MASERU – “NOTHING in politics is irreparable,” says Jean Anouilh in her book, The Lark.
Those words come to mind as Lesotho hurtles towards its third coalition government in five years.
The likely partners, Monyane Moleleki and Thomas Thabane, could not be more incongruent. Even as both men have confirmed their talks and a deal looks imminent, the partnership still looks improbable.
There is ample historical evidence of the palpable enmity between the two. That they are now about to join forces to form the next government attests to the common adage that there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics.
“Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, had always been the systematic organisation of hatreds,” says Henry Adams in The Education of Henry Adams.
Moleleki and Thabane are doing just that.
A few weeks ago Thabane set the new tone when he said he has never had a problem with Moleleki. He painted a picture of a relationship that has always been warm and cordial.
History tells a different story though.
They were once close comrades and colleagues in the first democratic government and the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP).
That relationship survived the collapse of the BCP government in 1998 as they crossed the floor to join the newly formed Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD).
But as their ambitions clashed tensions grew so much that by 2006 the two men were political enemies.
Thabane would leave the LCD to form the All Basotho Convention (ABC), opening the way for Moleleki to be the clear favourite to be the party’s next leader after Pakalitha Mosisili.
Later Thabane would allege that Moleleki who was then Minister of Foreign Affairs was one of the reasons he had quit the LCD in a huff. In other words, had it not been for Moleleki he would have remained in the party and government.
Thabane had moved with 17 LCD MPs, a decision that riled Moleleki who thought nothing short of brown envelops stuffed with cash would have induced those politicians to jump ship.
Moleleki could not hide his disdain for Thabane when he met then United States Ambassador to Lesotho, June Carter Perry, for a briefing in October 2006.
According to a diplomatic cable Perry filed after that meeting Moleleki said Thabane had received money from Libya and Taiwan to fund the ABC.
“This is one of several occasions in which Moleleki has become very emotive in expressing his disdain for Thabane,” Perry observed.
The cable said Moleleki alleged that Thabane was using cash to buy the ‘crossover’ of MPs from the LCD.
Perry noted that this was not the first time Moleleki had made allegations against Thabane in their diplomatic briefings.
In an earlier briefing, Perry wrote, Moleleki had claimed “that former military renegades were part of Thabane’s plot to have him killed”.
That accusation had dovetailed with Moleleki’s allegation in the October briefing that Thabane is “surrounding himself with former military figures”.
In what Perry described as a “lengthy monologue” Moleleki claimed that Thabane is “surrounding himself with scum” and “is moving towards the edge of the law with regards to money laundering”.
Perry however cautioned that Moleleki “has repeatedly accused Thabane of being the main force behind his attempted assassination in January 2006” so his statements “are subject to careful scrutiny”.
Moleleki’s comments to Perry illustrate how intensely he disliked Thabane. And the feeling seemed mutual.
Thabane was throwing insults of his own. At his rallies he would accuse Moleleki of corruption. That theme would continue in his speeches even after becoming prime minister.
Moleleki stole diamonds, he alleged at several rallies.
With time that accusation morphed into a brazen call for the police to arrest Moleleki for corruption. And sure enough in 2013 police charged Moleleki over a diamond mine lease he had granted to some businessmen when he was Minister of Natural Resources.
At the same time anti-corruption investigators were peeping into Moleleki’s bank accounts to establish the source of funds.
Moleleki cried foul, alleging that Thabane was using the police to victimise him to score political points.
If this is not a witch-hunt, Moleleki said, then let everyone be investigated.
Corruption should be investigated without fear or favour, Thabane retorted at his rallies. And so Moleleki, who was suffering from cancer at that time, was dragged to court.
When he asked for postponements on account of his ill-health Thabane’s followers, perhaps taking cue from their leader, opined that he was feigning illness to delay the case.
Out of the corridors of power, Moleleki turned to the media to defend himself against what he saw as trumped up charges motivated by political vendetta.
“If he can be so careless to give the police such strong instructions publicly (to arrest him), how much more privately?” Moleleki told the Sunday Express in October 2014.
“If he can do it so consistently, relentlessly in public, how much more when you call in the Commissioner of Police and other senior police officials privately? He goes on record and it is common knowledge that he has instructed them when he was wearing party colours. He said I am instructing you the police to go after that man. Are you scared of him? Why don’t you try that man? Are you afraid of him?”
When Thabane fell out with his coalition partners and was forced to call an early election Moleleki went on the offensive.
“Thabane tainted our country’s image and we need to fire him as prime minister,” he told one rally a few weeks before the election.
At a rally at Christ the King High School in Maama constituency, Moleleki said Thabane had brought shame to the prime minister’s office and the ABC should fire him.
