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Autistic kids hit hard by lockdown

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MASERU-AS many Basotho try to come to terms with how to survive the inconveniences brought about by the lockdown, children with autism are some of the worst affected.

With schools closed, educationists have come up with ways to ensure children continue learning and online classes have become one of the most popular means of keeping learners hooked to their books.
Not so for children with autism whose special needs are not easily catered for by online learning, according to experts.

“The lockdown has brought serious disruptions in the education of autistic children,” says Elisa Morojele, the founder and principal of Maseru Special Edu-care and Autism Therapies Centre.
“Autistic children are visual in learning. They learn through seeing things and being reminded constantly to concentrate. They need special skills to make sure they grasp and understand what they are being taught and we cannot do that online,” Morojele says.

Take the case of 17-year-old Matebele Semakale, who was diagnosed with autism in 2004 after losing his speech as a child.
According to Refiloe Semakale, Matebele exhibited all signs of being a normal child in his early years.

Semakale’s wife, who was working at Lesotho’s embassy in the United States, stayed with Matebele. As a member of the Lesotho Defence Forces, Semakale had stayed behind.

“We talked every other day, our communication was all good. Even when I visited them nothing seemed wrong” Semakale told thepost.
However, all that suddenly changed when Matebele stopped talking when he was two and a half years old.

Matebele had suddenly stopped talking and communicating in class. Teachers approached his mother and told her that Matebele had stopped responding to anything in class.

Doctors checked Matebele and put him under surveillance for a while before finally diagnosing him with autism.
At three years old, his speech was non-existent but he could hear when people communicated with him. Luckily, Matebele’s autism is not severe and does not require medication to suppress it.

After spending some time in the US and then Thailand where Matebele had enrolled at special schools, his mother returned home in 2010 and finding a suitable school became a struggle for the parents.

One of Matebele’s uncles who also had an autistic child recommended a school in Johannesburg but the school fees were too steep.
“If I remember well, the fee was close to M50 000 per quarter and we could not afford that at all,” Semakale says.

Eventually, they found an affordable school in Bloemfontein but the fees were still a burden.
A teacher at Leseli primary school, a school for children with special needs, asked Semakale to enrol Matebele there and at least give the school a year to see if they could assist Matebele with his educational needs.

Semakale says the teacher had told them that they didn’t have a specific programme for autistic children and that no parent had clearly indicated their child was autistic among their students, hence Matebele might be the first.

Matebele started his Standard One when he was eight years old.
“In two months we saw changes in Matebele. He was able to interact with other children, his speech was developing well too,” Semakale says.
He finished his Standard Seven and the struggle of finding an appropriate high school began.

Semakale says they enrolled him at one of the high schools in Maseru but within one year they had withdrawn him.
“The school is not a special school and teachers were unable to care and keep up with Matebele,” says the father.

Matebele was exposed to bullying and manipulative dagga smoking. Some children stole his jacket and ate his lunch.
“He told me all of this when he got home. We talk about everything and he never even left out the dagga smoking,” Semakale says.

He says he approached the school and authorities at the school said it was hard to keep watch and monitor Matebele because they had to concentrate on other children too.

“I obviously had to withdraw him from the school.”
Matebele was sent back to Lesedi and has been there moving between the computer lab, the library and classrooms.
Semakale has also hired someone to teach his child art and drawing which he has shown interest in all his life.

“He loves drawing,” says Semakale.
Matebele is the first born child and has a younger sister.
“They have a beautiful relationship together. They look out for each other and understand each other more than they do with anyone,” Semakale says.
At a time when Matebele seemed to be finally making progress, the lockdown set in and has presented new challenges.

“We talked to him about the lockdown and what will happen during the lockdown and what will not happen,” says the father.
They communicated corona as a disease and what is expected of everyone to keep safe. Washing of hands regularly, keeping social distancing protocols sanitizing areas and coughing and sneezing in a flexed elbow.
“People with autism do not want surprises. They need time to let things sink in and for them to understand issues,” Semakale says.

Under normal circumstances, Matebele and his sister are always indoors or at school. They are mostly not out playing with other children and so it was not hard keeping him indoors.
However, he questions why his father isn’t home during the lockdown if everyone is required to be home.

