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The man who has seen it all

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MASERU – RUCKUS over whether national political reforms should be a priority is a sheer waste of time, according to former Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla.
As if he is reading a line from 20th century Scottish reformist and journalist, Samuel Smiles, Lehohla thinks mere political reform will not cure the manifold evils afflicting Lesotho.
Smiles posited that “there requires a social reform, a domestic reform, an individual reform” and this is what Lehohla believes in albeit put in different words.
He believes that the spirit of Moshoeshoe-ism, of selfless nation building based on humanity should prevail if Basotho are to realise true reform.
“In my opinion we need to reform ourselves instead of reforming the law,” he says.

“We do things in a wrong way and later blame the constitution saying it is faulty, saying it has not worked,” he says.
“We have not allowed it to work. Do we want a constitution that is prescriptive of every statutory position? Surely we don’t need the constitution to be that detailed.”
Lehohla says there are certain things that should not be done because of the respect for an office one is holding even if the law is silent on them.
He says this is what is called abiding by the spirit of the law.

“We politicians often say what law does not stop it has allowed and as we say so we continue to do wrongful things and later blame the constitution saying it is faulty.”
He says political reform is neither here nor there, what is important is to retrospect and cherish our national unity as a heritage left to us by Moshoeshoe.
“We have not consolidated what we have. Who can deny that Moshoeshoe was a nation builder and that all we have to do is to lean on what we found already built?”
“Why have we failed to consolidate what was already there?”

Lehohla says for aeons Basotho have had a false sense of security because they were comfortable working in South Africa, developing it, and regarding their country as just a resting place.
He says Basotho did not pay attention to the need to shape their nation the way they wanted it but saw jobs in apartheid South Africa as a means to solve all their problems.

So, when the neighbouring country got political freedom and re-shifted its priorities, no longer using Lesotho as its labour reserve, thousands of Basotho were stranded and with no home to go to.
“We had a false sense of security when we were the excess labour for South Africa. We did not build our own nation, building on what Moshoeshoe had left for us.”
Lehohla says he is particularly concerned about youth unemployment “especially when we have put them through school at great expense”.
He says Basotho’s greatest challenge at independence was creating jobs for the population.

Government was until then the single largest employer in the country.
The excess labour was destined for employment with the goldfields in South Africa.
Everybody else was engaged in subsistence agriculture.

Clearly rain fed farming was increasingly getting too risky to be relied upon.
Much as irrigated agriculture is initially capital intensive but in the long run it pays dividends.

“I say this because most of our people are in the rural areas where they rely on subsistence farming. All they need is to be empowered and enabled,” he says.
Lehohla regards land degradation and erosion as “serious enemies of the farmer and by extension our national enemies threatening our food supply, habitat and environment”.
“We need to address these challenges head on in an integrated way. If it is a war that must be won, we must put resources in there. This immediately translates into serious employment in the rural areas where people are, people who do not necessarily want to leave their homes to live in urban areas.”

He says that immediately stems the tide of rural poverty and helps to improve agricultural productivity and the environment.
“What I am saying in short is get water, experts and requisite resources where people are and encourage agro industries as a path way to diversify our industry in a sustainable way.”
Lehohla bemoans the gangs violence that has bedevilled his home district of Mafeteng –famo and blanket wars that blemished the district.

“Incidentally a proper reading of the situation suggests to me it is no longer a Mafeteng phenomenon in as much as it is engulfing the whole country and putting at risk law and order in the country in view of the fact that it is encroaching into the whole body politic,” he says.
“I am not aware that law enforcement has been able to cope with these heinous crimes, putting the perpetrators through the courts to account for their deeds. On the contrary one sees an escalation of unbridled murders of our elderly parents.”

Lehohla says the erstwhile murders related to so-called litotoma (disused mines in South Africa) are on the increase.
“Never in the history of Lesotho in living memory have we witnessed such brutality and cruelty of Mosotho to Mosotho, it is simply unprecedented,” he says.
“What is most disturbing is the lethargy of law enforcement to deal effectively with this threat. The firearms that seem to flood our country willy-nilly are the single largest threat to our security sovereignty.”

