MASERU – LEBOHANG Hlaele should be seething with anger. The past two weeks have been hell for him.
Here is a summary of his troubles: His election as the All Basotho Convention (ABC)’s new secretary general is hotly contested in the High Court, he has been fired as a minister, there are moves to kick him out of the party and he is hearing rumours of a plot to kill him.
In short, Hlaele is a man in a frying pan. And burning him is a relative and comrades.
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, the man who gave him his marching orders last week, is his father-in-law. Those who have challenged his election were colleagues in outgoing national executives where he was deputy secretary general.
The show cause letter he received via WhatsApp over the weekend was written by Samonyane Ntsekele, the man Hlaele deputized in the old committee and was a cabinet colleague a few days ago.
There are those who say the camp fighting him derives its power from Thabane and his wife.
Brickbats are raining on him.
Now “a common Mosotho man”, as lawyers like to say, Hlaele no longer enjoys the privileges of a minister.
The bodyguards have been withdrawn, the ministerial cars taken and the red diplomatic passport surrendered to be replaced by the ordinary green one.
All this trouble comes while he battles for his political survival in a party so fraught with internal strife.
Surely Hlaele should be fuming or at least disappointed with the sudden turn of events.
Yet surprisingly, he is neither of those things. Hlaele still has a spring in his step and a beaming smile.
He might not be oozing confidence but he doesn’t look beaten either.
The only sign that he is not a man at ease is the way he is fiddling with his smoking pipe. That might be out of habit rather than anxiety.
He says for the past three weeks he has dipped into his experience as a trade unionist to deal with his political troubles. And he is fighting them head-on “with facts and not speculation”.
Hlaele says the letter from Ntsekele doesn’t spook him because he stands “for the truth”. And indeed he seems to have solid answers to every charge in the letter.
He doesn’t deny that he has the party’s stamp but insists there is nothing illegal about it because he is the new secretary general.
Ntsekele, he explains, is the outgoing secretary general and therefore had to leave with the stamp that had his signature.
“What I have is the stamp that the new executive ordered for me as the incoming secretary general. I could not use the stamp he (Ntsekele) has because it has his signature,” he says.
That explanation pretty much applies to the allegation that he illegally hired a lawyer to represent the executive committee.
“We decided, as the new executive committee, to hire a lawyer and we used that new stamp to endorse the appointment letter.”
He says his dismissal from cabinet should not be construed to be part of the raging factional fights in the ABC.
“To do that will be to use speculation when the facts are there,” he adds.
Hlaele says he believes he was fired because Thabane was not satisfied with his performance.
Although some government officials, ministers and ABC supporters say they are shocked by the decision Hlaele swears he saw it coming.
And that’s not because there were fights in the ABC or he was elected secretary general.
His explanation is that, sometime in January, Thabane called him to his office to discuss his position.
“The prime minister asked how I thought I was doing as a minister and I said I thought I was doing well. He then said I should pull up my socks.”
“So when he removed me I was not surprised. It meant that he didn’t believe that I had pulled up my socks as he ordered.
“When the employer tells an employee to raise the bar and three weeks later he fires him, it means he is not satisfied that the employee has raised the bar.
“That is all there is to it.”
It’s a clarification Hlaele, as a seasoned politician, knows will not find many takers under the current circumstances. The coincidence is too striking to dismiss.
He was shoved out a week after the contentious election in which he was said to be a key player in a faction that allegedly did not have Thabane’s support.
He was fired together with Social Development minister ‘Matebatso Doti who has been elected deputy spokesperson of the party.
Both have some of the highest number of votes from the conference.
Both are said to be aligned to Professor Nqosa Mahao, whose election as deputy leader came after a grueling legal battle that only served to widen the fissures in the ruling party.
Still, Hlaele insists that the timing of his sacking was “coincidental”.
“There is nothing sinister about it because there is no stipulated time on which the prime minister can fire a minister. He takes an informed decision that is not bound by date or time.”
