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The dream rosehip farms

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MASERU – Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were when they gave up.

That famous quotation is attributed to Thomas Edison, the man who invented the electric lightbulb that has proven to be arguably one the greatest inventions mankind has ever made.

Miloane Mokhobo was in that bracket of men who were close to quitting when the going got tough. That was not because he had not tried.

He had experimented with several business ideas which had all spectacularly failed.

His worst moment came in 2016 when he took a flight to Nairobi, Kenya, to pitch a business idea, blowing M22 000 on the trip only to be informed on his arrival there that the meeting had been cancelled.

A year later, Mokhobo began a cosmetics manufacturing business. He packaged petroleum jelly (Vaseline) and olive oil for cosmetic use.

“We invested M24 000 in that business and it too failed,” he says.

“It was one of the most painful moments for me.”

He then hit the streets selling T-shirts and sweaters which were printed ‘Lesotho Mzuku’ and ‘Haeso Mzuku’.

He says there was a time when he felt like he had already invested too much energy and resources in business but all without tangible results.

“I felt like without it there was no bright future for me, it was a matter of do or die,” he says.

It was these failures that were to soon act as a launch-pad for a thriving multi-million agribusiness.

In 2019, Mokhobo set up Wild Plants Growers (Pty) Ltd which is based in Mohale’s Hoek specialising in the production of wild plants which have commercial value.

The main products of Wild Plants Growers are whole berry rosehip, Rosehip shells, rosehip seeds and pelargonium sidoides (African geranium).

“We are currently generating revenue of M3 million,” he says.

Mokhobo was born and raised in Mohale’s Hoek.

After completing his Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSE) in 2007 at Likuena High School, he enrolled at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) where he studied for a Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology.

In 2013, he got an internship at the Ministry of Trade.

He says he was doing research on how to establish commercial plantations of Agave Americana (lekhala le leputsoa) including the design of the farms and the factory for processing cosmetics using agave sap and the costs.

“So it was during this time of my internship that I started reading widely about wild plants that have commercial value,” he says.

He says as the internship was about to end, he started thinking about work opportunities and how he could secure a job for himself.

“That’s when the idea of rosehip came to my mind,” he says.

Mokhobo proposed to develop the commercial plantations to one of the local rosehip processing companies.

“My proposal was given a chance,” he says.

In 2015, he then left to study for a Master of Science in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at Pan African University Institute for Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation (PAUSTI) in Kenya.

He says in his final year, he continued with the research on rosehip.

“I was developing a protocol for tissue culture production of rosehip seedlings,” he says.

“When my previous employer heard about the research, he was so excited that he even promised that he was going to build a tissue culture laboratory where I would be working upon completion of my studies,” he says.

However, he says he could not finish up his research due to limited time.

“I was about to take only one year of research,” he says.

He says he had to drop this research when it was not yet completed.

After he returned home, he says he came with consumables used in the tissue culture lab with the aim to ask for an opportunity to finish this work at the tissue culture lab at any college of Lesotho.

“I tried both but failed,” he says.

Mokhobo says he was left with one option — seeking a job. He failed.

In 2018, he wrote a proposal to his previous employer asking for a supply contract to supply them with rosehip seedlings again and they agreed.

Mokhobo says while he was still struggling to sustain his dream, he applied for the Bacha Entrepreneurship Project (BEP).

“I won a whopping M195 000 and that led to the formal registration of Wild Plants Growers in January 2019,” he says.

Mokhobo says the establishment of Wild Plants Grower came after multiple failed projects. He tried beekeeping in 2014 and seed oil extraction from peach and apricot seeds that is usually used in cosmetics in 2016.

Furthermore, he says he applied for the BEP with the idea of processing Aloe forex. He says he then received training on how to write a business plan and basic business management skills.

“When Wild Plants Growers was born I had already learned a lot from the previous failures,” he says.

Mokhobo says when the business was developed they did not have enough resources. He needed a greenhouse due to our climate.

“I had to collect small timbers from the nearest forest and plastics from the nearest hardware to make my own greenhouse structures,” he says.

He says because the structure was weak, when it was windy the greenhouse would collapse. Mokhobo says they started with only one client.

They are currently supplying South Africa and European markets, specifically Germany. He says their rosehip is organic certified according to European Union (EU) standards which have opened the market in Europe.

“I thank the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Trade hub that paid 50 percent of our initial audit costs,” he says.

Mokhobo says they have established five hectares of commercial plantations of rosehip with additional 20 hectares to be developed before the end of this year.

