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Lekokoaneng’s gold



LEKOKOANENG – FOR years the people of Lekokoaneng had known their villages are on a ‘gold mine’ of sorts.
They have known that the sandstone on which their houses and kraals stand would one day transform their lives.
Yet it needed a foreign company to start mining sandstone near their yards to jolt them into action.

When Lesotho Sandstone Company, a Chinese owned firm, started cutting stones in the area Lekokoaneng was a little hamlet in the throes of poverty.
A few mom and pop shops where what they pointed at when they talked about businesses. They tilled the land and reared animals for a living.
For jobs they went to either Maseru or Maputsoe.

That was eleven years ago and things have changed since then.
Now hundreds of the villagers either work in the small sandstone mines in the area or are members of cooperatives involved in mining.
Some have started dreaming big. Mountain Sandstone Mining (MSM), for instance, is now a big mining company owned by locals.
From humble beginnings characterised by near-bankruptcy experiences, the company now employees 14 people.

Letlala Tatane, a shareholder in the company, narrates how they struggled in the beginning. “It was so difficult that other people did not have patience to keep the ball rolling, and they decided to quit,” Tatane says.

“I still remember one day going to my wife to ask for meal. It was not good at all because I had not provided food for her to cook.”
As the going got tough some of the initial members started leaving.

After a few months only a few dozens of the 180 founding members remained.
“The bad thing was that we did not have money for food and for our families. Every weekend I needed to travel from work to home,” he says.
More members left as the company continued to struggle.
Now only four of the original members remain.

That exodus could have helped the remaining members make the necessary changes for it to remain in business. Tatane says they hired skilled people and bought equipment.
With time things have stabilised and the company is growing, Tatane says.
“I feel so pleased when I see this progress, I feel our kids can copy and do what we did.” “These days I feel blessed because I can be able to put bread on the table for my family, which was not easy at the beginning.”

“This mine is very important for us not just me and partners but workers and the community at large.”
Motseki Ralehana, one of the workers, says the job has transformed his life.
“I have seven people, whom I have to make sure that they have everything to live. I have four kids, my mother as well as my wife, whatever they need I’m the one to provide,” Ralehana said.
Tšepo Mokheseng has been at the mine for a few months but says “in reality there is a change I can see out of this work”.
“I was a shepherd before I come to the MSM mining. I have no parents and I live with my late sister’s kids,” Mokheseng said.
“I had to provide them with everything so during my arrival at this mine I felt my life was better.”

“Buying food for my sister’s kids and paying for school fees is not that difficult as it used to be while I was a herd boy,” he added.
’Marethabile Ntungoa, owner of a small shop near the mines, says her business is doing well.

“Sometimes they buy on credit and pay month-end. The profit is enough to sustain my family,” Ntungoa said.
’Mamohau Mongali, a local street vendor, describes the mines as a “blessing to the community of Lekokoaneng”.  She sells tobacco, airtime and maize.
Morapeli Ramothobi buys roughly cut sandstones from the mines to make tombstones.
He used to work for Lesotho Sandstone Company.

“Now I and the other two men have decided to start our own business because they were not paying us enough,” Ramothobi says.
“Our business is doing well. We are able to provide our families with food. That is the only thing we wanted.”

Angel Capital Market, an international research company, says Lesotho has a vast sandstone deposits but the full potential of the resource is yet to be tapped.
“The demand of sandstone in Lesotho’s only neighbour South Africa is so huge that local manufacturers are failing to meet the target. This is caused mainly due to ineffective local technology,” the company says.

Thooe Ramolibeli

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