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No more cheers for shebeen queen



MAFETENG-Shebeen queen, Mookho Taleng’s is distraught when she looks at her four children. She has nothing to put on the table for them, and the situation seems to be getting worse for her – thanks to the lockdown imposed by the government to try and slow the spread of the resurgent Covid-19. Only two weeks ago, her place was buzzing with activity before Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro imposed the lockdown. “I can’t open even surreptitiously because the police are all over the place,” Taleng says. It was party time when thepost visited her shebeen earlier this month before the lockdown. It was midday on a Saturday. Several men and women gathered and drank from white plastic containers. They sang and danced in Taleng’s bar. Many of them said they were drinking away the depression brought by the outbreak of Covid-19, which has caused grief across the country. Some reminisced over past events, while others were just enjoying the warmth of the sunlight. In Lesotho, traditional sorghum beer is a source of both merriment and survival. Many women make the potent brew and run small joints where they cash in from drinkers. But the lockdown has left many of these women stranded with no source of income as the virus continues to affect Basotho in multiple ways. Brewing and selling traditional beer has been Taleng’s livelihood for years. She dropped out of school at primary school level and finding a well-paying job has been tough. “I have to work hard to put my children through school, but things are tough at the moment. I am good at brewing beer but I cannot do that right now,” says the 32-year-old single mother. “Both my parents are late so I am alone in this war.” To prepare her brew, she uses beetroot, a feat unknown to most women who are also running traditional beer bars on the plateau of Thabana-Morena in Makoabating community council. The beetroot is mixed with other ingredients to make it ferment for some days before being filtered to remove coarse particles and give a refreshing feel. For this to happen, some mathematics is applied because it involves the measurement of the inputs. Failing to use the appropriate measurements could result in catastrophe. “Some competitors have tried to emulate my flavour but they failed dismally,” Taleng says with a chuckle. Taleng says she ventured into brewing to escape rural poverty that had forced her to leave school at an early age. “I did not want my children to drop out of school like I did… the beer business has been helping me pay for their schooling needs without any problems. Hopefully this lockdown will end soon,” she says, noting that her business was growing before the lockdown. She had begun diversifying to also sell bottled alcoholic products from Maluti Mountain Brewery (MMB). Taleng also sold chicken heads and feet together with fat cakes as snacks to keep her customers happy. Although bars are known to be rowdy and fertile grounds for violent encounters, Taleng’s bar seemed a safe place for community members to hang out. “So far we haven’t faced the problem of customers fighting,” she says. Taleng says she was invited by the Local Government Councillor in Makoabating to attend a training programme for grassroots businesswomen run by Gender Links Lesotho, a Non-Governmental Organisation. “That was when I began to understand that there was one big mistake I had been committing since I started running the business. I had no culture of saving the money I would have generated from my business. I used to survive from hand-to-mouth,” Taleng says. After the training, Taleng opened an Mpesa account for her savings and also started keeping proper records of her stock. “I have saved enough money to buy a shack now. The results are there for everyone to see,” she says. But with Covid-19 showing a virulent resurgence, and the government seeming to increasingly rely on locking down the country to contain the spread of infections, Taleng fears all her gains could be eroded. “We need help, otherwise all this work would go to waste,” she says. Majara Molupe

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