- pledges to finance the construction of a new classroom block
LOCAL businessman and philanthropist, Bothata Mahlala, has pledged to bankroll the construction of Maqokho Primary School in Quthing.
The donation will now rescue the school whose enrolment had fallen to just 46 because of the lack of infrastructure which drove parents to transfer their children elsewhere. The school had a one-roomed block which it used for all learners.
Mr Mahlala made the pledge on Tuesday when he visited the school following a desperate request by the Maqokho Primary School board for assistance from all Quthing businessmen and politicians with funds and building materials to construct new infrastructure.
The desperate call for help came after the 2020 collapse of the backwall of the one-roomed building in the remote area of Ha-Maqokho.
On arrival at the school, a small dilapidated structure with one collapsed wall and three cracked ones is all one can see.
The old building was unreachable by road transport due to the terrain but the school board then decided to relocate the school to the top of a plateau in the area. The board had already started assembling a makeshift structure using pine tree poles when Mr Mahlala visited the area on Tuesday.
Addressing parents and Quthing leaders that included the district administrator (DA) ‘Makhalalelo Masupha, Kubung chief Shoaepane Nkuebe, and councilor Lillo Matekane, Mr Mahlala said he decided to visit the school after receiving a letter from the deputy principal, Pulane Maune, requesting assistance.
“I decided to come here to see for myself and get a proper idea of the type of assistance which would be needed,” Mr Mahlala said.
“I am always available to assist my fellow people from this constituency whenever I am able to. This is not going to be my first time to assist communities. I have a long history of philanthropic work in this constituency and I don’t want my commitment for this school to be misinterpreted.”
Mr Mahlala started paying school fees for 30 learners at Maseribane High School in the area 14 years ago. Since then he has helped several disadvantaged children.
So many are the beneficiaries of Mr Mahlala’s philanthropic works that often he is approached by unknown people just to thank him. For instance, he was shocked recently when a young man arrived at his house to show him a vehicle that he had bought and wanted to share his success with his benefactor.
“I didn’t even know the young man. He just came to show me his car. I was puzzled and so I sought clarification. He then told me that I paid for his school fees at Maseribane High School. He eventually went to university; he is now working and has bought a car.
“Whenever I am at Mount Moorosi in Quthing, many people come to my house to thank me for paying for their school fees. Some of them I don’t even know.
“Besides paying school fees, I buy and donate school shoes for children in this constituency. I was in this constituency recently to donate school shoes at that school (pointing at the neighbouring school),” Mr Mahlala said.
Being a member of the Mathibeli Mokhothu-led Democratic Congress (DC), he is also aware that some people were likely to take his initiatives as a campaign strategy given that the general elections are coming next September. However, he said he was yet to decide whether or not to stand for election.
“This is not the case,” he told the gathering, adding that he would announce his decision on whether or not to stand for elections “when the time is right”.
He then pledged to construct the school although he could not be drawn into revealing the number of classrooms that will be in the block.
“I have heard your pleas and I pledge that I am going to send a contractor to get measurements before end of this week. Once the contractor has given me a list of all needed materials, I will buy and have them delivered here for construction to start. I am also going to pay the contractor and his skilled labourers,” Mr Mahlala said.
He also pleaded with learners’ parents to show commitment by volunteering to work as unskilled labourers on the school project.
“I am not assisting because I have a lot of money and don’t know what to do with it. I have many needs that I want to attend to but as God’s children, we must voluntarily assist each other because doing so shows that one is committed to uplifting their fellow human beings’ living conditions and that he dearly cares about them,” Mr Mahlala said.
He added: “No child in this community should have to miss school because they don’t have shoes or school fees”.
“I repeat, no child should not miss school while I am still around, bring them to me. I am giving in my capacity as a businessman and I will continue to do so.”
The school currently caters for learners from four villages of Lekhalong, Ha-Mohatanya, Ha-Machakela and Sehoati. It only offers lessons for grades one to six.
The number of learners has drastically gone down after parents expressed concern over the safety of their children at the school, leaving them with no option but to place their children in neighbouring schools. However, due to the long distances that they have to walk to reach their schools, the learners’ energy levels are constantly sapped. They spend at least four hours walking to and from neighbouring schools daily.
Deputy principal Maune told the Lesotho Times that children in the school were daily forced to learn under harsh weather conditions which was affecting their performance.
In some cases, Ms Maune said, they were forced to release children hours before time due to things like rain and snow.
“I started teaching at this school in October 2011 and my first day at this school was shocking. I wondered if I was going to be able to work here given the conditions but I asked God to give me strength. Teaching here remains a serious challenge for us because we walk for one hour in the morning to get to school and one hour back home. It’s a long distance of walking in these landforms.
“We then started making preparations to relocate to this place because we had already caught wind that the chief was going to allocate this land for the school. We started making preparations for relocation as this would enable us to be closer to essential services such as road facilities and phone network connections,” Ms Maune said.
In the past, they have requested for assistance from parents to plaster the walls using cow dung so that the room would be warmer. However, some parents refused and resorted to enroll their children in other schools which are much further.
“There are no desks for learners and the problems are endless. The situation has negatively affected the children. Now they have been leaving in droves and that is demotivating for the teachers.
“Teaching in an unsafe structure like the one we have here during harsh weather conditions, is difficult. In winter, rainy and windy days, children will be shivering throughout and we are usually forced to release them earlier than the scheduled time.”
She thanked Mr Mahlala for stepping in and pledging to fund the construction of new infrastructure.
“It was a difficult journey for us to get here and I really don’t know what to say to express my gratitude for the commitment that Ntate Bothata has just made,” Ms Maune said.