“I tell him it is because I do a job that people cannot live without. He cannot wait for the lockdown to be over,” says Semakele.
Some special needs children can experience a serious meltdown without the normal routine of school, says Morojele, the founder and principal of Maseru Special Edu-care and Autism Therapies Centre.
A meltdown is described by the NAS as “an intense response to overwhelming situations” and can include shouting or screaming, as well as physical lashing out.

Morojele’s centre was established in 2017 to answer to educational special needs of disabled children. It is a centre that demonstrates inclusive education and an enabling environment to those that have learning disabilities.

Morojele says the government needs to step up implementation of policies that assist children with special needs.
“We have beautiful policies but implementation is the biggest problem and it has been for the longest time” Morojele says.

According to Matšilo Nkabane in an article published in thepost titled Dealing with Autism published last year, like most mental disorder conditions, autism is a bewildering and complex condition.
“There is a general ignorance about it in Lesotho. Parents with autistic children don’t have enough knowledge about the conditions,” Nkabane says.

Keiso Mohloboli is a mother to a 15-year-old autistic boy.
She says the biggest challenge is that parents do not know how to cope with meltdowns and deal with the behaviour of autistic children.
There is very little awareness about issues of autism, she says.
The children suffering from autism are also discriminated against, she says.
“Some people even call them lihole,” she says.

“I am lucky because people say my child is respectful,” Mohloboli says.
She says her son is used to playing with children who are younger than him.
“I am raising an introvert. I am able to deal with things I couldn’t in the past,” she says.

In the past Mohloboli says she hardly talked to her son but she was later made to understand the need to start communicating with him even if he was not saying anything.
She says she does not shout at him because he retaliates in a defensive manner.

“We need to learn what our children like. My son loves music and not cartoons,” she says.
Mohloboli says she is not sure if her son understands anything about the coronavirus.

“I just told him that schools are closed and he understands. I also taught him that we need to wash hands first,” she says.
Mohloboli says Lesotho seems to have a very narrow understanding of special education.

“Special education is deemed to be education for the blind, the deaf and physically impaired and the likes. We have a long way to go to address issues of autistic children,” she says.

Rose Moremoholo

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Government is broke

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… Borrows M500m to pay salaries
MASERU – THE government is so broke that it had to borrow a staggering M500 million to pay civil servants’ salaries.
thepost can reveal that the money was borrowed through Treasury Bills from the local market this week.
The borrowing spree comes as the government is battling to pay salaries and suppliers due to a massive drop in tax revenues.
It comes as Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s government is left with two weeks in office.
But those few days left on its tenure have not stopped the government from making plans to borrow more money from the local market.
Highly placed sources told this paper of plans to issue more Treasury Bills in the next two weeks to raise money to pay suppliers.
A source however said there is some reluctance from some technocrats in the Ministry of Finance who believe the government’s books and financial control systems are so shambolic that it doesn’t know exactly how much it owes the private sector.
The arrears fluctuate every day but this paper understands that the government owes between M800 million and M1 billion to the suppliers.
Although the government has been grappling with the financial crisis for the past few years the crunch began to bite this year.
Sources say this month has been particularly terrible for the government.
By last week, a source said, the government had only M150 million for salaries. The total public wage bill is around M600 million.
This explains why the government had to borrow half a billion this week through treasury bills issued by the Central Bank of Lesotho.
The money arrived in the government’s account yesterday afternoon according to sources privy to the transaction.
The government has options to pay the debt in three, six, nine or 12 months. But given its precarious financial position, the government is likely to opt for the 12 months.
This means the debt will be paid on September 21 next year at about 7.8 percent interest. That translates to an interest of M39 million which brings the amount to M539 million.
The latest borrowing pushes the government’s domestic debt to M4.3 billion.
The foreign debt is around M15.6 billion. Although the debt is moderate, the government might be forced to borrow more if revenues continue to drop.
That could spell disaster for the country.
As things stand the government has to cut expenditure or look for ways to generate more revenue.
But with the economy still smarting from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and companies shutting down, there doesn’t seem to be much wiggle room.
Donor fatigue and the drop in the Southern African Customs Union, once the anchor of Lesotho’s budget, have made things worse.
Cutting expenditure seems to be the only option but the government appears reluctant to bite the bullet.
Lesotho has consistently failed to implement the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s recommendation to cut the wage bill.
Successive ministers have hinted at plans to retrench some government employees but have never implemented them because that has political implications.
There are signs that the chickens are eventually coming home to roost.
A few days ago Government Secretary Lerotholi Pheko issued a circular announcing a raft of measures to “contain expenditure and overdue payments for ministries, departments and agencies”.
Pheko said due to increasing expenditure pressures and a drop in revenue the government is implementing measures that will contain expenditure to levels that are aligned with available resources.
“The Ministry of Finance will continue to issue monthly warrants only for wages and salaries as well as essential and critical expenditures in line with the approved procurement and cash plans plus availability of funds,” Pheko said.
He ordered chief accounting officers to stop international travel, buying furniture, large maintenance, subsistence allowances, and hiring new staff.
Also, all vehicles other than VVIPS will not fuel more than once a week unless they are for essential services as authorised by the government.
All government vehicles other than for VVIPs and selected offices must be parked at their designated places by 5pm and shall be used only for authorised purposes, Pheko said.
Nkheli Liphoto

