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Speaking truth to power



MASERU – CRITICS say the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) is a patently biased organisation that is pursuing a partisan agenda in favour of the opposition.
That is nonsense, according to Mabusetsa Lenka Thamae, the programmes manager with TRC.

Ever since its formation in 1979, Thamae argues, the TRC has been a vital cog in the defence of democracy and human rights. It has consistently played its ‘watchdog role’ in speaking truth to power, irrespective of the government in power. That clear agenda, Thamae says, has not endeared the TRC to successive governments which have often accused the group of meddling in politics. “Our position has always been consistent since 1979. We have always been on the side of the downtrodden,” he says.
Thamae says because they speak truth to power, they have since realized that “those in power do not like a rebuke”. “We spoke against injustice in the last (coalition) government and continue to speak against injustice in the current government. We have spoken against the violation of human rights and still continue to do so.”

He says the TRC has not shied away from speaking out against torture and forced disappearances, irrespective of the government in power.
That, he says, serves as a firm rebuttal to charges that the TRC is a partisan organisation that is pushing a particular political agenda.
“Our track record shows we have always pointed at the issues; we will bequeath the same values that we live by and those values will be jealously guarded by those who will be leaders after us at the TRC.”

Thamae says he is deeply concerned by the current political situation in Lesotho which he says “is not conducive for the growth of democracy and good governance”.
“The current situation does not create a culture of civilized exchange among the people,” he argues.

“Our politics have become so divisive and vindictive.” To take Lesotho forward, Thamae says Basotho must be allowed ‘free space’ to speak out against excesses by the government.
He wants a “culture that creates an exchange of ideas”.

Thamae says the stifling of free thought “is bad for democracy and the observance and protection of human rights”.
To fix the toxic nature of Lesotho’s politics, Thamae suggests what appears to be a radical solution — allow a new crop of leaders not drawn from the politics of the 1970s which he says was a “dark period for our country”. He says the entire political leadership in Lesotho appears to be tainted by the divisive politics of the 1970s that saw former Lesotho Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan wage a brutal crackdown on elements within the then opposition Basotho Congress Party (BCP).
“Their politics is vindictive,” he says.

“We need a new crop of leadership that does not look back into the past. We should only look back into our past to learn lessons from history. We should look back in order to look forward.”But for Thamae, the problem with the current generation of political leadership is that it remains fixated on the past, with dire consequences for national healing and progress.
He argues that while it is true that Lesotho might be poor materially, “the greatest poverty lies in the leadership”.

“The current leadership is vindictive and divisive. There appears to be no agenda for nation-building, for reconstructing this society to give meaning to the politics of this nation.”
“We need a new crop of leadership whose purpose is to build a new Basotho society, to create and protect the values of democracy and entrench the rule of law.”
Thamae says Lesotho needs a new crop of leadership that will grow the economy in which “all of us are participants”.

“The new leadership should help us to look ahead and deliberately close our dark past. We should look at the next 50 years as years of hope. The last 50 years have created a society that is bitter, self-seeking and pursues a culture of revenge.”But more tellingly, Thamae says he thinks he should be allowed to have a strike at the country’s top job come the 2020 general elections. In fact, he says he sees himself one day fulfilling his life-long ambition to be Prime Minister of Lesotho.

But what gives him the confidence that he can make a difference on a job that has proven quite a daunting task over the years?
Thamae comes across as someone who is supremely confident, confidence that almost borders on the arrogance.

“I have never doubted that I will be the Prime Minister of Lesotho one day. I have always been a leader at various levels and have always championed the cause of the people,” he says.
Perhaps Thamae’s greatest claim to fame can be traced to his bruising battles he fought on behalf of villagers against the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).
The titanic battles thrust him into the limelight as he took on this “Leviathan” and won.

“I have worked tirelessly with communities affected by the LHWP. I have worked closely with communities in their struggle and demands for the right to water and sanitation,” he says.
Thamae also says he worked closely with communities in the extractive industries such as mines “to demand justice and advocate for adequate and fair compensation for resettled villagers”.

Between 2006 and 2008, Thamae served as the president of the Lesotho Council of NGOs, a powerful umbrella body for civil society.
He says such experience will come in handy when he decides to run for higher office in the near future. He adds that the fact that he is not aloof but is a “people’s person” will also help in his drive to pursue higher office.

“I have eaten with the people, I have been in the cold with the people; I have cried together with the people.”
When some soldiers were arrested in 2015 on allegations of plotting a mutiny within the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Thamae says the soldiers’ wives came to the TRC, “weeping in the corridor”.

“I cried with them and marched together with them.”
Thamae says while he now harbours serious political ambitions for the future, he once toyed with the idea of joining the priesthood after he finished his high school.
As a humble, quiet and disciplined young boy, the principal at his school felt that he would be well-suited for the priesthood, an almost fatal misreading of Thamae’s character.
And so he joined the seminary at Roma in 1986. He did not last.

“When I look back I do not think I had that call,” he says. “I only succumbed to the pressure of my role model, my teacher, and I went to the seminary.”
Although he had joined the seminary, deep down in his heart, Thamae wanted to pursue a career in the military. Unfortunately he was rejected, for reasons he says he still does not know.“I was already politically aware and was highly political when I was at the seminary between 1986 and 1988 when I dropped out.”
A year later Thamae enrolled at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) to study English, Philosophy and Political Science.

After graduation he taught briefly at St Mary’s High School in Roma until July 1998 when he joined the TRC. He says what drove him to join TRC was the “pursuit of justice and protection of human rights” and the organisation’s position which was “internationalist”. “I also enjoyed the life of selflessness, the life of serving the poor and the vulnerable.”

Thamae was born on July 3, 1968 in Koma-Koma in Thaba-Tseka where boys “would eat together from one big dish”.
He says he cherishes his rural upbringing as it taught him a sense of community from a young age.Thamae holds a Masters degree in Public Administration and an Honours degree in International Relations from the University of the Free State in South Africa. He has also written extensively on issues of democracy and good governance.

Abel Chapatarongo

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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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