The former trade unionist detests any suggestion that the fact that the prime minister could fire his own son-in-law is a reflection of the intensity of the quarrels in the party.
To counter this perception, long peddled by insiders and some political analysts, Hlaele refers back to the time he was hired.
“When I was hired, some people said it was because I am his son-in-law. The prime minister rejected that allegation and insisted that it was on merit.
“I find it curious that people don’t want to believe that the decision to fire me was not based on merit. To me that is just speculation. I prefer facts.”
“The fact is that the prime minister gave me an opportunity to raise the bar and I did not.” Yet some argue that the stakes are so high that Thabane could not have based his decision solely on a plan to realign his cabinet. Many find it hard to believe that this was a mere rearrangement on chairs.
Neither Doti nor Hlaele himself could be regarded as hopelessly incompetent.
Doti, for instance, seemed to be doing some good work with orphans and the elderly.
That it’s only been two months since the last cabinet reshuffle further weakens the argument of those who say the dismissals had nothing to do with the internal fights.
But Hlaele says he has not seen any evidence to suggest that he is being targeted. He says so far he has not seen anything that supports the narrative that Thabane is opposed to the new executive committee.
“We are talking about a shrewd political actor here. He grew up, nurtured and was baptized in political parties. His political career is traceable. He has never been parachuted into a position.”
Hlaele is at pains to dismiss the idea of a political fallout with his father-in-law.
Nothing has changed in our relationship, he says. “He is my father-in-law and I can meet him any time I want.”
The view of frosty relations however lingers on and is likely to persist as events unfold.
Perhaps one of the most difficult issues to explain, thus far, is why his lawyer wife ‘Mabatsoeneng Hlaele (Nkoya Thabane), Thabane’s daughter, is representing the new executive committee in the battle before the High Court.
Hlaele has a ready answer to that. He says his wife is a political activist in her own right and a prominent lawyer.
“She is defending the new committee because of her commitment, compassion and love for the ABC,” he says, adding that “she is protecting her father’s political legacy”.
“So you can see that there is no contradiction here because everything is explainable.”
Protecting the legacy from whom, we ask.
Hlaele takes a deep breath and seems to ponder for a moment before he answers.
“From events which threaten to split the party if not handled properly and we are not patient with each other.
“If we allow the process to smoothly unfold, the leader will be the happiest man.
“If we behave roughly and are not patient with each other the party will split and his legacy will be gone.”
Until six months ago, the ABC was fairly stable. Like in all political parties there were still murmurs of discontent but none that could be said to be threatening the party. Today the party is torn apart.
Where it all went wrong, depends on who you talk to. There are those who say this is essentially a battle against an executive committee that has lost touch with the party’s rank and file.
These say instead of looking after the interest of the supporters the committee members have feathered their nests with plum positions in government, state companies and foreign missions.
Others say this is essentially a battle for government resources in an economy that has limited opportunities and resources.
Some say the battle is over who will replace the aging leader who has not shown an inclination to either let go of power or groom a successor. Still there are those who think the results of the elective conference shows the party members wanted to reclaim a party they believed had been captured by people aligned to the First Lady.
There have been allegations that the First Lady is interfering in government and party matters.
Hlaele’s response to this view is emphatic. He doesn’t believe that the First Lady has any influence on Thabane’s decisions in the government or the party.
“I have not seen anywhere she features. That idea has never been tested.”
“I also discuss political issues with my wife but that doesn’t mean when I get to the executive committee I am implementing her decisions. I am not a photocopy.”
So what does he think is the ABC’s problem? He doesn’t take longer to answer.
“Good leaders are people who allow themselves to be led and contribute to the party’s programmes.
“If you are reluctant to give up power it means you are a poor leader. This is where the ABC is now.”
“I respect the temporary court order that says the handover should be delayed but morally and politically it is working against the values of the party and principles of democracy.”
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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