GROWING up in rural Mokhotlong, Tefo Mapesela never imagined that one day, he would be one of Lesotho’s top politicians, let alone become a minister in His Majesty’s government.
Mr Mapesela, who is now Minister of Industry and Trade and also spokesperson of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and Member of Parliament for Mokhotlong Number 79 Constituency, recalls the simple life in Mapeleng village where he was born on 25 April 1974, and raised by his grandparents.
He remembers how many Mokhotlong families relied solely on their land, growing mainly maize and wheat. Livestock-production completed the backbone economy of these households, including that of the then young Tefo Mapesela. Rearing the family’s livestock was very much part of young Tefo’s life such that he had to skip school lessons some days to be in the mountains looking after his parents’ cattle and sheep.
Back then, it was normal that boys would skip school to look after their families’ livestock.
“I was lucky to have a young brother to share the responsibility,” Mr Mapesela told the Lesotho Times this week. “At times, I would miss two school days per week. However, my grandparents would ensure we studied at night to make up for the missed classes. They also made sure we did not miss our school examinations.”
Taking turns to herd livestock only ended when he started his secondary school education as a border at St James High in Mokhotlong.
Life in Mokhotlong, away from his father who was in the military and stayed with his mother and his three siblings in Maseru, shaped the man he has become today, the Minister said.
“I am a man who is determined to give life my best to make a positive impact on my family and those around me. I am married and a father to three daughters and two sons. I would like to be a good inspiration to my children,” he said.
Mr Mapesela expressed his reverence for Basotho culture and traditions, explaining how this love has, time and again, sent him on a soul-searching mission to understand his identity, and how his past affects his present life.
“Over the years, I have learnt the importance of preserving our culture while at the same time, finding ways to let it co-exist with the modern times, and ensuring that the beauty of our past is strongly reflected in how we live today. I am proud to be a Mosotho.”
To express his strong sense of culture and traditional practices, Mr Mapesela established an initiation school in Mokhotlong in 2016, where young men aged from 18 years, are trained how to become responsible men, appreciate their culture and the essence of patriotism. Last year, a total 180 initiates graduated after undergoing a six-month training. Another training season is expected in June this year.
“Identity-consciousness is important. We need to understand that not only did colonialism deprive Africans of control over their resources for many years, it also destroyed their spiritual and cultural identity and accommodated alien belief systems and practices.
“The world is now a global village and we need to take what is good and compatible with us as Basotho. However, it is very important that we should never frown on our good practices that distinguish us from the rest of the world. We have embraced change, but the struggle to ensure Basotho have the capacity to control their economy and resources rages on. Through institutions such as the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC), we can develop our economy to become competitive through industrialisation that is dependent on local producers. We should be concerned that our economy is exporting the bulk of our money while there is little coming from outside because we are not exporting much,” Mr Mapesela said.
Since his appointment as Minister of Industry and Trade seven months ago, growing the economy has been at the heart of his mission. “It’s not a new mission at all. I am just executing it differently now with my new portfolio but I have always worked hard without losing sight that whatever I was doing had to fit into the bigger picture of growing our economy.”
Mr Mapesela studied accounting at the Centre for Accounting Studies and is a member of the Lesotho Institute of Accountants. He has worked in various organisations including, Nedbank Lesotho, the then Ministry of Gender, Sports and Environment and the Lesotho Funeral Services.
“I have been a champion for agricultural production in my district for many years, organising communities to improve livestock- breeding and fight stock-theft and other activities in my capacity as a member of the Mokhotlong Dairy Farmers Association; Mokhotlong Ram Breeders Association; and Wool and Mohair Growers Association,” he added.
Today, Mr Mapesela is a proud owner of over 500 Merino sheep and more than 100 Angora Goats; and one of the farmers running a promising crop enterprise in Maqhaka in Maseru.
“Education should not stop us from taking the lead in food-production because as Basotho, we are natural farmers. We are in control of our land and therefore should use it to better ourselves. We should grow food to be self-sufficient and strengthen the agro-business sector. There are many economic benefits in improved agricultural production,” the Minister said.
Mr Mapesela further said he had always believed government had a role to play in supporting local farmers by making it easy for them to increase their production and realise enough profit for sustainable production.
