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Drowning sorrows

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….Traditional beer finds a market in Maseru’s slums….

MASERU – IT IS midday on a Monday. Several men and women are gathered for a drink, singing and dancing in the Thibella slums.
Mabele lumela,” they say often. It is a form of greeting, but one that could sound unusual for those unfamiliar with Basotho daily life.
Lumela is a Sesotho greeting but to a non-Mosotho it becomes strange when one greets sorghum, mabele.
Locally, it is viewed as a sign of appreciation when one receives a jug of traditionally brewed sorghum beer, often followed by the few poetic lines: thabisa lihoho, thabisa ba hlonameng (merrymaker of frogs, cheering up the crestfallen).

Traditional sorghum beer is bringing merriment, and also helping put food on the table for many families in some of Lesotho’s slums.
The traditional sorghum beer is called Sesotho. The recipe: sorghum and wheat meals mixed in equal amounts plus cold water to make a stiff consistency. Then add some boiling water to make a thin gruel, which is then cooled to about 30-35 degrees Celsius.
A traditional liquid starter, tomoso, is added and the container is covered with a blanket to retain warmth.
The mixture is left to ferment overnight or for two days, depending on the surrounding temperature.
It is then boiled for two to three hours and then cooled to 30-35 degrees Celsius.

A solid starter culture called moroko (spent dregs from a previous fermentation) is added and the mixture is fermented for a further day or two.
It is then filtered to remove coarse particles (litšifa) to give a refreshing alcoholic drink.
Well, that is how a Mosotho food researcher, Molupe Lehohla, described how sorghum beer is brewed.
There are other traditional beer blends that include hopose, which derives its name from the use of hops in its preparation.
To make hopose, one has to mix hops with warm water, to which brown wheat meal or flour is added to make a thin gruel.
Brown sugar (about 1kg for 20 litre preparation) is then added and the mixture is left for about 20 to 30 minutes before adding a traditional starter culture or commercial yeast and malt to the lukewarm mixture.
The mixture is left overnight after which it is sieved to remove large pieces, and another portion of brown sugar is then added.
The mixture is then ready for consumption.
These are the two popular traditional beer blends in Lesotho.

Last week, thepost visited several traditional beer houses in some of Maseru’s slums.
On a Monday, customers sit on wooden benches in the Thibella slums in Maseru.
Others are sitting on 20 litre tins downing their beer in white two-litre containers, whose fading inscriptions suggest they were once used as storage for medical supplies.
Excited conversations are punctuated by song and dance, depicting a sense of a people at peace with themselves.
“Mabele lumela, mabele lumela,” they sing, imitating lyrics from a famous song on Bhudaza Mapefane’s album, u n’u noele bo joang joala ha u tla siea tšeea tšimong? (What kind of beer was it that you drank that you left your loin cloth at the fields)?
Several men and women here are clearly having a good time dancing and occasionally taking a sip of their hopose in a white plastic container.
Some reminisce over weekend events. Others are just enjoying the warmth of the sun coming through the shade of a green net.

In a nearby village less than 10 kilometers from the town of Maseru, a medium size shack built from old and rusty corrugated iron sheets makes for the bar.
Nkeli Ramantsoe is the proud owner of the traditional beer bar in Thibella, a slum popular for unregulated pubs — both traditional and modern.
Customers say he is the one who brewed the beer and also prepared cow heads and hooves that he sells at the bar and in town.
“I have always been a hustler, from pushing people’s luggage with a wheelbarrow to selling wood and meat,” Ramantsoe says.
In July last year, he decided to try his hand in the traditional beer business.
“I needed to supplement the money I made from selling meat in order to provide for my children,” he says.
His wife died some years ago leaving him to take care of their five children.
“Things were not easy but currently only two are fully dependent on me. Their brother just completed a driving course.”

