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Motšoane’s big dreams!

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MAFETENG – BUSINESS has always run in Alicia Motšoane’s blood since she was a child.
The woman from Qotata, Likhoele in Mafeteng district, started off by looking after her father’s businesses who was a butchery owner before trying “anything” she thought would bring her success, including selling second-hand furniture and home-made food.
“I was everywhere in business before I could land where I am now,” she said.

Motšoane is now the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sentebale Gap Funeral Services and Prestige Furniture Shops, two businesses that are growing rapidly throughout Lesotho.
Sensing opportunity in the insurance business sector after seeing hundreds of people struggle financially to meet funeral costs for their loved ones, Motšoane started Sentebale Gap Funeral Services.
She teamed up with some business partners to establish Sentebale’s first branch in 1999, in Mohale’s Hoek.

Initially, the funeral parlour’s name was Gap Holdings and its purpose was to bridge the gap between the rich and poor in terms of getting a dignified send off.
“Fortunately, our first service in 2000 was outstanding and villagers named us Sentebale (Forget me not). We loved it and we added it to our name,” Motšoane said.
The company started with just five workers and without a salary for its founders for five years.

It has grown rapidly into a major employer with over 300 employees and has five branches and offices nationwide.
Celebrating the company’s 22nd anniversary recently, Motšoane said she had always envisioned herself as a business person when growing up.
“I had always seen myself in business although I wasn’t sure of the kind of business I would be in. Success didn’t just fall on my lap here at Sentebale. I worked for it and I am content with my choice,” said Motšoane, who credits her acumen to the lessons learnt from her late father.

“He was my role model. When he woke up early, I did too and I know in business there is no sleeping.”
She says attending school helped her make informed decisions although she didn’t study any business related courses.
She matriculated from ’Masentle High School and pursued Home Economics at the Lesotho College of Agriculture, which was her father’s choice for her.
But things didn’t quite work out for her.
She then enrolled in another college, the Institute of Extra Mural Studies, where she studied adult education.

“I studied courses loved by my father hence I didn’t last in agriculture as it wasn’t my thing. I decided to quit and do my thing but I am slowly returning to farming,” said Motšoane, who is an avid reader of inspirational books.
She said the company had planned massive celebrations for its 20th anniversary but had to cancel due to the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

“I am very happy to reach this milestone because we started with plans, a vision and a mission. Every role player here helped us achieve our mission without copying other people’s ideas. We are sticking to our strategies.”
Motšoane said she is excited that the company has continued fulfilling its commitments to clients despite the ravages of Covid-19.

However, she says due to unforeseen circumstances of Covid-19 the company had to contend with unplanned extra expenses such as the acquisition of PPEs while also losing many of its clients to the virus.
“Most of our clients died and we couldn’t tell their families to pay more due to the crisis. We still continued to deliver what we had promised our clients.”
Motšoane said workers were also affected and the company unfortunately lost one of its employees to the virus.

Despite the setbacks caused by the pandemic, the company is not looking back.
“Our services are improving on a daily basis and it’s more exciting as my colleagues love their jobs. It makes it easier to achieve our goals as there is team work, they have input in the growth of the business.”
Motšoane said they also acquired land to build a home for the business.
“We are not renting anymore,” she said.
She said they also have a fleet to help clients with a variety of cars that can accommodate each client’s “status”.

“We don’t have any fear as we cater for all,” she said, describing the journey as “exciting” with a mixture of “ups and downs”.
The company has scooped several awards, including some from Standard Lesotho Bank, Lesotho Revenue Authority and PMR Africa, as a sign of its competence.
“We are an award winning business and the biggest that came to me personally was from the King in 2011,” she said, adding that she was the first business woman to receive it that year.
“I was super excited,” said Motšoane, hinting that the company is targeting to build mortuaries in each of the country’s districts in the next five years starting in Mokhotlong, Thaba-Tseka and Qacha’s Nek in the next two years.

She says the company is currently working on building one in Butha-Buthe.
Despite the success, the company has some challenges, the biggest being the collection of bodies from neighbouring South-Africa following the introduction of a “frustrating law”.
“Unfortunately, our clients don’t understand the change and it hurts them. Initially, we would just go there and bring back the body the same day but because of the processes it now takes close to a week because of their many port health requirements,” she said.
She said the company has developed a working relationship with another mortuary in SA to quicken the process.

She said Covid-19 was another major challenge because of the regulation that restricts burials to between 7am and 10am.
“We don’t have 50 cars to bury people in one district on the same day. Unlike other countries, where graveyards are not scattered and burial can be on any day not just weekends. It complicates things,” lamented Motšoane.
Motšoane says culture is also a big issue in Lesotho.