“We are developing a partnership with field owners who will be enjoying 30 percent sales of the yield from their fields,” he says.

Wild Plants Growers plays a colossal role at community level.

This year they have trained 527 wild plant harvesters who are harvesting and selling their rosehip and pelargonium sidoides to them. Wild Plants Growers has now created both direct and indirect jobs for Basotho.

He says they buy rosehip and pelargonium sidoides out of the country thereby providing alternative income to most families in rural communities of Lesotho.

He says currently they are working with 17 farmers on the rosehip cultivation project. They have seven full-time employees.

At pick season, he says they hire about 20 temporary laborers working with them at various levels of the supply chain.

Despite the achievement, Mokhobo says the challenges in this industry are overwhelming including the reluctance by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to issue permits which would allow them to export in time when they are needed.

“I have lost M500 000 worth of pelargonium orders from January up until now,” he says.

“We urge the government to play its role of creating an enabling environment for entrepreneurs to compete and flourish,” he says.

He further explains that since pelargonium is endemic in Lesotho and South Africa, when things like this happens they lose their customers to their SA competitors.

“That’s how overseas companies lose trust in Lesotho companies and so we lose more in the process,” he says.

Mokhobo says the absence of machinery leads them to selling their products as raw products which do not allow them to add value.

“This in turn affects our economy because we are not getting much from our sales,” he says.

Through his experience, Mokhobo says he has witnessed big commercial plantations of products such as tea, sugar cane, pineapple and rooibos.

“I witnessed the commercial plantation of wild plants growing in the mountains of Western Cape,” he says.

“However I have never seen sizable commercial plantations of certain crops which can generate over 1 000 jobs at the peak season,” he says.

“My dream is to make my own Lesotho Ceres,” he says. He says he wants to create a place where people can go from corners of Lesotho to get seasonal jobs in winter to harvest rosehip and hopefully other crops that will come at a later stage.

“My dream is to develop 100 hectares of rosehip farm,” he says.

“We spent about M115 000 to establish five hectares of rosehip farm from developing seedlings, transplanting seedlings to the field, and labour related costs including annual field fees for the first year,” he says.

He says the challenge they have is having an additional budget to manage the operations of the established farms such as removing weeds.

Mokhobo says the upcoming incubation and trip to Singapore will give their business some global exposure.

“I will be seen not only by potential investors globally but also potential business partners,” he says.

Refiloe Mpobole

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Blow for former DCEO boss

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AN attempt by Advocate Mahlomola Manyokole to block his prosecution for fraud and money laundering failed last Friday after the Court of Appeal dismissed his petition.

Advocate Manyokole and one of his seven co-accused, Relebohile Lesholu, approached the Court of Appeal after High Court judge Justice ’Maliepollo Makhetha refused to permanently stay their prosecution last year.

Manyokole was first suspended and later fired as the director-general of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) before he was dragged to court on criminal charges in 2021.

Manyokole and Lesholu were seeking a permanent stay of prosecution after the crown took 18 months without prosecuting them from the date of their first appearance in the Magistrate’s Court.

They were also complaining that the state charged them before investigations were completed, citing challenges with respect to appointment of prosecutors for the trial.

They applied for a permanent stay of prosecution before Justice Makhetha on grounds that they were denied the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time as the state had failed to furnish them with indictment, criminal docket and witness statements.

The required documents were however furnished before the stay application was heard, leading to Justice Makhetha dismissing the application on grounds that the matter had become moot.

The President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Kananelo Mosito, sitting with Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane and Justice Moses Chinhengo, found that the period of delay was not egregious and caused no irreparable trial-related prejudice.

The Court of Appeal said the criticism that Justice Makhetha erred in deciding that the matter of the issue of supply of the documents was moot by the time the stay application was heard or finally decided cannot be faulted.

“The State explained in sufficient detail why the documents were not furnished by the time of the stay applications,” Justice Mosito said.

“That explanation is not fanciful but reflects the reality and challenges faced by small jurisdictions such as ours in dealing with many complex and serious offences against accused persons in one trial,” he said.

“There was no refusal by the state to furnish the documents.”

The court found that the state faced real challenges with regard to completion of investigations, appointment of prosecutors and associated issues including the need for thorough preparations for the trial by the appointed prosecutors.

The state, the court said, was edging towards the holding of the Pre-Trial Planning Session (PTPS), scheduled for December 12, 2022, when they lodged the stay applications in the forlorn hope that a permanent stay would be granted.

The court determined whether the delay of 18 months was so inordinate or over-lengthy as to warrant the drastic order of a permanent stay of prosecution.

