Billy Ntaote and Rethabile Pitso
It was not so much the patron saints who had come together at Mantšase Children’s Home in Mohale’s Hoek who caught the eye. Nor was it the impressive newly erected building.
The delight on the children’s faces as they sprang up and down on a jumping castle and slid down the water-slide was the sight to behold on Thursday morning and a clear indication that this visit had indeed, served its purpose.
Mantšase, home to 50 orphans, welcomed a Santa-like visit from representatives of five companies— First National Bank Lesotho (FNB), Lesotho Flour Mills, Itec Lesotho, Avis Fleet Services and Econet Telecom Lesotho—which are part of the orphanage’s benefactors.
The high-powered delegation had gone to the home to have lunch with the children, and watched happily as they listened to songs from Sentso—until Econet Telecom Lesotho (ETL) Chief Executive Officer Nico Heyns suddenly came alive with his own version of ‘ndlamo’ dance.
Clad in trainers and his hair casually tied in a ponytail, Mr Heyns narrated how he was invited by the FNB Managing Director about six months ago, to visit the orphanage and see if they could fund it.
Mr Heyns said they were attracted to the orphanage by its strong management structure and Board of Trustees.
“We were comfortable with what we saw and our fears of putting our hard-earned profits into projects that are scamming companies were allayed. We were actually impressed. As the private sector, we should be taking the leading role and contributing to our society,” Mr Heyns said.
He emphasised the need to ensure the orphanage became self-reliant and not dependent on donations.
Away from the microphone and spontaneous ndlamo “break-dancing”, and drawing contentedly on his cigarette, Mr Heyns spoke to the Sunday Express about his passion for the Mountain Kingdom.
He believes Basotho are adorable and humble by nature. He has two daughters and a son. Closely, you see a man with a passion for humanity. And clearly, he adores these orphaned children of Mantšase.
Econet, through its HigherLife Foundation, already cares for 500 vulnerable children across the country. Mr Heyns says by next year, the figure would increase to 800.
HigherLife takes care of every need of the children, and My Heyns feels besides government’s need to grow the agroindustry into a viable business, the private sector should also do more to help develop the country’s economy—a sentiment echoed by Avis General Manager Keith Dell.
However, Mr Dell says the private sector can only develop if government creates an enabling environment.
As the Christmas lunch ceremony continues amid the scorching sun, Mr Dell continues to talk about private sector-led economic development.
And the music continues to boom, while nearby, some of the children break into ‘mokhibo’ traditional dance. The visitors and local residents who had come to witness the show, roar in appreciation.
Away from the madding crowd, Bill Herbert, one of the home’s Board members and long-time caretaker (he has been with the children for 14 years), talks about the most challenging period the orphanage has been through.
He recalls a time, not so long ago, when the place was rundown and meals were insufficient for the children and caretakers. He tells how the house-mothers continued to care for the children despite knowing they would not be paid for it because the orphanage had no money.
There is so much pain in Mr Herbert’s voice when he narrates the recent drowning of four of his children in a nearby dam. It is an ordeal he seems to re-live through its tale; a tragedy which he says should never happen ever again.
The orphanage’s house-mother, Mapuleng Mokhele, in her vote-f-thanks, said the presence of the companies’ management and their staff was an indication that the children are accepted as part of society.
Ms Mokhele said she started working at the orphanage in 1982 and so many children have been cared for by centre since its inception by Father Patrick Maekane of the Anglican Church in 1979.
“We try to give them as much care as we can, just like our own children at home.
“If ever we were to discriminate against them and make them feel inferior, we would have failed in our mission to ensure they have a life like any other child,” said Mokhele.
FNB Chief Executive Officer Emil Heppell said his bank’s contribution to the Mantšase Children’s Home was part of its corporate social responsibility.
“Our role is to take care of the orphanage and make a difference to the lives of the kids and ensure they have a bright future. It is our responsibility, as companies to contribute to the wellbeing of these children,” said Mr Heppell.
Itec Managing Director, Marco Martins also said his company wanted to ensure the children had “a normal future”.