By Nthakoana Ngatane
MASERU – Leseli Hub founder, Ntsukunyane Matete has been dared to start a fund to assist youth startup businesses struggling with access to finance, and Vodacom Lesotho CEO Mohale Ralebitso has injected the first M20,000.
Matete spoke at a debate about Brand Lesotho that marked Independence Day, organised by the Mamoth Citrus group and Brand Africa’s Thebe Ikalafeng.
He told the gathering that there are many enterprising young people, but many of their businesses are struggling or have failed because of lack of access to finance.
“Bonono, Moralia Monethi and City Kings – these are just some of the many businesses started by people my age, they have good strategies, but one of them went under last year, not because of covid, but because of lack of access to finance.” Says Matete.
He pleaded for support saying as young people they want to leave a legacy of their own in the private sector, but the current leaders of business are not forthcoming with supporting startups and handing over the baton.
So Vodacom Lesotho CEO Mohale Ralebitso challenged Matete to do something about it: “You are now going to be the head of the Mohlomi Fund, I will give you M20,000 into the Mohlomi Fund, and we will get other people to come in, but I will give you the first M20,000.”
Ralebitso says Vodacom Foundation is now developing scholarships and capacity building programmes to help businesses to access finance, so that startups can present sound business cases.
He says the Mohlomi Fund should position itself to support young people so that they too can make sound business cases.
Ralebitso’s offer caught Matete by surprise, but he says he is ready to take up the challenge.
“His offer is amazing, I am amazed that there are people like him who think that way, Mohlomi Fund will help many people with not only money, but also empowering businesses, opening doors and creating awareness” says Matete.
He says one of his friends benefitted from the LNDC’s partial credit guarantee scheme, but many others can’t put up the remainder of the collateral that the corporation doesn’t cover, that is still required by banks, so the fund should close that gap.
While writing this article , Lesotho Express News informed business leaders about the Mohlomi Fund, and businessman and philanthropist, Bothata Mahlala pledged M10,000.
One of the country’s only two local textile manufacturers, Teboho Kobeli, pledged to open doors for young people to see the opportunities in manufacturing and to start businesses like his.
He says foreign owned businesses are not only continuing to dominate opening factories, but they also bring their associates to provide support services including cleaning, and to supply goods including coal, when Basotho businesses could be benefitting. Kobeli says his 500 employees are a captive market, but no one has offered to supply them with essential goods like chickens, eggs or milk, and he wants to change that.
Matete says he started Leseli Hub in 2013 aiming to challenge the outdoor advertising industry that is dominated by foreign companies, but it took two years to get the first site to build a billboard, because local government councils didn’t approve applications to allocate land.
“We started in 2013, we took two years to build our own billboards, and the biggest obstacle was access to finance, the second was getting sites. So we started outside Maseru, in Leribe and Thaba Tseka”
He says after 8 years in operation, Leseli Hub has finally received Central Bank approval to sell its shares to the public to raise more capital, and is now inviting investors.
The company now has 42 billboards in Lesotho and 2 more in South Africa, and wants to expand, but Matete believes Maseru City Council officials favour foreign owned businesses that allegedly pay bribes and kickbacks, and make it impossible for smaller ones to get sites.
“We have heard that one of the entities that owed MCC M800,000, allegedly paid a M100,000 bribe to some officials and their debt was written off” says Matete.
MCC spokesperson Lintle Moerane says she is not aware of the allegations, but it is regrettable if it’s true, and she appeals to Leseli Hub to help with any information that can help to root out corruption if there is any.
She says she will find out the details of the company that owed M800,000 but it is possible that it reached an agreement for repayment with the city council.
On the allocation of sites Moerane says there might be a misunderstanding because some were already previously allocated.
“If the complainants can provide details of the specific sites we can find out if there was any irregularity with the allocations, but all sites within the CBD have been allocated even if the owners hadn’t built any billboards yet. But if we can get evidence that bribes were paid, we will act on it.” says Moerane.
She advises all entrants to consider billboard sites outside the boundaries of the CBD but along new routes including Ha Mabote and Sehlabeng that were previously not busy but are now rapidly growing.