Lo­cal brick-mak­ers on the brink

. . . as con­trac­tors give them a wide berth in favour of ‘for­eign­ers’

Lesotho Times - - Feature - ’Man­toetse Maama

Shakhane Makoanyane gazes into the dis­tance, and his va­cant stare be­trays an in­ner tur­moil sparked by the prover­bial fear of the un­known.

The 50-year-old ap­pears lost in thought, but quickly re­gains his com­po­sure be­fore look­ing at the mounds of bricks a stone’s throw away — and which are the rea­son for his anx­i­ety.

“To say the fu­ture in this brick­mak­ing busi­ness is bleak, would be the un­der­state­ment of the year,” dead­panned Mr Makoanyane, as he sur­veyed his brick­filled yard in Mo­ha­lal­i­toe on Mon­day this week.

Once a thriv­ing busi­ness in which clients lit­er­ally fought over sup­plies, Mr Makoanyane said in­dige­nous, small-scale brick­man­u­fac­tur­ers can now hardly break even due to lack of mar­kets.

“Un­til two, three years ago, brick-man­u­fac­tur­ing was a very prof­itable busi­ness, and you would hardly find any­one with stock that had not been paid for in ad­vance,” Mr Makoanyane told the Le­sotho Times.

“But the in­dus­try is on its knees as we speak, with many of the busi­nesses closing down be­cause no-one is buy­ing the bricks. Those of us who re­main open are only do­ing so be­cause we have nowhere else to turn.

“Un­less a mir­a­cle hap­pens, and the at­ti­tude of con­struc­tion com­pany own­ers and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials changes, and they give us the same chance they af­ford Chi­nese-owned brick-mak­ers who are now driv­ing us out of busi­ness, then we are doomed.”

This par­tic­u­lar industrial area of Mo­ha­lal­i­toe used to be a hive of ac­tiv­ity a cou­ple of years ago, with both men and women dash­ing back and forth with mud­laden brick-mak­ing ma­chines as they bat­tled to meet their daily tar­gets.

how­ever, when the Le­sotho Times crew vis­ited the area on Mon­day, there was hardly any move­ment, con­firm­ing Mr Makoanyane’s state­ment that this was but an in­dus­try on its deathbed, and in need of a mir­a­cle to sur­vive.

“In the old days, you would find work­ers busy mix­ing clay and ashes to pro­duce the bricks, while oth­ers would be re­mov­ing the bricks from the oven.

“You need to have seen what it used to be like on a Mon­day like this to ap­pre­ci­ate what I am try­ing to say, be­cause the place would be buzzing with ac­tiv­ity.

“But look at it now; it’s vir­tu­ally dead. Com­pe­ti­tion from the Chi­nese who are of­fer­ing a slightly dif­fer­ent type of brick and also the short­age of clay, have con­spired to put us out of busi­ness,” lamented Mr Makoanyane.

ac­cord­ing to Mr Makoanyane, in ad­di­tion to be­ing shunned by con­struc­tion com­pa­nies and gov­ern­ment, Ba­sotho brick-mak­ers have the dis­ad­van­tage of not be­ing able to de­liver the prod­uct to cus­tomers, which their for­eign coun­ter­parts do.

“I have about 100 000 bricks here, which have no tak­ers. My neigh­bour has stock that has been in his yard since Jan­uary last year, which is about 14 months now.

“Yet back in the day, we would have pre-or­ders, and at times, even fail to meet de­mand.

“It is a dif­fer­ent story now, and for the first time since I en­tered into this busi­ness in 1998 af­ter be­ing re­trenched from the mines in South africa, I am now pan­ick­ing be­cause this is where I earn my living, and I find my­self with noth­ing to do, and be­ing shunned by cus­tomers,” said Mr Makoanyane.

“When I left the mines, I wanted to set-up a busi­ness so that my chil­dren would not suf­fer. I come from Seka­ma­neng and when I couldn’t get a job, I de­cided to come here and when I saw the work­ers in full pro­duc­tion, I fell in love with the busi­ness.

“The smell of the burning bricks, and the work­ers’ com­mit­ment, sim­ply had me hooked from the word go.

“I then joined a cer­tain old man who was op­er­at­ing on this site, and be­came his part­ner.

“I bought new ma­chin­ery since he had been in busi­ness for a while and his equip­ment was a bit worn-out.

