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A shoe brand with style

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MASERU – FALL down seven times, rise up eight. This Japanese adage sums up Masibo Mohlakola’s journey in the treacherous world of business.

Growing up in the rural, mountainous area of Semonkong, about 80 kilometres south-east of Maseru, Mohlakola experienced poverty that nearly robbed him of an opportunity to pursue education.

The 30-year-old wriggled out of poverty and is now leading a business, the first of its kind in Lesotho, which is rapidly making an impact in the market.

His innovation, honed through the many falls he experienced, led him to think of how the Basotho traditional attire and the country’s geographic features could be turned into a viable business venture.

Mohlakola and his partner, Pusetso Solane, have come up with a shoe brand that they have blended with Lesotho’s mokorotlo hat, which itself is a depiction of the Qiloane Mountain.

Both the hat and the mountain are national symbols that also feature on Lesotho’s banknotes.

So much has been taken for granted about the evolution of the dress over time and the symbolic meanings that have been attached to different dress practices.

“We felt a need to bring one of our Basotho clothing symbols into our modern lifestyle so that it can be forever remembered,” said Mohlakola.

He calls his brand “Be Nice Authentically” or BNA, which has now become the talk of the town. It is also making waves on social media.

He said the BNA is the first trainer-shoe brand in Lesotho to join the Basotho culture and a modern lifestyle.

The trainers have the Mokorotlo symbol all over them. The uniquely styled trainers come in different colours and a unique style.

According to an article by Andrew Knapp on The Design Train for Clarens Butterfly Beds, Mokorotlo is said to depict the mountaintop of Mount Qiloane that sits beside the Thaba-Bosiu plateau.

Mokorotlo is the object which was used to cast rulings in customary courts, similar to the symbolism of a gavel which is seen in western societies.

Mohlakola said after trying several businesses which ended up failing, they thought of coming up with their own shoe brand.

The hardships of his growing up, however, are the ones that have molded Mohlakola into the man he is today.

Mohlakola grew up in a family of four siblings and he is the youngest.

“I was forced to enter into business at an early stage when I was still in high school.

“My father was unemployed and as a result there were times when payment for my school fees was delayed,” he said.

He recalls how he used to joke about his frequent expulsion from school due to failure to pay school fees as a means to cover up his embarrassment.

This affected him academically and emotionally.

“I had to repeat Form C,” he said.

His financial problems took a huge toll on him.

“It reached a point where it was a struggle to get proper uniform. This was affecting my confidence, hence my poor class performance,” recalled Mohlakola, who had to forego playing with friends after school and during weekends to take part-time jobs.

He said he was introduced to carpentry which gave him some income to buy school uniforms and help pay household bills.

“As much as I had to grow up at an early age, this instilled in me an entrepreneurial mindset,’’ he said.

He said the wage of M60 each week for part-time jobs made a difference.

“A pair of school trousers was around M70 then.”

However, he had to learn the hard way how to balance school and work.

“I did not have time to read so I had to vigorously participate in class so that I could grasp the concepts,” he said.

Mohlakola said after completing Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC) “with poor results I was now expected to work full time as an adult.”

While he was still working, Mohlakola says he engaged in so many advocacy community programmes. However, he said he got “too much pressure” from his friends who were pursuing tertiary education and this forced him to rewrite exams in 2012.

“I did not have time to study and I failed again. I wanted so badly to have at least a qualification,” he said.

Due to his interaction with various people, Mohlakola got the chance to work in South Africa as a horse caretaker for three months. He returned home with about M7 000, which he had planned to use to supplement his COSC.

However, he says he found his family in deep financial distress and he used the money to ease the situation. Mohlakola had to swallow his pride and ask for help.

He opened up about his problems and plans to some ladies who were working in the area as Peace Corps while he was participating in one of Semonkong tourism projects.

Peace Corps is an independent agency and programme of the United States government that trains and deploys volunteers to provide international development assistance.

The two women contributed to pay the fees that he owed, providing him with a chance to return to school.

“However, the challenge was on how I would finance my daily school needs.”

He talked to one woman who was working remotely from Semonkong to give him a job as a house helper. After passing his COSC examinations, he enrolled with the National University of Lesotho under the Social Work programme in 2019.

He said since the passion of entrepreneurship “was flowing in my blood”, he thought of what he could do to increase his income streams.

“With my first Manpower (the government’s scholarship agency) lump sum, I bought carpentry equipment. I would make student tables on weekends and in my spare time,” he recalls.

That was where he met Solane, who was also studying social work and doing photography in his spare time.

