“A gun in the eyes of a Mosotho, being the most valuable article he possesses, and the possession of which he considers it his duty to retain at any sacrifice”.
These words were said by Charles Bell who was a magistrate in the Berea area in the 1870s. The platform from which Bell spoke those words is not clear but it is known that they were directed to the Cape Government which was about to launch a campaign to disarm Basotho.
Bell’s words were prophetic because Basotho would vigorously resist an attempt to disarm them, leading to the Gun War of 1880.
The Disarmament Act of 1879 even divided Basotho between those who wanted to comply and those who wanted to keep their guns. Those not willing to hold on to their guns were seen as traitors conspiring with the Cape Government and the Boers.
Basotho had used their earnings from working in the diamond and gold mines in South Africa to buy guns which they used to defend themselves. The enemy were the Boers who were expropriating land from Basotho.
But beyond that Basotho wanted to defend themselves against fellow Basotho and protect their livestock which were being raided.
The necessity of owning a gun was clear for this was a dangerous time.
But out of that necessity came a gun culture that has endured for more than 150 years. Fifty years after independence and a period of relative peace, Basotho still seek guns. Now they are using them on each other.
Army Commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli put it aptly last September when he said “owning a gun in Lesotho is like owning a blanket”.
The rampant gun culture however does not feature prominently in the discussions to end gun-related murders that have increased in recent years. The favourite scapegoat thus far has been the famo gangs that have had a decade-long war which has claimed nearly 100 lives.
There is ample evidence to support this perception although it is somewhat narrow. Not a month passes without a famo gang member being shot dead.
Last month in Qeme a man walked into a bar, opened fire and killed four people in what was labelled a famo gang related shooting. This month a famo musician was killed in cold blood.
Newspaper headlines said “Another famo musician killed”, perhaps to illustrate that he is just one in a series of murders.
“Until people lose their wives and children or have whole families wiped off from the face of the earth, they will continue to mercilessly gun down innocent bystanders like these two young boys who were killed in Maseru yesterday.”
Those were the words of famo musician Mosotho Chakela. He was speaking in October last year after the killing of five people, including two teenagers, in Sea-Point.
The carnage continues, even as politicians condemn the murders and police are doing their best to deal with the problem. A parliamentary committee was recently formed to help end the violence.
Yet the narrative that blames famo feuds negates the fact that the proliferation of guns is what makes the war more lethal. If guns were not easy to get there would sure be fewer murders.
Without guns the gangs would have to resort to less lethal weapons like knives. It is easier to kill three people with a gun than a knife.
The focus for the police should be on confiscating illegal guns. That is easier said than done. The police’s strategy so far has been to conduct routine raids in villages and impromptu searches on roadblocks.
Hundreds of illegal firearms have been impounded during the campaigns but it doesn’t seem like the number of illegal guns is reducing. That’s perhaps because the police are dealing with the symptom rather than the disease.
At core are two issues: how the guns are coming into Lesotho and how easy it is to get them.
Historically, illegal guns are bought from South Africa. The porous borders make the trade in firearms almost risk-free.
Guns are exchanged with marijuana, cattle and diamonds. You can also easily cross the official borders with a gun.
With as little as M300 you can buy a gun. You can also simply inherit a gun from a relative. So while the police are raiding and searching people for illegal guns more are flowing into the country.
The gun-related famo murders only illustrate a much broader problem of gun culture in Lesotho. It’s not only famo gang members who have been killed by guns.
Recently Liqhobong Diamond Mining Company boss Puling Puling was shot dead in Qoaling following what police suspect to have been a dispute over a site. Police say Puling was shot dead by a man while they were at a site.
There have been numerous disputes that have ended with someone being shot. The magistrates’ court and High Court are dealing with numerous cases of gun-related murders and most of them have nothing to do with the famo gang wars.
The majority of suspects in the famo related murders are still at large.
The problem remains that of too many guns in bad hands, the famo murders are a sign of that reality. To deal with the gun related murders the police should start with tackling the gun culture.
The problem however is that the police don’t seem to understand how deep-rooted the gun culture is in Lesotho.
A 2003-study done for the Transformation Resource Centre by Katleho Pefole shows that many Basotho still desire to own guns. Respondents to the survey were willing to talk about ownership of private firearms in their communities.
