MASERU – “He na a ea re sotla Machaena ana, A ea re sotla Machaena, A ka lifemeng”, so runs the lyrics of a popular famo song by Abiel Hatlane.
The song, which says the Chinese are maltreating us, vividly captures the feelings of many Basotho textile workers who accuse their bosses, many of whom are of Chinese origin, of ill-treating them.
With their strong work ethic and no-nonsense attitude, the Chinese factory bosses have often found themselves on a collision course with the locals.
While ordinary Basotho would dance to the tune without giving much attention to the lyrics, the song has however a profound meaning to factory workers who toil in Lesotho’s sweat shops.
Hatlane’s famo song is a vivid illustration of the toxic relations between Basotho textile workers and their Chinese masters.
Take for instance the story of Mphotleng Molateng who used to work in the Maseru West industrial site.
Molateng worked as a supervisor but was fired in 2014.
She says her job required her to work while standing or walk between the sewing lines to supervise the workers and when she fell pregnant she could no longer stand for a long time.
That led to numerous clashes with her Chinese bosses.
“They would tell me that the factory was not for the pregnant, the ill or the dying but the able-bodied ones,” Molateng says.
She reported this to a shop steward who tried to intervene but he too was fired. Even when he won his case at the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR), he was never reinstated.
“Our trade union, the Factory Workers Union (FAWU), only managed to fight for his terminal benefits and he left his job despite that he was not willing to leave,” she says.
Molateng says she too approached the DDPR for a redress of her problem, through the help of FAWU, and won the case but her employer fired her and refused to reinstate her.
“The trade union worked hard, doing all it could to finally have the Chinese pay me all my monies,” she says.
“All I got was M5 000, which could not last me for the next six months.”
Today, Molateng sells second-hand clothes in Maseru, Maputsoe and Butha-Buthe with her memories of her ordeal at the hands of the Chinese still etched on her psyche.
There have been many other similar stories from across nearly all textile firms, even from those that are not owned by the Chinese.
But it would appear their wrath is mainly directed at those they call “the Chinese” even though they may be naturalised Basotho or Taiwanese.
It is not only textile workers who complain about the Chinese. Local Basotho businessmen have also bitterly complained about the Chinese.
The anger and bitterness can often be gauged during radio phone-in programmes with Basotho often accusing the Chinese of seizing business opportunities in the retail sector.
They often accuse the Chinese of competing unfairly against Basotho in small grocery shops or fast-food restaurants which are by law reserved for the locals.
Trade Minister Joshua Setipa has in the past defended the Chinese arguing some of the so-called Chinese traders are actually Basotho because they were born and raised in Lesotho while other are Basotho through naturalisation process.
While there is a lot of hostility against the Chinese, there is a brighter side that is often ignored by Basotho.
The textile sector which is dominated by the Chinese-owned firms, has created over 35 000 jobs for Basotho.
The textile sector is the second biggest employer after the civil service.
At the official government-to-government level, Lesotho enjoys very warm relations with Beijing. Lesotho benefits from its bilateral relationship with China.
For instance, in April 2013, the Chinese Embassy’s Economic and Commercial Counselor, Liu Huabo, told a Sino-Lesotho Business Forum that since the resumption of diplomatic relations in 1994, China and Lesotho had enjoyed friendly and mutually beneficial economic cooperation in many fields.
Liu said the trade volume reached nearly US$100 million (about M1.3 billion) in 2012, according to Chinese official statistics – more than 86 times that in 1996 when there was only US$1.16 million.
In 2012 exports from Lesotho to China reached US$5.40 million (approximately M74.52 million), mainly wool and mohair products and some electrical products.
Liu said exports from China to Lesotho reached US$94.37 million (about M1.3 billion), mainly textile raw materials and products, machinery, electrical and ICT products and components.
In 2013, China pledged a duty-free treatment to 95 percent of Lesotho’s products.
Chinese enterprises have invested and operated businesses in several fields such as engineering and construction in the projects of roads, bridges, water pipe-line construction, industrial and commercial and residential buildings, made construction materials such as steel framework and doors, windows production, sand stone products and bricks, import and export business related to agriculture machines and technology.
The investment has not only been money but also expertise in management and marketing skills and industrial technology.
Liu said despite many difficulties confronting China, which is still a developing country with a population of 1.37 billion people, China tries its best to provide development assistance to Lesotho and other African countries.
It also provides concessional loans and cancelled debts as well as giving LDCs zero-tariff treatment.
There is also the people-to-people exchange with training programmes and scholarships as well as aid during emergencies.
For the past 30 years, China has made significant contributions to the social and economic development in Lesotho.
China and Lesotho signed many Economic and Technical Cooperation agreements, under which a series of projects in Lesotho have been funded with grants or interest-free loans.
The Chinese have also contributed through the building of the ’Manthabiseng National Convention Centre, the Butha-Buthe Industrial Park, the National Library & Archives Building, the Radio and Television Network Expansion Project, the New Parliament Building Project, two secondary schools in remote areas of Thaba-Tseka and Qacha’s Nek.
There are also several agricultural assistance projects including two senior agriculture experts who introduced the Juncao (mushroom) cultivation project in Masianokeng.
The Chinese have also assisted by providing technical cooperation in a project to promote better land use and physical planning in the Ministry of Local Government.
There is also the medical cooperation and assistance programme that has seen China dispatch hundreds of doctors to Lesotho.
Since 1997, China has dispatched eight medical teams totalling 103 Chinese doctors who worked in different hospitals in Lesotho.
The Chinese have also donated some medical equipment and medicines to hospitals of Lesotho.
Lesotho has used a US$60 million (about M828 million) concessional loan supplied by the Chinese to help Econet Telecom Lesotho build the national network for telecommunications.
There are more than 1 000 Basotho who participated in various seminars or workshops and multilateral technical training and exchange courses in China.
Currently, the Chinese community living in Lesotho is visiting all districts distributing groceries to the poor and disadvantaged children.
Last month the Chinese community donated 435 food parcels in Thaba-Tseka and Mokhotlong to vulnerable and disabled people.
Speaking at the event, the Thaba-Tseka police commander Senior Superintendent Litsietsi Selimo said Basotho should not complain about the Chinese because “they are the people who are willing to live with us in peace and become part of us”.
Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili told a press conference on Monday that he spoke to a Chinese diplomat while attending a summit in Kenya late last month to help Lesotho realise its development dreams.
He said the Chinese have agreed to help Basotho build a dam that will provide Hlotse and Maputsoe towns with water for both domestic and industrial use.
Today, the Chinese Embassy is in Mokhotlong distributing food aid parcels donated by the Chinese community living in Lesotho to poor families.
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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