MASERU – WHEN King Letsie III announced June 3 as the date for the snap election in late February some political parties were caught flat-footed.
There was panic and pandemonium in some party ranks. New parties that had not yet contested any election were not so sure of their support base.
For some parties, it was only after the announcement of the election date that they hit the campaign road, too late to make any meaningful inroads.
Despite the formidable obstacles, the parties ploughed on. Among these was Selibe Mochoboroane’s Movement for Economic Change (MEC), a break-away party from the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), that went on to put a strong show during the polls. Mochoboroane says he was confident about his party’s electoral prospects, particularly in his stronghold of Thabana-Morena constituency in Mafeteng.
When his rivals were trying to make belated inroads in Thabana-Morena, Mochoboroane did very little campaigning in the constituency.
Unbeknown to most of his rivals, Mochoboroane says over the last five years or so, he had developed an unbreakable “umbilical cord” with the people of Thabana-Morena. That was thanks to the many agricultural projects that he initiated in the constituency aimed at empowering the local communities and ensuring that they were self-sufficient in terms of securing livelihoods and food.
He was so confident of victory to the extent that he did very little campaigning in the run-up to the election.
“I only went to my constituency a few days before the election for a meet-and-greet session, I never addressed a campaign rally there,” he says.
Mochoboroane’s MEC won six out of the 120 seats that were up for grabs, a commendable feat for a party that was barely six months old.
The party mustered over 29 400 votes in the election.
The MEC becomes the fifth biggest political party in Lesotho after the All Basotho Convention (ABC), the Democratic Congress (DC), the Alliance of Democrats (AD) and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD). At 39, Selibe Mochoboroane represents a new generation of politicians in Lesotho that is not encumbered by historical baggage. Mochoboroane, whose campaign slogan was “Ke nako (‘Now is the time)”, says time has arrived for Basotho to smash the barriers that have divided the people along ideological lines for decades.
“It has been known for years that in Lesotho you either had to be on the right or left, either from the “congress” or “nationalist” movement. In MEC we are not influenced by either.” “Our politics is politics of development!” he says.
Mochoboroane says their movement seeks to offer a fresh brand of politics that is not beholden to the past.
Such a past only fostered deep divisions among the people, he says.
“We came with a different dimension of politics,” he says. “As the MEC we believe in the politics of development. We want to change the face of the economy. As a young leader it wouldn’t make sense to believe in the politics of inheritance.”
Key to his party’s campaign message was the issue of “economic emancipation”.
Mochoboroane says it is unacceptable that Lesotho continues to import almost 98 percent of its food requirements from South Africa.
Unless Basotho grow their own food, they will continue to be dependent on foreign countries, a situation Mochoboroane says is unsustainable in the long run. “We have the land and plenty of water but the reality is that we are not producing enough for our own consumption or for commercial purposes. “We need to grow our own food and cut imports,” he says.
Only when we are able to do that will we be truly free, Mochoboroane says.
This is the message that Mochoboroane “preached” at his campaign rallies. It is a message that appears to have struck a resonance with voters, judging by the over 29 400 people who voted for the MEC in June.
Mochoboroane says he “will continue” to preach this message in a bid to restore self-belief among Basotho.
“We want to restore hope for the people. I will continue to preach this gospel so that many can hear it so that when they look at the politics of polarisation (we have endured over the years) they will say enough is enough.”
He insists the MEC is and will always be “issues-driven”.Mochoboroane boasts that not once did he resort to the stale politics of insults and name-calling (that have sadly been a permanent mark of Lesotho’s politics over the years) at his campaign rallies.
“We have not inherited the politics of hatred and propaganda. We were talking issues.”
Mochoboroane says the MEC is already preparing for the next general election in 2022, if not sooner given the recent experiences with coalition governments in Lesotho. The last coalition government lasted only 28 months. “Even when we are out of government, we will translate our speech into action. We will soon launch a project to promote local produce and create jobs for our youths.”
But for this to happen, Mochoboroane admits he needs “to change the thinking of our politicians and the way we do things”.
It will no longer be business as usual, he insists. Mochoboroane has over the last five years patiently built a reputation as an “all-out action man” first as Deputy Minister of Local Government in 2012 before moving to the Ministry of Communications in 2014 as Minister.
He was later appointed Minister of Energy in 2015 where he also excelled in pushing the government’s rural electrification programme.
That, however, has not always endeared him with his colleagues in politics who have sometimes labelled him too ambitious.
Mochoboroane was fired from the government after he fell out with his colleagues in the LCD, an episode he now says was a blessing in disguise.
Critics say the decision to kick-out Mochoboroane haemorrhaged the party leaving it much weaker. The result was a bloody nose in the polls last June.
The LCD only managed to win a single constituency seat in party leader Mothetjoa Metsing’s Mahobong constituency.
It picked 10 other seats through the Proportional Representation (PR) system.
Even though he was hounded out of the party, Mochoboroane says he is now a much “happier man”.
“I have peace of mind, even the politics I am preaching, I am enjoying every moment of it,” he says.
“My decision to leave the LCD and form the MEC has put me in a better position to grow politically.”
He says this has freed him from the “burden of group think” as he is now free to make the right decisions without compromising his principles on the altar of political expediency. Mochoboroane says he was viscerally opposed to moves by some of his former colleagues within the LCD to sow seeds of divisions within Mosisili’s DC party.
“I did not want to be part of the people who were dividing our fellow brothers in the DC.”
He says while it is true the splits in the LCD and DC hurt the former ruling parties’ power retention agenda, the electoral pact between the two parties was doomed right from the start, with or without him in.
That is because “the two parties did not have the same mandate”, he says.
Mochoboroane argues that Lesotho needs a new constitution that will “respond to the challenges facing the country”.
He cites the case of Principal Secretaries who are the chief accounting officers for government ministries.
Mochoboroane says it is a pity that every government wants to replace serving Principal Secretaries “who are political appointees” whose appointment is not based on merit but political affiliation.
“If we have a constitution that says the chief accounting officer will not be a political appointee but must be appointed on the basis of merit, we would have taken a big step in depoliticising the public service.” He says Lesotho “needs an independent public service that serves everybody”.
Mochoboroane bemoans the failure of successive coalition governments since 2012 to work on a new Constitution to make it responsive to the needs of the new political realities.
“We failed to correct the system. The first thing was to correct the system to make it responsive to the workings of a coalition government.”
Mochoboroane believes Lesotho can resolve almost all of her political challenges particularly in implementing the Justice Mphapi Phumaphi recommendations. “As Basotho we can do things on our own. We should be able to sit down and solve our own problems. That will get us out of the mess.”
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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