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The bells are tolling for Thabane

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MASERU – “WHEN you have mastered numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, any more than you read words when reading books you will be reading meanings,” said William E.B. Du Bois, an author, historian and civil rights activist.
By now Prime Minister Thomas Thabane should have grasped the import of the numbers in the crushing defeat his government suffered in Parliament on Monday.
Only 49 MPs voted for the National Reforms Bill. The opposition responded with an emphatic 56 votes to stop the Bill in its tracks.
The vote itself was supposed to be a simple parliamentary chore: this was an important Bill to push through the much touted reforms and there was no real dispute on its content.
But these are not normal times in either the parliament or our politics. The opposition is not hostile to the bill but want to flex their newly found muscle against a cornered Prime Minister.
Sensing blood and emboldened by the chaos in the All Basotho Convention (ABC), the opposition is using every opportunity to test Thabane’s popularity.
Monday’s vote presented a golden chance for the opposition to assess how their proposed vote of no confidence against Thabane might go.
And the numbers showed that they are on the money.
If that was the result of the vote of no confidence then Thabane would have been packing his bags from the State House. It only takes a simple majority of the MPs present in a parliamentary session to topple a Prime Minister.

Even if we consider the other 15 MPs who were not in parliament on Monday its clear that Thabane is hanging on to power by the tip of his fingers. Nine of those MPs are spread between Professor Nqosa Mahao’s faction of the ABC, the Movement for Economic Change (MEC), the Democratic Congress (DC) and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD). That takes the number of MPs pushing for Thabane’s ouster to 65.
Yet there is more.
One of the 49 MPs who voted with the government belongs to Professor Mahao’s faction. He is said to have since told his comrades in the faction that his vote with the government should not be construed to mean he is breaking ranks with them. If he sticks to his word it means Thabane will face 66 hostile MPs if the no confidence motion is eventually put to a vote. That makes his position more precarious than what political rhetoric, banter and speculation have previously suggested.

How to wriggle out of this quagmire is something that must be giving the Prime Minister a pounding headache. Where to get the numbers to fend off the vote is his biggest problem.
If this was eight months ago, when the chaos in the ABC was just starting, Thabane would have extended an olive branch to his nemeses and cobbled up a deal to keep his party intact.
Now the damage is done and Thabane is leading a split party, half of whose MPs are openly conniving with the opposition to push him out. So gruesome has been the brawl that it has nullified any prospect of peace between the factions. His attempts to cripple the other faction by firing its leaders have been blocked in the courts.
He could lure some of Mahao’s MPs with promises of coveted cabinet jobs but that would be at the risk of alienating the allies whose support he desperately need for political survival. So without the support of Mahao’s MPs, the Prime Minister is a sitting duck.

Still he has to get the numbers from somewhere to insulate himself from the vote. That is why for the past three months Thabane has turned to the LCD to augment his waning numbers.
It is not clear what kind of carrots he is dangling to Mothetjoa Metsing, his sworn enemy, but it can be safely speculated that they include some seats in cabinet and plum government positions.
Metsing has spoken vaguely about the possibility of a Government of National Unity. But that idea has found few takers in the opposition and even some LCD MPs who believe Thabane should fall on his sword.
Many opposition MPs believe that they have Thabane in a tight corner. They see a GNU as an arrangement that will only give a lifeline to Thabane who they believe has little leverage left to play.
Even if Thabane and Metsing can stitch up some arrangement, there is no guarantee that LCD MPs will pledge their votes to save his premiership. Metsing already faces an insurrection from some in his party, including MPs, who don’t agree with his ambivalence to Thabane’s overtures and are already frustrated with his leadership style. His LCD ship is in choppy waters as well.
So far Thabane has found it tough to entice some opposition MPs to help him fight his cause. He is deeply loathed by DC MPs.
Out of options, the Prime Minister seems to be resorting to a familiar game he played in 2014 when he was leader of Lesotho’s coalition government: frustrate the vote of no confidence for as long as possible by keeping the parliament shut.