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We’ll gang up against RFP, says Rapapa

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MASERU – Lesotho’s biggest political parties have hatched a grand plan to throttle the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) led by Sam Matekane.
The plot was revealed by the All Basotho Convention (ABC) chairman Sam Rapapa at an election rally held in Mashai constituency last Friday.
He said even if the RFP makes it into parliament, they will make sure that it would not be part of the next government.
The plan, Rapapa said, is to “keep the RFP leader Sam Matekane at least as the leader of opposition, with no party to cobble up a coalition government”.
He said Matekane’s “dream of becoming a government alone is practically impossible because” the ABC, the Movement for Economic Change (MEC), the Democratic Congress (DC), and the Basotho Action Party (BAP) “will gang up to sabotage him”.
Rapapa spoke as he appealed to ABC members not to join the RFP which he said will not form a government or be in the next coalition government.
“These big parties will gang up against him (Matekane) and he will not be part of the government,” he said.
Rapapa wondered out loud why anyone would therefore want to leave the ABC to join the RFP.
“We will do everything to stop Matekane from getting into the government,” Rapapa said.
He urged Basotho to analyse critically which parties are likely to form the next government so they vote wisely on October 7.
“Both ABC and DC are likely to form a coalition government,” Rapapa said.
He said although he would in the past viciously attack the DC, he had since toned down after the two parties formed a coalition government in 2020.
In a lighthearted moment, Rapapa compared the political landscape in Lesotho to that of a child who runs away from his home to a neighbour’s house because the head of that house has arrived home with stolen wors.
Rapapa said people who are claiming they are leaving the ABC because it is engulfed in conflicts are lying.
Instead, he said the conflicts are in the RFP which has been battling numerous court battles as party members fight to represent the party in the general election.
“There is no peace in Moruo,” Rapapa said. “There is a fight that is going on in the RFP.”
Moruo, which means wealth, is the RFP’s slogan.
Rapapa urged the members to either vote for the DC or the ABC as there is peace and direction in those parties.
After the election, Rapapa said they will tell Maketane to stand in the corner with his people and a few constituencies.
He said Matekane is going to lead the opposition because they had discussed amongst themselves that he is a businessman and he should go back to business.
“We gave you a job to build roads, (but) you leave them with potholes and join politics,” Rapapa said.
He said Matekane is likely to only qualify as an MP and not a Prime Minister.
The ABC secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, however distanced himself from Rapapa’s statement this week.
He said the party is busy campaigning to win next month’s election to form the next government and has not yet pronounced itself on any coalition deals.
“We have not planned to do anything about Matekane as the ABC National Executive Committee,” Hlaele said.
The ABC leader Nkaku Kabi told another rally in Thaba-Bosiu that “it is still premature as to which parties we would align ourselves with after the election”.
He said there are some parties that had been approaching the ABC to discuss coalition possibilities but they have not sat down to decide to cobble up any coalition agreements with any of them.
“Our committee has never met any party to discuss the formation of a coalition government after the election,” Kabi said.
Kabi said the matter should not trigger any ruckus in the party.
Nkheli Liphoto

