WHEN ’Mamokoena Mafeka retired from the civil service in May last year, she had given virtually all her adult life in service to her nation.
Mafeka joined the Ministry of Health in 1981.
When she retired after 34 years in the civil service, all she expected was that she would be promptly paid her pension and gratuity and get on with her life.
What she expected was a cosy retirement away from the hustle and bustle of government offices.
But that was not to be.
From the moment she retired, she was sent from pillar to post in her quest to access her pension.
Regrettably, she died on ** 2016 without accessing her pension and gratuity from the Pension Fund.
Her sad story was the subject of a fierce debate in Parliament last week as MPs discussed the quality of service, the state of schools in Lesotho and the non-payment of workers in the civil service.
The ABC MP for Mokhothong, Tefo Mapesela, was the first to take Health Deputy Minister Liteboho Kompi to task over delays by the ministry to process Mafeka’s pension.
Mapesela told Parliament that Mafeka started working for the Ministry of Health in May 1981 and retired in 2015.
Kompi apologised saying the ministry was sorry that Mafeka had not received her pension and gratuity payments.
The deputy minister said the ministry was unaware of the problem until after Mafeka’s death.
She said her file was taken to the Pensions Department in February last year.
But there were some administrative issues that involved her earlier salary increment after she was promoted which had not been captured in the system and included in the records.
She said it was only on May 13, 2016 when the file was sent to the Public Service Commission for the corrections.
The ABC’s MP for Motimposo, Pitso Maisa, stood up to complain that it seems that the government across all ministries has a tendency to sit on retired workers’ claims.
Maisa said it is always known ahead of time that a certain civil servant will retire but the government “always does not facilitate the payments on time”.
Kompi said she did not have complete answers but she recalled that the Public Service Minister Tsukutlane Au had in the past told parliament that he was working on the problem.
The MP for Pela-Tšoeu constituency, Tieho ’Mamasiane, also stood up and complained that the Ministry of Health had not built a health centre for the people of Kota and Teraechareng.
’Mamasiane said there is need to build a clinic near those villages to reduce the distance for villagers from Ha-Pentši and Ha-Makepe “who still travel more than 16 kilometres to the nearest health centre”.
’Mamasiane wanted to know how soon the ministry would intervene.
Kompi said the ministry is aware of the need for more health centres around the country adding the ministry is planning to set up such centres in all electoral divisions where nurses can go and provide services.
But ’Mamasiane was not satisfied with Kompi’s response.
She said the government should work hard to help the communities as “currently there is a businessman who has undertaken to provide mobile clinics every Thursday”.
“What is the government doing to help that businessman who is helping the community with this service?” ’Mamasiane asked.
Kompi said although the help from the businessman is welcome, the government will go to the villages once a month to provide health services.
“We understand that people will not wait for us to bring services so that they can be sick on that date. However, we cannot pledge to co-opt the businessman into the health system because by so doing we will have invited every businessman to do the same with the expectation that they would be absorbed into our system,” she said.
Education Deputy Minister Thabang Kholumo also came under fire from MPs who wanted him to explain why some schools are in a poor state.
Mapesela asked the deputy minister when the ministry will fill up a vacancy at Senekane Primary School.
The MP said the pupils had spent over a year without a teacher after their former teacher, who was also the school principal, retired in 2014.
Kholumo said the ministry had suspended the hiring of principals after it was seen that their contracts “had some problems that needed to be solved”.
“Once that problem of contracts is solved, that vacancy will be filled up,” Kholumo said.
Mapesela fired another question, asking the deputy minister why the ministry had not reviewed the salary of a teacher at the same school despite improving her academic qualifications in line with the ministry’s policy.
Kholumo said the teacher, ’Matumelo Molupe, together with many others, have not had salary increases as per Teaching Service Regulations of 2002 that require that teachers who have improved their educational qualifications should be paid according to their newly acquired certificates.
The deputy minister said “the ministry managed to pay others but did not pay others because of lack of funds”.
“Currently the Teaching Service Commission is working on finding funds to pay all teachers who have improved their educational qualifications,” he said.
The ABC’s Kolonyama MP, Halebonoe Setšabi, complained that Seetsa Primary School has only three classrooms to accommodate grades one to seven.
Setšabi wanted to know how soon the ministry will intervene “as the teachers are compelled to hold classes in any available space including dilapidated chicken coops which place pupils’ lives in danger”.
Kholumo said those classrooms are enough according to the ministry’s policy because each room is expected to accommodate a maximum of 50 pupils and the school has only 131 pupils.
He however said the sharing of classrooms among pupils of different grades affects the quality of education and “therefore the ministry is raising funds to build classrooms for all schools that are in need”.
“Because there are many schools that are in need, the ministry will start with those that are in great need,” Kholumo said.
“Seetsa will be one of the schools that will be assisted when there are funds,” he said.
’Mamasiane also complained that the village of Ha-Nkopa in Pela-Tšoeu does not have a school and “there are no bridle paths or footbridges and pupils have to travel more than 13 kilometres to and from the nearest schools”.
’Mamasiane said she is concerned that pupils have “to cross either a stream or a river” and lives have been lost in the overflowing rivers in the past.
Kholumo said the “ministry is aware of the worrying condition” of the village adding a pupil was recently swept away by the flooded river.
He also acknowledged that the lack of bridges affects the time some children start school as parents wait until they are old enough to walk long distances and cross rivers on their own.
Kholumo however said the Leribe district’s education office had approached the village leaders with suggestions on how to approach the office so that the school can be built there, which they did.
He said the problem now is that there are no funds and the ministry is preoccupied with raising funds to build additional classrooms for the already existing schools.
Dissatisfied with Kholumo’s answer, ’Mamasiane said the ministry should be worried that the children’s right to education is being compromised especially because it is the government’s policy to ensure education for all.
She also complained that other constituencies have many schools and there is no fair and equal distribution of school facilities among the constituencies.
“If some children have died when they were trying to go to school, this should be a great concern for us,” ’Mamasiane said.
Kholumo said although he is of the feeling that the children are not treated fairly if they walk long distances to go to school and that they die when they cross rivers, he could not say when the ministry would respond to ’Mamasiane’s call “because we are yet to ask for funds”.
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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