Yet history has shown that this strategy can only work for some time. On June 10, 2014, Thabane hurriedly prorogued parliament.
He peddled the decision as a way to give him and his coalition partners time to patch their differences but the real reason was that it was a preemptive strike against a parliament that was ready to push him out.
A nasty fallout with his then deputy Prime Minister, Metsing, had whittled Thabane’s numbers in parliament and exposed him to a vote of no confidence.
Were it not for the pressure from SADC Thabane would have kept the parliament closed for 12 months as is allowed by the constitution.
After a tumultuous three months he buckled to regional pressure, reopened the parliament and called an election that ended his tenure.
It is doubtful that SADC will be as disdainful as it was five years ago if Thabane pulls the same stunt this time around. He can count on the fact that SADC is not as engaged with the Lesotho crisis as it was in 2014.
But just because SADC had cooled off its interest in Lesotho doesn’t mean Thabane is entirely free to use his powers to mute a parliament baying for his head.
That strategy comes with its own risks.

Internally, his position is weaker than it was during the first coalition.
Back in 2014 Thabane’s main problem was with his coalition partners and not his own party’s leadership. He had the backing of all his MPs who saw Metsing as a “congress man” out to sabotage a government they had installed after six years of a bitter struggle.
Thabane had cleverly turned the public anger against Metsing.
It was easy to blame the lack of jobs, festering corruption, biting poverty on Metsing.
It was an easy sale: Here was a belligerent deputy resisting the fight against corruption and disrupting government projects.

Today Thabane doesn’t have a boogeyman. The once meddlesome army is largely tamed and remains in the barracks. Monyane Moleleki, his deputy, is playing ball and has stayed out of the ABC battles.
The other coalition partners are fighting in his corner.
The trouble is within Thabane’s party where he has dismally failed to manage the succession battle.
It is his own comrades who want to topple him. It’s only for practical purposes that his opponents have joined forces with the position. The pressure to reopen parliament will therefore not come from SADC but his own party.

It hasn’t helped that Thabane has been losing the propaganda war waged by the Mahao faction. The faction has painted him as a leader who has no respect for the party’s democratic processes.
For evidence of this, they say, look at how he had fought to block Mahao’s committee from taking over despite a court order. They have also portrayed him as a weak leader who has allowed himself to be manipulated by his young and ambitious wife. For proof of this they point to allegations that the First Lady is nudging him to appoint her cronies and friends in government.
They say Thabane has been captured by a cabal of people doing the First Lady’s bidding.
Although backed by scant evidence, these allegations have resonated with a public already disappointed with Thabane’s rule.
All this means that this time Thabane will have to deal with intense internal pressure to reopen parliament.
Of course he will stretch his constitutional powers as far as they can take him when it comes to the opening and closing of parliament. The constitution is silent on when the parliament should reopen after the winter recess.

He can also bank on Speaker of Parliament, Sephiri Motanyane, who seems sympathetic to his cause. Motanyane’s decision to block the motion in June and hastily adjourn the parliament for the winter break was widely seen as an attempt to shield Thabane.
Motanyane said the motion could not be discussed because it had been brought by an MP who belongs to the ruling party. He also said Sam Rapapa, who had been suggested to replace Thabane, could not be Prime Minister because he is a ruling party member and is not a leader of the opposition or a coalition.
Motanyane stood by that explanation even as MPs vehemently protested. He reiterated those reasons in an interview with thepost a few hours after he adjourned parliament.
But now he can no longer claim to stand on firm ground because his hand has been weakened by a recent legal opinion from Attorney General, Haae Phoofolo, who said his reasons for rejecting the motion were unconstitutional.

That leaves Motanyane with only one card to play: keeping the parliament shut.
Yet he can only do that for some time before it becomes apparent that he and the Prime Minister are engaged in political gymnastics. Sooner rather than later, Thabane will have to face a hostile parliament and Motanyane will not have another trick to save him. Without parliament the reforms will stall and so are other Bills.
There is only so much a Prime Minister can do without parliament.
The bells are tolling.

Staff Reporter

 

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Lesotho’s own brandy

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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

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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

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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?
Nope!

“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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