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Stunning details of how Matela died

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 MASERU – A witness has revealed shocking details of how ’Mahlompho Matela died.
Lekhooa Monaleli told the court that ’Mahlompho told her that she had been strangled.
Monaleli was testifying this week in the trial of Qamo Matela who is accused of the murder of his wife ’Mahlompho.
Monaleli was friends with the couple.
He was testifying before High Court judge, Justice Tšeliso Mokoko, last Thursday.
Monaleli said he went to the couple’s home after Qamo Matela had told him that his wife was not feeling well and he needed help to take her to hospital.
Monaleli said he found ’Mahlompho and Qamo on the bathroom floor. He said ’Mahlompho was sitting between Qamo’s thighs while their children were in the lounge.
Monaleli said Mahlompho looked “tired and helpless”.
“I helped the accused to lift (his wife) and carried her to the car,” Monaleli said.
He said Qamo had thrust a spoon into ‘Mahlompho’s mouth to stop her from biting her tongue.
“I noticed that something might have happened to the deceased (‘Mahlompho) apart from her being ill,” he said.
“What I picked from the deceased was that her eyes showed that she had been assaulted.”
“I kept quiet because this hit me hard,” Monaleli said.
They drove to Willies Hospital in Khubetsoana.
At the hospital, Qamo left them in the car as he went to fetch a wheelchair for ‘Mahlompho.
Monaleli said this gave him a chance to ask ’Mahlompho what happened.
Monaleli said ’Mahlompho told him that Qamo had assaulted and strangled her.
“I asked the deceased why she did not call for help when what happened. The response was that the accused was strangling her.”
Monaleli said ’Mahlompho told him that Qamo had strangled him for a long time.
The court heard that later on the same day, after helping the couple to the hospital and back, Monaleli sent Qamo a voice note on WhatsApp telling him that he had ruined his day.
Monaleli said he later went to the couple’s house with his wife but they could not see ’Mahlompho because they were told that she was still asleep after taking her medication.
Monaleli said seeing that his friend’s family needed help, he arranged for them to see a psychologist.
The crown’s second witness Rorisang Mofolo, ’Mahlompho’s sister, said she received a call on September 4 last year from Qamo telling her that ’Mahlompho had fainted four times.
Mofolo said Qamo told her that he suspect ’Mahlompho might have a heart problem but she was now feeling better after giving her some sugar.
“He also told me that they were waiting for a car to take them to Willies Hospital,” Mofolo said.
“After our conversation with the accused (Qamo) I called my nurse friend to ask about the temperature change issue, she said it might be Covid-19 so the deceased should get tested,” she said.
She said every time she tried to call ’Mahlompho the phone would be picked by Qamo who would speak on her behalf.
Mofolo said during a video call with ’Mahlompho, in Qamo’s absence, she noticed that she had bruises on her face.
She said ’Mahlompho told her she had fainted three times.
Mofolo said she was relieved after Qamo gave him the impression that ’Mahlompho was recovering but was shocked when Monaleli called and insisted that she goes to see her sister.
She said in their telephone conversation ’Mahlompho said she was “trapped in a hell of a marriage…this man is a psycho”.
Mofolo said ’Mahlompho told her that at one point Qamo had helped her pack her belongings and that of the children so they could leave but suddenly changed his mind and said she would not leave with the children.
She testified that ’Mahlompho said Qamo started assaulting and choking her, saying she refused to give his mother M20 yet she had M30 000 in her bank account.
Mofolo said ’Mahlompho was later taken to  Maseru hospital which quickly referred her to Bloemfontein where she died a few days later.
She said when a nurse at the Bloemfontein hospital called her to break the news of ’Mahlompho’s death she advised her to go to the police to open a murder case.
She reported the case at the Mabote police station.
She said when she arrived at the couple’s house she found Qamo crying in the bedroom.
Mofolo said Qamo said: “I am very sorry, please promise me that you will be there for me and the kids and that we will plan the funeral together”.
Mofolo said she did not reply but she went out.
Tholoana Lesenya

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