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The Professor from a dusty village



MASERU-IF Professor Mosotho George had his way, every Lesotho Prime Minister would have a scientist by their side as an adviser. Only that way can any leader pull the country out of its current poverty, he argues.
“There also should be a science and technology expert as an adviser to the Prime Minister rather than having a politician as an adviser.”
Prof George knows all about pulling out of poverty and obscurity into prosperity. Once a poor boy from a tiny village with only a handful of households in the remotest area of Maseru district, the 48-year-old is now a locally and internationally respected academic.

“If I were to talk to the Prime Minister, I would ask him to have a scientist in every ministry because everything involves technology,” says Prof George, who recently headed the chemistry department at the National University of Lesotho (NUL).
“The Ministry of Science and Technology should be independent so that it can develop the research agenda of this country,” he says, adding that it is wrong to churn “consultancies to foreign experts while we have experts in Lesotho”.

Prof George says the manifestos of all of the country’s political parties promise to uplift the manufacturing industry, yet they do not expand on how technology would play a role.
“You can’t do that without the support of science and technology,” says Prof George, who grew up in the rural village of Setleketseng, Ha-Mokola, Maseru.
A village so small that it had about twelve households and currently dwindled to only surviving two households, has produced not only a professor but a chemistry professor, the second Mosotho Professor in 75 years of NUL, today professor who feels he still owes the community.

He navigated his way through the poor conditions he grew up in until he acquired a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Johannesburg in 2011.
One of his defining moments in his career was when he was offered a job at the University of Johannesburg and had to choose between being a full time employee or a PhD student.
He chose school.

“I chose to study instead of working because I wanted to establish myself,” Prof George says.
He says he wanted to come back home to fix the situation at the NUL.
And return he did. He was tasked with heading the chemistry department in 2013.

“I realised if I had stayed in Jo’burg I was only going to be a small fish in a sea of sharks. But if I came back home I wouldn’t start way too low because I know the people and the culture,” he says, adding he wanted to return home to build his legacy locally.
He even risked rumours that NUL could shut down due to a strike that was taking place then.

“I took the risk in order to come fix the situation,” he says.
At that time the university management would ask every department to justify its existence and after self-reflection, the science department realised that research papers done by its academics and published internationally were not being consumed by the country’s politicians as such offer no assistance to change the countries fortunes.

Grassroots local people also did not have access to the publications.
“What do we do for those people to look at us differently? At the same time we can’t go to the media because at that time the media was only interested in politics,” he recalls.
He then proposed to invite the media to watch students present the projects they did while on attachment with different institutions.

The response from companies was overwhelming.
“Every time we watch TV we see politicians, economists or farmers, but nothing about science and technology and I felt we needed to do something about it,” he says.
The science expo in 2015 became a success.

“The community started calling on radio appreciating what the university was doing after seeing our innovative products,” he says.
He describes the event as his first major achievement at the university “because now people look at NUL differently”.
The university’s Innovation Hub, the NUL Science, Technology and Innovation Expo and Conference (NULISTICE), has turned the event into a regular activity.

“Now the hunter has become the hunted,” he says of what he describes as the university’s growing reputation.
Prof George says they used to hunt for companies to provide attachment programmes for their students, but the companies now go to the NUL looking for interns.
Due to the high rates of unemployment, the university encourages innovation as a way for students to establish themselves.

“It helps youths to create jobs for themselves and others and also respond and contribute to the economy. The problem that hinders the businesses to grow is that there is no seed funding. The government does not show much interest to invest in those,” he says.
The National Strategic Development Plan “only includes a little bit of manufacturing”, he says, adding that the country depends on tourism and agriculture while neglecting the role of science and technology.

“I saw a gap… science is not appreciated in this country,” he says, adding that when it comes to science and technology people look at Information Communication and Technology (ICT), which is why it is even placed in the Ministry of Communications.
“I totally disagree with what was said in Vision 2020 that Science and Technology would be well established. That statement shows just how much we don’t understand technology. According to us, technology means cell phones,” he says.