To solve the problem, he says the country should pay more attention to job creation for the youth.
He says he is happy to note the efforts of the NUL today in trying to train its graduates to be creative and creators of employment rather than being seekers of employment on completion of their studies.

He says industry and government should try and lend a helping hand to institutions that redirect their curriculum to enable their graduates to be equipped to face contemporary challenges.
Son of a primary school teacher, also raised by a maternal uncle who was a high school teacher in his late teens, Lehohla never thought he would be a politician.
With a smile, he recalls that he wanted to be a lawyer but because “I was good in mathematics and sciences I chose a different career, where my strength was”.
Born in July 1946 in Mafeteng Lehohla is the second child in a family of six siblings, three boys and three girls.

The eldest is the former Chief Justice of Lesotho, Mahapela Lehohla, the current chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission.
The last born is a long time South Africa’s top statistician, Pali Lehohla.

After graduating from Harmony Primary School he went to the then Mafeteng Secondary School, later renamed Bereng High School, where his love for mathematics and sciences was nurtured and grew. For higher secondary education, he enrolled with the then Basutoland High School (now Lesotho High School) after his mother’s death at the age of 52 in 1964.
Actually, it was his maternal uncle who had offered to take him in and lived with him in Maseru as a teacher at the school.
It was at this school where he realised his potential as a mathematics student. He had been at a school that did not have specialising teachers and sometimes they would go for days without a teacher.

At this new school he had the benefit of being taught every day and he leveraged on that, together with his friend with whom they were from Mafeteng Secondary.
In 1966 he enrolled with the University of Bechuanaland, Basutoland and Swaziland, as the National University of Lesotho was then called.
That is where he was formally introduced to politics by peers.

There were the likes of former South African President Thabo Mbeki’s brother, Jama Mbeki, former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and many others from around the SADC region.
“There were many students from South Africa,” he says, adding that these had fled apartheid in their country.
Lehohla remembers vividly his first voting experience in 1970, and the eagerness he showed in putting his Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) to power after it was defeated by Leabua Jonathan’s Basotho National Party (BNP) in 1965.

“I and my friend were so eager to vote in our own constituencies that we decided to walk from Roma to Mafeteng to vote,” he says.
They got a lift near Ha-’Mantšebo and managed to reach to Mafeteng on time.
The ballot counting started and at the time, already returned to the university campus, “we refused to go to the classes and our ears were glued to the radios listening to the results”.
Lehohla said the BCP was ahead with several constituencies in urban and peri-urban and it was clear to everybody that the BNP was losing.

“After the announcement of Thaba Moea results, the counting was never announced. Instead, there was short announcement that we should wait for an important announcement,” he says.
When it finally came, Prime Minister Jonathan announced that there had been violence during the election and that women were even raped and therefore the elections were annulled.
That was when the Prime Minister suspended the constitution and declared the state of emergency.

Luckily, exams had already been written and the students were waiting for the results.
Lehohla says the students were not happy with the political status quo and wanted to march to Maseru to protest against the government.
During those trying days, the police ransacked his house and when they saw his chemistry book with illustrations of molecules on the cover, they said he was using it to learn how to make bombs.
He was arrested and later thrown in the Maseru Maximum Security Prison for one year and six months without any charges.

That was where he found the bulk of the BCP leadership including Ntsu Mokhehle and other youths like Mosisili already incarcerated.
When they were finally released, he and Mosisili were given restriction orders not to go outside Mafeteng.
Mosisili’s brother was a policeman working in Mafeteng and he had offered to keep him hence he was not taken to Qacha’s Nek, his home town.

Lehohla said he had passed so well at school that the Wadham College Junior Common Room at Oxford offered to pay for him to study at Oxford University and the British government put Lesotho under immense pressure to release him.

Taking chances, undercover police tried to recruit him so that he could be their spy within the BCP and when he declined they told him that the government would not facilitate his going to Oxford. The British continued to put the government under pressure “and because they were Lesotho’s main donors, finally the government released me”.
Lehohla graduated from Oxford with a Bachelor and Master of Arts.

Lehohla started teaching at Bereng High School in 1975 and was promoted to headmaster in 1977.
Lehohla remained as headmaster until 1993 when Lesotho regained democracy and he stood for elections under the BCP flag and won a seat in parliament.

Caswell Tlali

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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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