It found that it cannot be said that the delay in bringing the accused to trial in this case is egregious, nor can it be said that there already had been trial-related prejudice suffered by the appellants.

“A permanent stay of prosecution is a drastic and exceptional remedy entirely unsuitable to be granted at this nascent stage of the proceedings,” Justice Mosito said.

Justice Mosito said had the appellants “not truncated the process and had allowed PTPS scheduled on 12 December 2022 to go ahead, the trial may have been completed by now, 15 months later”.

He said accused people and their lawyers must be discouraged from pursuing unmeritorious applications for permanent stay without proper regard to the complexity of charges they are facing and the availability of institutional resources.

“Although the appellants have not been successful, costs may not be visited upon them, this being essentially a criminal matter,” he said.

The court also found that the appellants themselves contributed to the delay of their prosecution.

One of the state prosecutors, ’Mamongonyo Baasi, explained the causes of the delay in submitting the docket.

She said the 24 charges “are sophisticated economic offences” committed by senior officials of the DCEO and require a high degree of attention from any would-be prosecutor.

She said the forensic report that the state largely relies on was only completed on June 20, 2022.

The lawyer initially assigned to prosecute the case withdrew from the matter and new prosecutors had to be appointed and they needed time to familiarise themselves with the voluminous documents involved.

The prosecutors had to consult with necessary witnesses including forensic experts from PriceWaterhouse & Coopers who are resident in South Africa.

Baasi denied that the charges are trumped up and asserted in strong terms that there is a prima facie case against all accused persons as disclosed in the docket.

She said the accused persons demanded the documents verbally and in writing before the investigations were completed.

During the period between May 2021 and October 2022, there had been a change of prosecutors.

Responding more directly to Manyokole’s affidavit, Baasi said the prejudice he suffered, if any, did “not outweigh that which the State would suffer if a permanent stay was granted”.

“The state undoubtedly suffers prejudice if such heinous crimes are not prosecuted in circumstances where (Manyokole) was operating within the purview of a law enforcement agency and arbitrarily used institutional power of the DCEO for self-aggrandisement,” she said.

Staff Reporter

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Lawyer wins praises for defending legal profession

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THE Court of Appeal has praised Advocate Rethabile Setlojoane for resisting the police’s attempt to force him to violate the principle of attorney-client privilege during investigations.

The Court President, Justice Kananelo Mosito, flanked by four other Justices of Appeal, last Friday ruled that it is crucial to uphold the fundamental legal principle of attorney-client privilege.

The court said Advocate Setlojoane had sought to vindicate not only his own rights but also the rights and ethical obligations of the legal profession as a whole.

The court also criticised the High Court for declining jurisdiction when Advocate Setlojoane approached it last year complaining about the police’s conduct.

Advocate Setlojoane is representing Lehlohonolo Selate who is currently in prison facing a raft of charges.

Selate is suspected of defrauding the government of M50 million between October 2020 and September 2021.

A company called Sunny Penny (Pty) Ltd, in which Selate has some interest in, is also suspected of being involved in the fraud.

The police investigators summoned Advocate Setlojoane for questioning following the payment from Sunny Penny (Pty) Ltd.

During the questioning, the police directed him to surrender all files relating to his client and money paid as fees by Sunny Penny (Pty) Ltd.

Advocate Setlojoane refused to do so, citing the principle of lawyer-client privilege.

He was taken to the Subordinate Court in an attempt to have him joined as an accused in the case against Selate.

However, his lawyer objected to this joinder by invoking provisions of Section 128(1) of the Constitution of Lesotho, which requires that constitutional questions be referred to the High Court.

The magistrate accepted the objection and did not join Advocate Setlojoane as an accused.

Consequently, he instituted an application in the High Court and on June 12 last year a coram of three judges made up of Justices Moroke Mokhesi, Polo Banyane and, ’Maliepollo Makhetha heard the application.

On September 14, 2023, the High Court delivered its judgment and dismissed the application, declining to exercise its constitutional jurisdiction over the violation of the lawyer-client privilege and the right to legal representation.

The High Court based its reasons on the availability of other adequate means of redress.

The court said the lawyer-client privilege is a fundamental principle that is essential for effective legal representation and protecting client’s rights.

It also said by declining jurisdiction, the High Court missed an opportunity to guide the scope and application of the lawyer-client privilege within the Lesotho legal system.

The court said, however, it is important to note that section 22 of the Constitution allows the High Court to decline to exercise its powers if it is satisfied that adequate means of redress are or have been available under other laws.