“Do not let the Ministry of Science and Technology get overshadowed by the cell phone and radio network towers,” he warns.
Prof George says technology will never be well established because it keeps evolving all the time.
“There is never a time when we will say it has reached the climax,” he says, citing the outbreak of the coronavirus which has got scientists scrounging for solutions.
“That means technology is still very far from what it’s supposed to be.”

There is need for a “catch them young” approach to properly develop science in the country, he says.
“We need to polish the ground, meaning people need to be educated.”
That is how the Science and Technology programme on Lesotho television was born.

“The most innovative thing to ever happen to our national TV,” he says with pride.
“It was put on TV because people are able to relate more to what they see than what they hear. The public has responded very well to the programme since it debuted.”
“I have received feedback from South Africa and Botswana because they understand Sesotho. I did it in Sesotho because I was targeting Basotho,” he says.
Such is the versatility of a man who has collaborated with institutions such as the University of Botswana, University of South Africa, University of Johannesburg, University of Pretoria, University of Zululand, and Wits University.

He feels more needs to be done to empower local scientists, adding that the government’s science department may not be able to communicate messages very clearly because “it is not necessarily equipped with the best scientists in this country”.

The best scientists holding Masters and PhD degrees are based at NUL and not in Maseru where the policies are made.
Although now globally acclaimed, Prof George never forgets his roots.
He speaks fondly of his primary school, St. Bernadinus Primary School in Setleketseng Ha pholo and how he feels standards have plummeted.
Blaming the new educational system in Lesotho, he says, “I am almost 100 percent against the system because I am looking at my school as an example.”

He says the school only has three teachers to cater for Grade 1 to 7 classes.
“It is impossible for the teachers to identify and nurture the (children’s) talents and help the students to work to their full potential as this curriculum so prescribes,” he says.
Prof George and his five siblings were raised by their unemployed mother because their father passed away when he was still young.

Like most Basotho boys, herding cattle was part of a normal life for the young boys, juggling it with school.
All boys from the village used to take turns to attend classes and look after the cattle. Herding cattle was all he knew.
“We didn’t even have animals at home but my uncles had them,” he says.

When Prof George had to choose courses at the NUL, it was “quite tricky” because he hated biology because of the microscope and he was terrible at drawing.
In his village there was no one who had passed high school except him so it was a big issue when he wanted to go to university because his family expected him to work and support his siblings.

But he fought to go to university and shared his scanty allowance with the family.
“I passed Standard Seven with first class and I didn’t care about what that was. I don’t even remember the school that I’d applied for if I did at all,” he says.
At that time he was even staying at the cattle post and cared less about education, especially because he did not have the means to go to secondary school.

He even tried finding a job from the mines but never succeeded.
“Not that I loved working in mines but just to save some money so that I could go to school and become a teacher or a mechanic one day,” he says.
“I didn’t like herding cattle as well even though I was such a good shepherd.”

Two years later, with the help of his then principal he was able to enroll at St. John Tlali High School, 10 kilometers away from home and he would walk to school on a daily basis.
He says he had always been “a genius” in class.
He started classes in April and after the June examinations he was holding the first position in Mathematics and the second in Science.

“My Mathematics teacher, Mr Seqao Thakali, and my literature teacher, Mr Joseph Ntlaloe, inspired me a lot and they still do even today,” he says.
Prof George says he felt very fortunate to have gone to school given his family’s financial circumstances.

“We could not even afford to buy fat cakes during lunch break,” he says.
Instead, he opted to read other students’ textbooks while they went for lunch.
Prof George’s hard work earned him friendship with teachers and they started lending him their textbooks because they saw the potential in him.

He passed Junior Certificate with a merit.
That was when he discovered his potential and continued doing science alone in his class. He passed Form E with a first class.
“I am very proud of my humble beginnings,” he says about becoming a professor who hailed from a village with just twelve households.

’Mamakhooa Rapolaki


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Lesotho’s own brandy



ROMA-“Go, eat your food with rejoicing, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for already the true God has found pleasure in your works,” so says the Big Book.