Responses to the question “Do you know of people who have firearms in this village?” ranged from “Nearly everybody has a firearm here” to “Many people here have firearms.”
One respondent seems to have concisely captured Basotho’s attitude towards guns when he said: “You are nothing if you don’t have a firearm”.
The majority said they owned a gun for personal security.
So as long as people feel that their lives are in danger they will continue to seek guns. That makes the police’s campaigns to confiscate guns almost futile. A confiscated gun is immediately replaced with relative easy.
One respondent in the survey said illegal firearms were the only recourse for poor people because the licencing rules favour the well off.
“Another sentiment expressed by many respondents was that if the police were able to control the proliferation of firearms and associated crimes, then people would have no need to protect themselves,” report said.
Others interviewed said the police were involved in the illicit trade of firearms.
The report used three historical incidents to explain why people feel the need to own guns and why there are so many guns among civilians.
The first is that people started arming themselves after the police failed to control the situation during the Manthabiseng Riots in 1991.
Fearing that there will be a repeat of the riots and police would fail to stop people from looting their businesses many business people started acquiring guns.
The second is the police mutiny of 1997 that led people to lose faith in the police’s ability to protect them. The third is the 1998 political instability in which nearly 50 people were killed.
The report says “Lesotho’s recent conflict-ridden political history has contributed to a decline in internal security, and consequently an increase in the perceptions of personal insecurity, which has motivated a significant number of civilians to acquire firearms, both legally and illegally (depending on their personal circumstances).”
“Many cattle owners, in an effort to protect their livestock from rampant cattle-rustling, have also sought to secure firearms. In addition, tensions and divisions within the armed forces have resulted in the proliferation of firearms.”
The raids by the police to curb illegal firearms seem to be event-driven. For instance, the recent campaign could have been triggered by the shooting in Qeme and other famo murders.
It’s as if the police are using occasional solutions to solve a permanent problem. The police seem to be having a torrid time controlling even the licensed guns.
A report on an audit of firearms control legislation in the SADC region in 2003 said the number of registered firearms in Lesotho “is unknown as the records are kept manually and these have not been audited recently”.
The audit done by SafeAfrica, an NGO, and Safeworld, a think tank, said the police’s Central Firearms Registry (CFR) was not well equipped to control and manage legal guns. SafeAfrica assists governments and civil society to implement agreed policy on peace and security.
Safeworld is a United Kingdom-based independent foreign affairs think tank working to identify, develop and publicise effective approaches to tackling and preventing armed conflicts.
“For instance, an annual review process is stipulated in the legislation, yet there are only two members of staff detailed to ensure the database is kept up to date. It is not possible for only two people to handle all of the renewal applications and this is the most likely reason for the lack of renewals,” the report said.
It said the “absence of an electronic database means that verifying renewals is not possible”.
“For instance, the licensing procedure followed by the Central Firearms Registrar stipulates that a firearm certificate is valid for a period of one year from date of issue, however, in practice no renewal takes place”.
The report portrays a picture of a country whose gun control laws are not only outdated but also at variance with international and regional conventions.
It says the Internal Security (Arms and Ammunition) Act, Act 4 1999, Lesotho’s principal gun law, needs a serious review to be effective and meet regional standards, the report notes.
There are also other damning findings in the audit that should have triggered government action. It says legal firearm owners hire out their guns to people like herd boys.
This, the report said, means that “if such a firearm is then involved in crime the owners are often not held responsible in the courts”.
Licencing regulations are routinely ignored once the initial licence has been granted, the report said.
“For instance, the licensing procedure followed by the Central Firearms Registrar stipulates that a firearm certificate is valid for a period of one year from date of issue, however, in practice no renewal takes place.”
The report also said the police did not have a system to test applicants for firearm licences.
Police spokesperson Clifford Molefe however said the situation has changed dramatically since the report was released.
He said the CFR now has a manual and electronic database for firearm registrations. “We have a working system and we are able to follow up on people who have not renewed their licences,” Molefe said.
As for the pretesting Molefe said the police was already working on a system for applicants to be rigorously tested in the use of guns before they get a licence.