“Basotho refuse to bury their loved ones during weekdays and if only they could understand we wouldn’t be having problems. Things will be easier if we could conduct burials every day,” she said.
What makes the company stand out among its competitors is its “unique and quality” service, she said.
“We offer outstanding services to clients. I believe training is essential if we are to succeed,” said Motšoane, talking about her big dreams.
“We have big plans. I can’t disclose them as yet but they are big,” she said.

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Mahao, PS in big fight

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PRIME Minister Sam Matekane this week summoned the Basotho Action Party (BAP) executive committee in a bid to defuse simmering tensions within the party.
This comes amid fears that Professor Nqosa Mahao’s fallout with his principal secretary at the Ministry of Energy, Tankiso Phapano, could threaten the unity in the BAP and the government’s stability.

thepost can reveal that Mahao has hinted that he would resign if Matekane doesn’t fire or reassign Phapano.

But there are strong indications that Mahao doesn’t enjoy the backing of his executive committee and MPs in his fight with Phapano.

Inside sources this week told thepost that some members of the BAP’s executive committee and MPs are openly siding with Phapano and have been secretly lobbying Matekane to reshuffle Mahao from the Ministry of Energy to Sports.

A source said Mahao is aware of these manoeuvres, including a clandestine meeting in Maputsoe, and has said he would rather resign than be the subject of a humiliating reshuffle instigated by people he leads.

The source of the bad blood between Mahao and Phapano is not clear but it is understood that they have disagreed over tenders and the ministry’s direction.

The source said Matekane was first briefed of the running battles at the ministry some three weeks ago just as matters were coming to a head.

It is the second briefing which revealed a complete breakdown in the relationship that triggered Matekane’s meeting with the BAP’s executive committee and MPs on Monday.

Three people who were in that meeting said Matekane told the BAP officials to deal with the crisis before it affected the ministry and threatened the coalition government’s stability.

The BAP’s executive committee, including MPs and Mahao, then had a marathon meeting to discuss ways to make peace between Mahao and Phapano.

A source who was in that meeting said “it was clear to Mahao that the majority of the committee and the MPs were on Phapano’s side”.

“Mahao quickly realised that he did not have the backing of the majority and took a conciliatory approach. It was clear that the committee would rather have him resign than get Phapano removed from the ministry,” the source said.

“In the past Mahao had flatly refused to reconcile with Phapano because of seniority. But this time he appeared to be open to a meeting to discuss reconciliation.”

Both Mahao and Phapano told thepost last night that their relationship was still cordial. ‘“We are still in good books with Phapano until further notice,” Mahao said.

“However, we cannot predict the future.”

Mahao denied ever discussing Phapano’s dismissal or transfer with Matekane.

Phapano also insisted that he was working well with Mahao.

“We are still on good terms,” Phapano said, adding that the allegation that they were fighting was “baseless”.

The fallout between Mahao and Phapano has been quick and spectacular.

The two had been almost inseparable months before Mahao agreed to join the coalition government.

Phapano would use his car to drive Mahao around. They would attend party meetings together. Some party insiders saw Phapano as Mahao’s right-hand man and adviser.

Mahao allegedly strongly pushed for Phapano to be appointed as his principal secretary when he became energy minister.

But sources said Mahao started having second thoughts days after recommending Phapano and tried to get his appointment reversed but it was too late.

A source says within weeks Mahao was telling cabinet colleagues that Phapano had captured the ministry and he was unable to function as the minister.

“He started pushing to oust Phapano within days because they were already clashing. It’s been war from the first days,” said the source.

Staff Reporter

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How chicken import ban hit vendors

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MALESHOANE Pakela used to work at small backyard chicken farms where she was paid with chicken heads, necks, legs, and offals that she would roast and sell to factory workers at the Thetsane Industrial Area.

Her job was to clean and pack chicken.
The profit wasn’t much but just enough for the 37-year-old widow to feed and keep her four children in school.

“It also covered her monthly rental of M150 for a room in Ha-Tsolo Sekoting.

Her life was however shattered last October when the government imposed a ban on chicken imports from South Africa following an outbreak of bird flu.
Without day-old chicks the farms quickly shut down, cutting Pakela’s supply of heads, necks, legs, and offals.
Within a few days, her family was starving.

Pakela had been struggling even for months before the ban. The closure of the factories and retrenchments of thousands of workers has severely hit her sales. She was behind on her rent and could barely feed her children.

The partial lifting of the chicken ban has not helped Pakela because her former employers still cannot import day-old chicks or live birds.
Pakela and a family were kicked out of their rented room in November when their arrears were about M1 000.
She has found another room nearby.

A ‘Good Samaritan’ has allowed her to use a room for free until she can afford the rent. But Pakela says she still feels obliged to pay something because she understands that things are hard for everyone.

“Here the rent is still M150 but the landlord accepts every amount that I give her,” Pakela says.
There are days when her children go to bed hungry.

“I have told them (children) that if I have nothing they should accept (the status).”

She now survives on handouts from neighbours and other well-wishers. Pakela’s poverty is apparent.

