Rethabile Lesenyeho on Scaling His Reed Basketry and Pallet Furniture Production

By Relebohile Sera

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Rethabile Lesenyeho's Work at Mochudi, Kgatleng District, Botswana
Rethabile Lesenyeho's Work at Mochudi, Kgatleng District, Botswana

Weaving is often left for the poor, uneducated and old women struggling to make ends meet. The use of reed and pallets for production of art crafts is one of the many undiscovered endeavors that are slowly making their way into the market and guarantee a startling future to the economy of Lesotho.

Rethabile Lesenyeho is a young Mosotho man from Monyakoana, a village on the outskirts of Maseru; a few kilometers away from Roma. He is known for his massive production of art crafts using reed and pallets. We took a minute and had a chat with him about his hustle.

At a tender age of 7 years he made his first art piece, an ornamental mokorotlo hat for cars, with his grandmother’s supervision at the local community hall within the operations of Iketsetseng Cooperatives Phomosetsa, Monyakoana.

“We would sell one for M3 to the local community and the tourists that frequented Thaba-Bosiu, Roma, Semonkong and Thaba-Tseka.” He recalls. He later advanced to making bigger Basotho hats using Moses and leloli, both local grasses.

He became a taxi conductor for the Roma-Maseru route from 11 years, at Standard 6, until his second year at university. This he did over the weekends and school holidays as a means to support his basic needs from his own hustle.

“Teenage madness and taxi rank vibe took over but I came back in the game at NUL under the supervision of Dr Thimothy Thamae as a partial fulfillment of my BSc. In Chemical Technology.” He said.

“His drive got me working beyond my comfort zone. I had to establish something that has a low capital investment; conserve our ancient arts and culture. Reed basketry as an art was the answer and I learned a few skills from one fellow who was already in the field.” He added.

Rethabile obtained his BSc in Chemical Technology in 2013 from the National University of Lesotho. As a laboratory demonstrator at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Technology he studied SAMTRAC (Certificate of Health, Safety and Environmental Management), part time, at Heath and Safety Training Centre; later renamed MonTech.

“The safety skills I acquired shaped me into a risk manager and my devotion into taking calculated risks grew exponentially.” He said.

Arts and Crafts Explorers was established in April 2015. Reed Basketry, an amalgamation of three independent business enterprises, followed the same year on the 1st of December.

On experiencing hiccups at the reed industry, he enrolled with the Student Training Entrepreneurship Promotion offered by Leuphana University of Lunerberg, Germany through the National Commission for UNESCO Lesotho and the Ministry of Education Lesotho and graduated October 2016.

“During all this time, as a small entrepreneur, I was involved with the Department of Cooperatives, the Department of Trade and the Department of Small Businesses in taking part at the Botswana Consumer Fair amid a few selected national entrepreneurs for four consecutive years from 2014 – 2017.” He said.

His products have been displayed at the Southern Africa International Trade Exhibition (Saitex) 2016 at Midrand Gauteng thorough the initiative of BEDCO and the Department of Small Businesses.

With the spirit of entrepreneurship sweeping through the nation and the exposure to the international community, he went out of his comfort zone and enrolled, out of his business proceedings, for his second degree; Bachelor of Entrepreneurship Commerce at Ba Isago University at Gaborone, Botswana as a block release mode of delivery. He is in his first year. He is also registered with the Botswana Accountancy College for Post Graduate Certificate in Enterprise Risk Management.

Reed Ceiling Interior Design Project at Wagga Gardenex Botswana
Reed Ceiling Interior Design Project at Wagga Gardenex Botswana

“The demand for my products in Gaborone grew exponentially and that was the birth of my first international business; Mankie Arts and Crafts (Pty) Ltd on the 1st December 2016.” He said.

“I have entrepreneurial activities I do in order to motivate others through action. I train youth in beadmaking, waste paper weaving, mokorotlo making (grass weaving) and farming. I currently have two beadmakers Monyakoana, and the rest are the community members of Ha Seeiso, Roma.”

Both reed and pallets are mostly found in our surroundings as waste. Pallets are made from genuine hard wood and become the sole supply of quality wood explaining the increase in the pallet furniture industry with increasing accumulation of pallet waste.

“My personal motivational quote is ’Reed is wealth for every home’. In our Sesotho culture, the presence of a new born in any family is signalized by reed (lehlaka) to the village at large. Whenever we see reed by the door we know the family has been blessed by a child, hence the maternal place being named ‘lehlakeng’.”

He continued to add that the Basotho nation is believed to come from Ntsoana-tsatsi, Lehlakeng and a terrestrial source of life in their culture is spiritually likewise referred to as such.

Rethabile uses the Arundo donax reed which is highly invasive. Its invasive nature has become their competitive advantage as it provides raw materials for their production. The strength of a weaved-reed structure provides another excellent contribution.

Not only does the wood from pallets provide a more affordable source of wood, it also provides genuine hard wood while redefining the pallet waste from the distribution industries. Research shows that availability of genuine hard wood on market has been replaced by the common soft wood our markets are flooded with; the wood producers retain the genuine hard wood for pallet making industries meet their high quality requirements. This is simply because pallets are primarily used for heavy load bearing in the distribution channels.

To find out more about Rethabile’s work, visit his online portfolio at https://lesenyehorm.crevado.com/reed-and-pallet-work or email him at [email protected] or WhatsApp him on (+266) 51907351.

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