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When the ‘vultures’ circle



MASERU – “DON’T feel disheartened Neria. The Lord is with you
“Losing a husband requires a strong heart  “Life is full of trials and tribulations, mind the winds of temptations
“Women are often ill-treated, living like orphans.”

Many in Lesotho would not guess those are the lyrics of Oliver Mtukudzi’s Neria, a sorrowful song in which a brother encourages his recently widowed sister to be brave.
Similarly, only a few might remember that Neria was originally a soundtrack to a harrowing 1993 movie that explores the experience of a widow.
The in-laws harass her and loot everything she owns. Their justification is that the property ‘belongs’ to their deceased son.

Elsewhere in Africa attitudes towards widows have changed since Neria, the song and the movie, were released. Yet in Lesotho, where ironically Neria is like an anthem, little has changed.

There is a surreal incongruence between the way we have embraced the song and how we continue to do exactly what it speaks against: the ill-treatment of widows.
For many women in Lesotho the death of a husband is the beginning of fierce battles over property. It usually ends in destitution.
Reprieve, when it does come, is in the form of court orders granted after long-drawn and costly fights.

Others just gave up and move on with their life of misery because they cannot afford a lawyer.
It will probably take generations and huge interventions from the government to change the way widows are treated.
But that doesn’t mean women are standing arms akimbo, waiting for a saviour to change their plight.

The Maseru Women Senior Citizens Association thinks it can do its bit in the fight against the abuse of widows. The solution, the association believes, lies in educating people about the rights of women.

So in recent weeks the association has been on an awareness campaign in villages in Maseru.
’Malebohang Molete, the association’s president, says the idea is to educate women about their rights so they are prepared when the fights start.
They also invite experts, lawyers and advocacy groups to teach women to “defend themselves against greedy relatives”.

So far workshops have been held in Motimposo, Ha Thetsane and Linakotseng. Molete says they will have more events in the next few weeks.
Recent cases in the High Court illustrate the predicament most widows face.

In the first case ’Mahalio Khoetsa-Sekoala of Teyateyaneng is suing her three step daughters and mother-in-law over her husband’s estate.
In November 1998 Khoetsa-Sekoala married Thibello Sekoala, a widower who already had three daughters, in community of property.

In an affidavit Khoetsa-Sekoala says after Thibello Sekoala’s death in May 2015 his mother and daughters took his passport and death certificate so they could claim benefits without her knowledge.

What is at stake here is a job at Harmony Bambanani Gold Mine where Sekoala’s heir can replace him.
“I was detailed by Berea branch of TEBA to submit documents of my late husband….in order for Harmony Bambanani to facilitate my employment by implementing their policy to replace my husband in their employment,” she says.

Because the documents were with her mother-in-law and step-daughters, she asked her attorneys to prepare an affidavit setting out her circumstances and submitted it to Harmony Bambanani.

She was advised to get a letter from the Master of the High Court, where she learnt that “the children of my husband were also vying for that employment and have submitted certain documents from the District Administrator of Berea citing I was only the girlfriend to their father”.
She tells the court that the Berea District Administrator “had issued them with a letter introducing them as heiress” based on “inaccurate information and sophistries tailored to mislead”.

Khoetsa-Sekoala says they created an impression that “I do not exist notwithstanding that my marriage certificate vindicates my rights to the contested estate in issue”.
In another case, ’Mahlompho Kaota of Ha-Tebeli is suing her three step-children who also allegedly want to use her husband James Kaota’s death certificate, passport and employment documents to claim benefits.

Kaota tells the court that the eldest step-son, Kaota Kaota, snatched the documents from her at the TEBA office and ran away.
They had gone to TEBA, a labour recruitment company owned by South African mining companies, to submit the documents to get terminal benefits.
When she went to the police to report the crime, she was told to go back to TEBA because the incident had happened in its premises. TEBA officials advised her to open a civil case against Kaota.

’Mahlompho says her husband had no will appointing his children with his late wife, ’Makaota Kaota, to be heiress.
“This was completely bona fide and in the interest of the estate as he had made them only beneficiaries of their due portions as contemplated in the Beneficiary Nomination Form,” ’Mahlompho adds.

’Mahlompho has attached a letter of evidence that when she was married the Kaota family paid bohali (bride price).
She claims that the half-children want to eject her out of her house.

Such things happen against widows despite that the Land Act, 2010, section 10 (1) provides that “where persons who are married in community of property either under civil, customary or any other law and irrespective of the date in which the marriage was entered into, any title to immovable property allocated to or acquired by anyone of them shall be deemed to be allocated to or acquired by both partners, and any title to such property shall be held jointly by both.”

The SADC Gender and Development Protocol, to which Lesotho is a signatory, says “the State shall ensure that widows shall have the right to continue to live in the matrimonial house after her husband’s death”.

It also calls on states to protect widows against all forms of violence and discrimination based on her status while having the right to an equitable share in the inheritance of the property of her late husband.

Under the Laws of Lerotholi, beneficiaries are identified by their families, and presented before chiefs in the form of letters signed by the families and stamped.
The beneficiaries will then be referred to principal chiefs who in turn, refer them to the District Administrator.
It is the District Administrator who then introduces the beneficiaries to the Master of the High Court.

Advocate Christopher Lephuthing says widows remain at the mercy of their in-laws despite efforts to protect them.
“In some of the cases you find that a widow is fighting for her belongings with a girlfriend of the spouse. The girlfriend comes with claims that she also has to get a share of the estate because she has a child with the deceased,” Lephuthing says.

Advocate Koena Thabane says the courts are inundated with cases of widows fighting to keep or recover their inheritances.
She is currently working on two cases.

“Though I cannot disclose these cases because they are still in the court but I’m working on them almost every time, they are happening regularly to the extent that I cannot even remember how many they are.”

Advocate Libakiso Mantlho, national director of Women and Law in Southern Africa Research Trust, says women can only defend themselves when they understand their rights.
Matlho says the trust is lobbying the government to amend the law “in order to suit the privileges of the women.”

“We are always doing researches on the struggles faced by women out there in order to assist them; we do research based on their economic and social circumstances.”
She says they are using radio, newspapers and workshops to educate women about their rights.

Thooe Ramolibeli

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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.”

Own Correspondent

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Ready-to-cook vegetables



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.
It’s time!

Own Correspondent

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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!
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.”
  7. 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.”

Own Correspondent

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