initiation.
The committee working with World Vision and Ntšekhe Hospital has put together a written code of conduct binding to all initiation schools in the district, a first in the country, according to committee chairperson Martin Semanama.

Initiation school masters, the police’s Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU), representatives from the ministries of education and health, principal traditional chiefs and officials from the courts all took part in the workshops held to discuss what to put in the code of conduct.
“We consulted initiation school masters …they gave helpful insight,” said he Semanama.
A key requirement under the code is that all initiates have their health checked at a hospital or clinic before joining an initiation school, said Semanama.
Speaking to thepost separately, officials at Ntšekhe Hospital confirmed that initiation masters were to bring initiates to the institution for check-ups before dispatching them to their schools.
They said cooperation between health institutions and initiation schools fostered by the initiation committee has seen initiates living with HIV able to receive their medication while away in the mountains.
Relatives are asked to fetch ARVs for HIV positive initiates or the initiation master himself can come collect the medication from the hospital.
The initiation committee was also praised for helping trace HIV positive initiates who otherwise would have had to abscond on their treatment while out in the mountains.

‘Mampe Makhabane, public health nurse for the Mohale’s Hoek district, said the initiation committee has also made it possible for initiates who fall seriously ill to be brought to hospital to receive treatment in a ward where only the master, a doctor and a nurse attending the initiate patient would have access.
“Only those attending to the initiate will know of his presence at the hospital,” Makhabane says.
Semanama said much more could be achieved through use of the code of conduct only if it could be upgraded from a voluntary charter that cannot be imposed on the unwilling to a legal document enforceable on all initiation schools.
He called on parliament to adopt the code and draft it into legislation that could be used to ensure best practice at initiation schools countrywide.
It might not be Semanama’s code that will be written into Lesotho’s statute books but all the same his call for a legal provision requiring initiation schools to ensure the health of those under their care might not be far off from becoming reality.

According to Fako Moshoeshoe, the Chairperson of the Parliament Social Cluster Committee, there is legislation being drafted that will seek to protect the health of boys and girls at initiation schools.
“Access to health services is a basic human right that needs to be adhered to and those at initiation school deserve health service just like everyone,” Moshoeshoe said.
“The initiation Bill that is being drawn up right now will address these issues fully,” he added.
Maybe had such a law been in existence it would have forced the initiation school to send Matjene’s boys to hospital and who knows, they might have lived and saved all concerned the tragedy that was their deaths and the brutal murder of Monatho.

Rose Moremoholo

 

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Lesotho’s own brandy

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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

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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

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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?
Nope!

“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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