Police Minister Monyane Moleleki told parliament last week that the police are doing their utmost to fight against illegal possession of firearms and their misuse.
Moleleki says in 2015/2016 financial year the police collected 1 002 rounds of ammunition in 302 raids held countrywide.
He says the police have also recovered about 300 illegal guns during the raids. According to OSAC, a US Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, criminals desiring a firearm have little trouble getting one, and their use in conducting criminal acts is on the rise.
“As such, increases in the tactics more commonly seen in South Africa are on the rise in Lesotho,” reads the OSAC report released in March last year.
“Criminals are generally well-armed and are not averse to using violence in order to achieve their objective, especially when they encounter any type of resistance from a would-be victim,” it reads.
Lesotho’s own brandy
ROMA-“Go, eat your food with rejoicing, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for already the true God has found pleasure in your works,” so says the Big Book.
Driven by that divine, Mohapi Pule has gone a step further – by coming up with a new type of brandy – to make you merry.
The brandy, Mountain Spels Brandy, will make the heart of the dying man rejoice.
“The healthy nutrients in fruits that make brandy, end up in you when you drink it,” he said.
Pule studied nutrition at the National University of Lesotho.
His brandy is made by fermenting fruits into wine. The wine is then distilled into a brandy. It carries the flavour and the aroma of the original fruits.
The story began when Pule was born in Quthing, Mphaki. He was born to a hardworking mother who brew traditional beer like no other.
“She brew beer well before I was born. She is still making it to this day,” he said.
His passion for brewing was probably “born” even before he was born. Mothers have a hidden way of passing not just their looks but their passions to their children.
As he grew up, he found that he was still intertwined with his mom’s brewing business in one way or another.
“Mostly, I am expected to fetch water for the brewing process. That, I still do to this day when I visit home,” he says.
Two decades later, Pule found himself in the Roma Valley, doing BSc in Nutrition.
“At some point, I found that I had lost purpose in life. There was not a thing that I could say, well, I was passionate about this thing or that thing.”
That situation, of course, threw him into some serious soul-searching.
It brought him back to his roots.
“During this period, I recalled that when I was younger, I used to imagine helping my mom do the packaging of the beer she was making and helping distribute it countrywide,” he said.
From a young age, the issue of subsistence business didn’t appeal to him. But that imagination came and passed. Now here he was, worried that he might not amount to anything in life.
Then, boom! An idea came!
What if he produced an alcoholic drink?
He could have thought about anything to do as a business but, lo and behold! He thought about his mother’s passion!
One of the things he loves about alcoholic beverages is that they are popular.
“I haven’t seen products as popular as alcoholic drinks,” he said.
He might be wrong or right but the reality is, the rest of the world has for generations found delight in alcoholic beverages – some to the extent of overdoing it to their injury!
“Mabele khunoana ralitlhaku thabisa lihoho. Mabele u tsoa kae e le khale re u batla re sa u thole? Ueeeena mabeeeele!” (Loosely translated beer brewed from sorghum make men happy. We’ve been looking for you from afar, you sorghum. In short, this is a praise poem for the Sesotho sorghum brew).
But then came the most difficult part. Which specific beverages should he focus on and how would he do it?
He decided that he would focus on ciders. He realised that not many people in Lesotho were making ciders.
He started experimenting at home and realized how difficult the process was. He just couldn’t get it right. To worsen matters, he also did not have the right equipment.
But like most successful innovators, he just knew that he had to start his business right away.
Pule says he then learnt about other forms of beverages: the spirits. Spirits are very high in alcohol content. Here we are talking the likes of whiskey, vodka and brandy.
He was particularly interested in vodka. He went into one NUL laboratory and, with necessary permission, began testing a number of spirits and doing a lot of research about them.
He began saving some of the money he earned from the National Manpower Development Secretariat in the form of student allowance so he could buy equipment. Saving was not easy. The subsistence money was already not that much. Having to share it with a business was asking a little too much.
But Pule was so determined that he did it, bought equipment that allowed him to develop what he thought was “vodka”.
However, after buying the equipment he immediately realised that the equipment was to make brandy not vodka.
“Now I was forced to get into brandy by chance,” he said.
It was a mistake that he has never regretted having realised that there are very few individuals who were making brandy in Lesotho.