The money from the sale of the beer – M6 per litre – and the money from selling meat is the main source of revenue for Ramantsoe’s family.
“I have never been employed or even been to South Africa to seek employment. I have always hustled locally in Maseru,” says Ramantsoe.
In a good week, Ramantsoe can sell up to 240 litres in four days and when things are slow it can take close to two weeks to sell the same quantity.
“Sometimes things are really bad, you will find that in a day I have only had two customers.”

Apart from paying the man who helps him fetch water, Ramantsoe also has to buy firewood and beer ingredients.
“I buy a wheelbarrow load (of wood) for M30 and most times I have to buy two loads to ensure that there is enough to boil the water.”
“I also buy ’mela (malt) brown flour, yeast, hops and brown sugar.”
He says sugar is the most expensive ingredient “and if you don’t budget accordingly you will lose a lot”.
“I buy a bundle of 20kgs for M300.”
Like many other businesses, Ramantsoe’s enterprise is faced with some challenges.
“Customers buy on credit and take time to pay,” he laments.
Although bars are known to be rowdy and fertile grounds for violent encounters Ramantsoe’s bar is safe and so far does not have a problem of customers fighting.
“Maybe it is because we have policemen and soldiers who drink here so people feel the need to stay in check.”

The need to provide for his family meant he had to do away with society’s stereotypes that brewing alcohol or preparing cow head and hooves is a woman’s job.
“No one taught me how to prepare hopose. Since I also like hopose, I taught myself and strived to brew something that would please me.”
Not far from Ramantsoe’s bar is ’Malikonelo Koto’s bar.
A former factory worker, Koto got into the business after falling sick in 2014. Forced to leave her job, she resorted to brewing traditional beer although it was not her first encounter with the business.
“When I was growing up it is traditional beer that put food on the table for my family. It took us to school,” Koto says.
She says although she did not know how to brew the beer then, she learned when circumstances forced her to.
Today, the enterprise supports three families.

“My family, my maiden family and my in-laws are dependent on this business,” Koto says.
She said although times are hard and things get tough every now and then “this is the only way I know how to make money now”.
Close by, ’Mampho Mopeli is in the same business.
Mopeli has been selling traditional beer for more than 25 years.
She lost her job as a hospital assistant when her expired contract was not renewed.
The hospital gave her another contract to do laundry but that too did not last and she found herself facing financial problems.
She did not get another job as she had anticipated and the pressure of having to send money back home to Qacha’s Nek drove her to start brewing traditional beer.
As a young Mosotho woman, Mopeli knew how to brew traditional beer and was often praised for her skills back home. So when she did not get a job she decided to put her skills to the test.
“This is the business that takes care of my family,” she says with an air of pride.
She usually sells up to 120 litres in two or three days.
She says her ingredients for a full tram include 17 kg of sugar, 2.5 kg of wheat flour, malt and yeast costing her M350 for 120 litres. From this, she makes M720.

At her bar, drunk customers often insult each other but there are no fights.
Motlomelo Motlomelo, one of the patrons at her pub is grateful for the affordable and “healthy” drink.
“The beer which we don’t even know where it was fermented is dangerous to our health,’’ he says, struggling to maintain his balance.
He says he has been drinking “this kind of beer for a very long time and I am still healthy and happy”.
A few kilometers from the shack-turned-pub, is a big well-furnished house. Here, men and women mostly in their 40s and 50s sit on wooden benches in front of the house.
On a Monday afternoon, they are listening to Sesotho music but the music is hardly audible over patrons’ conversations in high pitched voices.
Some are just sitting on big stones and stools while others are on their feet dancing to the music. Despite being visibly drunk, they somehow manage to steadily hold white containers filled with beer in their hands.

Inside the house, a woman in her early 50s sits on a nice couch counting coins.
Refusing to divulge her name to thepost crew, she says business is good and the market growing.
“I sometimes get more customers while sometimes they become few,” she says.
There is no statistical data on the uptake of traditional beer in Lesotho or its profitability unlike modern beer brands produced by big factories.
But one thing is clear: People here have less and less time for modern beer and slowly it is becoming the backbone of the local economy.

Lemohang Rakotsoane & Refiloe Mpobole

 

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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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