Mr Cheese and rubber meat

Mr Cheese and rubber meat

Muckraker is shocked at brickbats flung at Deputy Home Affairs Minister Mofomobe ‘Cheese’ Machesetsa.

All that lynching was because he just said the old men of Lesotho politics must quit. Bootlickers and zealots picked boulders as soon as he finished making that statement. Some called him an excitable young man while others accused him of poking his paws into their affairs. Others went as far as calling for his dismissal from government. It was just a manufactured brouhaha that served to expose the rampant idiocy in our political parties. The reaction to Cheese exposed mediocrity in our political parties.

Missing from all the answers was a nuanced argument to defend the old and therefore take on Cheese on the substance of what he said and not against whom he had said it. The import of what Cheese said has never been dissected because that would mean engaging in a debate that requires some mental stamina. To debate the idea will be to open a window for an intelligent conversation about the leadership we have. That is not how we do things here.

Here we stuff our ears with sewage and open our mouths. We bellow and scream so that we don’t have to listen to anything contrary to our myopic take on things. If only we could sober up a bit we would learn a lot of things. People like Cheese should be celebrated instead of being treated like some juvenile delinquent who has peed in a village well. His point was that the old people of this country should give young people a chance. There is nothing treasonous about calling for old people to rest.

It’s the patriotic duty of every young person to encourage old people to rest so they can take over. That is how the world should be: the young should eventually take over from the old. Anyone who disagrees with that natural order of things has a morsel of manure in their head. It is flabbergasting that the noise against Cheese is coming from young people who should be leading this country were it not for some old characters who have overstayed their welcome. It is staggering that there are young people who think power belongs to the old.

We have people under 40 getting angry on behalf of people who are way over 70. We should be embarrassed that our political landscape is littered with old sekorokoros of men refusing to accept that they are finished and have nothing new to offer. Their experience was relevant in the 1980s. They shined then. Now their stars have dimmed. They are now liabilities masquerading as assets.

Having run their races, they should be spending their last days on rocking chairs under peach trees. They have no business subjecting their old bodies to the rigours of active politics. They are allowed to speak but only from the margins not the core. The old men of our politics have become irrelevant to the problems of the new generation. This country is not going to be led into a new era by people who will not be there in the next generation. We cannot be led by people who came into politics when pit latrines were the peak of sophistication.

There is little to be gained from leaders who joined politics when horses and scotch carts were the only means of transport. You have no stake in the future if you are a leader who bought his girlfriend a Georgette dress and took her to a disco. Nada! Anyone who has slept next to a woman with a perm should never be anywhere near a public office. The reality is that Cheese was actually polite with his words. He should have been much blunter. He should have said the old people of this country are consuming what the young people should be eating.

They are clinging on to jobs young people should be doing. They snooze in boardrooms and government meetings while vibrant people pound the streets of Maseru with long CVs in tattered brown envelops. The same brown envelopes that old people are using to receive bribes that damage the country. Phew!  Muckraker will be visiting a dentist for the second time this month and it’s not because of any dental disease. Her teeth have never been the same since she ate some rubber from Meraka.

Yeh, you heard her right. Meraka Abattoir is selling some rubber things they call meat. While she is grappling with the pain in her teeth Muckraker also has to deal with the cost of cooking the rubber from Meraka. It doesn’t matter how long you boil that rubber, it just won’t be tender. Even after hours of cooking you still have to chew it with a twisted face and clenched fists. So every time Muckraker buys meat she also has to get more electricity and book an appointment with the dentist.

Yet this is not the kind of horror we were promised when the government awarded the meat monopoly to Meraka. Instead we were told that the Meraka deal was meant to support local beef farmers, improve the meat quality and make it a little cheaper. It turns out that all this was a sick joke concocted to make the consumers miserable. Now the meat tastes like rubber and the price keeps galloping. The benefits derived from this inane decision have accrued to a few people. Only Meraka, dentists and the power company are ululating at the decision. The government is telling the rest of us to get on with the business of silently chewing plastic.

When we say our jaws are numb with pain they say it’s because we are a weak lot that likes moaning. When we say the meat is pricey they say shut up and support local businesses. We are in for a very long plastic chewing session. And there is little we can do about it because the government is clear that there is no going back to proper meat. But on a serious note it is time someone starts knocking down the façade that the Meraka deal is meant to protect the local beef industry. The starting point to that endeavour is to admit that there is no beef industry in this country. We have cattle but that doesn’t mean we have a beef industry.

What we have are half a million emaciated animals whose meat is horribly tough because they spend half their lives climbing mountains to get to the next patch of green grass. The idea that we can meet out beef demand with those hardened animals is preposterous if not utterly criminal. So is the idea that banning meat imports will protect what is otherwise a non-existent beef industry. The same can be said of the idea that the Meraka deal benefits locals. A simple search at the company registry will show that Meraka Lesotho is not a locally owned company.  It is owned by three Chinese individuals who share the Yao surname. Together they own 1 500 of Meraka’s 1 600 shares.

Four Basotho own the remaining 100 shares. So there we have it: a whole government policy has been twisted to benefit a company in which Basotho own less that 10 percent. We can try to spin this tomfoolery and say the real benefit is in the form of employment. That sounds logical enough but there is no proof that Meraka is hiring in droves. They employ 72 people. For context, that is the combined number of your fingers and toes multiplied by three plus 12. Never in the history of this country has an SME been pampered so much by a government. There is likelihood that a few local abattoirs and butcheries will go under because of the new policy. So while Meraka might be hiring a few hands there are some businesses that are firing a few more people.

But let’s be generous and agree to have our ears clogged with the nonsense about the new policy benefiting local farmers. The argument here borders on the ridiculous. The local farmers have no capacity to provide the whole country with beef no matter how much the policymakers scream. The point is that having cattle is not akin to having a beef farm. It takes more than just a lone herd boy to rear cattle on a commercial scale. Absolutely none of the local farmers can sustain our appetite for beef. Their animals are only fit for slaughter at funerals and weddings where quality is not an issue because the food is free.

There is some potential but it has to be harnessed before we can bounce on rooftops to claim that we have a beef industry in Lesotho. Soon the government will realise that their policy has only instigated local farmers to decimate their herds in the scramble for quick profits. Only when local farmers have run out of animals will the government start trying to put together some strategies and systems to show them the ropes of commercial beef farming.

Meanwhile, the farmers across the border will be waiting with eye-watering prices for their beef. That is how we do things in this country.

We implement things and plan later. We impregnate and then marry later.

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