TEYA-TEYANENG – WHEN Dr Khauhelo Deborah Raditapole learnt that she was to be shuffled to the Ministry of Trade from the Ministry of Natural Resources in 1996, she was not amused and so she resigned.
What had appeared to be an innocuous decision by the then Prime Minister Dr Ntsu Mokhehle was a bitter pill to swallow for Raditapole who had immense respect for the premier who she considered both a father and political mentor.
But what triggered the anger was that Mokhehle had a year earlier transferred her from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Natural Resources. And when she was almost finding her feet in her new ministry, she was being asked to move again.
“Mokhehle did not tell me why I was being moved from the Ministry of Health and when I was moved from Natural Resources I said enough was enough and resigned,” she says.
“I felt very frustrated. I felt we were taking the wrong decisions.”
Besides, Basotho had never heard that a minister could resign.
Difficult as the decision to resign was, Raditapole says it had to be done “as a matter of principle”.
With Raditapole out of Cabinet, she continued her colourful political career as a backbencher in Lesotho’s parliament.
At 78, Raditapole has seen most of Lesotho’s politicians enter and exit the political stage.
She says when democracy was reintroduced in Lesotho in 1993, the new government led by Mokhehle was driven by a “fear of the Nationalists”, referring to members of the Basotho National Party (BNP) who had ruled the country since 1965.
“That fear took priority over what we wanted to do. The fear greatly contributed to polarization in the country. We needed Basotho to relook and understand politics in a more constructive way.”
She says the polarization hindered economic development for Lesotho as individuals pursued narrow political interests instead of the national good.
“The spirit of patriotism was lacking. We were taught a spirit of negativity which polarized the nation. We saw each other as Nationalists and Congress and not as Basotho. We have to look at the interests of Basotho rather than of the party.”
Raditapole was elected into the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) National Executive Committee at the party’s first annual congress since the end of emergency rule in 1992. She contested in the general election on a BCP ticket in Mabote constituency in 1993 and retained the seat until 1998.
She also served as the first minister of health in the Mokhehle-led government. It was a period of political uncertainty marked by deep suspicions and acrimony among the contending parties.
Raditapole says when she walked into office she found most of the staff at the ministry were hard-core BNP supporters.
“There were huge challenges. We had to break the animosity. I looked at them as professionals and never appointed individuals on the basis of political affiliation which got me into trouble with my colleagues,” she says.
“The morale among staff was also very low. We had to tell them that we are working for the people and not the political parties. It was not easy.”
However, the biggest challenge was in getting the right people with the right skills in key positions in the ministry “that would impact the health delivery services”.
She says she had to keep on telling her staff that “we are professionals first and party people second”.
Raditapole says the period 1994 was marked by uncertainty as the country battled challenges on the political front. They also had to grapple with a burgeoning HIV/AIDS crisis that threatened to wipe out a huge chunk of Lesotho’s population.
As Minister of Health she was directly responsible in crafting a coherent strategy to contain the epidemic.
“We had done our groundwork in anticipating the challenges in dealing with HIV but government wheels move slowly and were soon overwhelmed.”
But when she was almost settling at the Ministry of Health, Raditapole was shuffled to the Ministry of Natural Resources where she soon came face-to-face with a whole new set of challenges.
She says she found it odd that Lesotho would boast of its “white gold” when the majority of her citizens did not have access to clean water. At the same time vast quantities of water were also being piped to South Africa.
“I could not sleep with a clean conscience and we had to do something.”
Raditapole says when she arrived at the ministry the Phuthiatsana irrigation project had been thrown away after arguments “that it was cheaper to buy cabbages from South Africa”.
She says she worked hard to resuscitate what was originally known as the Jordan basin project which ultimately became the Metolong Dam project to ensure Basotho had access to clean water until she resigned from her ministerial post.
But does she have any regrets?
Raditapole says when she looks back at her life she always battles a lingering feeling that she did not do what she ought to have done.
The break-up of the BCP in 1997 when Mokhehle walked out of the party to form the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) was really painful for her.
The result of that break-up, she says, is that “we have thrown each other away”.
“People who fought so hard for us to be here are being forgotten. When they die we don’t even recognise them. We cannot deny that those people were there during the most difficult period of our lives.”
She says some cadres of the BCP’s military wing, the Lesotho Liberation Army, “never made it back home and their remains continue to lie outside the country”.
“We need to recognise those people who died fighting for their people. By not recognising their efforts we are destroying our history.”
“That is one of my greatest regrets. We use Ntsu’s name (Mokhehle) when we want to campaign but we have not done enough to honour him. Not even a street has been named after him.”
Raditapole says the neglect of the former combatants’ families “perpetuates the spirit of vengeance and polarisation in Lesotho”.
Raditapole was born in Maseru on August 7, 1938 to a father who was a civil servant. She completed her high school at Basutoland High School in 1959 and won a scholarship to study pharmacy in the Soviet Union and later went to the US to further her studies.
She was among the second batch of students sent by the BCP to the Soviet Union to study. She enrolled for a pharmacy degree at Lvov Medical School in Ukraine from 1962 to 1967.
Raditapole says while this was a period of austerity in the Soviet Union with basic things such as sugar, bread and meat in short supply they as foreign students were well catered for.
She says she still has fond memories of the Soviets’ medical system that provided basic care to everyone regardless of whether they could afford or not.
“At every street there was a doctor who conducted medical check-ups. This was routine for the Russians and we found it extremely good.”
After her medical training Raditapole could not immediately come back home due to the existing political climate in Lesotho and the fact that South Africa had declared her persona non grata claiming she had been sent to the Soviet Union “to be trained how to make bombs”.
Raditapole and many of her colleagues found refuge in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which had provided succor to many liberation movements from southern Africa.
She stayed in Tanzania for 10 years until she was invited to come back home by former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane who was then working in the government as a principal secretary in the Ministry of Health.
Raditapole returned to Lesotho in 1981 and worked at the government-owned Lesotho Pharmaceutical Corporation, a flagship company that manufactured drugs for export. The company went bust in the 1990s.
She says while could go about her business without being molested by political zealots she sensed a “stifling political atmosphere” due to the prevailing state of politics.
“They needed my services but knew I had been sent (to school) by the BCP. They knew where I stood politically.”
Raditapole says while serving her country at Lesotho Pharmaceutical Corporation was fun she often clashed with some white officials hired at the company over policy matters.
“They wanted to produce sub-standard products because they were for the poor and I could not take that. I believed that what is good for the white-man is also good for the blackman.”
She says the coup of 1986 came as a relief to her and her allies in the BCP who celebrated the military take-over of the government.
“The general feeling was that you were not free unless you belonged to the BNP. People were excited after the overthrow of Chief Leabua Jonathan. It gave us a bit of breathing space to say what you wanted and put on the colours you wanted.”
She says the military coup meant that the Order No.4 which banned all political activity and shelved the Constitution after the 1970 election was lifted, giving Basotho a rare sniff at political freedoms in over a decade.
Raditapole says while Lesotho has had its challenges over the last 50 years since independence in 1966 it is a patently false to claim that it has always been all doom and gloom.
“I hate that negativity,” she says.
“It’s not true that we have not done anything good over the years. It would be easy to magnify the sad things and neglect the good. But I am not denying we could have done better.”
“The challenge is to take the baton and make Lesotho greater. A political struggle is a non-ending journey. Once we lose hope we are lost as a nation.”
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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