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The school from ‘hell’

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SEMONKONG– MANY of the children walk barefoot in freezing temperatures. The more fortunate ones are wearing rubber boots as they make their way to school, trudging through bushes and rivers for up to 20 kilometres.
To beat the biting cold, they are clad in blankets and woollen hats on top of their school uniform. At the school, they press against each other for warmth.

The classroom, an old round hut constructed from black and red basalt stones bound together by easily friable loam soil, houses all of the school’s classes from grade one up to seven.
Welcome to Molatjeng Primary School in Semonkong, a mountainous rural area that is one of the country’s hardest to reach places. Here, attending classes is a pain for pupils.

The school is close to the famous ’Maletsunyane River, which plunges into the ’Maletsunyane Falls, one of Africa’s highest waterfalls and a magnet for tourists from all around the world.
Lerato*, a Grade Six pupil at the school, describes the situation at the school as “very painful”.
“I often miss school,” she said, however appreciating that she is at least getting the chance to attend school.
The Ha-Molatjeng traditional leader, Chieftainess ’Mantai Tokiso, whose two children are in grades five and six at the school, said she offered the hut to be a classroom after a government-hired contractor failed to finish building classrooms.

“It was terrible to see children attending lessons in the open,” Chieftainess Tokiso said.
“At first they were attending lessons in a corrugated iron shack which was blown away by the wind five years ago. I had to lend them my hut considering the importance of education,” she said.
Chieftainess Tokiso added that “it is very painful but we do not know what to do anymore”.

“Luckily, my children are nearer to the school, just a five-minute walk from home,” she said.
The principal, ’Mamahooana Kolobe, said the lack of classrooms has severely affected her pupils’ progress. Many of the pupils have to repeat classes despite the government’s policy of just passing pupils to the next class.
“We have children walking 15 to 20 kilometres on foot to school,” Kolobe said, adding that lessons start at nine o’clock, an hour later than other schools to cater for pupils walking long distances.
The school knocks off at two o’clock to give pupils time to walk back home.

“We don’t want any of the pupils to miss classes since some of them walk through forests and cross rivers to reach the school,” she said.
“It is wise for them to leave school earlier so that they do not arrive at their homes late,” she said, raising concerns that many of the children arrive at school already tired.

Semonkong is one of the coldest regions in the country. In winter temperatures drop to below freezing point, forcing barefoot children to navigate icy rivers on their way to school in the morning.
“Worse there is no bridge and they walk on foot in that cold water. I fear that if there is no intervention soon, these children will be affected at some point in their lives,” Kolobe said.

She said teaching all classes in the hut donated by the chieftainess is far from ideal, with teachers taking turns to teach the different classes.
The hut is the collective classroom while another room serves as a storeroom for the school’s valuables.
“The children are seriously confused by the teaching arrangement,” said Kolobe.

“Grade one pupils remain in the class even when it is time to teach grade sevens. Out of boredom and unable to make sense of what is being taught they start playing, disturbing others,” she said.
It is the same when the seniors have to endure the boredom of sitting idly while grade one pupils sing letters of the alphabet.
“The situation is unbearable,” said Kolobe.
The school has only two teachers, including the principal, taking care of 53 pupils.

“The pupils easily lose focus,” the principal said, noting the challenges of preparing for classes whose content is vastly different.
“At least there is a link from grade one up to grade three, they can be taught the same things. But grades four, five, six and seven are taught totally different things,” she said.
“It is very difficult to work under these conditions,” she said.
Kolobe said she approached the former Minister of Education, Ntlhoi Motsamai, asking for assistance and she referred her to one ’Mè Thuto who is said to be responsible for building schools.
“I approached her and she always had different answers every time I talked to her,” Kolobe said.

“The most heartbreaking response was beha pelo sekotlong (be patient), there are a lot of people in need of buildings,” Kolobe said.
“I became numb and returned to the minister.”
Kolobe was expecting that the minister would feel a personal responsibility to ensure that classrooms are built at the school.
“I have not gone to the current minister as yet. Rather I went to the Development Planning Minister, Selibe Mochoboroane, who took the initiative to investigate the matter and promised to inform relevant stakeholders,” she said.