“We started a clothing brand called Dynamites. However, the business failed.”

Nonetheless, he said they felt a business idea around what they had been trying could be viable.

“We could not let it go just like that.”

The duo spent some nights discussing business ideas.

“We then thought that the Basotho culture was on the wane. We thought about what we could do about it. We were seeking to merge culture with entrepreneurship,” he said.

That is how the idea of the BNA brand was born. Mohlakola said they approached one of South Africa’s shoe manufacturing companies, presented their style and the quality they wanted.

He said after the design was complete, they had to go through testing. He said they then scored a durability test result of over 75 percent from China.

He said since all the processes were financed through their pockets, there was a bit of delay. But the feedback has been “amazing” since the product was introduced into the market, said Mohlakola.

“Many people are proud to see our cultural symbol on a modern sneaker.”

“Last month we received about 15 orders for cash. We have received more orders of around 50,” he said.

Despite the positive response, Mohlakola says some people associate them with scams since the business is still new in the market.

“This makes it hard for interested people to place orders and process payment online.

“We also have faced challenges related to financial constraints which limit us from producing more shoes of various sizes and colours on the go. We still produce on orders placed,” he said.

Looking ahead, Mohlakola says they want to open up a big manufacturing firm in Lesotho which would create more jobs for Basotho.

He says they also want their brand to reach international markets where the brand will become a representation of the Basotho culture.

“We want our culture to be known globally while accommodating everyone. This is not only our brand, but it’s the country’s brand,” he says.

Refiloe Mpobole

 

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Suspension was malicious, says Nko

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MASERU – A gunshot wound and an attempted murder charge have not stopped Dr Retšelisitsoe Nko from starting a new fight.

The suspended Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) boss is rolling up his sleeves for what promises to be an epic legal battle to be reinstated.

In an application filed in the High Court this week, Dr Nko argues that the LTDC’s decision to suspend him had a “glaring element of bad faith and malice”.

He says the suspension was procedurally flawed because there was no complainant to instigate it and he was not granted a hearing.

Dr Nko was suspended after he was involved in a shooting incident with guests at an event at a Hillsview guest house on December 27.

He is alleged to have rushed home to take his gun after an argument with some of the guests. Dr Nko and a guest sustained gunshot wounds in the scuffle that ensued.

Reports say the guests were trying to wrestle the gun from Dr Nko when the shots were fired.

The LTDC’s board suspended him two days later, alleging that he had failed to attend an extraordinary meeting called to discuss the incident.

The suspension letter was written by Nonkululeko Zaly who was the chairperson of the LTDC board by virtue of being the principal secretary in the Ministry of Trade.

Zaly, who has since been fired following corruption investigations, also approached the court to force the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences to return the assets confiscated during a raid at her house.

Dr Nko, in his court papers, accuses Zaly of usurping the board’s powers to suspend him. He says there was never a board resolution to suspend him.

The extraordinary meeting, he alleges, was a “prearranged dishonest scheme between certain members of the board and social media personnel which were part of the ruse deliberately designed to compromise” his interests.

Dr Nko says the board called him to the 29 December meeting when he was on sick leave and then suspended him without hearing his reasons for failing to attend.

He complains that Zaly wrote his suspension letter on the basis of mere allegations even though she had remained principal secretary and chairperson of the board when the corruption investigations against her were in full swing.

He queries why he was being suspended when Zaly was allowed to hold on to her job.

Zaly appears to have been belligerent when Dr Nko’s lawyers contacted her to query the suspension.

She told the lawyers, in a letter, that their queries were based on misinformation. She also dismissed the lawyer’s request for a record of the board meeting that decided to suspend Dr Nko.

“We are therefore not going to honour any of your demands and if your client is not satisfied, he is free to approach any appropriate forums to pursue these baseless issues,” Zaly said in her letter.

The lawyers say that response shows that Zaly was hell-bent on suspending their client.

Dr Nko wants the High Court to order the LTDC board to reverse the suspension, stop his imminent disciplinary proceedings and release the records of its December 29 meeting.

He also says the board is already conducting investigations on the incident to use as evidence against him in the disciplinary hearing.

Staff Reporter

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thepost columnist wins award

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Maseru – Two scholars associated with the National University of Lesotho have been awarded the 2022 Thomas Pringle prize for the best literary article published the previous year.

Chris Dunton, who is a columnist for thepost, and Lerato Masiea have won the prize, which is awarded by the English Academy of Southern Africa, for their article “Between rocks and hard places: the controversial career of A.S. Mopeli-Paulus,” which was published by thepost.

