Mat­soai de­fies odds To re­alise dream

Lesotho Times - - Feature - ‘Man­toetse Maama

THIRTY-EIGHT-YEAR-OLD Lehlo­honolo Mat­soai looks pen­sive as he re­calls his “dark­est days yet” while work­ing in the jun­gles of Lim­popo Prov­ince in South Africa in 2007.

Now an en­tre­pre­neur op­er­at­ing a mod­est car­pen­try and con­struc­tion business in Maseru, Mr Mat­soai says he is only alive to­day “through the Grace of God” fol­low­ing his trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence in Lim­popo where he — and 15 fel­low Ba­sotho — were con­stantly in dan­ger of be­ing at­tacked by wild an­i­mals and get­ting ar­rested and deported by the po­lice for work­ing in South Africa with­out the re­quired doc­u­men­ta­tion.

Yet, it is a story of in­spi­ra­tion and re­silience and a clear tes­ti­mony that with de­ter­mi­na­tion and faith in God, any­thing is pos­si­ble in life.

“I dropped out of school in 1991 while I was in Form A due to fi­nan­cial prob­lems. I am the last born in a fam­ily of eight chil­dren but, un­for­tu­nately, after en­rolling at Itekeng High School, my fa­ther had to re­tire,” Mr Mat­soai, who lives in Lower Thamae, told the Le­sotho Times this week.

“He was the only one pro­vid­ing for the fam­ily, so there was no more money for me to con­tinue with my ed­u­ca­tion.”

Leav­ing school so early meant Mr Mat­soai would not re­alise his pro­fes­sional dream.

“I had al­ways wanted to be ei­ther a doc­tor or sol­dier, so drop­ping out of school meant I would not be able to re­alise any of my dreams,” he said.

“How­ever, I never lost hope that God would pro­vide the mir­a­cle that was go­ing to change my life for the bet­ter. And this mir­a­cle came one day in 1999 when I heard an an­nounce­ment on ra­dio that Nt­lafatso Skills Train­ing Cen­tre (NSTC) in Mo­hale’s Hoek was invit­ing young Ba­sotho with Pri­mary School Leav­ing Ex­am­i­na­tion (PSLE) cer­tifi­cates to ap­ply and train as car­pen­ters and other cour­ses.

“I was do­ing some gar­den­ing at the time here at home in Lower Thamae when I heard the an­nounce­ment, so I ap­plied and got a place. The lucky bit was the col­lege was of­fer­ing the train­ing free of charge.

“I started my three-month train­ing in Septem­ber 1999 and per­formed so well that our teacher would ask me to ex­plain some of the things that were a bit dif­fi­cult to my col­leagues.

“I en­joyed be­ing at the train­ing cen­tre so much that I even for­got about my dream of be­ing a doc­tor or sol­dier.

“After I grad­u­ated in De­cem­ber 1999 with a Cer­tifi­cate in Car­pen­try, I was lucky to find a tem­po­rary job with a cer­tain con­struc­tion company where I stayed for six months. Af­ter­wards, I would get tem­po­rary jobs, which en­abled me to sur­vive.”

Mr Mat­soai added that dur­ing a SMART Part­ner­ship sem­i­nar held at ‘Man­thabiseng Con­ven­tion Cen­tre in 2007, he heard about a South African con­struc­tion company look­ing for Ba­sotho car­pen­ters and builders.

“The company needed the peo­ple to go and work at its Re­con­struc­tion and De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme (RDP) project in Lim­popo. There were 16 of us who got of­fers to go to Lim­popo, and we were promised a monthly salary of M3 500 each, as well as free food and ac­com­mo­da­tion.

“Lit­tle did we know that we were mak­ing the big­gest mis­takes of our lives by tak­ing up that job of­fer.

“I re­mem­ber pack­ing my bags and cal­cu­lat­ing what I would do with my M3 500, and I soon re­alised that all 16 of us had sim­i­lar am­bi­tions of bet­ter­ing our lives with the money.

“After meet­ing with the boss in Pi­eters­burg, he promised to follow us to Lim­popo where he said he would give us our work per­mits, but the man never showed up.

“Also while we were in Pi­eters­burg, we saw the driver who was tak­ing us to Lim­popo, buy­ing a 25 kilo­gramme bag of maize-meal, two cab­bages, four cans of fish, one tray of eggs and a 750 ml bot­tle of cook­ing oil.

