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The curse of diamonds

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THABA-TSEKA – Diamonds may be said to be a woman’s best friend, but for widow ’Makatleho Mphatšoe and the nine orphans under her care, they are a curse. The 56-year-old faces abject poverty, thanks to a mining company prospecting diamonds in her village of Mohlanapeng.
She says Pure Lesotho Resources has taken over her field and fenced it, all without her consent and compensation.
She says there is no indication that the company will compensate her any time soon.

Every harvest time, the field used to give her family three bales of sorghum and two bales of beans, Mphatšoe says.
“How will I feed these children,” she says.
“I am stranded and I do not know how I will survive because that field produces a lot more than the other one I have,” Mphatsoe says.
“That field is my life. Most of my income comes from selling some of my crops after harvesting,” she says.

“Though I also sell firewood to make ends meet, without this field I am stuck. How will I buy clothes for the children and take care of their other needs?”

Mphatšoe is part of Mohlanapeng villagers who are up in arms against Pure Lesotho Resources for taking over their agricultural land without any form of consultation.

They told Mining Minister Keketso Sello two weeks ago at a public gathering that the company undermined their local authorities when it took the land without permission.

The fuming residents say they are dependent on subsistence farming hence their anger.
Fields form a critical part of their lives, they say.

Mphatšoe says she was emotionally hurt when her village chief and the local government council could not answer her questions.
“I could not do anything and decided to wait until they had an answer,” Mphatšoe says, adding the land has kept her going for years.

“I sold a kilogram of ’mela (fermented and dried sorghum for beer brewing) and beans for M15 and 20 kg of sorghum for M200,” Mphatšoe says.
She says all she wanted was for the mine to consult the rightful land owners and compensate them in a reasonable and transparent manner.
Over six fields have been fenced off and owners no longer have access to them.

’Mapuseletso Mphafi, one of the angry villagers, says she is concerned that now the mine has also fenced off the area along the Senqu River bank where shepherds used to take livestock for grazing in winter, especially sheep and lambs.

“This area is warm compared to the cattle posts where shepherds stay during the year except in winter,” Mphafi says. “My worry is what is going to happen with our livestock this coming winter,” she says. Mphafi says they also mine sand from the river and now that the land is fenced off they don’t know where they will get sand, not only for building but also for getting some income because they sell it as the community.

“The mine should be clear about how they are going to compensate us for these resources that we will no longer be able to access,” Mphafi says.
“We are wool and mohair producers and it should be very clear as to how our livestock will survive from now onward,” she says.
Mphafi also says they get grass for thatched roofing from the now fenced off land.

“The grass is already rare in most places. How are we going to maintain our houses?” Mphafi says.
The Councillor of Mohlanapeng Local Government, Majalle Majalle, says they were surprised as the council when the company started operating in the area.

Majalle says originally the mine was supposed to be at Ha-Makunyapane, some kilometres away.
“When we heard the rumour that the mine was going to be here we made inquiries trying to establish its truthfulness but we failed to get a solid response or any reliable information confirming these rumours,” Majalle says.

He says they only realised when the community’s fields were fenced off late last year that indeed there was going to be a mine in the area.
“We were confused because no one said anything to us as Mohlanapeng residents,” Majalle says.

“Even today we do not know why the mine is no longer going to be at Ha-Makunyapane. We did not even know what to say to these residents who were coming to us with complaints about their fields and other resources such as sand along the river bank,” he says.

He says they eventually found out that the Ministry of Mining had granted the mine a two year prospecting licence without saying anything to them.
“We are not pleased at all with the way the mine and the ministry approached this issue,” Majalle says.
“We should have been consulted like they consulted Makunyapane residents,” he says.

However, Majalle says they need the mine for the area’s economic development “but due process of applying for and acquiring the land must be followed”. “What we need from the mine is to follow proper procedure and be transparent with us,” Majalle says.
He pleaded with the Ministry of Mining to ensure that the mine does not cheat them when it comes to compensation and to work closely with the mine to ensure that whatever it says is what is on the ground.

“We are worried about these two years of prospecting because if there are no diamonds at all the investor will not be interested in this area in the first place,” Majalle says. “We are the ones who will suffer because our land will be patched and left with holes that we can’t do anything about,” he says.
“This is why we want the mine to follow proper procedures and come with clear strategies on how it is going to work with us.”

The chief of Mohlanapeng, Chieftainess ’Masebopeho Lerotholi, says they tried to get assistance from different government departments but in vain.
The chief also says they approached Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), a human rights advocacy and research group, for assistance.
Minister Sello went to Mohlanapeng after the chief sought help from TRC.

“We did not know what to say to the villagers when they came seeking answers,” Lerotholi says.
She says efforts were made to contact the mine and the mine was also asked to stop operations while they were trying to get information about what was happening but the mine continued.

“If the mine is not ready to follow proper procedures they should go back and remove their machinery from our land,” the chief says.
“They will come when they are ready to consult and work with us,” she says.
Former Thaba-Tseka MP, ’Mathabo Moremoholo, says she knew about the mine during her term and “it is surprising that the residents of Mohlanapeng do not know about it”.

“However, since it looks like there has been a misunderstanding or miscommunication between the mine and the residents, these parties must to go back, sit down and iron things out for the benefit of the residents,” Moremoholo says.
She says the residents of Mohlanapeng are poor and hungry and this development will create jobs and improve their livelihoods.
The current MP ’Mamoipone Senauoane says she was not aware about the mine and she only found out when people started complaining about their fields.

In the quest to understand what was happening Senauoane says they approached one of the field owners and found that she had been compensated.
“We called that person to try and find out how she made a deal with the mine and to our shock we discovered that the mine paid that person only M12 000 for two fields,” Senauoane says.

She says at the time of the meeting the person said there was only M1000 left.
“She did not know if the money was for a month, a year, a lifetime and we also don’t know,” the chief says.

“But we do know that land is a precious commodity that these people would still benefit from in the next 100 years,” she says.
Chief Karabo Lerotholi, from the principal chief’s office, says he was ashamed of the way politicians have turned the nation against each other.
He says it is unfortunate that the compensated individual accepted the money without understanding the terms and conditions that were attached to that money.

He pleaded with the mine to engage effectively with villagers and all relevant stakeholders for the development and benefit of Basotho.
Director of Pure Lesotho Resources, Lefa Monaheng, says the company followed procedures.
Monaheng says the company has compensated the owners of the affected fields and if there are those who have not been compensated “they are yet to be compensated”.

He says the company has entered into an agreement with tide owners of two fields not six as the villagers claim.
“To my knowledge two people have been compensated and now that it appears that only one has been compensated it shows that we should go and investigate what happened to the money,” Monaheng says.

He says the money was just for convenience and more will follow.
“We will compensate people in alignment with the national compensation policy. If it is not available we will adopt the world’s best practices because at the end of the day we want to work in harmony with residents,” Monaheng says.

He says the company “could not stop operations because the heavy machinery that we use is hired and costly as we pay hourly ranging from M600 to M1200”.

He says stopping operations and coming back might take the mine two years to work in the area again because “investors are sensitive people who do not like disputes”.

“From now onwards the mine will try by all means to ensure that all relevant stakeholders are engaged thoroughly,” Monaheng says.
Mining Minister Keketso Sello says the mining policy needs to be reviewed especially with regards to shareholding.
He urges the concerned stakeholders to work together.

“However, sometimes we as residents have expectations which at times are beyond the mines’ capacity and we should be mindful of that,” Sello says.
“We need more mines for the development of the country and economic growth,” he says.
“If we treat investors harshly they will go. After all there are a lot of countries looking for these investments.”

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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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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