However, in the early 2000s, Mr Mapesela said he realised that not only were many farmers getting poorer, the economy was also not improving at the pace expected of a country that had been independent since 1966.
“Farming provides employment opportunities, but we did not see any realistic investment in climate-smart agriculture. I would discuss my concerns with other farmers in Mokhotlong, and I realised that many people felt neglected by the government,” he said, adding that although the situation worried him, he did not think he had the power to make the kind of difference he, and his fellow farmers, wanted.
“Dejected, I left the country in protest in 2003, to join my wife in the United Kingdom (UK). I was working at the Lesotho Funeral Service at the time.” However, after working in various accounting companies in the UK, Mr Mapesela returned home in 2005.
“I felt incomplete, and despite the situation at home, I decided to come back, more determined that I would work to contribute to creating an environment that would present equal opportunities for all Basotho,” Mr Mapesela said.
To commit himself to working towards the change he envisioned, Mr Mapesela joined the All Basotho Convention in 2009 and rose through the ranks until his appointment as the party’s spokesperson in 2014.
He has been the Member of Parliament for Mokhotlong Number 79 Constituency since 2014.
As a decision-maker, Mr Mapesela has realised the need to, not only focus on development-planning, but also the implementation of strategies.
“The work we do in the ministries and various other portfolios, should reflect on the quality of the lives of the people we are serving. In a country of 2 million people, with enough resources to decisively deal with poverty, we still have more poor people than the rich, an imbalance that should get us to work and focus on what needs to be done,” Mr Mapesela noted.
He also believes for Lesotho to be a happy home for all, development must not exclude any segment of the society.
Mr Mapesela further said, through the National Strategic Development Plan, the government was going to establish other integrated national blueprints that would put in motion short and medium-term development programmes to address, among others, poverty, hunger, education and health challenges afflicting the nation.
“We need to focus on strategies that can improve the economic climate to have the capacity to generate opportunities for all people, reduce the levels of desperation, helplessness and inculcate a culture that will see people able to work, start thriving businesses and trigger various innovations that would spur our economy to greater heights.”
Mr Mapesela further said although communities wanted good roads, electricity, clean water, accessible education and health services, they also needed a government they can trust to deliver.
“People lose hope when, as politicians, we take advantage of the fact that they have put their trust in us to manage the economy and then mismanage it. When we took over from the previous government, the economy was in shambles. The country was on the verge of losing its Loti-Rand parity status because the financial reserves had been drained by the Bidvest saga. We could no longer sustain the required reserves.”
The new coalition government, he continued, had to fight on many fronts, building not only the financial reserves, but also investor-confidence and working on remedial actions for political stability, good governance and the rule of law.
“We have managed not only to convince the international community that we mean business, but also as government, we are convinced that we are on the right path and will continue taking decisive measures that will make Lesotho a better country. We are optimistic that the reforms recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) will create sustainable development and help us to all pull towards the same direction of sustainable political stability, peace, unity and development.”
He further said through the reforms agenda, Lesotho was making history that would change the country’s political and economic trajectory, adding young people should be at the centre of supporting this development.
“This is an initiative seeking to strengthen our pillars of democracy and good governance so that in the near future, we can have a governable country with strong institutional systems. Everything we are working to achieve is going to benefit the generations to come, which is why I encourage young people’s participation.”
Mr Mapesela said at party level, the ABC was looking at strengthening the participation of young people in politics in an effort to create a vibrant youth that can make quality and mature contributions to the development of the country.
“The youth should understand they have a critical role to play in the politics and development of Lesotho, particularly when it comes to shaping the future politics of this country. They have many lessons to learn from what has happened to ensure they avoid finding themselves in the same situation. That’s why we should support them to become well-organised and support capacity development that is informed by our political needs. Politics is a game that is in desperate need of people with the capacity to play it according to its rules of fairness.”
The Minister further said it was good to note most political parties were seriously considering the need to include a significant number of young people in strategic positions.
“In cabinet, we are having a fair share of new, young faces. We need to be strategic and groom young people who have demonstrated potential and interest in governance issues to further develop their capacity to become future leaders. We need to support and normalise the participation of young women and men in politics and help them to understand that they are the future. Their role is not to create political confusion, but use their energy to mend the fractures through their creativity and new knowledge,” Mr Mapesela said.