July 13, 2023


5 min read

Mahlakapese, a gift from ancestors

Mahlakapese, a gift from ancestors

The CEO of Mahlakapese Holdings, Matšeliso Mokuoane

Story highlights

    ’M’e Tšeli’s childhood dream of venturing into hospitality business was revived in Butha-Buthe
    The entrepreneur is also a traditional doctor who uses water to heal the ill

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MATŠELISO Mokuoane, popularly known as ’M’e Tšeli, is the renowned Chief Executive Officer of Mahlakapese Holdings, a company that provides hospitality and tourism-related services in Hlotse Leribe.

Mokuoane says her business is a gift from her ancestors, who have guided her to build the empire she has today. The 52-year-old mother of two children believes that passion, desire, and dedication are among the important pillars of success in tourism and hospitality.

’M’e Tšeli (MM) has been trusted with the responsibility of preparing food for Very Important People (VIPs) during King Letsie III’s birthday celebrations. In this wide-ranging interview with Mapamela Khanyela (MK), Ms Mokuoane shares her journey and other inspiring lessons for upcoming hospitality professionals.

MK: Please tell us, who is ’M’e Tšeli?

MM: I am Matšeliso Mokuoane, the 3rd child out of the seven children of Ntate Rakoro and ’M’e ’Malineo Mokuoane, who were both professional teachers.

I was born in Khanyane Leribe in 1972. I attended schools at Iketsetseng Primary, St. James Primary, Morija Girls, and St. Agnes High Schools before going to Lerotholi Polytechnic where obtained a Diploma in Electrical Engineering. I was employed as a laboratory technician and Assistant Lecturer at Lerotholi Polytechnic for two years before I worked for the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) at ’Muela Hydropower Station for eight years. I studied hydropower operations in Ireland for two years while at LHDA.

It was at LHDA that I revived my childhood dream of venturing into restaurant and accommodation facilities. I established a restaurant in Butha Buthe, and to finance that project, I had to be involved in commercial farming and the sale of medicinal herbs. It was at that time that I learned I was not meant for employment but destined for a better and more promising future in hospitality. I was instructed by my ancestors to resign and focus on my businesses; it was for that reason that I resigned at LHDA in 2004. Mahlakapese is the name of my grandfather; therefore, I named the business in order to honour him.

MK: Tell us more about your journey to the establishment of Mahlakapese Guest House.

MM: In Butha Buthe, where my restaurant was located, I used to offer to cook and decorate for District Administrators' events. At that point, my capacity was acknowledged. On the birthdays of King Letsie III, I have twice served Very Important People (VIPs) in Butha Buthe and once in Leribe. I invested the money I made from those events back into my company by gradually turning two duplexes into 16-room hotels.

Our property and money in the bank made it easy for the banks to loan us cash; we now have a 64-room guest house. We are yet to officially open the Mahlakapese River Resort in Ha Setene later this year. We have won a tender to operate the Bokong Nature Reserve as well.

MK: You mentioned earlier that your business was a gift from your ancestors; tell us more about this.

MM: My grandmother, who has since passed away, instructed me in a dream to resign from LHDA and establish my own business. I knew I had to follow her instructions because I believed that my ancestors would never lead me astray. I am still waiting for instructions from my ancestors to enter the Liphoofung caves and visit King Moshoeshoe I’s grave. I am also a traditional doctor going by the name of ’Mantsopa, and I use water to heal those who are ill.

Mahlakapese, a gift from ancestors

The swimming pool at the Mahlakapese River Resort

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Mahlakapese, a gift from ancestors

An arial view of the lodge

MK: Your success is mainly in hospitality; have you studied tourism and hospitality?

MM: I do not have qualifications in tourism or hospitality, but my son studied hotel and hospitality management at the International Hotel School in Sandton College, South Africa; his knowledge and experience are helpful in our business. I also travel and learn new things from other hospitality and tourism-related institutions. I have learned financial literacy from the books of people like Robert Kiyosaki. Our success was propelled by our desire to offer the best services to our clients.

MK: How is Mahlakapese River Resort going to differ from your guest house in Hlotse?

MM: The Mahlakapese River Resort is meant for clients who wish to stay long here and cook for themselves, and it is a beautiful place for events. It is at this river resort where we are going to offer services such as massage and make-up, among many others. The river resort has decorations of nature, such as rocks and diverse aloes from Lesotho. In the morning hours, guests can enjoy bird watching and visit the nearby agritourism centre, Monakaeli Farm. 

MK: In summary, what were the major challenges in your journey?

MM: In 2002, I lost a lot of money by hosting a jazz event at the Tšehlanyane National Park. I had to repay the bank the money they had loaned me. My restaurant collapsed twice. Some people used to cheat me while I was involved in commercial farming. The mistakes I made were a lesson for me. I am now president of women in tourism in Lesotho and willing to help other women succeed in tourism and hospitality.

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