MOKHOTLONG – IN the late 1990s Russell Sachet and the late Thabiso Nkune had a ‘Eureka moment’ when they realised they could accommodate tourists in traditional huts and let them have a truly Basotho experience.
Sachet runs the Sani Lodge which is nestled on the slopes of the Drakensberg Mountains in Mokhotlong.
The Nkune family provided the huts in their yard for the project.
When tourists visit, they sit around the fire in the huts as they wait for dinner cooked in a traditional Sesotho style while learning from their hosts the history of Lesotho and Basotho as a nation.
Also the tourists are introduced to Basotho values, religious beliefs, relationships with other nearby ethnic groups and how they work together and how they differ in certain things.
A tourist leaves a minimum of M20 to the family in addition to the costs of other goods they might have bought that include traditional foods and handicrafts.
The project has been a booming success.
Through the project, Sachet has demonstrated that it is possible to plough back into the community proceeds from tourism, bettering the lives of host communities.
Sachet has engaged the local community of Mokhotlong Ha-Tseko and Mphere to provide accommodation for the tourists. His aim is to raise funds for community projects particularly local schools.
The late Nkune introduced Russell to Lesotho and Russell then introduced his other friends to Lesotho and the two men ended up forming a backpacker’s guide.
Russell says as a tourist he saw the beauty of Lesotho and decided to partner with Nkune to form a ‘home-stay project’ for tourists to stay during their visit.
“We sat down with Thabiso and decided to use some of his houses for tourists, we did it and the business ran quite smoothly,” Russell says.
“In 2005 we decided to set aside money to fund nearby schools, and for this project every tourist paid M5 per head and currently the fees stand at M20 per head,” he says.
Since 2005 the homestay project has raised over M40 000 and built two classrooms for two schools in Ha-Tseko and Mphere, with additional funding from the Ministry of Education and other donors.
“I have worked out the exact finances regarding the classrooms we have financed. Both classrooms are now complete, but only the Ha-Tseko School is being officially opened,” Sachet says.
The classroom at Ha-Tseko was built in a way that a second classroom can easily be added in the future when enough funds are raised.
The backpackers contributed M33 758 while M76 214 was the total money raised by the Drakensberg Adventures for the Lesotho School fund.
Nkune’s homestay village is known as Number 10 Riverside in Mokhotlong, no doubt a cheeky pick from 10 Downing Street, the British premier’s residence.
The Ha-Tseko Primary School’s room was officially opened last week in collaboration with the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC).
The school’s principal ’Mabatloung Nthau says the school has been running with six classrooms for a long time despite that it had seven grades.
“One classroom is shared by two classes and students are always disturbed because their attention is always being torn between two teachers who are teaching different classes at the same time,” Nthau says.
The Mokhotlong District Education Inspector, Thapelo Mtambo, thanked Russell and the Nkune family for raising the funds to build the classroom.
Mtambo said the Ministry of Education will provide learning materials to the children.
“The gift is a sign of peace between tourists and Basotho in general. Students will enjoy learning in this new classroom while also awaiting implementation of new curriculum,” Mtambo says.
The LTDC spokeswoman ’Manchafalo Motšoeneng says the corporation is pleased with ’Mathabo Nkune who took over after her husband’s death and made the project successful.
“We as the LTDC believe it is in our best interest for every aspiring Mosotho to achieve better things through tourism,” Motšoeneng.
Sachet’s homestays concept has spread to other parts of Mokhotlong and is creating jobs for the locals.
However, there are some problems with some tour operators refusing to pay the home owners despite that there is a binding agreement signed between them and the LTDC.
The refusal by some operators to pay the fees is hitting hard some owners of the homestays, especially those who are relying on the arrangement for a living.
Nthati Moiloa, 21, says the tourists have been visiting the place since 2003 without any fee and when the LTDC made this arrangement she felt relieved.
“More than 50 tourists per day would visit my place and I would serve them bread, tell them the history of Lesotho and do Basotho dances such as ndlamo and litolobonya for them for free,” Moiloa says.
The tourists would voluntarily give her some gifts not necessarily paying any fee.
She says she welcomes groups of tourists into her house at Sekiring village and assists the tour guides with explanations about the life and the lifestyle of Basotho.
A tourist will have at least one mug of home brewed beer (joala) and some bread for the group to taste.
“After some several visits by the LTDC it was then that in October this year the tourists paid for a visit, they started with M5 then it was increased to M10,” she says.
Manager of Sani Pass Tour, Muory Cairns, from Underberg in South Africa, says the LTDC arbitrarily decided to increase the fee per visit and as a result some operators withdrew their support to the homestays.
“We did not refuse to pay M20 per visit for every tourist, we paid that amount for three to five days then went to Sani Pass Tour board to renegotiate this deal. For each and every change that has to be done in the company, the board has to approve such change,” Cairns says.
“We are happy to pay that amount. In February next year we are going to pay that amount after the board has approved such change,” he says.
He says he takes some of his tourists to the Sekiring village where they used to give villagers some gifts and “tourists know they have to buy a package of candles, soya mince and other things from my company”.
“This package costs M180 but I sell it at M100, this is a non-profitable thing for Basotho,” he says.
The LTDC encourages homestay owners to sell traditional Basotho crafts to visitors and meals and benefit the local communities.
Cairns says he has pledged to bring a group of tourists to Sekiring at least every day and explain to the group prior to arrival in Sekiring that all services are paid for.
Moiloa says “this business is very challenging because other tourists refuse to pay, saying they have paid the tour guide and the guide is the one who will pay for them”.
She says sometimes tour operators “talk to us in a very bad way, like we are their kids”.
She however says in most cases they make profit because on busy days like Thursdays “we make more than M500 per day”.
“Truly it is a good business, especially because we are unemployed,” she says.
Motšoeneng says the LTDC is working on training tour guides.
“We are starting with sensitising Basotho first about the importance of tourism, standardised and checked implementation is in progress,” she said.
Motšoeneng says the rural homestay project is a unique way of promoting tourism in villages.
“The tourists come to rural areas they otherwise would never get to see and live with families, a true cultural exchange,” she says.
“The homestays experience offers a chance to give back to local communities. For remote areas, this creates self-employment and is a chance to get their share of tourism revenue,” she says.
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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