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We gave our bread and butter away



This is a story about how Basotho people gave their bread and butter away on a silver platter. Their means of survival! I read a somehow sad but metaphoric story narrated by Muckraker in last week’s edition of thepost newspaper. It was a story of the evil ways that people use to hurt one another and a huge part of the story resonated with the way we are as Basotho people. The story was sad because it was entirely true. Basotho people hate one another. But if you look closely at this hatred, it is simply the work of an evil spirit. I mean, how is it possible for people that speak one language to hate each other so much? Look at our weekly headlines in the top three newspapers in Lesotho. It is all about conflict week-in, week-out. The headlines are never about development or advancement of the country. This is a reflection of something faulty within the characters of the Basotho people. It must be a reflection of self-hate (ho se ithate) and that is by far the biggest tragedy of Basotho people. I had planned to follow-up on Muckraker’s story of evil but felt a need to pen something on a “hot” topic that needs to be given some form of attention. I just need to remove something off my chest this week. We’ll follow-up on Muckraker’s story possibly next week. We are here to reflect on a regulation that has been passed by the Lesotho Parliament that seeks to protect certain businesses for indigenous Basotho people. Yes, the regulations have caused a stir in the business circles and created constant debates on some of our national newspapers. I even found myself in a vigorous debate with one Zimbabwean businessman in a location named Ha Pita. Obviously, a lot of foreign businessmen will feel threatened by the recent regulations but I think I understand why Honourable Tšepang Tšita-Mosena has been passionate about the indigenisation regulations and why she pressed so hard for the regulations to be tabled, debated and passed in parliament. I agree with Honourable Tšita-Mosena 100%. There are certain businesses that need to be reserved for indigenous Basotho people. In my debate with the Zim businessman, I made a point that as much as Basotho people are facing grinding poverty, things were never as bad as we see them today. Basotho were poor but never this poor. I believe that Honourable Tšita-Mosena knows what we all know. Basotho people were never this desperate. In my youthful days growing up in a village named Ha Sekepe, in Mazenod, there were three prominent business people namely, Ntate Kobue ‘Mile, Ntate Vincent Masoabi (Ntate Fisenti) and Ntate Morris Maloisane or Ntate Mmoso. Our people in Mazenod somehow preferred to convert Morris to Mmoso. The story of these three gentlemen brings tears to my eyes every time I think of it and there are possibly tons of stories similar to the one I’m about to narrate. My friend Mmoea Makhakhe once wrote an emotional story on the demise of indigenous business people in the 1990’s. Mmoea had written the story on Facebook and I’ve been trying to persuade him to pen it formally in one of the national newspapers. He promised to do something about it. This was four months ago and I’m still patiently waiting. The topic of the indigenous business community versus the Asian invasion of the micro economy is somewhat an open wound that never heals in our country. It has caused many to be emotional when approaching it to a point where they’ve simply decided to keep quiet in a quest to contain their anger. We’ve all seen what happened in the 1990 ‘Manthabiseng riots when Basotho made their first attempt to attack the Asian nationals. This issue has been brewing for a while. It subsides but never goes to rest. But our politicians are partly to blame because they never protected the indigenous business people. They never did and why do I say so? As I’ve said, we had three prominent business people in my village. The one that I observed closely was the late Ntate Kobue ‘Mile because he was our neighbour at home. Ntate ‘Mile ran micro-enterprises from small grocery shops to farming and even concrete brick making. He was so enterprising that he even graduated to running a trucking company named ‘Mile Transport. I mean these were people we saw whilst growing up and were doing fairly well in business. Ntate ‘Mile ran a shop named Vuka-zenzele café meaning, wake-up and work. At the time in the 80’s/ 90’s, Vuka-zenzele café was on the second generation from his father Ntate Tšepiso ‘Mile. By the way, talking about Ntate Tšepiso ‘Mile, he was into asparagus farming big-time! There was a time when asparagus was a success story in Mazenod mainly because of red soil deposits. So, I remember when we were kids and Ntate Tšepiso had just received a ten thousand Maloti cheque from Basotho Canners. Oh! Ntate ‘Mile celebrated. I mean ten thousand was a lot money in those days and people were making a decent living out of asparagus farming. The community was loaded with cash and it was sinful to be broke in Mazenod. The asparagus farming model was working like a Rolls-Royce engine until politicians came in and destroyed Basotho Canners. Che, ha re ithate Basotho! So, going back to the topic at hand, Ntate Kobue ‘Mile ran his family shop quite well despite the challenges of the time. I remember a time when he bought a Mercedes-Benz G-wagon in 1990, 30 years ago to be exact. A green left hand-drive G-wagon with a car phone. A car phone! I see a lot of people talking about G-wagons as if they’ve just arrived. We’ve been having it in Mazenod. Look, I bring this up because Basotho businessmen were already making good progress. Then there was Ntate V-Masoabi, the legend. Ntate Masoabi was a transport mogul of the time. He was into buses and grocery stores (mabenkele). I remember the day I think it was in 1989/1990 and Ntate Masoabi had placed an order for three luxury coaches. But there was one coach in particular named Seila-tsatsi. On the day Seila-tsatsi arrived, I saw everyone running out of their homes straight to Ntate Masoabi’s house. It was as if there was a riot and people were running from the police but that was a genuine act of jubilation. There were people who came from villages as far as Ha Jimisi (James) and Ha Nko to view the miracle bus. A local businessman had achieved the unthinkable. The coach was nothing anyone had ever seen or imagined. It had a TV, an automatic double door, toilets, air-conditioners and comfortable reclining-seats. At that time, that was like a fantasy. Look, Basotho businessmen were making in-roads. Then there was Ntate Morris Moholoane. A man that made running grocery stores look so admirable. Ntate Moholoane ran two Lucky-Seven grocery stores in Mazeond, one in Ha Sekepe and the other in Ha Paki. The stores were always clean and stocked to the brim. The service was exceptional, par excellence. Then came the 1998 political riots (Sephetho). You know, I know that a lot of people would rather forget about what happened in 1998 because it brings a lot of unresolved issues. The events that took place in the 1998 political riots just brought a catastrophic economic collapse. A mess! The Basotho business community lost assets, shops were looted and the economy just collapsed and yet again politicians were directly to blame for the mess and some of them are walking around scot-free as if nothing happened. A lot of people lost their livelihoods and means of survival but politicians were so fixated on gaining political power and that was the beginning of the end of Basotho business people in the retail sector. The economy was flat on its knees. Insurance companies refused to compensate most business people and they were left with buildings that had no stock. Families had to put bread on the table. The next best thing was to rent out / let out shops to Chinese business people. I remember a property owned by my father’s friend, Ntate Senaoana, in Mazenod, Ha Paki. The property was rented out to Frazer’s Stores in the mid-90’s. The supermarket was clean. Spotless! It soon died after it was looted in the 1998 riots. It was one of the first stores that were let out to Chinese businessmen. Jesus! Matsatsing ana, the shop is dingy and chaotic. There’s even cement in the grocery store. Cement! After 1998, Basotho business people simply couldn’t compete with the muscle of the Asian community. They just couldn’t compete and most of the shops that I talked about had to either shut down or to be rented out to the Chinese community. Basotho had to give their bread and butter away. Their only means of survival! It’s not that I’m against Chinese people. Not at all! In fact, there are so many positives to admire about them. I even work with them from time-to-time. However, the onslaught that was made on indigenous business people is truly unfortunate and worst of all, the government decided to look the other way. I didn’t want to be emotional about this topic. As I said, it brings a lot of anger to a lot of people in Lesotho. I don’t want to sound xenophobic as well but the Lesotho government simply failed to protect its own people. I’m not in any way trying to say that foreign investors shouldn’t come and invest in Lesotho but let’s at the very least, try to have a level playing ground. Honourable Mosena is 100% correct but the real need is to establish a competitions commission. The government needs to protect indigenous business people first otherwise what’s the point of being a citizen of a country? That’s my view, what your take? Please feel free to pen your thoughts to the following e-mail address: Let’s share our views. ‘Mako Bohloa

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