“I had to learn from him and our em­ploy­ees about this busi­ness, and in those days, we did not need to hire any trans­port as there were peo­ple al­ways park­ing their trucks here and ready to de­liver the bricks for the cus­tomers.

“We would bake over 30 000 bricks per week, and like I said, the mar­ket was there, and the bricks would be gone in no time, but the sit­u­a­tion has changed.

“and un­less there is a dra­matic change, I don’t see us, in­dige­nous brick-man­u­fac­tures, sur­viv­ing.

“If you con­tinue hold­ing stock for too long, and it’s in the open where it is sub­jected to ad­verse weather con­di­tions, it loses its qual­ity and no-one wants to buy it.

“When I started here, we used to sell the bricks for M100 or M200 per thou­sand based on the grade, but the price has in­creased to be­tween M1 000 and M1 200 per thou­sand, due to the chang­ing times.

“Like I said, I have over 100 000 of the bricks here, which means if I don’t get a buyer soon, I am in deep trou­ble.

“Some of my for­mer as­so­ciates have since closed shop be­cause of the rea­sons I have just men­tioned and I am just hang­ing on, hop­ing that the tide will turn one day, but for how long I will cling-on, I don’t know.”

an­other brick-pro­ducer, Lethola Thamae, said he opened his busi­ness 15 years ago, but was now con­tem­plat­ing closing it down due to lack of mar­kets.

“Gov­ern­ment and con­struc­tion com­pa­nies used to be our main cus­tomers but this is no longer the case; they now shun us.

“The prob­lem started when we had to stop get­ting clay from this area due to coun­cil reg­u­la­tions as well as com­pe­ti­tion from the Chi­nese.

“hav­ing to bring clay from an­other part of the city in­creased our over­heads, while our for­mer cus­tomers, for some rea­son, now pre­ferred to do busi­ness with the Chi­nese, although the qual­ity of our bricks is vir­tu­ally the same.

“We now come here mostly to sit be­cause we have noth­ing to do. as for our em­ploy­ees, we have since told them to find jobs else­where be­cause we can’t con­tinue keep­ing them here when we are not be­ing very pro­duc­tive,” he said.

ac­cord­ing to Mr Thamae, gov­ern­ment and lo­cal con­struc­tion firms should not be­tray Ba­sotho by giv­ing busi­ness to for­eign­ers.

“In­stead of look­ing out for their own peo­ple, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and lo­cal com­pa­nies are do­ing busi­ness with the Chi­nese, and leav­ing us to suf­fer.

“hope­fully, things will change now that there is a new ad­min­is­tra­tion com­ing to power. I also urge lo­cal com­pa­nies to give us a chance be­cause our bricks are also of high qual­ity.”

Mokhitli Mokono­fane, who opened his brick-mould­ing busi­ness in the area in 2003, also ap­pealed for gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion to save Ba­sotho en­ter­prises.

“I came here in 1994 and joined one of the first brick­mak­ing compa- nies that had been opened here that year.

“But in 2003, I de­cided to start my own busi­ness, and un­for­tu­nately, the sit­u­a­tion was start­ing to de­te­ri­o­rate.

“I didn’t need to be highly ed­u­cated to be in this busi­ness, hence its at­trac­tion for any­one who was hard­work­ing and will­ing to go the ex­tra-mile to meet cus­tomerde­mands.

“It’s sad that the in­dus­try is fac­ing col­lapse be­cause it means many peo­ple are go­ing to find them­selves job­less.

“I ap­peal to gov­ern­ment to do some­thing about it and make sure there is leg­is­la­tion that protects in­dus­tries such as ours against for­eign com­pe­ti­tion,” said Mr Mokono­fane.

Con­tacted to shed light on why con­struc­tion firms were no longer keen on bricks man­u­fac­tured by lo­cal busi­nesses, a con­trac­tor who re­quested anonymity said:

“We would want to sup­port our coun­try­men, but the prob­lem is the qual­ity of the bricks, com­pared to those man­u­fac­tured by the Chi­nese.

“The Chi­nese use state-ofthe-art ma­chin­ery and elec­tric ovens whereas Ba­sotho use man­ual com­pres­sors and burn their bricks with coal. This presents a prob­lem be­cause the tem­per­a­ture is not as high, hence the strength is also dif­fer­ent. In short, it is a mat­ter of qual­ity; there is noth­ing per­sonal about it.”

Shakhane Makoanyane (left) and Lethola Thamae (right) with some of their stock

Mokhitli Mokono­fane

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