“There is nothing wrong with the political party but its leader is the only problem. Members of the ABC should fire him and elect a new leader as Ntate Thabane has brought the party into disrepute,” he said.
The coalition government, he added, collapsed because Thabane was a “dictator” who made decisions without consulting his main partner Mothetjoa Metsing of the LCD.
But as rumours of his sour relationship with Mosisili swelled in June 2016 Moleleki found himself having to respond to allegations that he was in talks with Thabane. His reaction was an unequivocal denial.
It’s a lie, he said.
“You all know that I was persecuted by a person (Thabane) who was campaigning at this very ground claiming that I stole government money and brought it to Machache to buy votes,” he told a rally in his Machache constituency.
“I have been called a thief by people wearing yellow T-shirts (ABC supporters) and who are led by that person who was campaigning at this very ground using my name, and claiming that I stole diamonds”.
“That person even claimed that I stored the diamonds in my afro hair, so how can I form an alliance with such a person?”
Fast forward to November and a dramatically different picture has emerged. Moleleki now says he is talking to Thabane.
What could have changed?
Dr Motlamelle Kapa, a political science lecturer at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), thinks political expedience and opportunity have brought the two men together.
“They are tapping into anger about corruption. The dynamics have changed,” Kapa says. “They are moving with the times. They have the same message and same agenda.”
Charles Dudley Warner, an American journalist of the 19th Century, said “Politics makes strange bedfellows”.
If Moleleki and Thabane form a government then it would indeed be a coalition of strange bedfellows.
How long that partnership will last no one can tell.
Tlohang Letsie, who also teaches politics at NUL, says he is not so optimistic that the partnership will be sustainable.
“For now they are united against one enemy who is Mosisili but once the enemy is defeated and the dust has settled we are likely to see new conflicts,” Letsie says.
“It is extremely difficult to see how the two can work together given their history. I don’t think theirs will be a sustainable coalition. We might as well prepare for another coalition”.
Letsie says Thabane and Moleleki have already shown signs that they don’t agree on fundamental issues like amnesty for soldiers accused of serious crimes.
“Moleleki’s faction seems to favour amnesty while Thabane and the ABC want justice. How to reconcile that without risking a serious conflict will be tough,” he says.
Lesotho’s own brandy
ROMA-“Go, eat your food with rejoicing, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for already the true God has found pleasure in your works,” so says the Big Book.
Driven by that divine, Mohapi Pule has gone a step further – by coming up with a new type of brandy – to make you merry.
The brandy, Mountain Spels Brandy, will make the heart of the dying man rejoice.
“The healthy nutrients in fruits that make brandy, end up in you when you drink it,” he said.
Pule studied nutrition at the National University of Lesotho.
His brandy is made by fermenting fruits into wine. The wine is then distilled into a brandy. It carries the flavour and the aroma of the original fruits.
The story began when Pule was born in Quthing, Mphaki. He was born to a hardworking mother who brew traditional beer like no other.
“She brew beer well before I was born. She is still making it to this day,” he said.
His passion for brewing was probably “born” even before he was born. Mothers have a hidden way of passing not just their looks but their passions to their children.
As he grew up, he found that he was still intertwined with his mom’s brewing business in one way or another.
“Mostly, I am expected to fetch water for the brewing process. That, I still do to this day when I visit home,” he says.
Two decades later, Pule found himself in the Roma Valley, doing BSc in Nutrition.
“At some point, I found that I had lost purpose in life. There was not a thing that I could say, well, I was passionate about this thing or that thing.”
That situation, of course, threw him into some serious soul-searching.
It brought him back to his roots.
“During this period, I recalled that when I was younger, I used to imagine helping my mom do the packaging of the beer she was making and helping distribute it countrywide,” he said.
From a young age, the issue of subsistence business didn’t appeal to him. But that imagination came and passed. Now here he was, worried that he might not amount to anything in life.
Then, boom! An idea came!
What if he produced an alcoholic drink?
He could have thought about anything to do as a business but, lo and behold! He thought about his mother’s passion!
One of the things he loves about alcoholic beverages is that they are popular.
“I haven’t seen products as popular as alcoholic drinks,” he said.
He might be wrong or right but the reality is, the rest of the world has for generations found delight in alcoholic beverages – some to the extent of overdoing it to their injury!
“Mabele khunoana ralitlhaku thabisa lihoho. Mabele u tsoa kae e le khale re u batla re sa u thole? Ueeeena mabeeeele!” (Loosely translated beer brewed from sorghum make men happy. We’ve been looking for you from afar, you sorghum. In short, this is a praise poem for the Sesotho sorghum brew).
But then came the most difficult part. Which specific beverages should he focus on and how would he do it?
He decided that he would focus on ciders. He realised that not many people in Lesotho were making ciders.
