His jam is finger lick’n good! When you think tomato, you probably link it to the likes of tomato sauce, tomato catch-up, tomato salads and so on. But Basotho rarely make tomato jam. “That’s what motivated me to develop a tomato jam—to fill the space,” said Khotso Thelingoane, a student at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) who is running a popular tomato Jam business.
“It may sound strange to some but tomato jam is surprisingly good,” Thelingoane said. It combines the yummy taste of tomato with the sweetness of a jam. The balance, he said, is such that the sweetness dominates but the lasting taste of tomato becomes unmistakeable.
The story of Thelingoane and his beloved business of tamato jam began long time ago when he was living with his gradma. Never underestimate the wisdom of grandmas— they normally teach by their actions, not by words!
“My gradma used to grow tamoto. To prevent it from getting spoiled, we would watch her turn it into a jam,” he said. That, in his view, was kind of strange, “because we were used to jams as being a product of sweet fruits like peaches.” But then, when it was time to spread the jam on the daily bread, all traces of doubt disappeared.
It was finger lick’n good!
Little did he know, that the gradma was laying a foundation for his future tamoto jam business.
He first thought about making his own business well before he attended NUL. He said he used to watch people who went to university before him and who came back only to face Lesotho’s persistent unemployment. Worse still, he observed something that could be named a disease that afflicts all Lesotho graduates. “There is a persistent perception among graduates that if you start a business, you are somehow to be pitied (u sono).”
As to why Lesotho, the least developed country, has its youths thinking that starting a business is a sign of being a “sono,” remains a mystery—but it may explain why we’re this poor in the first place.
“I often look at the foods we import from South Africa and elsewhere and I am kind of thinking…we should be making this stuff ourselves precisely because we can,” he said. But the “sono” mentality has prevented most graduates from even trying.
So Thelingoane went to NUL hell-bent on challenging that attitude. Just in his first year, he was already thinking about how to start a business. In his words, “I did not want to start after I graduated.”
But he would suffer the same things that kills all of us when we attempted starting a new business—fear and doubt. Could he do it? Yes—but maybe no. He was undecided. So he put his plans on hold and joined the crowd.
It’s always the easy option.
“It was not until one student body organised a business dinner that I started thinking differently.” In the dinner, students, some more or less in his age, were sharing experiences of how they started and managed their own businesses. Here were like-minded folks with the exception that they were already doing it.
“I was so encouraged that I couldn’t wait for the next NMDS payday to spend all that money on raw materials for my new business. If they could do it, so could I, I told myself.”
The memory of her gradma and her tamoto jam came up.
What her grandma was making just to feed them, he would turn into a business.
In just the right time, another lifeline came up. This time, the same student organisation that organised the business dinner had now organised a business expo at the NUL’s Netherlands Hall. Here was a chance for him to display his products at the Hall.
But he went for a kill, “I had people tasting my jam writing their thoughts about it. Was it good? Were there areas of improvement?” The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. It was time to act. “I started selling among students.”
To his surprise, some students said they bought the jam, not for themselves but for their grandmas because, to quote them, “grandmas love sweet stuff.”
Here we go. It started from a grandma to his grandson. Now it is from the grandsons and granddaughters back to the grandmas. When you do something good, you never know the impact it might have long after you have forgotten about it.
Now the business is maturing. Thelingoane can’t wait for the moment to be done with school so that, “I can give my full attention to my jam business. I want to distribute it across the country.”