Dunton was previously Professor and Dean of Humanities at the NUL and for some years cwrote a column for this newspaper titled “Left Side Story.” Masiea is a lecturer in the NUL’s Department of English and is currently pursuing his doctorate at the University of the Free State.

Their prize-winning article was published in the journal English in Africa (vol.48 no.3, 2021, pp47-64). In it the authors explore the writings and life of the South African Mosotho author Mopeli-Paulus.

As their title indicates, their subject was a controversial figure, who degenerated from being an opponent of the apartheid regime (he was, notably, one of the leaders of the Witzieshoek Cattle Rebellion, for which role he was incarcerated in the Pretoria Central Prison) to being a high-ranking accomplice in the Bantustan system.

He was a prolific writer in both English and Sesotho (at one point he referred to the compulsive desire to write as a kind of madness!), his best-known works being the poetry-collection Ho tsamaea ke he bona (from time to time a set-text in Lesotho schools), the novel Blanket Boy’s Moon and the autobiography The World and the Cattle.

Dunton and Masiea’s article covers all his writing, published and unpublished (his papers are freely accessible at the William Cullen Library, Wits University) and is especially concerned with the question of cross-border identity.

Mopeli-Paulus was born in Monontsa, South Africa, in the lost territories—much in the news recently—and remained a South African citizen all his life. The dust-jacket for his first novel, Blanket

Boy’s Moon — which was an international best-seller — carries his name with the tag “Chieftain of Basutoland”, but this was a mistake.

Nonetheless, Mopeli-Paulus identified very strongly with Lesotho and has much to say — some of it fanciful, even spurious — on concepts of Sotho identity.

Dunton and Masiea explore this issue in detail, as it remains a topic of crucial importance even today.

Staff Reporter

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Matekane to boot out PS

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MASERU – THE Sam Matekane government is getting ready to get rid of Principal Secretaries appointed by the previous administration.

First to be axed is Nonkululeko Zaly who Matekane fired as a PS for the Ministry of Trade on January 11.

Zaly, who is challenging the decision, suffered a blow yesterday when the High Court refused to hear her case on an urgent basis.

Her case will now have to join the long queue of hundreds of others pending in the High Court.

Lefu Manyokole has been replaced as the PS of the local government ministry.

The axe is also likely to fall on government secretary, Lerotholi Pheko, and Foreign Affairs principal secretary Thabo Motoko.

The four have been the subject of a graft investigation by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO).

Their homes and offices have been raided and properties seized as the anti-corruption unit investigates allegations that they received millions in bribes from contractors. The four are likely to be the first to be shown the door.

Indications are however that Matekane could be readying to purge the government of principal secretaries inherited from the previous government. Matekane hints at that impending clean up in his dismissal letter to Zaly.

“You will agree with me that as a Principal Secretary, yours was a political appointment,” Matekane said in the letter that Zaly claimed not to have received in her court papers.

“It follows therefore that the working relationship between yourself and the person appointing you, the Prime Minister in this case, is mainly based on utmost trust and confidence.”

“The trust and confidence components become even more important under the obtaining circumstances where the new government, of which I am the head, has just been installed.”

Matekane told Zaly that his government came with new ideas and policies at the top of which is to fight corruption.

He said he was aware that the DCEO had seized certain documents in Zaly’s possession “evidencing a commission of crime and that you failed to give a satisfactory explanation for your possession of those documents”.

“This has eroded all the trust and confidence I had in you as the Principal Secretary and there is no way I can continue with you at the helm of any government ministry,” Matekane said.

Highly placed sources in the government have told thepost that Zaly’s exit is just the beginning of a shake-up that will continue for the next three months as Matekane seeks to bring in new people he trusts and share his vision with.

Meanwhile, Moahloli Mphaka, the government’s special adviser in the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission this week told the High Court that there is a plan to fire him and two other senior officials.

Mphaka made the allegations in an urgent application to force the commission to pay his salary and that of Thabang Thite, and Bahlakoana Manyanye who are also part of the lawsuit. Thite and Manyanye are assistant advisers in the commission.

Mphaka told the court in an affidavit that on December 22 last year, the Natural Resources Minister Mohlomi Moleko told them that his superiors had instructed him to terminate their contracts.

The reason, Mphaka said, is the fact that they are the All Basotho Convention (ABC) members hired by former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. He said the government’s delay to pay their December salary was meant to frustrate them into resigning.

Nkheli Liphoto

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