‘Thou art a cobbler’

‘Thou art a cobbler’

MASERU-Sepamo Sepamo was born into a life of poverty, and to survive had to take up a job as a herdboy from the age of 10 in his Matelile rural village of Mafeteng district.
Today, the 41-year-old is an aspiring entrepreneur and a cobbler of note in Maseru, running a busy kiosk along the Moshoeshoe Road near the Central Bank of Lesotho.

Sepamo’s experience is testimony to how the lives of herd boys who are often regarded as a write-off can change with some help from society – even though many times this involves a rough patch.
His employer’s children, who at the time were in secondary school, taught him how to read and write but had to leave after three years due to ill-treatment from his employers.

He left the job without any pay, and life was back to rock bottom.
“I was hurt and I decided to leave and find a job as a herd boy for another three years,” he said.
He later left for initiation school and his new employer paid for the fees but “a lot happened there and I was expelled and I went back to herding,” he said.

“I went to my mother, because my father had left us and she gave me a bag of oranges to sell,” Sepamo said.
Business was not good and he found another job as a herder.
“I was now a herdboy for the next 14 years. Herding was all I knew. I was paid with a cow and I sold it for M1 500.”
With the money, he tried his hand at business again and this time he bought cassettes and earrings for resale, he said. The decision did not go down well with his mother who expected him to share proceeds from the sale of the cow so she expelled him from her house.

“I went back to my father with whom I didn’t have a good relationship. I decided to leave the place too as I was not safe there, he tried to kill me with a spear. My father was complaining that I was unruly,” he said.
From there, he met a construction company owner who gave him a job as a labourer in Maseru, and also sold cigarettes and sweets when not at work.
The business was gaining momentum but then had to quit after famo gangs targeted people selling cassettes other than theirs.

“I found a job as a taxi conductor earning M30 a day,” he said, adding that at the time he had married but was struggling to take care of his wife after quitting his cassette selling business.
She left him.
“I then decided to go to Gauteng to find a job but nothing came out of it,” he said.

However, someone he met there was in the business of repairing shoes and he gave him a job as a helper.
“That’s where I learnt about repairing shoes.”
He saved until he came back to Lesotho after a few months and started repairing shoes in Maseru.
“I excelled and I am still mastering it now.”

Sepamo is also now patching torn clothes, selling snacks and rearing chickens.
Sepamo’s experience epitomises the life many herd boys endure in Lesotho.
Another is 19-year-old Tšepo Ntsatsi, whose life experience was reported by Sentebale, a non-profit organisation founded by Princes Seeiso Seeiso, the Principal Chief of Matsieng, and the Britain’s Prince Harry.
His parents died when he was still young and with no one to take care of him, he became a herdboy, also barely into his adolescent years.

“I was not given the same quality of food as members of the family. I ate the food that dogs ate,” he said.
“The long days meant my breakfast was at 6am and my dinner was at 8pm, rarely with lunch in between. Despite being exposed to the harsh weather, I was not given enough protective clothing. In the summer months, I would go out to the cattle post and look after animals for up to six months at a time.”

Unlike Sepamo, Ntsatsi started to attend a night school for shepherds in 2009, where Sentebale was involved in helping herd boys learn how to read and write.
Sentebale also provided them with clothes during the winter months and educated them about health issues, including HIV/AIDS matters.
A study by Julia Preece from the Durban University of Technology, titled The Challenge of Relevant and Accessible Education Provision for Herdboys in Lesotho, found that boys in the rural mountainous regions are lagging behind in education.

The study, published in 2020, found that only two out of three herd boys have ever been to school compared to 87 percent and 94 percent respectively of all boys and girls.
“Boys tend to repeat classes and drop out of school more than girls,” according to the study.

“It is disconcerting that the dropout rate is high in Standards 1, 2 and 3, the levels at which most learners have not yet acquired permanent literacy and numeracy skills,” she found.

’Mapule Motsopa

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