Pule had to throw himself fully into experiments. He read books about brandy production. He even enrolled for an online course on distillation.
In the end, he began to see some light.
“I began to feel some difference in the taste of my produce,” he said. “When I shared my produce with my lecturers, they were over the moon!”
With that encouragement, Pule began packaging his brandy and is now selling it to family and friends.
“My small equipment means that I can’t produce much. However, If I were to get bigger equipment, things would be much better.”
ROMA – ’MATUMANE Matela, a National University of Lesotho (NUL)-trained nutritionist, is an example of how a nutritionist should think and act.
Matela makes and sells ready-to-cook vegetables out of produce from her own farm or produce she preferably buys from local farms.
“When I make a dish, as a nutritionist, I make choices that ensure a typical package is packed with nutrition,” Matela said.
Today, we examine an interesting story of the lady who is determined to ensure that you eat healthy despite your busy schedule.
It started with her experiences in life.
She describes herself as an extremely busy woman.
She likes getting things done.
As the busy amongst us will say, the busier you become, the less you watch your diet.
She couldn’t escape the trap!
“My busy schedule meant that I ended up eating junk and I was gaining weight,” she said.
With time, she came to her senses.
As a nutritionist, she recalled that the best way to preach was to preach by example.
So, was she preaching what she practised?
Clearly, she wasn’t.
She had to find an option to maintain the busy schedule and eat healthy at the same time.
The beautiful thing about nutrition is that the healthiest foods are the closest to us: fruits and vegetables.
Some scientists even claim that our bodies seem to be designed to thrive on fruits and vegetables.
“Have you ever wondered why looking at a ripe raw peach on a tree is mouth-watering but looking at a fat cow isn’t?” asked one scientist.
Well, whether we were designed for fruits and vegetables or not, the truth is that they are good for our bodies.
That’s what good science tells us.
And we somehow “know it” too if you have heard about anything called intuition.
So one day she found herself increasingly eating fruits and vegetables.
It’s easier to change a religion than a diet, they say.
So it is commendable that she changed her diet at all.
“The idea was to chop as much vegetables as possible and put them in a fridge so that in future, I will just pull them out and cook.”
She wasn’t proposing something new.
Who amongst us doesn’t enjoy the convenience of just pulling up chopped frozen vegetables and cooking?
Little did she know that what she was doing was putting her on a path to a brilliant business.
It took a post on a social media to achieve just that.
“I took a pic of the chopped and packaged vegetables and posted them on my social media account. The reaction was swift. I began getting questions like, “how much?””
It immediately dawned on her that she could be sitting on a great business idea, after all.
So she gave it a try and started selling.
To her surprise, people started buying.
In fact, “I get orders for my products almost on a daily basis.”
That is how interested people really are.
This to an extent that her business now gets up to four irregular employees, she included, when the demand is high.
She said her training in Agriculture, Home Economics and Nutrition has helped her to give a thought into what she was doing.
For instance, where possible, she grows her own crops and sells them as first preference.
She has grown spinach, butternut, green pepper, onion, herbs and beans.
She is also in the process of renting more fields to grow more vegetables.
Then she empowers Basotho producers by requesting them to supply.
Going for foreign produce is the last resort.
Look at her packages and you realise something.
The “7 colours” proverb comes alive.
Those seven colours (several colours actually) may have been designed to appeal to your eyes but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The colours of vegetables mean a lot in terms of nutrition.
Each colour gives you something different.
So, the more colours in one meal, the merrier.
To drive this home, let’s go a scientific route for a second.
Red, Blue and Purple: These vegetables contain substances that are good at reducing the risk of stroke, cancer and memory problems.
White: The likes of onion or garlic may help lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer and heart disease.
Orange and Yellow: Carrots immediately come to mind.
These vegetables contain substances called carotenoids which may help improve your immune system and help to improve the health of your eyes.
Basotho, it would appear, have long known a thing or two about the relationship between carrots and eyes.
Hence the famous saying, “o jele lihoete” (they ate carrots), often applied to good sportsmen or women with symbolically “good eyesight”.
Green: Green is life. Green vegetables come packed with chlorophyll, a chemical that scientists believe can boost your immune system, eliminate fungus in your body, clean your blood, lead to healthy intestines and give you boundless energy.