Driven by that divine, Mohapi Pule has gone a step further – by coming up with a new type of brandy – to make you merry.
The brandy, Mountain Spels Brandy, will make the heart of the dying man rejoice.
“The healthy nutrients in fruits that make brandy, end up in you when you drink it,” he said.

Pule studied nutrition at the National University of Lesotho.
His brandy is made by fermenting fruits into wine. The wine is then distilled into a brandy. It carries the flavour and the aroma of the original fruits.

The story began when Pule was born in Quthing, Mphaki. He was born to a hardworking mother who brew traditional beer like no other.
“She brew beer well before I was born. She is still making it to this day,” he said.

His passion for brewing was probably “born” even before he was born. Mothers have a hidden way of passing not just their looks but their passions to their children.

As he grew up, he found that he was still intertwined with his mom’s brewing business in one way or another.
“Mostly, I am expected to fetch water for the brewing process. That, I still do to this day when I visit home,” he says.
Two decades later, Pule found himself in the Roma Valley, doing BSc in Nutrition.

“At some point, I found that I had lost purpose in life. There was not a thing that I could say, well, I was passionate about this thing or that thing.”
That situation, of course, threw him into some serious soul-searching.
It brought him back to his roots.

“During this period, I recalled that when I was younger, I used to imagine helping my mom do the packaging of the beer she was making and helping distribute it countrywide,” he said.

From a young age, the issue of subsistence business didn’t appeal to him. But that imagination came and passed. Now here he was, worried that he might not amount to anything in life.

Then, boom! An idea came!
What if he produced an alcoholic drink?

He could have thought about anything to do as a business but, lo and behold! He thought about his mother’s passion!

One of the things he loves about alcoholic beverages is that they are popular.

“I haven’t seen products as popular as alcoholic drinks,” he said.
He might be wrong or right but the reality is, the rest of the world has for generations found delight in alcoholic beverages – some to the extent of overdoing it to their injury!

“Mabele khunoana ralitlhaku thabisa lihoho. Mabele u tsoa kae e le khale re u batla re sa u thole? Ueeeena mabeeeele!” (Loosely translated beer brewed from sorghum make men happy. We’ve been looking for you from afar, you sorghum. In short, this is a praise poem for the Sesotho sorghum brew).
But then came the most difficult part. Which specific beverages should he focus on and how would he do it?

He decided that he would focus on ciders. He realised that not many people in Lesotho were making ciders.

He started experimenting at home and realized how difficult the process was. He just couldn’t get it right. To worsen matters, he also did not have the right equipment.

But like most successful innovators, he just knew that he had to start his business right away.

Pule says he then learnt about other forms of beverages: the spirits. Spirits are very high in alcohol content. Here we are talking the likes of whiskey, vodka and brandy.

He was particularly interested in vodka. He went into one NUL laboratory and, with necessary permission, began testing a number of spirits and doing a lot of research about them.

He began saving some of the money he earned from the National Manpower Development Secretariat in the form of student allowance so he could buy equipment. Saving was not easy. The subsistence money was already not that much. Having to share it with a business was asking a little too much.

But Pule was so determined that he did it, bought equipment that allowed him to develop what he thought was “vodka”.

However, after buying the equipment he immediately realised that the equipment was to make brandy not vodka.

“Now I was forced to get into brandy by chance,” he said.
It was a mistake that he has never regretted having realised that there are very few individuals who were making brandy in Lesotho.

Pule had to throw himself fully into experiments. He read books about brandy production. He even enrolled for an online course on distillation.
In the end, he began to see some light.

“I began to feel some difference in the taste of my produce,” he said. “When I shared my produce with my lecturers, they were over the moon!”
With that encouragement, Pule began packaging his brandy and is now selling it to family and friends.

“My small equipment means that I can’t produce much. However, If I were to get bigger equipment, things would be much better.”

