Rising above the waves

Rising above the waves

MASERU – ITUMELENG Matlotlo, 27, had nothing but herself when she started a hairdressing business which is now registering steady growth.
Hard work and focus on the goal have been her strong characteristics that made her go against the figurative wanton sea waves.
Forsaken by her father when she was only seven years old and raised by her mother who survived on street vending, Matlotlo’s future seemed bleak.

However, regardless of her circumstances as a child, Matlotlo dreamt of being a radio presenter one day. Things did not quite work out that way. Instead of being on radio, she has become a hair expert.
Matlotlo was born on March 17, 1993, in Tosing, the rural side of Quthing district but grew up in Sterkspruit in South Africa where her mother sold fruits and brooms on street pavements.
She started school there where she did Grade One to Six before returning home to complete the rest of her education.
Looking at how Matlotlo’s life has turned out, one recalls the famous adage: “The background does not determine the future.”

Matlotlo now owns two registered businesses; Elly’s Hair Salon now located at the BCP mini market in Maseru and Elly’s School of Hair Dressing in Mahlanyeng.
The latter started operating on January 13, 2020.
“I advertised my school on Facebook and 20 people registered and paid via Mpesa,” she says.
“I was surprised to find 13 people at the door of my salon when I came to work on Monday.”

Elly’s School of Hair Dressing is the first registered hair institution in the country and Matlotlo counts it as one of her biggest milestones.
It offers a six-month course in everything to do with hair from extensions, dreadlocks, braiding, essence, bonding, wigs as well as taking care of natural hair and tongs.
At the moment she has a part-time employee who comes only when the salon is busy.
Her motto is “perseverance is the mother of success” mamello e tsoala katleho in Sesotho.
Matlotlo is a mother to a seven-year-old boy whom she named Katleho, which means success.

“Through hair dressing I’m now able to pay my rent, take care of my little sister and her nine months-old son since they stay with me,” she says, proudly.
“I’m able to boost my mother’s business and I pay for my son’s education at Emanuel English Medium in Mafeteng.”
Taking a glance at how she grew up after her father left her, Matlotlo’s life became rocky that she even had to stay with her 16-year-old cousin at the age of 10 because her mother could not take care of her and work at the same time.

She changed schools and would only visit her mother during school holidays.
“We were two children staying on our own and sometimes it would be the survival of the fittest. I had to wash my clothes, polish my shoes and cook,” she says.
“Sometimes my cousin would deprive me of food for reasons that I didn’t know.”

“It was really tough because we had no protection at home. My mom was now a single mom because my dad chose to run away from his responsibility from 2000 when I was doing Grade Two.”
The following year Matlotlo refused to go back to Sterkspruit but stayed with her grandmother in Lesotho.
Her mother threatened that she would not buy her anything for school if she stayed behind but she insisted on staying with her grandmother.
Matlotlo then attended Thaha Primary School in Quthing, a free primary school where she used to wear her cousin’s worn out clothes.

She cared little about the conditions because staying in Quthing was her only way to regain her sanity.
When she enrolled at ’Maseribane High School, it was yet another turbulent time as her mother still demanded that she return to Sterkspuit but her granny fought in her corner.
“My granny organised a sponsorship with the Ministry of Education for me.”

At this stage one would have thought Matlotlo’s troubles were behind her but in reality they were far from over.
For the first month, Matlotlo stayed at the school’s boarding facilities.
Unfortunately all her belongings were stolen and she opted to rent a room at a nearby village as a day scholar.
Those were the days when Matlotlo would sleep on an empty stomach because she could not afford to buy food.
“It was a tough year but I still passed.”

She would not stay away from her mother for long, the mother-daughter bond continued and she started visiting again during school holidays.
During these visits she would sell ice blocks on the streets and made enough money to buy herself a pair of school shoes and a new uniform.
She did well at ’Maseribane High School and passed both form C and E with second class.

Despite that she had always been a focused child and kept men away from her, she fell in the trap of a boyfriend who convinced her to have a baby before they could get married.
The boyfriend was a Form C drop out and he was doing part time jobs installing electric appliances.
“Love is blind,” she said.

“He convinced me to have a baby with him just to make sure that he would marry a fertile woman and I agreed. Well, I must say it’s because I was still young and he was my first love,” she says.
When Matlotlo enrolled at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology in 2012, she was unaware that she was pregnant.
Matlotlo only found out she was pregnant at two months and she told her mother right away.
“She was furious and she told me I’m on my own,” she says.

The boyfriend chickened out and denied that he was the father.
Matlotlo thought her life was doomed because she had to forget about university for at least two years to raise the baby.
Her grandmother encouraged her to go to school despite the pregnancy.

She packed her few belongings which included a mattress, a pillow and two small pots and came to Maseru to attend school.
She had to walk for about 10 kilometres to and from school daily throughout her pregnancy because she did not have enough money for transport.
She would also struggle to pay rent and sometimes went to bed hungry until neighbours realised her problems and started offering her some food.
When her boy was born, the grandmother came to Maseru to take care of them so that she could continue going to school.
“I had nothing then and my baby would live on sugar water until I came back from school to breastfeed him,” she says.

After sometime the grandmother took the child to Quthing to give Matlotlo time to focus on her studies.
Matlotlo, now with a child in Quthing and her daily problems in Maseru, had to do something to raise money.
That was when she started the hair plaiting business, advertising it on social media.

Matlotlo did not get to enjoy her tertiary life like most students since she had to support her son from the M1 200 she received from the National Manpower Development Secretariat as an allowance.
One other thing that forced Matlotlo to continue pushing was that even during her tertiary days her peers always looked down on her.
She was bullied at school and her business was looked down upon by some schoolmates.

“One girl insulted me, calling me all the names, calling me a poor teen mother,” she recalls.
“The other one threatened to sue me and said I was so poor that I could not afford the cost of the suit and she wondered if I could afford a lawyer because it seemed I was the breadwinner in my family.”
Everyone started throwing their negative ideas towards me, she says.
“At that time I made it my goal that I will not die poor.”

After graduating with an Bachelor of Arts in Broadcasting and Journalism in 2016, she did not follow her profession but clung to her self-created career of hairdressing.
She rented a chair at Expression Hair Salon at Seshoeshoe Building in Maseru.
A few months later she moved to Oxford Building where she started Elly’s Hair Salon.

She later accepted an offer in Johannesburg with a promise of better pay at a hair salon.
“To my surprise there was no business there and I was starving,” she says.
“The year’s quarter ended and I had no money to pay for my son’s school fees. I had no other option but to sell my furniture from my previous salon so that I could pay the school fees,” she said.
In 2019 she came back home and started from scratch again and by September Elly’s Hair Salon was back on firm footing.
This month she opened the hairdressing school and it already has 20 students.
She aims to have a site for the school in a decade.

’Mamakhooa Rapolaki

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