As a bonus, her Home Economics background is such that she is armed with a host of recipes for each of the packages she sells.
She has great dreams for the future.
“I want to see my products decorating the shelves of big supermarkets,” she said.
A new, co-operative chain store
ROMA – ’MAKUENA Lesiea is spearheading the creation of a cooperative chain store that will sell Lesotho products only.
The store is being developed under the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation Hub and it will be incubated by the Hub.
“Have you seen it? Basotho are producing like never before,” Lesiea said.
“However, their products are hard to see in the markets. We want to change all that.”
The store, she said, will open branches in all districts of Lesotho, starting from Maseru.
Visit any supermarket in Lesotho and check the products on the shelves.
You will be shocked to realise that, in general, just one percent of them are made in Lesotho.
The other 99 percent comes from elsewhere.
Is it because Basotho are not producing or can’t produce at all?
“Having worked directly with the NUL Innovation Hub and the Tsa Mahlale TV programme under the Hub, I have travelled the depth and breadth of Lesotho and I was amazed at the amount of work Basotho are doing,” she said.
What is the problem?
Basotho products are not given sufficient platforms to prove themselves.
“Credit where it is due, some shops are beginning to accept and sell Basotho products,” she said.
“However, they are barely making a dent because Basotho products, being at their infancy, cannot receive full attention unless by a store that is designed to give them full attention.”
Such a store doesn’t exist.
She said the idea is not to compete with any of the existing stores because “we are getting into a new territory altogether, we are addressing a different market”.
So listen to Lesiea as she presents some features of the store that will surely persuade you to join the bandwagon:
- Customer and producer confidence: The store, she said, will achieve two things.
First, when they see masses of Lesotho-made products in one place, Basotho customers will slowly grow confidence in them.
The confidence will shoot to the roof when the customers experience that many of the products made in Lesotho are already way ahead of foreign competitors in terms of quality.
Secondly, the store will give Basotho producers an assurance that their products have, at least, one store that is willing to take them, dark or blue.
More production will come from such assurance.
- Selling “everything”: The store will sell everything from fruits and vegetables to processed foodstuffs to clothing and building materials (if Thabure car will be in production by then, it will be on the shelves too).
“Suppose what we want to sell is not locally made, we will never cross the border, any border, to find its equivalence. We will encourage Basotho to produce it until they do.”
- We mean business: whereas Basotho are beginning to produce, their products are still all over the place.
You bump across them in some few willing stores, in expos and trade shows, or as being sold by individual resellers. Those are good efforts, but they are not enough. In fact, many in Lesotho have come to see producing and selling as being more of an art, a hobby, a therapy or a hustling than a business, “so we are seriously moving away from such a casual approach, we mean business this time around.”
- Ownership: So when you enter this store, you could be purchasing a product made by you in a store owned by you. What a difference!
- Reasonable standards: the store will only demand reasonable standards. As a struggling Mosotho, try taking your products to some of the local shops and you are, at worst, turned away without reason or, at best, given a long list of standards you must meet before they can take your product.
“In our case, as long as your products are reasonably of good quality, you are in. NUL Innovation Hub is already testing many Basotho products. We won’t ignore quality, but we won’t use it as a way to prevent Basotho products from growing either.”
- A cooperative chainstore: From contributing as little as M50 per month, members will use a continuous financing model to ensure that the store doesn’t just end in Maseru but reaches the ten districts of Lesotho.
Each branch will start at a medium scale in order to grow along with Basotho products. We won’t ask for investors to come from anywhere, “we will be investors ourselves.”
- An export launch pad. “We are often told to export our produce. The obvious question is, if you haven’t convinced your own people to consume your own products, how can you convince people in other lands to do so? Why should they take you seriously?”
However, the store is not meant to be a local store forever.
It will be a means by which we export our products to other countries in the future.
When we export the store to Soweto, we export it along with products from Lesotho.
Don’t say no because we have seen Chinese shops and Indian shops and, of course, South African shops, filled to the brim with Chinese products and Indian products and South African products in many countries.
“If they can do it,” Lesiea ended, “so can we.”
“Because if it is there in some of us, it is there in all of us.”
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