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Motoho: the humble drink making waves




MASERU – Mabele lumela! (greetings to sorghum!) That’s what Basotho often say before taking the first sip of sorghum beer.
In rural areas, where six in every ten Basotho live, it is usually served in a gourd (mohope), a hollowed out cup made from a calabash or gourd vine.

For centuries Basotho have imbibed drinks made from sorghum: Motoho (non-alcoholic) and Letsina (the intoxicating one).
When Basotho talked of refreshments they had those two drinks in mind.

Letsina was brewed for ritual and recreational purposes. In the beginning it was rarely sold, just a drink for friends to while away time.
With the passage of time though, Letsina money came into the picture. Still there wasn’t much to pay, just a few pennies as token to the brewer.

Today Letsina remains somewhat a semi-commercial beer brewed in the backyards and illegally sold in shebeens in town but openly traded in the rural areas.

It has however locally never made it to the shop shelves.
Of course that probably is because there is already the famous Chibuku, brewed by SAB Miller and its subsidiaries in Africa.
Yet despite being popular in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, Chibuku has never really managed to gain currency in Lesotho.
Blame that on Letsina which has kept Chibuku out of the Lesotho market without even having a presence on the shelves.

Motoho however remained largely a home drink. You don’t walk to the next village to buy a cup of motoho. But in recent times some have tried to make motoho succeed where Letsina failed: bottling and selling it in shops.
’Mapaballo Kolobe, 68, is not the first Mosotho to brew motoho for business but she is one of the pioneers of bottling and supplying it in shops.

It’s not a fluke that Kolobe is well known as ’Mamotoho (Mother of Motoho).
Her Motoho oa ’Mankhonthe brand is on the shelves of many shops.
Interestingly, Motoho oa ’Mankhonthe is competing with Seqhaqhabola, a brand Kolobe started together with other women at a local support group.

The idea of selling motoho came after she joined a support group in Sea-Point, a Maseru City ghetto home to many shebeens that sell Letsina and other varieties of traditional brews.

She thought there was a way to get motoho to the people without following the shebeen model. So Seqhaqhabola was started by 14 women whose main motivation was not profit but to raise just enough to help the sick, pay medical bills and hold village meetings to talk about a healthy lifestyle.

“I just thought I like the idea because I knew how to make it and I’m the one who came with this idea,” Kolobe says.
“But as time went by, we did not agree on some issues with my group mates so I quit.”
“I still remember clearly that it was on February 1, 2006.”

“I started this business with my family only. My husband and my son helped a lot. In the beginning we were just using size 14 pots and pour the porridge in some three basins.” Kolobe says within a few months she hired two women to brew motoho while her husband and son packaged and delivered to shops.

She says at first she asked her friend who owns a coffee shop to include her motoho on the menu and within a short time the friend came back saying customers wanted more. “That meant I had to increase my production,” she says.
She stopped using a traditional grinding stone to make the flour after the friend told her that she had to supply much more than she had anticipated.

She made a special arrangement with a local milling company to make the flour.
Kolobe’s Motoho oa ’Mankhonthe now has 14 permanent employees.
“I cannot even be able to count the number of customers I have, every day in the morning countless number of people come and buy my stock,” she says.

“My business has grown so, much that out of it I can pay 14 people and I’m very happy for that because this reduces poverty and helps the poor,”

Kolobe says most of the workers are young men. One of the workers is an orphaned boy who is taking care of his siblings.
“Challenges are forever going along with business, so I’m ready to face challenges that my business will have,” Kolobe says.
She says one of the challenges is that there is no factory making bottles in the country and therefore she has to import bottles from South Africa at a great cost.

She also says although she grows sorghum in the country she still has to import some from South Africa.

Thooe Ramolibeli

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