The other room that acts as a storeroom is on the brink of collapse and Kolobe fears either snow or the anticipated heavy rains will finish it off.
“I really don’t know where I will put the property. I wonder what’s going to happen as we are in the rainy season,” she said.
She said it would make a huge difference if the government chipped in to roof the uncompleted classrooms that were abandoned by the contractor.
During times of extreme weather conditions, some children are unable to attend school for an entire week due to overflowing rivers.

“Oele!” she exclaimed in despair. “Can a bridge be built as students often miss classes when ’Maletsunyane overflows”.
“It is saddening because the following week when these other children are able to come to school, they have to repeat the lessons conducted the previous week. As they do this, time goes by and they are unable to complete the syllabus,” she said.
Building of the Molatjeng Primary School started in 2010 under a countrywide schools building programme initiated by the administration of then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.

Hopes were high that the children, who had never had any proper buildings for classes, would be able to learn under proper infrastructure like children in other more fortunate parts of the country.
Kolobe said the contractor disappeared without a word even before the walls reached the window level and no one in government has bothered to explain why.
Mochoboroane toured the area recently and learnt of the misery endured by the community, students and their teachers.
He promised the community that he would talk to the Minister of Education to address the situation.

The minister also advised the community to work together and pool resources to complete construction of the school.
“Gather men to help in building the school as the walls are already falling apart,” Mochoboroane told the village chieftainess.
Former ’Maletsunyane MP, Kotiti Diholo, said he did not have any information on why the contractor disappeared without finishing the job although he was the MP at the time.

“I have since asked the Ministry of Education to intervene in this matter and it seemed like it will be addressed but to date nothing has been done,” Diholo said.
Diholo said pupils are stranded and it gets worse when ’Maletsunyane is full.
“It is the only school in the area. Other schools are far away. It’s a disaster and the situation compromises the quality of education,” he said.
The Basic Education Principal Secretary, Dr Lira Khama, said officials saw pictures of the school recently and are looking for ways of helping alleviate the situation.
“We are still looking at how we can intervene,” Dr Khama said.

*Some names have been changed to protect the identity of the students.

’Mapule Motsopa

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RFP douses fires

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MASERU – THE Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) was thrown into a fire-fighting mode this week after disgruntled party members protested over the party’s “undemocratic practices” in picking election candidates.

The members who won primary elections to stand for the party in the October 7 general elections were however blocked by the party’s leadership, torching protests by the grassroots supporters.

The group says it now wants party leader, Sam Matekane, to explain the criteria used to pick election candidates.

In defending the process, the RFP has argued that it picked the candidates on the basis of meritocracy insisting these were the best qualified candidates for the constituencies, an argument the group says lacks transparency.

Shortly after the party’s secretary general, Nthati Moorosi, announced the list of the chosen ones last week, scores of RFP members flocked the party offices demanding answers why their elected candidates were left out.

On Tuesday morning, the RFP went all out to reassure the disgruntled members that they were still valued members of the party. thepost understands that the party held a counselling session with the group.

However, a few hours later the group held a press conference in Maseru where they said even though they still supported the party all they wanted was transparency.

The disgruntled members are ’Mampho Seutloali from Stadium Area, Monohi Ralentsoe from Makhaleng, Chopho Lekhoabane from Khafung, Morakane Monate from Hlotse, Kobeli Rethabile Letlailane from Lithoteng, Thabo Moloi from Machache, Mahali Phamotse from Matlakeng and ‘Mamako Mohale-Lerata from Matelile.

The group said Matekane should explain the criteria the party used to pick candidates. Earlier the party had said the candidates would be selected based on their educational backgrounds, business successes or other social achievements in their communities.

Most of all these people Matekane left out have solid academic credentials and are successful in other sectors of society. Letlailane, reading their joint statement at the press conference, said they are demanding the document drafted by their leader while shortlisting the candidates.

“We believe that these documents are the only ones that can end the outcry that is coming from members who elected us in the constituencies,” Letlailane said.

“Members are worried that the results do not have transparency. This has caused loss of members in some constituencies,” he said, adding that some had already started re-joining parties they had defected from.

