THE first day of December 2016 will forever be etched in the memories of many Mokhotlong residents after their shopping conundrum was resolved with the launch of a Shoprite supermarket in the remote and mountainous district.
Most Mokhotlong residents have over the years contended with travelling long distances outside the country or the district for a decent shopping experience. This was because most of the nearby shops provided a limited product range with questionable quality and at high costs.
Addressing guests during a colourful launch ceremony, Shoprite Regional Operations Manager Pitso Melao said the supermarket chain would provide the Mokhotlong community a range of products and services as well as creating jobs for at least 40 locals.
Having started operations in Lesotho in 1997, the Shoprite Group has seven outlets in Maseru, one in Berea, Mafeteng, two in Leribe and one in Butha-Buthe currently under construction after being gutted by fire.
Mr Melao said they decided to open shop in the highland district to serve the residents of Mokhotlong and to tap into the economic activity in the area due to mining operations and the forthcoming second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. The project will result in the construction of Polihali Dam.
“Shoprite is working hard to ensure it grabs all the available opportunities wherever we are operational. So, Mokhotlong was identified as an option after we considered what was likely to happen in the next four years in the district,” he said.
“Remember Mokhotlong is a mining district with two mining operations, and recently more mines were also launched. Other than that there is going to be construction of a large dam (Polihali) in Mokhotlong, which also means a huge opportunity for us.
“These projects will result in the employment of more than a thousand people who will reside in the district.”
The decision, Mr Melao said, was also in response to a clamour by Mokhotlong residents to enjoy the benefits their lowland counterparts were getting of Shoprite outlets.
“There were calls from residents and authorities in the area for us to bring Shoprite to Mokhotlong. So we are also serving a need to the people of Mokhotlong. It is a win-win situation for both us and the people,” he said, adding they would charge normal Shoprite prices in Mokhotlong to ensure parity across the country.
“We have found a strategy that will allow us to charge the same prices for our products and services as those found in other shops around the country.”
Mr Melao also said they would empower the local communities in line with their operational creed.
“When investing in any area, we believe in empowering the local people so the community can support our operations.”
Going forward, he said they were considering bringing other Shoprite group brands such as MediRite, Hungry Lion, OK Furnitures and LiqourShop to Mokhotlong.
Mokhotlong Principal Chief Mathealira Seeiso told the Lesotho Times on the side-lines of the launch, Shoprite’s arrival was a game-changer.
“This is a watershed moment for the people of Mokhotlong. For over 40 years, we could only access this kind of shopping experience in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa and during those days it was a two-day trip,” he said.
“On the first day, we would travel to the Sani Pass Border Gate where, because of the long distance, chances were high we would find the border closed for the night. So, we had to wait for the following day to cross to the other side to travel to Pietermaritzburg.”
Added Chief Seeiso: “By setting up shop here to Mokhotlong, Shoprite is responding to a serious need that we had for a long time. This will be the first time that the people of Mokhotlong will be able to enjoy high quality products and services in the comfort of their district without having to travel long distances.”
“I also like the employment creation component Shoprite has brought with the new supermarket. I am very happy with their presence here in Mokhotlong.”
Mokhotlong District Administrator, Molefe Mpesi, who officiated during the opening ceremony, said Shoprite had brought shopping convenience to the people of Mokhotlong who had been longing for fresh and quality products.
“The people often had no choice but to buy expired products. But the arrival of Shoprite with its guaranteed fresh products, especially food, will enable them to buy foods of their choice,” he said.
“Most dealers here normally limit their stocks to the basic stuff such as matches, salt and sugar seeing that we are a mountain people. But in the Shoprite supermarket, there is a wide variety of products and the shelves are full. The availability of products creates its own demand but unavailability similarly deflates demand.”
Mr Mpesi expressed confidence the people of Mokhotlong would support the supermarket even though it was situated in a remote area.
“Being predominantly sheep and goats farmers, the people basically have the economy of Mokhotlong in the palms of their hands. So I am confident they have the means to support the prolonged operation of Shoprite in this district.”
He also urged the residents of Mokhotlong, popularly known as Liphamola, to jealously safeguard the supermarket from any criminal activities as it had come to address their long-term retail needs.
One of the supermarket’s first customers, Thato ‘Mopa, said she was impressed by the wide range of products Shoprite offered, particularly fresh foods.
“Food quality and freshness is a major concern for us customers. You will notice that most retail shops here are operated by Chinese businesspeople who sometimes don’t sell fresh foods,” she said.
“I am therefore very happy that Shoprite has come to Mokhotlong because I see it has a wide range of fresh foods.”
Ms ‘Mopa was also impressed with the pricing, which she noted was markedly lower than what other outlets were charging.
“I was pleasantly surprised to see that they are charging normal Shoprite prices which are lower than what their competitors are charging here,” she said.
“I feared that they would increase their prices due to this place being very remote but that is not the case. While some existing dealers could provide some quality products, their prices were often ridiculously inflated, and that would force many to settle for more generic and cheaper stuff.”
Another shopper, Tiisetso Duma, said the availably of fresh foods brought by Shoprite would ensure the residents of Mokhotlong were healthy and therefore able to productively contribute to the district’s economic development.