‘We’ll not dump BKB’

‘We’ll not dump BKB’

MASERU- A BRUISING battle over who has the legal powers to auction and export wool and mohair has sown distrust between farmers and the government.
The situation has become so tense that last week, Trade Minister Tefo Mapesela and the chairman of Thabang Shearing Shed in Mokhotlong, Khotsang Moshoeshoe, almost fought physically. This was after the minister wanted to shut the shed and expel farmers who had come to shear their sheep.

Also last week, angry farmers marched in protest and petitioned Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to intervene and resolve their dispute with the government.
thepost this week spoke to the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA)’s chairman, Mokoenehi Thinyane, who led the protest march, about the impact of the fight with the government on the farmers and their dependents.

Below are some excerpts from the interview.

What is at the heart of your fight with the government?

We are not fighting against the government. The government you are talking about was elected by these very farmers and they are in no way fighting against it. We simply want the government to reverse the Wool and Mohair Regulations of 2018 so that we are given a chance to have our views included in it.

We have a strong feeling that the regulations will not benefit us but some individuals who decided to publish the regulations without our input. They include ministers who have business interests in the wool and mohair auctioneering and exporting and they want to create a monopoly that will benefit them alone.
It is no secret that some ministers have a vested interest in this sector, after they registered a company that will likely benefit because of the (new) laws.

What is the problem with the regulations?

The regulations seek to force every wool and mohair farmer in the country to sell through a Chinese-owned company identified by the ministers. They want us to dump a broker with whom we have built a working relationship for 40 years – BKB.
We tried telling the government that we, as farmers, have business interests in BKB but we are not being listened to. The government does not want to understand that we will not just leave BKB like that.
If we plan to leave BKB, it will be a process that will take some time because of our relationship with BKB. It seems to us that these regulations’ target is to dismantle our relationship with BKB.

Tell us about your relationship with BKB.

As you may know, for the past 40 years BKB has been collecting our wool and mohair and selling it at an international auction in Port Elizabeth. Everybody is winning in that arrangement because we sell directly to big international buyers.

After BKB deducts its broker fees, we get our cheques. We have never complained about this arrangement. It was an arrangement introduced by Chief Leabua Jonathan when he was Lesotho’s Prime Minister after realising that Basotho were not reaping any benefits or were getting too little when they sold wool and mohair to local retail shops as it was the practice in those years.
In his wisdom, Prime Minister Leabua created this relationship between Basotho farmers and BKB. As time went by and South Africa got its independence, the newly elected democratic government in South Africa directed big companies like BKB to adopt affirmative action, which saw these companies creating economic growth for small companies owned by black people.

BKB then extended its hand to Basotho living in Lesotho because it is where it is trading as a broker. We were given a chance to own shares in BKB so that we get dividends when the company makes profits. For years now we have been receiving dividends. In 2016/2017 financial year we were paid M1.2 million in profit share.
Also, our associations have got loans from BKB for various developmental projects. For example, when we built Mojalefa Lephole Memorial Hall in Maseru we borrowed M4.5 million from BKB, which we have now finished paying. Other farmers brought M4 million from BKB to build a bed and breakfast while others in Qacha’s Nek borrowed some money to fence off their site. Others borrowed money to buy rams.

I want to tell you that at this time when the government wants us to abruptly end our relationship with BKB some of the farmers or associations have not paid back the loans in full. BKB knows that it will deduct the monies from the associations until the loans, which are interest-free because we are borrowing against our shares in the company, are paid back in full.
It is in our dealings with BKB that our wool is insured. For example, a truck was highjacked in South Africa and it had hundreds of bales of our wool. The insurance company paid the farmers for the lost wool. Should we agree to dump BKB and enter into an uninsured marriage with another company?

I think farmers will be forgetting too quickly if they dump BKB. It is not a long time ago when a shearing stud caught fire and wool and mohair was destroyed. All farmers whose wool and mohair were in that shed were paid in full for their loss. How can we dump BKB just like that?
The government has denied itself a chance to hear these reasons in a hurry to give a Chinese-owned company all rights to trade on our behalf.

But you are the ones who brought the Chinese here, even before this government came into power.

You are right. But we had specific agreements on how we will conduct our business and things were going smoothly until we reached a point where we had some disagreements that became so deep that our matters ended up in the hands of the courts. That issue is now in the hands of the courts. I don’t understand the government’s interest in this?

The government says the arrangement with BKB is not in the best interests of Basotho farmers but what it is doing now will benefit them

It is not how we understand it. If that is how they understand it, let them come to us and give us all those reasons. Maybe we will agree with them. This will give us an equal opportunity to tell them why we are still clinging to the BKB and maybe they will agree with us. Why can’t they allow us to sit with them and discuss all these things instead of making decisions for us?

Do you think Lesotho is capable of holding auctions on its own, as the government is suggesting?

Yes we can hold our own auctions successfully. However, at the present moment we are still unable to do so. We have to approach things carefully so that we win the confidence of buyers. The government must not rush things.
I thought they have educated people who know the importance of planning and studying before taking any decisions. You cannot make a decision without first studying carefully what you want to achieve. What the government is doing shows that it has not taken time to study this industry well.
Also democracy dictates that you include people you want to benefit, you don’t just shower them with what you think is good for them.

How many families are being affected by the government’s decisions?

I cannot be exact but in light of the fact that there are 37 865 wool and mohair farmers who are members of our association, we can conclude that they are too many. For example, if one farmer has two shepherds, you multiply that number by three – the farmer’s family and two families of his shepherds. Also think about 113 000 men and women who are directly hired by the association working in 148 shearing studs countrywide. One percent of them is government employees. Surely many families, especially in the rural areas, are relying on wool and mohair for their livelihood.

Staff Reporter

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