He said they wanted Matekane to give them answers so that they could go back and convince members that all is still well in the party. He said the documents would allay the fears of the people in the party.

“We aim to help our party to stop losing members on account of this,” he said.

Letlailana got 28 votes but Matekane picked Siera Letsoela who got only 12 votes. Phamotse received a stunning 96 votes but the party picked a relatively unknown Kenny Ntoane who only got 10 votes.

Letlailane said the RFP should be a beacon of transparency because many people had left their parties to join it because they were not transparent.

“The people are asking the RFP to live by what it preaches.”

He stated that most of the candidates who won primary elections but were not chosen do not want to defect together with the people in the constituencies who have started defecting.

“We aim to work hard to build this party, to get things right so that people do not leave,” he said.

He said their other aim is to prove to the nation and the people that the results were transparent. Dr Phamotse said by asking for the criteria “the angry people will understand and stop defecting”.

“We are helping by asking for accountability as there are some constituencies that have also launched similar complaints,” she said.

She said there are 30 aggrieved candidates who won primaries but were not picked to stand in their constituencies.

“They are not happy and we do not want them to leave,” she said.

Dr Phamotse said what makes matters worse is that members do not have the party constitution and they do not know if they have any legal basis to complain. The people, she said, base their decisions on democracy as they know it.

“We are representing others who are also not happy, especially those who won the primary elections.”

The Stadium Area primary election winner, ’Mampho Seutloali, said the candidates have huge supporters behind them.

“They are expecting to know what will be done as they voted for people and the party chose otherwise,” Seutloali said.

She stated that they had been negotiating with members not to defect.

“We are telling our people that the RFP is still powerful,” she said.

Matelile’s Mohale-Lerata said they signed a document to be members, therefore, they have a right to speak on matters affecting the RFP.

“But the constitution has not yet reached our constituencies,” Mohale-Lerata said.

A day earlier, Qacha’s Nek constituency members stormed the party premises demanding answers over the party’s undemocratic selection of candidates.

The members who had traveled from Qacha’s Nek to seek answers were not allowed to enter the office until around 4pm when a security guard finally let four of them in.

One of their representatives, Kokolia Mosothoane, told thepost that the leader chose ’Maatang Chaka who lost the primary elections.

“We demand to know how our leader picked this nobody, who stays in Maseru and knows nothing about us,” Mosothoane said.

“We will not tolerate this,” he said.

The members left the offices without answers.

On Sunday, the party co-founder Tlohang Sekhamane defended the party’s stance at a rally in Qeme constituency. Sekhamane said change is a beautiful thing as it goes along with developments.

“Change is not delicious on some people’s palates. We must embrace change,” Sekhamane said.

Sekhamane said Matekane has pointed out who should represent which constituency and “people lash at him for that”.

“That is why Lesotho is a poor country because we do not want to do the right things,” he said.

He said Matekane is doing what he knows by changing the ways things have been done in the country in the past.

He stated that Matekane wants to work with people he trusts the most.

“We thank you for allowing him to do so,” he said.

He said members “should change their old ways”.

“Stop believing that a parliament is an employment place where people go to eat with their families.”

He urged the members not to leave when unhappy because their party is doing this for their sake and the sake of the entire country.

“Matekane should be allowed to show and lead the way, he wants new things for your sake.”

Nkheli Liphoto

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Why Thabane case flopped

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MASERU – THE murder case against former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his wife, ‘Maesaiah, collapsed this week because it hinges on the testimonies of four key witnesses the prosecution could not find. thepost can reveal that those witnesses have been playing ‘hide and seek’ with the prosecution for more than two years.

The police and the prosecution have so far failed to track down those witnesses, according to sources close to the case.

The four, who are Basotho based in South Africa, are said to be reluctant to give statements to the prosecution.

“They are not clearly saying that they don’t want to testify but they are always giving excuses,” said a source involved in the investigation.

thepost understands that attempts by the police to meet some of the suspects in South Africa last week failed.

“I am told one of them said he was rushing to Lesotho for an emergency. When the police came back to Lesotho, the witness said he was already back in South Africa.”

The source said two of the witnesses are famo music gang members that have information on the people who carried out the hit on Lipolelo Thabane.