The court should exercise its discretion to decline jurisdiction only in “very exceptional circumstances”.

The Court of Appeal highlighted “the right of the client to be free from disclosure of confidential communications with his or her lawyer, subject only to the limited exceptions recognised by the common law”.

The court emphasised that the lawyer-client privilege is not merely a rule of evidence but a fundamental principle that ensures the effective exercise of the right to legal representation and the fairness of criminal proceedings.

It also said the rationale of the privilege is not the protection of the individual client, but the upholding of the administration of justice itself, which depends on the free and full communication between clients and their legal advisers.

It said an accused person could challenge the admissibility of evidence obtained through the unauthorised recording of conversations with their legal counsel, as such recordings would violate the lawyer-client privilege and undermine the right to effective legal representation.

The court said while the Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Act 2008 does not directly mandate a legal representative or adviser to hand over client funds paid as fees, it imposes obligations to report suspicious transactions.

If subsequent investigations and legal processes determine that these funds are proceeds of crime, they may be subject to confiscation or forfeiture.

Therefore, the legal representative’s duty primarily involves reporting rather than direct transfer of funds to the authorities, unless directed by a court order following due legal processes.

The court said while the police do not have the explicit authority to directly demand the handing over of client funds paid as fees to legal advisers merely on suspicion, they are permitted to seize such funds if there is a reasonable suspicion they are proceeds of crime.

This would typically follow from a structured legal process including reporting, investigation, and potentially judicial proceedings where evidence supports the suspicion of money laundering or related criminal activities.

It said while it is imperative to dismantle the barriers that secrecy laws may create in the fight against financial crimes, it is equally crucial to uphold the fundamental legal principle of attorney-client privilege.

The preservation of this privilege ensures that while legal practitioners may be required to disclose certain information, the core elements of their advisory role remain protected, which is vital for maintaining trust between clients and their lawyers.

The attorney-client privilege is a fundamental principle that underpins the right to legal representation and the fairness of criminal proceedings, the court said.

It said the police investigators had no legal basis for requiring Advocate Setlojoane to hand over his client’s funds paid as fees.

To compel him to become an accomplice against his own client by disclosing privileged communications or assisting in the prosecution of that client would strike at the very heart of the faithful discharge of a lawyer’s ethical duties, the court found.

It said even if he were to ultimately fail on the merits before the High Court on remittal, his pursuit of the appeal has undoubtedly served the public interest by elucidating the scope and application of the lawyer-client privilege within our legal system.

Staff Reporter

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Judge grills prisons boss

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THE chairman of a commission of enquiry investigating the escape of prisoners in Maseru last year has issued a damning assessment of the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) boss’ leadership skills.

Justice Realeboha Mathaba grilled Mating Nkakala over the lack of a strategic plan for the LCS.

He said the Lesotho Correctional Service Act mandates the commissioner to draft policies for the organisation.

Nkakala responded by saying they were on the verge of engaging a consultant to help draw up strategies for the LCS.

“Normally consultants do not do everything, they just facilitate, meaning you have to have a vision as a leader,” Justice Mathaba said.

He also asked Nkakala about how long the institution has been operating without a clear strategic plan and policies and he answered saying the last time it was done was in 2010.

“Meaning for the past 14 years the institution has been operating without any direction,” Justice Mathaba said.

Nkakala admitted that it has been 14 years without a strategic plan.

Justice Mathaba again asked Nkakala if he had received any training before getting into high office.

“Not only you but other officers who help you. Did you get any training?”

Nkakala said their wish is for every officer to get training and attend workshops on their promotion to the next rank.

“But, due to budget constraints, we cannot get such training,” Nkakala said.

Justice Mathaba said most of the problems that Nkakala had mentioned show that there is lack of leadership and teamwork.

“It is evident that there is no teamwork between you and your senior officers,” he said.

Nkakala also conceded that there are divisions among the staff with some supporting him while others do not.

He said there are some officers who work well with him, “even though it is not everyone who supports me”.

Justice Mathaba said Nkakala should have been equipped with the necessary skills to lead the institution.

“I am still on the issue of how capacitated you are in leading the institution,” he said.

He said Nkakala is still leading the institution by using the assistant commissioner’s tactics and principles as he never received any training after being promoted.

“Did you get any training that equipped you with the leadership skills while still an assistant commissioner?”

Nkakala said he recalled attending a course.

Justice Mathaba then said based on Nkakala’s evidence, he sees that there is no teamwork at the institution’s leadership.

Nkheli Liphoto

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