Writes Tjonane Matla
Over the years we met different characters in not only Lesotho’s farming community, but also neighbouring countries. Amongst the most outstanding personalities, the movers and the shakers of the Mountain Kingdom’s economy pioneered many trade unions, co-operatives, commodity associations, but tried in vain to sustain them through the challenges of dynamism of trade and production challenges.
It had always been Greek to many, inclusive of academia, corporate, backbenchers and national executive when one talked about Merino or Angora, even in situations where the country’s world largest producer of mohair run up status was maintained over the years. (Lesotho is the second largest producer of mohair.) In the mist of all that, a polished double qualified farmer but gentleman brewed by the Lesotho Agricultural College in 1958 and later 1968 remained a very rare germ for nearly sixty years of his professional career. A man who never applied for any post, but was always hunted, and negotiated in.
Born in Malumeng in the district of Mafeteng on the 4th of August 1935, Mojalefa was fathered by the late Mr. Motšoane Lephole and Mrs. ‘Makomiti Lephole as their second born. He went for his primary education in 1950 at Pitseng near the famous Malealea Lodge. His intermediate schooling was in 1951 to 52, followed by secondary at Mafeteng Controlled School in 1953, then High School at Thabeng Morija in 1954/55 where he obtained his Form C. In 1956 he joined a class of the second intake (Agricultural College was established in 1955) of Agricultural College in 1956, where he completed his Diploma in Agriculture in 1958.
The 23 year old graduate wants to be a fulltime farmer!
Upon graduation, Lephole opted to be home in Matelile and establish himself as a fulltime farmer, but to his contrary, he reluctantly joined the civil service after literally being begged by the then authorities to serve, a decision that he will 14 years later reverse to his original plan.
The negotiations of the young Lephole and the Basutoland Government Authorities were not easy, he could not accept being posted anywhere in Lesotho except his home village Matelile. Later in June of 1958 he accepted a post of an Agricultural Extension Officer in Matelile, later at Heremone Tšakholo in the Mafeteng district.
Back to school
After ten full years of civil service, now aged 34 years of age, Lephole enrolled for a one year Veterinary Science Diploma at his alma mater college and qualified as a Veterinary Assistant. He was then stationed at Matelile – Ha Seeiso and transferred to Phamong in 1972, where he dropped pens and left civil service in April of 1972. At this juncture he was 37 years of age and had spent 14 years in the civil service, and felt tired of red tape, passing the buck and collapsing quality of service.
“E ne e le ka 1972 ha ke lahla mosebetsi, ea ba ke tla lihoaing mona”. An old Sesotho proverb refers that, the language cannot be translated. However Lephole by this phrase meant he left civil service to come serve the farmers!
Serving the farmers
The double qualified young agricultural technologist ventured into a number of sectors of farming. As a Veterinary Assistant, he opened his own private practice in his own village, ventured into potato production in large scale; sweet corn, dairy farming just as a cash cow, and far more than anything, his first love and passion had always been Angora goats and Merino sheep.
For nearly 60 years in the field since college days, the polished personality, farmer and lifetime private extension practitioner never regrets the fact that he went solo very early in his life. It is however very unfortunate that as it is the situation even to date, he was left with no option but to close his veterinary clinic due to the fact that the farmers were not in the culture of procuring veterinary services therefore could not sustain the practice. He was then only left with an option of keeping enough medication for his own flock and herd.
It is only very unfortunate that Lesotho has less than 26 Veterinary personnel both in practice and in the civil service. Out of those, less than 10 are Veterinary Doctors. This simply means that in 50 years of our independence, nearly two million merino stock, nearly a million of angora, about seven hundred thousand cattle etc, we are satisfied with the fact that a sick animal dies, and that becomes a free meal for the villagers (lebitla la khomo ke molomo).
1980 – The year that the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association was established
More often than not, history perpetually mention that the late Dr. Rakoro Phororo influenced the formation of what would in the later years become Lesotho’s most powerful commodity association with now a membership of 37,000 small-stock farmers.
I must mention that the two had a very good relationship. When Lephole joined the civil service, Phororo was negotiating for the government, to hire Lephole. At the time he left the civil service, in an attempt to avoid disappointing Phororo, he requested Phororo to award him his post back in case his agri-business venture fails. According to Lephole, Phororo would year in year out, at almost the same date as if diarised, pay Lephole a visit at his home in Matelile to check out if he still does not want his post back, but throughout all those visits, Lephole’s highly diversified farm was forever flourishing, making it difficult for Phororo to win him back to civil service.
In the beginning Phororo who was stationed in what was by then the Livestock Central Zone had his Lieutenants Retlatsitsoe Nkofu stationed in the Northern Zone, and a certain officer Mohau of Qeme was in the Southern Zone. It was through the influence of the trio that the formation of the now Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association was established, and Lephole who was very influential and had been out of the civil service for 8 years at the time became the pioneering National Chairman and to serve in the national executive for 20 years in a row.
The story of the association begun in 1963, when the now LNWMGA was attached and mentored by the Government, at the time Basutoland had only 9 districts (Lesotho had only 9 districts at that time). The association was formed in 1980 but prior to registration, it was co-ordinated by Dr. Rakoro Phororo while a top official in the Ministry.
Family is established
Well in those days it was very normal for a bachelor or spinster in society to finally get married and bound to bear the fruit of the union, off springs. In 1959 Lephole was joined by holy matrimony with `Manyeoe Angelina Ralefu, and the two were blessed with five children, four girls and one boy. Unfortunately two of their children passed away; therefore only three girls are surviving and have occupied positions of high responsibility in different sectors of the economy. To date, both Lephole and Angelina have 12 grandchildren and 5 grand, grandchildren.
The driving force
In the early days when Lephole left civil service to venture into agri-business, a number of former colleagues both in the civil service and developing partners of Lesotho were worried. After couple of visits, one Dr. Wetcher had this to say; “Farming is not an easy call, for your age to venture in this cruel thing, I beg you make sure you take a great care of your children, because if you fail, you would have failed them, and crippled them for life”.
It was those words that kept Lephole moving, his success was fuelled by fear of failing his children, luckily his dream of giving his children quality education was realised. They all have multiple university degrees from local institutions and abroad.
Lephole became very instrumental and a centre pivot to most of the community agricultural developmental projects. It was during that time when although well-established that he could afford a motor vehicle, he chose horse riding for transport until that lifestyle attracted one photographer who knew him for ages. This photographer was responsible for photographs that were used when Lesotho’s first currency Maloti was established. The white photographer whose name could not be recalled by Lephole and his wife came one day and requested Lephole to be on his horse back with a blanket. Little did both know that the picture was to be used on the fifty lisente of Lesotho’s first coins?
Mojalefa Lephole shall be awarded the Silo Editor Award on the eve of the Silo Expo 2016, Opening dinner on the 20th of September 2016. At the same event one of the lucky graduates of the Lesotho Agricultural College shall receive M 100,000.00 from Maluti Mountain Brewery for a kick start to procure his/her Merino Flock from the BKB Auction. This is in honour of this great legend.
What we find really very disappointing is that Lesotho has less than 10 Veterinary Doctors and approximately 15 Veterinary Assistants but has discontinued the course at the Lesotho Agricultural College, yet in 1955 the college offered such.