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The ‘rose’ of Sebitia still saving lives

Morobei has become the only source of livelihood for some families of Sebitia in Berea district.

Mohau Serabele

The month of May — Motšeanong as it is called in Sesotho — marks the beginning of winter in Lesotho.
This is the time the country’s legendary chill begins to transform lives and dictate fashion-trends, while also bringing a new look to the landscape through snowfall, particularly in the highlands.
Yet for the women of Sebitia, a village in Berea district, winter comes not as a time for torture but a real blessing because it is during this period of the year that they harvest and sell the morobei fruit, which thrives on the slopes of the neighbourhood mountains.
The morobei or ‘rose hip’ comes from the ‘rose plant’, which is typically red-to-orange in colour, but ranges from dark purple to black in some species.
The plant grows wildly across Lesotho, producing small red fruits, known as morobei in Sesotho, which the unemployed and impoverished women of Sebitia harvest for sale.
The women flock to the mountainous region of Berea district, where the plant particularly thrives, and gather the fruit in plastic bags and buckets.
When the Sunday Express paid the area a visit on Thursday last week, scores of womenfolk were scattered over the slopping mountains gathering the fruit, among them ‘Mapata Ramakoro, who said morobei was her only means of survival.
“We collect as much fruit as we possibly can and sell it to those who may want to use it in their households,” said Ms Ramakoro.
In many rural households of the country’s highlands, the morobei fruit is used to make jam, while it is also eaten raw by shepherds as they herd livestock in the mountains.
Ms Ramakoro said collecting the fruit from the slopes of the mountains was hard and dangerous work. Each woman picks one fruit at a time and throws it into the bucket or plastic bag, taking as long as one week to fill a 20-litre bucket.
“It is a difficult and painful process, but we all need to keep working in order sustain our families,” she said.
“The plant has sharp thorns, so I need to be very careful that I don’t get hurt as I collect it.
“The prickles are so painful if they pierce you, so I need to be extra-careful.”
Ms Ramakoro further said she, and the other women from her village, risk their lives while they collect morobei, adding however, there was nothing else they could do as they need to earn an income.
“We have no other choice because this is the only job available to us,” she said, giving a little laugh, tinged with bitterness.
Meanwhile, while some women were gathering the fruit, others could be seen sitting in groups along the main road leading to Mapoteng.
Next to each of the women was a bag full of morobei while others had buckets filled to the brim with the fruit. According to Ramakoro, the women have one consistent buyer, but also sell to the community.
“We have one reliable buyer of the fruit, who owns a factory in Leribe. He uses the fruit to make jam and body-cream, which he sells both here in Lesotho and outside the country.
“The factory-owner comes here every Thursday, and takes the fruit in his van. For a 20-litre bucket of morobei, we charge M40, while a small, five-litre bucket sells for M6,” she said.
Another vendor of the fruit, ‘Mamoroesi Mahapane, said she has always sold morobei for as long as she can remember and relies on it for her livelihood.
The widowed mother-of-four said the fruit was almost like a second husband to her.
“When death took away my husband, I turned to morobei as a source of income. I found life in this small fruit.
That is why I regard it as my second husband. Were it not for this fruit, I would not be alive today, I would be dead from poverty.”

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