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Ralikariki: young, smart and driving change



MASERU – WRITER Darren Shan’s most quoted words: “Destiny’s what you make of it,” could not be more true for Mohale Ralikariki, the Storm Mountain Diamond’s Corporate CEO.
Given the mountain of challenges that he faced earlier in life, it would have been easier for Ralikariki to give up. His father died when he was young leaving him and seven other siblings to battle it out with the support of their mother.

Despite the challenges, Ralikariki says he was quite fortunate to “attend some of the best schools in the world”. He completed his first degree at the Higher Institute of Mining and Metallurgy in Cuba, then went to pursue a Masters’ degree in Mining Engineering at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

“Through God’s mercy and hard work I have achieved more than what I had earlier anticipated,” he says.
Ralikariki served as the Commissioner of Mines, being the custodian of mineral endowment of Lesotho, serving and protecting the best interests of the nation.
Now he is the Corporate Chief Executive Officer of Storm Mountain Diamonds, the company that is mining the largest kimberlite pipe in Lesotho and the fourth largest in southern Africa.
“There is a saying that from humble beginnings come great things. I was one of those who defied universal laws of nature, overcoming poverty and various obstacles to achieve my dreams,” Ralikariki says.

Ralikariki is the sixth child in a family of eight children in which the “mother was a devoted widow who worked hard to provide for her family as a bread winner”.
“It was a nightmare for my tenacious mother to provide for a family of eight children. I was not fortunate enough to be born with a silver spoon in my mouth, we were wrecked by poverty,” he says.
Ralikariki says sometimes he would leave home so that he could live with relatives while his mother went to Mpumalanga, South Africa, to look for menial jobs.
He says “it was really hard”.

“I was brought up by grandmother in a small village of Ha-Jobo until the age of 10 when I went back home to look after the family cattle and sheep,” he says.
Ralikariki says when he was in Standard 5, he assumed his new role as the herd boy, a role he “continued to play until I finished my high school”.
In most cases young men in Ralikariki’s situation, especially in rural areas like Ha-Ralikariki in Leribe where he was born, opt to go to initiation school and thereafter enter marriage early in life.
Many of them leave their young wives and go to towns in search of jobs, which in most cases they never get. Ralikariki viewed life differently.

“Like most young men of my age who lived in the rural areas, farming and livestock became my main responsibilities, but my passion was education,” he says.
“I would read every piece of paper I came across being blown by the wind and (I used) every opportunity I got (to go to) school and after school I would be back to my chores.”
His school was about seven kilometres away, and every school day, he would go down the valleys, cross the streams and walk through some forests.
Sometimes, he would go to school on an empty stomach and have nothing for lunch. “The days were long, yet I never lost hope, I remained focused and committed to my school,” he says.  “My life at that time was defined by three things: farming, looking after our livestock and following my passion which was going to school whether I had eaten or not, barefooted or with safety boots,” he says.

Ralikariki says his belief in God and that everything was possible provided him with the inspiration that all would be well, eventually.
“I had a strong desire for success, I was relentless, persistent, committed and focused. I believed that success comes in small packages and all I needed was to assemble them,” he says.
“I looked beyond my reality and saw opportunity in every obstacle encountered.”  He says his mother was supportive and she loved education because “she had a strong belief that our lives could be transformed by education and therefore she spent every hard earned penny investing in our education”.

His desire for education intensified when he saw his elder brother, Paul Ralikariki, making it to tertiary and going to Egypt to further his studies.
“For us it was such milestone, I looked up to him as my role model. He inspired me a lot and he continues to do so,” he says.
Ralikariki says while at tertiary school, he was inspired by Cuba’s revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro. But Ralikariki did not always think he would end up in a mining environment. That is because as a young man, his passion was medicine. “I thought it was the best way to serve humanity, saving people’s lives.”

Later he realised that he was too curious, trying to discover the unknown territories of his mind, questioning the origin of the knowns and the magic that brought them into existence.
“No single answer was enough for me, as I grew up, I was hands on, fixing every broken appliance at home, then I started translating my dreams into reality,” he says.
Ralikariki says he developed a remarkable passion for engineering, to the extent that in 2000 when he enrolled with the National University of Lesotho to pursue a Bachelor of Science General degree he would miss lectures and spend days in the library reading engineering books and journals.

He says he did this for two years that he spent at the NUL until he quit and went to study Mining Engineering in Cuba.
Talking about modern age engineering, he says it is more exciting than challenging, from fancy classroom environment of virtual learning to addressing the real hard-core issues that are happening in a dynamic corporate ecosystem.   Engineers, he says, are now required to add to their package an understanding of the politics, the stringent regulatory framework, the fluctuating economy, the changing technological trends and the dynamics of the corporate environment.

“Our mining industry is nascent, but vastly growing, it needs appropriate skills to support its growth, engineers are needed all over,” he says.
Ralikariki says there are tremendous opportunities for qualified engineers, whether within the country or outside.

“Most of the engineers are ageing now, leaving a vacuum for the younger generation to fill in,” he says.  “There are different engineering fields, although I am inclined to mining, but I still encourage students to consider other engineering disciplines as well. We need innovation and creativity of engineers to transform the economy.”

He says Lesotho’s diamond mining industry is nascent and it has the potential to grow but “there is increasing concern about the over-regulation”.
“Regulatory entities continue enacting laws that have direct impact on the industry without proper consultations, this is going to have a detrimental impact on the business,” he says.
“Some of these legal instruments are too descriptive, inhibiting the growth of the industry.”

Ralikariki says political stability is key to attracting and retaining foreign investment adding that frequent regime change is considered high risk and will definitely limit growth.
“We have a great future for as long as we nurture it and create an environment in which investors can earn competitive returns while the nation is maximising economic benefits from exploitation of these minerals,” he says. Lesotho’s diamond industry has for long been dominated by one mine, Letšeng Diamonds, until Kao came into the picture in 2010.

There are exciting developments within the industry. Last year Kao commissioned an upgraded plant, with an increase of throughput from 300 000tpm to 400 000tpm.
“These are positive developments, there have been increased employment opportunities and definitely there will be increased contribution to government fiscals,” he says.
Ralikariki says for Lesotho to benefit more from the diamond industry, there is a lot that needs to be done, but change should be gradual and defined within realistic terms.
“There is a serious lack of understanding of the diamond value chain, more education is needed, both to ordinary citizens and even to policy makers,” he says.

If the country is to maximise economic benefits from mining, “the general thinking of milking the cow until it dies should be changed to feeding it to produce more milk”.
“Regulators need to create a favourable environment for investment by enacting appropriate policies and investment friendly legal framework,” he says.

“Some regulatory institutions need to coordinate their activities to avoid working in silos, it is affecting the operations.” Asked if he would take the same route if given another chance to start all over again, he says “I would still eventually get married to the same wife I am married to, at least at an earlier age to enjoy life more together”.

“I have had a stupendous life and I am grateful to God for all He has given to me, I do not wish to change anything.”

Caswell Tlali

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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.”

Own Correspondent

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Ready-to-cook vegetables



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



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:

  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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