Barefoot and holding her small child in a seshoeshoe dress, Pakela says her two children usually go to school without eating.
The other child has dropped out of school because she doesn’t have shoes.

’Mako Lepolesa, 44, who has been running a chesanyama (meat grill) at the Maseru West Industrial Estate since 2018. The father of three says his clients are mainly taxi drivers and factory workers.

Chicken was her main product until last October when the ban was imposed. It wasn’t long before his business started wobbling.

“I thought it would be just a short-lived problem (chicken import ban) but it passed on this year,” he says, adding that it might take months for his business to recover.
Moshe Ramashamole, 42, who also owns a chesanyama in the Maseru West Industrial Estate, tried to remain in business by sourcing chicken from local farmers.

It was a stopgap measure that however lasted a few weeks because the farmers also ran out of stock. He resorted to bad chicken but they were double the price of a full chicken before the ban.
Yet Ramashamole thought he could make it work by increasing the price of his plate from M35 to M55. The customers however resisted the new price and Ramashamole had to take the losses.

The poultry ban did not affect street vendors like Pakela alone.
Former Minister of Communications, Khotso Letsatsi, is one of those poultry farmers struggling following the chicken ban.

He ventured into poultry in January last year. It was an audacious venture that included a M100 000 investment in a shelter and other equipment.
He started with a batch of 300 chicks and had reached 1 000 by the time the ban was imposed.

“The business was lucrative,” Letsatsi says.

“I had to employ two people permanently to assist me on a full-time basis,” he says.

When it was time to slaughter the chickens, Letsatsi says he had to employ seven casual labourers.
Since the ban was imposed he had released all his workers.

“I do not know where they are now. Maybe they are starving,” he says of the workers he released.

Letsatsi doesn’t know how he will revive his business.
The Director of Marketing in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS), Lekhooe Makhate, says the ban has been devastating to farmers and businesses.

“Some big businesses are going to declare less tax to the government because there was no business,” Makhate says.

He says Lesotho spends M2.1 billion on the importation of chicken and its products from South Africa every year.
But that amount usually soars to M4 billion depending on the market forces of demand and supply.

Makhate says the M2.1 billion goes to South Africa where the chicken and its products are imported.

At the height of the scarcity of chickens in the country, Makhate says people were supposed to make initiatives to travel to villages to search for chickens.

“There is not enough production of chickens in the country,” he says.
“Economically speaking we rely on South Africa. We have to be self-reliant.”

Majara Molupe

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Letseng fends off threat to sue

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LETŠENG Diamond says it is under no obligation to advertise jobs for Basotho to provide certain services “where it has the capacity to undertake the same services”.
Letšeng Diamond boss, Motooane Thinyane, was responding to a threat to sue by a little-known political party called Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES).

Matekane’s company, the Matekane Mining Investment Company (MMIC), had been providing blasting, haulage and drilling services at Letšeng mine since 2005.
The deal with the MMIC was terminated in December last year with the mining company saying it was improper because Matekane had now become a politician.

Letšeng Diamonds announced that it had reached an agreement with the MMIC to acquire its mining equipment at the mine and offered employment to its current employees in line with operational requirements.

“This will enable Letšeng to continue with its mining activities,” the company said in its statement.

This infuriated opposition parties that argued that the mine should have called interested Basotho companies to bid for the contract, saying it is provided for in the Minerals Act of 2005.

The leader of Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES), Molefi Ntšonyana, wrote the mine last week threatening to sue for allegedly failing to follow section 11 of the Act.
Ntšonyana argued that the Act “does not grant the Letšeng Diamond 100 percent to mine with its good own equipment” but it should engage Basotho companies like it did with the MMIC.

Ntšonyana said Letšeng Diamond and the MMIC made the agreement to acquire the MMIC equipment so that the mine could continue with its mining activities “without any advertisement to seek qualified Basotho to provide such services”.

Ntšonyana said the agreement unilaterally denied Basotho a chance to tender for such services and ignored the fact that the government of Lesotho on behalf of Basotho own 30 percent in the Letšeng Diamond.

“It is advisable to reconsider your decision,” Ntšonyana said, adding that they would also write to the mining board requesting the resolution they made regarding this matter of insourcing mining activities.

He said the company should adhere to section 11 of the Mines and Minerals Act of 2005 and within 14 working days the matter should be reconsidered, “failing which we will have no choice but to drag the company to the courts of law”.

In his response, Thinyane said Ntšonyana must “revisit the section in question in full for its correct interpretation”.

“Letšeng Diamond is under no obligation to advertise to seek qualified Basotho to provide services where it is willing and has the capacity to undertake the same services,” Thinyane said.

He said the decision relating to the agreement referred to has been through the necessary governance structures and is therefore procedural.
Thinyane said Letšeng is a corporate citizen that is fully compliant with the laws of Lesotho.

Majara Molupe

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