MASERU — When the Christmas bells toll, Lesotho will have its first world-class shopping mall.
The M140 million Pioneer Mall in the south of the Maseru city centre is due to open its doors to the public late this month.
It is the best Christmas present for the people of Lesotho, according to former trade minister Mpho Malie.
Malie heads Morou Development Company, a joint venture involving 18 investors, the majority of them local.
Malie is spearheading the ground-breaking, multi-million-dollar project that is set to drastically change Maseru’s landscape.
In an interview with the Sunday Express last week, Malie said he was confident that the mall will open on time as scheduled.
“There will be an official opening night on the 17th of November,” Malie said. “And on the morning of the 18th, the mall will be open to the public.”
The prediction may sound a bit ambitious but Malie was adamant that come November 18, the mall will be fully functional.
“The mall will be fully functional by then,” he said.
He said there are a few shops that were still to be taken by tenants.
The Pioneer Mall will have over 50 shops and tenants ranging from well-known retailers such as Pick n’ Pay to entertainment giant Ster-Kinekor.
Construction of the M140 million project began in August last year.
But what inspired the project?
“Basically what I saw was an erosion of funds (from Lesotho). When you look at Ladybrand (a town about 15km from the Lesotho border), it is filled with cars from Lesotho.
“The idea was to repatriate and bring back those shoppers who are going to South Africa on an almost daily basis,” Malie said.
“The second issue was to bring Basotho together. We have a tendency to be suspicious of each other.”
He said there were also shops that were looking for bigger places to grow their businesses.
Malie cited the case of Life’s Comfort Solutions (LCS), a prominent company that specialises in selling hardware, furniture and cell phones.
“LCS was looking for land because they were becoming too big for their previous location.
“As we came together as a board we realised that we needed to attract an anchor tenant, one that would give the necessary synergy to the complex and attract other tenants of the same stature,” Malie said.
Building the mall has not been smooth sailing. There were numerous hurdles along the way that threatened to derail the project.
Chief among these was the issue of the primary school that was next to the building site. How to remove the school from the area was a headache.
But after lengthy negotiations, Morou Development agreed to fund the relocation of the school to Katlehong in Maseru.
“We will put up seven classrooms and toilets with running water and the school should be done by January next year,” Malie said.
He also said Morou Development found it difficult to raise stamp duty required by the Lesotho Revenue Authority.
“One of the biggest problems was that it was not easy to acquire equity,” Malie said. “In order to register a bond of M100million you have to pay two percent — that is M2 million,” Malie said.
The stamp duty meant the property firm had to pay M2.8 million to the Lesotho Revenue Authority before the project could begin.
“We found that to be a big drawback. After you have asked your backers to get involved in a M140 million project you had to ask for an additional M2 million,” Malie said.
“The issue of getting a lease was not easy. These are things that look easy from the outside but when you get involved you realise how difficult they are.
“Then you had to go back to your investors. But the government has been receptive,” Malie said.
“In a project (like this) it is not everything that goes according to plan. It certainly hasn’t been easy. When negotiations with Spar fell through we were lucky that Pick ‘n Pay came in.”
Asked what would make the mall thrive, Malie was forthright.
“Good service. That is vital for the survival of the venture,” he said.
“I’m not saying that it will automatically change everything but it will give Basotho an alternative,” Malie said. “This can be a catalyst for similar ventures in the country.”
He said they estimate that the new project will, apart from creating hundreds of jobs, generate at least M30 million through taxes every year.
He said although building the mall has been hard work it was worth the effort.
“It was a lot of work, but nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Malie said.