The other two know how the murder was planned. Sources told thepost that for the past three weeks the police and the prosecution have been debating on how to proceed with the case against Thabane and his wife.

“We have some good information from the other 35 witnesses but the evidence from those four is crucial to this case.”

The source said the prosecution and the police have been racing against time to get the witnesses before the Thabanes’ legal team applies for the case to be dismissed due to lack of prosecution.

“They don’t know when those witnesses will be available. It’s not like those witnesses can be simply subpoenaed to give their statements,” the source said.

“The prosecution knew that the defence was now planning to apply for acquittal on the basis that the cases had been delayed for too long and the case against ‘Maesaiah is not proceeding.”

“If the prosecution had charged Thabane it meant he had to enter a plea and the case would have to proceed. But the trouble was that the prosecution is still struggling to get the four key witnesses.”

He said the withdrawal was the prosecution’s only option.

“It’s a strategic retreat rather than surrender. The charges have not been dropped so they can still be reinstated when the witnesses are available.”

There are however fears within the prosecution and the police that those witnesses might no longer be willing to testify and could disappear off the radar.

The police, another source said, are worried that those witnesses might be intimidated or induced to refuse to cooperate with the prosecution.

Two of ‘Maesaiah’s co-accused have died.

Staff Reporter

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Molibeli in new bid to hold on to post

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MASERU – COMMISSIONER of Police Holomo Molibeli says Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro no longer has the power nor mandate to advise the King to retire him. This is contained in a new application he filed in the Constitutional Court on Tuesday.

In the application, Commissioner Molibeli says the Prime Minister cannot advise the King to fire him after parliament was dissolved two weeks ago.

He argues that following the dissolution of parliament, Majoro has become a caretaker Prime Minister without powers to make any major decisions in the interim.

He said section 83 (7) of the Constitution of Lesotho says a Caretaker Prime Minister “is limited to maintaining the status quo existing before the dissolution” of the 10th Parliament.

Commissioner Molibeli pleaded with the court to order that Majoro’s advice to King Letsie III to retire him from the office “during the caretaker period be considered unconstitutional, null and void for being contrary to section 83(7) of the Constitution”.

He added that the court should “interdict and restrain the King from acting on any advice of the Prime Minister or having the effect of advising His Majesty to require” him to retire.

In his founding affidavit, Commissioner Molibeli said that when the 10th Parliament was dissolved on July 13, the government assumed the caretaker role and with effect from July 14, “the Prime Minister became a caretaker Prime Minister presiding over the caretaker government”.

“The Prime Minister during the caretaker period is constitutionally prohibited from, among others, removing or effecting changes to key positions as the heads of securities, the judiciary, other law enforcement agencies such as Lesotho Revenue Authority and Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences,” Commissioner Molibeli said.

“As the Commissioner of Police, I am the head of and superintend the LMPS and its operations in Lesotho,” he said.

He said the 9th Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits significant changes to key positions in the government “was inspired not only by the need to express the constitutional convention to that effect but also to specifically deal with the specific incidents influenced by collation politics since 2012”.

He said these are “matters of common knowledge and which the court is entitled to take judicial notice of”.

He said during the reforms process, the constituent popular sovereignty of the people of Lesotho was expressed in the Plenary II Report.

“There should be no appointments or removals to the heads of securities (LMPS, LDF and NSS) including the Commissioner of Police in the interim,” he said.

He emphasised that as the occupier of the office of the Commissioner since 2017, he is entitled to exercise and perform the functions of that office until otherwise removed by both the constitution and the law authorities.

“I have a right to prevent illegal and unconstitutional means of removing me from that office, and therefore to approach the court for purpose,” he said.

He said his dignity, reputation and self-worth are also derived from the performance of the functions of the office of the Commissioner of Police which he is currently holding.

“I have a right to prevent my unconstitutional and illegal removal from office,” he said.

He said the unconstitutional and illegal removal from office will cause irreparable harm not only to the integrity of the constitution, maintenance of the rule of law but will effectuate constitutional injustice to him and trample upon and render illusory and worthless his non-material rights.

’Malimpho Majoro

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