Teboho Kitela Molapo
Lesotho is 50 years old, a momentous milestone for the country. In those 50 years the country has made promising strides and continues to grow despite challenges and setbacks.
Lesotho is ranked high in gender equality and despite a high HIV prevalence rate primary education is now free, universal and compulsory.
However, as is the case with such a young existence, plenty of areas need to be improved upon and one of them is the state and direction of sports in Lesotho.
Like the country itself, Lesotho’s sport has made strides. Football, the country’s main sport has, for example, seen a steady if slow increase in sponsorship over the past decade.
Companies such as Vodacom Lesotho, Alliance Insurance, Metropolitan Lesotho and Standard Bank Lesotho are top contributors on the local sports scene.
Football also has a facility like the Maputsoe DiFA Stadium – a forward thinking project that should be applauded.
There have been achievements in other sports as well. Just this year, sprinter Mosito Lehata became a silver medallist in the prestigious 100 metres event at the African Championships while Phetetso Monese became the first cyclist to ever make the Olympic Games.
And even though Team Lesotho won no medals at the Rio Games, Lesotho sent an eight member team to the Olympics, an improvement on the four that went to Beijing 2008 and the five in London 2012.
However, even with these positive steps, the sad reality is they are a drop in the ocean and that sport in Lesotho, by and large, remains an after-thought and, at best, a hobby.
The result is whereas athletes around the world get multi-million deals, Lesotho’s athletes pretty much find themselves where their predecessors were 50 years ago.
Until today they are not receiving the maximum from what they love and their precious talent.
That is why Lesotho hasn’t won an international gold since Thabiso Moqhali’s marathon win at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, a vivid illustration as any of the overall stagnation of sports in Lesotho.
So as the country celebrates its 50th birthday, for sports the occasion represents a crossroads.
Why? Because there is too much still to be done.
The worrying status quo and stagnation
The power of sport is always evident when Lesotho does well in the sporting arena.
Whether it was Lehata’s run to the 200 metres finals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Motlokoa Nkhabutlane winning the Two Oceans Marathon last year or Lesotho’s memorable run to the final of the 2000 COSAFA Cup, the country came to a standstill as it egged its heroes on in the hope of victory.
However, disturbingly, as soon as the events finish their feats seem to be forgotten.
Things quickly return to the status quo where there is a lack of commitment to the continuous daily improvement of sports in Lesotho.
To be sure, there is a myriad of problems facing Lesotho sports right now. Some are rooted in a history chequered with unfulfilled political promises and neglect. Without touching on the political motives of regimes past, it is clear there has been no discernable improvement in the way sport is run.
Sport administration in Lesotho is certainly as low as it has ever been and one needs to look no further than the Lesotho Football Association where the national team, Likuena, has not had a head coach for three years.
The meagre resources allocated by the main stakeholder, government, as well as petty politicking by individuals that lead the national associations don’t help. In addition, sports associations are often headed by people with little knowledge or experience in the sport-codes they manage.
The result is that athletes suffer and sport stagnates.
The athletes need more motivation because for all the extraordinary physical feats that you see, sport is actually run on softer skills. Athletes have to be nurtured, encouraged and cajoled.
There are poor facilities. For track athletes for example Setsoto Stadium offers the only training arena. This is the frustration for athletes, such as Lehata who was based in Mauritius partly for the same reasons.
The result is that too many young talented players are still leaving the game because development is so poor. Delve deep into the country’s systems and it is clear there is a disconnect from grassroots to the elite levels they are supposed to feed.
Ministry of Sport and Support
The moving of sports from the former Ministry of Tourism, Sports, Arts and Culture and bundling it together with issues of Gender Equality still rankles.
Heaps of the ministry’s budget will necessarily go towards gender equality and not sport. For the 2016/17 financial year the ministry received M108.9 million and M10 million went to sport.
South Korea established a “Ministry of Sports” in 1983. Britain has had “Sport” in the title of a government department since 1997. After those institutions were launched, each country increased its Olympic medal share.
The stretched gambit of the ministry of Gender, Youth, Sport and Recreation means it can’t focus on certain variables when it comes to sport.
What if companies such were encouraged to put more effort in sport? It could work if the government gave them concessions against infrastructure built and loaded incentives for helping world class athletes.
The government introduced the tax rebate law but it is not enough. More needs to be done.
Where to next?
The overriding feeling in the research for this was is that first and foremost the people in charge of running our sports should look at themselves and ask if they have done enough to elevate our sports?
There are several strategies that can be used such as an intrinsic plan by the government to systematically improve sports. In the 1960s and 1970s Soviet bloc countries pioneered such institutionalisation whereby they created a centralised system for identifying talented athletes, supporting them financially and providing them with first-class training facilities, coaching and scientific expertise.
The governments has to have a hands-on approach and make strategic decisions to direct the course of sports.
Two modern-day examples are the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and the Norwegian Olympiatoppen (OT). The AIS and OT have such high-performance sport policies that scholars even called these agencies “medal factories.” There is no need to go to these lengths given the resources the country has, but the point is that there is no plan.
Wealth and size aren’t the only paths to Olympic victory. With the right policies, even the world’s poorest countries have thrived in the sporting arena.
For instance, Ethiopia invests in running, winning all 45 Olympic medals for the country in that sport, most of them in long-distance running. Cuba focuses on boxing, and has won 67 of its 209 summer Olympic medals in that sport.
The disconnect between sport and education should not be so. Education and sport need to go hand in hand. In the end this is the most powerful tool and avenue available to Lesotho.
The first 50 years were a foundation. Hopefully the next can be a step up for the country.
A political, social and cultural ethos that sees sporting excellence as an imperative is necessary. This requires long-term vision, meticulous planning and hard-boiled execution.
Lesotho has been found wanting in all these aspects, caused essentially by government ineffectiveness and that has been augmented by an increasing public indifference.
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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