Own Correspondent

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Ready-to-cook vegetables



ROMA – ’MATUMANE Matela, a National University of Lesotho (NUL)-trained nutritionist, is an example of how a nutritionist should think and act.
Matela makes and sells ready-to-cook vegetables out of produce from her own farm or produce she preferably buys from local farms.
“When I make a dish, as a nutritionist, I make choices that ensure a typical package is packed with nutrition,” Matela said.

Today, we examine an interesting story of the lady who is determined to ensure that you eat healthy despite your busy schedule.
It started with her experiences in life.
She describes herself as an extremely busy woman.
She likes getting things done.
As the busy amongst us will say, the busier you become, the less you watch your diet.
She couldn’t escape the trap!

“My busy schedule meant that I ended up eating junk and I was gaining weight,” she said.
With time, she came to her senses.
As a nutritionist, she recalled that the best way to preach was to preach by example.
So, was she preaching what she practised?
Clearly, she wasn’t.
She had to find an option to maintain the busy schedule and eat healthy at the same time.

The beautiful thing about nutrition is that the healthiest foods are the closest to us: fruits and vegetables.
Some scientists even claim that our bodies seem to be designed to thrive on fruits and vegetables.
“Have you ever wondered why looking at a ripe raw peach on a tree is mouth-watering but looking at a fat cow isn’t?” asked one scientist.
Well, whether we were designed for fruits and vegetables or not, the truth is that they are good for our bodies.
That’s what good science tells us.

And we somehow “know it” too if you have heard about anything called intuition.
So one day she found herself increasingly eating fruits and vegetables.
It’s easier to change a religion than a diet, they say.
So it is commendable that she changed her diet at all.
“The idea was to chop as much vegetables as possible and put them in a fridge so that in future, I will just pull them out and cook.”
She wasn’t proposing something new.
Who amongst us doesn’t enjoy the convenience of just pulling up chopped frozen vegetables and cooking?

Little did she know that what she was doing was putting her on a path to a brilliant business.
It took a post on a social media to achieve just that.
“I took a pic of the chopped and packaged vegetables and posted them on my social media account. The reaction was swift. I began getting questions like, “how much?””
It immediately dawned on her that she could be sitting on a great business idea, after all.

So she gave it a try and started selling.
To her surprise, people started buying.
In fact, “I get orders for my products almost on a daily basis.”
That is how interested people really are.
This to an extent that her business now gets up to four irregular employees, she included, when the demand is high.
She said her training in Agriculture, Home Economics and Nutrition has helped her to give a thought into what she was doing.

For instance, where possible, she grows her own crops and sells them as first preference.
She has grown spinach, butternut, green pepper, onion, herbs and beans.
She is also in the process of renting more fields to grow more vegetables.
Then she empowers Basotho producers by requesting them to supply.
Going for foreign produce is the last resort.
Look at her packages and you realise something.
The “7 colours” proverb comes alive.

Those seven colours (several colours actually) may have been designed to appeal to your eyes but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The colours of vegetables mean a lot in terms of nutrition.
Each colour gives you something different.
So, the more colours in one meal, the merrier.
To drive this home, let’s go a scientific route for a second.
Red, Blue and Purple: These vegetables contain substances that are good at reducing the risk of stroke, cancer and memory problems.
White: The likes of onion or garlic may help lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer and heart disease.

Orange and Yellow: Carrots immediately come to mind.
These vegetables contain substances called carotenoids which may help improve your immune system and help to improve the health of your eyes.
Basotho, it would appear, have long known a thing or two about the relationship between carrots and eyes.
Hence the famous saying, “o jele lihoete” (they ate carrots), often applied to good sportsmen or women with symbolically “good eyesight”.

Green: Green is life. Green vegetables come packed with chlorophyll, a chemical that scientists believe can boost your immune system, eliminate fungus in your body, clean your blood, lead to healthy intestines and give you boundless energy.
As a bonus, her Home Economics background is such that she is armed with a host of recipes for each of the packages she sells.
She has great dreams for the future.
“I want to see my products decorating the shelves of big supermarkets,” she said.
It’s time!