He started experimenting at home and realized how difficult the process was. He just couldn’t get it right. To worsen matters, he also did not have the right equipment.
But like most successful innovators, he just knew that he had to start his business right away.
Pule says he then learnt about other forms of beverages: the spirits. Spirits are very high in alcohol content. Here we are talking the likes of whiskey, vodka and brandy.
He was particularly interested in vodka. He went into one NUL laboratory and, with necessary permission, began testing a number of spirits and doing a lot of research about them.
He began saving some of the money he earned from the National Manpower Development Secretariat in the form of student allowance so he could buy equipment. Saving was not easy. The subsistence money was already not that much. Having to share it with a business was asking a little too much.
But Pule was so determined that he did it, bought equipment that allowed him to develop what he thought was “vodka”.
However, after buying the equipment he immediately realised that the equipment was to make brandy not vodka.
“Now I was forced to get into brandy by chance,” he said.
It was a mistake that he has never regretted having realised that there are very few individuals who were making brandy in Lesotho.
Pule had to throw himself fully into experiments. He read books about brandy production. He even enrolled for an online course on distillation.
In the end, he began to see some light.
“I began to feel some difference in the taste of my produce,” he said. “When I shared my produce with my lecturers, they were over the moon!”
With that encouragement, Pule began packaging his brandy and is now selling it to family and friends.
“My small equipment means that I can’t produce much. However, If I were to get bigger equipment, things would be much better.”
ROMA – ’MATUMANE Matela, a National University of Lesotho (NUL)-trained nutritionist, is an example of how a nutritionist should think and act.
Matela makes and sells ready-to-cook vegetables out of produce from her own farm or produce she preferably buys from local farms.
“When I make a dish, as a nutritionist, I make choices that ensure a typical package is packed with nutrition,” Matela said.
Today, we examine an interesting story of the lady who is determined to ensure that you eat healthy despite your busy schedule.
It started with her experiences in life.
She describes herself as an extremely busy woman.
She likes getting things done.
As the busy amongst us will say, the busier you become, the less you watch your diet.
She couldn’t escape the trap!
“My busy schedule meant that I ended up eating junk and I was gaining weight,” she said.
With time, she came to her senses.
As a nutritionist, she recalled that the best way to preach was to preach by example.
So, was she preaching what she practised?
Clearly, she wasn’t.
She had to find an option to maintain the busy schedule and eat healthy at the same time.
The beautiful thing about nutrition is that the healthiest foods are the closest to us: fruits and vegetables.
Some scientists even claim that our bodies seem to be designed to thrive on fruits and vegetables.
“Have you ever wondered why looking at a ripe raw peach on a tree is mouth-watering but looking at a fat cow isn’t?” asked one scientist.
Well, whether we were designed for fruits and vegetables or not, the truth is that they are good for our bodies.
That’s what good science tells us.
And we somehow “know it” too if you have heard about anything called intuition.
So one day she found herself increasingly eating fruits and vegetables.
It’s easier to change a religion than a diet, they say.
So it is commendable that she changed her diet at all.
“The idea was to chop as much vegetables as possible and put them in a fridge so that in future, I will just pull them out and cook.”
She wasn’t proposing something new.
Who amongst us doesn’t enjoy the convenience of just pulling up chopped frozen vegetables and cooking?
Little did she know that what she was doing was putting her on a path to a brilliant business.
It took a post on a social media to achieve just that.
“I took a pic of the chopped and packaged vegetables and posted them on my social media account. The reaction was swift. I began getting questions like, “how much?””
It immediately dawned on her that she could be sitting on a great business idea, after all.
So she gave it a try and started selling.
To her surprise, people started buying.
In fact, “I get orders for my products almost on a daily basis.”
That is how interested people really are.
This to an extent that her business now gets up to four irregular employees, she included, when the demand is high.
She said her training in Agriculture, Home Economics and Nutrition has helped her to give a thought into what she was doing.
For instance, where possible, she grows her own crops and sells them as first preference.
She has grown spinach, butternut, green pepper, onion, herbs and beans.
She is also in the process of renting more fields to grow more vegetables.
Then she empowers Basotho producers by requesting them to supply.
Going for foreign produce is the last resort.
Look at her packages and you realise something.
The “7 colours” proverb comes alive.
Those seven colours (several colours actually) may have been designed to appeal to your eyes but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The colours of vegetables mean a lot in terms of nutrition.
Each colour gives you something different.
So, the more colours in one meal, the merrier.
To drive this home, let’s go a scientific route for a second.
Red, Blue and Purple: These vegetables contain substances that are good at reducing the risk of stroke, cancer and memory problems.
White: The likes of onion or garlic may help lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer and heart disease.