“We thought the driver was buy­ing his own gro­cery but to our sur­prise, this was meant for our group as well as dozens more who were al­ready at the con­struc­tion site.

“We were over 40 work­ers at the con­struc­tion site, and slept in a sin­gle room, and also shared the lit­tle gro­cery the driver had bought. What shocked us even more was I had to share the M3 500 with my helpers or as­sis­tants, which de­mor­alised me even more.”

the vis­i­bly emo­tional Mr Mat­soai added: “Be­cause of limited space, some of us had to sleep out­side and I had to sleep at the door be­cause I was scared as the place had so many dan­ger­ous wild an­i­mals.

“again, there were mos­qui­toes ev­ery­where which made it almost im­pos­si­ble to sleep, while snakes were a common sight at the site, mak­ing the sit­u­a­tion even worse as they could eas­ily crawl into your blan­kets and bite you.

“after a week, we could not take it any­more, so we called the em­ployer and asked him to bring us more food as we were lit­er­ally starv­ing and also our work per­mits. this made him fu­ri­ous and he told us to go back to our coun­try if we were not happy.

“We told him we needed the per­mits so that we would not be ar­rested for work­ing il­le­gally in south africa, but he wouldn’t be both­ered.

“Be­cause we were des­per­ate to leave south africa, we de­cided to hand our­selves to the po­lice with the hope that we would be taken to a de­por­ta­tion cen­tre where we would at least get some food and free trans­port back home.

“But we came un­stuck again as the po­lice re­fused to ar­rest us and told us to go back to our em­ployer and beg for our jobs back so we could get paid at the end of the month and then re­turn home.

“Frus­trated, we went back to the con­struc­tion site, and one day we de­cided to tour the area and came across dif­fer­ent an­i­mals — one of them a mon­key that we de­cided to kill and eat.

“oth­ers could not eat it be­cause their clan was Motšoe­neng, which meant they could not eat that mon­key. after that, we would hunt ev­ery day un­til one of our col­leagues felt pity for us and of­fered us his phone so we could call our rel­a­tives here in le­sotho.

“You can just imag­ine how it felt be­cause when we left, our fam­i­lies were strug­gling and now we were call­ing for help, and ask­ing if they could send us some money for trans­port back home.”

ac­cord­ing to Mr Mat­soai, they called a cer­tain gen­tle­man who was a brother-in-law to one of their col­leagues.

“He agreed to help, but the prob­lem was how was he go­ing to send the money to us? He promised to send us M3 800 that would take us to Jo­han­nes­burg where he would come and pick us up.

“We went to lim­popo town, where we asked one of the bank tellers to help us by hav­ing the money de­posited into his ac­count. that was how the money even­tu­ally reached us, and we went to Jo­han­nes­burg, where the Good sa­mar­i­tan picked us up as he had promised.”

“You know that bank teller in lim­popo never asked for any­thing from us in re­turn for us­ing his ac­count; he just helped us.

“again, the Good sa­mar­i­tan who sent us the money never asked for it back, and each time I see him, I thank him in my heart, and one day, I will re­pay him for his kind­ness.”

after re­turn­ing home in 2007, Mr Mat­soai con­tin­ued do­ing odd jobs un­til he de­cided to reg­is­ter his own com­pa­nies.

“In 2012, I regis­tered two com­pa­nies, Mat­soai Car­pen­try and Mr l Mat­soai Wood and Build­ing Con­struc­tion. I nor­mally make kitchen units, wardrobes, photo-frames. Coffins, cas­kets, built-in wardrobes and builtk­itchen units.

“God has been great be­cause there is no time that I go to bed on an empty stom­ach. “When do­ing big projects I also hire tem­po­rary work­ers.”

Mr Mat­soai also says he builds houses and bridges through his con­struc­tion company. a mar­ried fa­ther of two, Mr Mat­soai has words of en­cour­age­ment for those who might find them­selves fac­ing what ap­pear in­sur­mount­able odds.

“never give up your dream be­cause God will al­ways an­swer your prayer and will never let you down.”

Lehlo­honolo Mat­soai busy in his work­shop.

mr MAT­SOAI showcases some of his hand­i­work which is ready for sale.

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