Own Correspondent

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A new, co-operative chain store



ROMA – ’MAKUENA Lesiea is spearheading the creation of a cooperative chain store that will sell Lesotho products only.
The store is being developed under the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation Hub and it will be incubated by the Hub.
“Have you seen it? Basotho are producing like never before,” Lesiea said.
“However, their products are hard to see in the markets. We want to change all that.”

The store, she said, will open branches in all districts of Lesotho, starting from Maseru.
Visit any supermarket in Lesotho and check the products on the shelves.
You will be shocked to realise that, in general, just one percent of them are made in Lesotho.
The other 99 percent comes from elsewhere.
Is it because Basotho are not producing or can’t produce at all?

“Having worked directly with the NUL Innovation Hub and the Tsa Mahlale TV programme under the Hub, I have travelled the depth and breadth of Lesotho and I was amazed at the amount of work Basotho are doing,” she said.
What is the problem?
Basotho products are not given sufficient platforms to prove themselves.
“Credit where it is due, some shops are beginning to accept and sell Basotho products,” she said.

“However, they are barely making a dent because Basotho products, being at their infancy, cannot receive full attention unless by a store that is designed to give them full attention.”
Such a store doesn’t exist.

She said the idea is not to compete with any of the existing stores because “we are getting into a new territory altogether, we are addressing a different market”.
So listen to Lesiea as she presents some features of the store that will surely persuade you to join the bandwagon:

  1. Customer and producer confidence: The store, she said, will achieve two things.
    First, when they see masses of Lesotho-made products in one place, Basotho customers will slowly grow confidence in them.
    The confidence will shoot to the roof when the customers experience that many of the products made in Lesotho are already way ahead of foreign competitors in terms of quality.
    Secondly, the store will give Basotho producers an assurance that their products have, at least, one store that is willing to take them, dark or blue.
    More production will come from such assurance.
  2. Selling “everything”: The store will sell everything from fruits and vegetables to processed foodstuffs to clothing and building materials (if Thabure car will be in production by then, it will be on the shelves too).
    “Suppose what we want to sell is not locally made, we will never cross the border, any border, to find its equivalence. We will encourage Basotho to produce it until they do.”
  3. We mean business: whereas Basotho are beginning to produce, their products are still all over the place.
    You bump across them in some few willing stores, in expos and trade shows, or as being sold by individual resellers. Those are good efforts, but they are not enough. In fact, many in Lesotho have come to see producing and selling as being more of an art, a hobby, a therapy or a hustling than a business, “so we are seriously moving away from such a casual approach, we mean business this time around.”
  4. Ownership: So when you enter this store, you could be purchasing a product made by you in a store owned by you. What a difference!
  5. Reasonable standards: the store will only demand reasonable standards. As a struggling Mosotho, try taking your products to some of the local shops and you are, at worst, turned away without reason or, at best, given a long list of standards you must meet before they can take your product.
    “In our case, as long as your products are reasonably of good quality, you are in. NUL Innovation Hub is already testing many Basotho products. We won’t ignore quality, but we won’t use it as a way to prevent Basotho products from growing either.”
  6. A cooperative chainstore: From contributing as little as M50 per month, members will use a continuous financing model to ensure that the store doesn’t just end in Maseru but reaches the ten districts of Lesotho.
    Each branch will start at a medium scale in order to grow along with Basotho products. We won’t ask for investors to come from anywhere, “we will be investors ourselves.”
  7. An export launch pad. “We are often told to export our produce. The obvious question is, if you haven’t convinced your own people to consume your own products, how can you convince people in other lands to do so? Why should they take you seriously?”
    However, the store is not meant to be a local store forever.
    It will be a means by which we export our products to other countries in the future.
    When we export the store to Soweto, we export it along with products from Lesotho.
    Don’t say no because we have seen Chinese shops and Indian shops and, of course, South African shops, filled to the brim with Chinese products and Indian products and South African products in many countries.
    “If they can do it,” Lesiea ended, “so can we.”
    “Because if it is there in some of us, it is there in all of us.”

Own Correspondent

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