Orange and Yellow: Carrots immediately come to mind.
These vegetables contain substances called carotenoids which may help improve your immune system and help to improve the health of your eyes.
Basotho, it would appear, have long known a thing or two about the relationship between carrots and eyes.
Hence the famous saying, “o jele lihoete” (they ate carrots), often applied to good sportsmen or women with symbolically “good eyesight”.
Green: Green is life. Green vegetables come packed with chlorophyll, a chemical that scientists believe can boost your immune system, eliminate fungus in your body, clean your blood, lead to healthy intestines and give you boundless energy.
As a bonus, her Home Economics background is such that she is armed with a host of recipes for each of the packages she sells.
She has great dreams for the future.
“I want to see my products decorating the shelves of big supermarkets,” she said.
A new, co-operative chain store
ROMA – ’MAKUENA Lesiea is spearheading the creation of a cooperative chain store that will sell Lesotho products only.
The store is being developed under the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation Hub and it will be incubated by the Hub.
“Have you seen it? Basotho are producing like never before,” Lesiea said.
“However, their products are hard to see in the markets. We want to change all that.”
The store, she said, will open branches in all districts of Lesotho, starting from Maseru.
Visit any supermarket in Lesotho and check the products on the shelves.
You will be shocked to realise that, in general, just one percent of them are made in Lesotho.
The other 99 percent comes from elsewhere.
Is it because Basotho are not producing or can’t produce at all?
“Having worked directly with the NUL Innovation Hub and the Tsa Mahlale TV programme under the Hub, I have travelled the depth and breadth of Lesotho and I was amazed at the amount of work Basotho are doing,” she said.
What is the problem?
Basotho products are not given sufficient platforms to prove themselves.
“Credit where it is due, some shops are beginning to accept and sell Basotho products,” she said.
“However, they are barely making a dent because Basotho products, being at their infancy, cannot receive full attention unless by a store that is designed to give them full attention.”
Such a store doesn’t exist.
She said the idea is not to compete with any of the existing stores because “we are getting into a new territory altogether, we are addressing a different market”.
So listen to Lesiea as she presents some features of the store that will surely persuade you to join the bandwagon:
- Customer and producer confidence: The store, she said, will achieve two things.
First, when they see masses of Lesotho-made products in one place, Basotho customers will slowly grow confidence in them.
The confidence will shoot to the roof when the customers experience that many of the products made in Lesotho are already way ahead of foreign competitors in terms of quality.
Secondly, the store will give Basotho producers an assurance that their products have, at least, one store that is willing to take them, dark or blue.
More production will come from such assurance.
- Selling “everything”: The store will sell everything from fruits and vegetables to processed foodstuffs to clothing and building materials (if Thabure car will be in production by then, it will be on the shelves too).
“Suppose what we want to sell is not locally made, we will never cross the border, any border, to find its equivalence. We will encourage Basotho to produce it until they do.”
- We mean business: whereas Basotho are beginning to produce, their products are still all over the place.
You bump across them in some few willing stores, in expos and trade shows, or as being sold by individual resellers. Those are good efforts, but they are not enough. In fact, many in Lesotho have come to see producing and selling as being more of an art, a hobby, a therapy or a hustling than a business, “so we are seriously moving away from such a casual approach, we mean business this time around.”
- Ownership: So when you enter this store, you could be purchasing a product made by you in a store owned by you. What a difference!
- Reasonable standards: the store will only demand reasonable standards. As a struggling Mosotho, try taking your products to some of the local shops and you are, at worst, turned away without reason or, at best, given a long list of standards you must meet before they can take your product.
“In our case, as long as your products are reasonably of good quality, you are in. NUL Innovation Hub is already testing many Basotho products. We won’t ignore quality, but we won’t use it as a way to prevent Basotho products from growing either.”
- A cooperative chainstore: From contributing as little as M50 per month, members will use a continuous financing model to ensure that the store doesn’t just end in Maseru but reaches the ten districts of Lesotho.
Each branch will start at a medium scale in order to grow along with Basotho products. We won’t ask for investors to come from anywhere, “we will be investors ourselves.”
- An export launch pad. “We are often told to export our produce. The obvious question is, if you haven’t convinced your own people to consume your own products, how can you convince people in other lands to do so? Why should they take you seriously?”
However, the store is not meant to be a local store forever.
It will be a means by which we export our products to other countries in the future.
When we export the store to Soweto, we export it along with products from Lesotho.
Don’t say no because we have seen Chinese shops and Indian shops and, of course, South African shops, filled to the brim with Chinese products and Indian products and South African products in many countries.
“If they can do it,” Lesiea ended, “so can we.”
“Because if it is there in some of us, it is there in all of us.”
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