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A versatile material that beats the best



ROMA – With this material, developed at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) by one Setlhare Jane, you can replace ceramics with ceramic-like spectacles, plastics with plastic-like wonders and organic paints with paint-like marvels.
“When I realised that I could actually replace liquid plastics with this simple and low cost material, I and my supervisor knew something huge was unfolding,” Setlhare Jane, a Research Assistant at the NUL says.

But a further surprise was in store. The material is so versatile.
“In some applications, it behaves like clay used in pottery, in some, it behaves like organic paint, thus it can also replace both,” he said.
But what is this material?

“It is a material made from a variety of silicate based compounds which we modify with selected polymers,” Jane says.
“I discovered this material, almost accidentally, after a lot of frustration working with liquid plastics that have proved to be very expensive and a bit complicated.”

Silicates are products of an element called silicon, often surrounded by a number of oxygen atoms. They come in numerous forms and form part of most common material on the earth’s crust.
By their nature, silicate-based materials can be strong but brittle at the same time.

“By modifying them with the right kind of polymers, we were able to induce an enviable quality of toughness.”
In toughness, you combine strength and ductility. Let us explain.
If you take a ceramic tile and try to break it with your hands, it doesn’t break at all. In fact, if you try harder, you might actually twist your own hands. That is because it is strong. But something amazing happens when you drop the ceramic.

Oops! It breaks quite easily!
That is because it is not tough! You see, in the field of engineering, strong and tough ain’t no equal.
“Let’s pick another extreme example but on the opposite end,” Jane says.
This time we pick a shopping plastic bag. You throw it down and it doesn’t break.
But, next, something spectacular happens. You pull it aside and it comes apart so easily. It is soft and ductile.
But, it is not tough! Ductility and toughness ain’t no equal either.

Now, “consider the middle ground and pick a metal; iron for instance,” he says.
Try to pull it with your hands and it resists. Try to throw it down and it doesn’t break.
This is what we call toughness, metals are tough and toughness is ductility and strength in one package.
“Toughness is where our product kills it,” a beaming Jane said.

“Made from both silicates and polymers, our product combines the strength of silicates with the ductility of polymers to create the toughness of bones—not exactly bones, but, of course, something in that neighborhood.”

In fact, tests made at the NUL show that polymers increase the toughness of silicates by a staggering 60 percent.
The result is a material that is more or less like a bone. Of course your bone is extremely ingenious material; humans have had a hard time mimicking it. It is neither just a ceramic, nor is it just a plastic nor just a metal—it is neither of those because it is all of them!
So how can you use this material?

“When used in combination with waste paper, we are using it to make vases, that will make you laugh at the cost of ceramic vases,” Jane says.
“It has technical properties that are enough in most vase applications, but you can now make your vase with a tenth of the cost of making similar ceramic vases.”

And then comes liquid plastics.
Many are not aware but a huge number of products we use daily are made from liquid plastics which, once they set, can never soften.
But their problem according to Jane is, “they are expensive and normally produce unwelcome fumes.”
The NUL scientists have shown that the material can safely replace these plastics in a number of applications, especially room temperature molded plastic products.

But the real strength of this material is in its versatility. For instance, it excels as paint.
“We have tested its potential as paint for more than one and half years and the way it bonds to surfaces, not to say a thing about its no-shiny textured surface have caught us by surprise,” Jane says.

Those who have seen this material believe Mr Jane is just scratching the surface on its applications. Its simplicity and low cost gives it a decisive advantage over its competitors.
“You can make anything out of this material,” one analyst says.

Own Correspondent

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LEC to switch off households over debts



MASERU – The Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) will from Tuesday next week begin switching off clients who owe it money.

The LEC issued a seven-day ultimatum to all customers who owe it on Tuesday last week. The deadline ends on Monday.

It is expected that the LEC will begin switching off households that have defaulted.

The state-owned power company, however, is not going to touch any government department or business entities that owe it on grounds that they are in payment negotiations.

The LEC move comes barely two weeks after it cut electricity supplies to the Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) thus causing it to fail to pump water to communities countrywide for more than two days.

The LEC says it is owed close to M200 million by government departments, businesses and individuals.

The LEC spokesman, Tšepang Ledia, told thepost that the government and the businesses will not have their electricity cut because they are in negotiations.

“We are in negotiations with the government and businesses and hopefully they will pay,” Ledia said.

“We advise the ordinary people to pay their debts before the 20th of March 2023 or else we cut the services,” he said.

The LEC says it is running short of funds for its daily operations.

In December last year the company increased power tariffs by 7.9 percent on both energy and maximum demand charges across all customer categories for the Financial Year 2022/23.

Last week the LEC boss, Mohato Seleke, said postpaid consumers and sundry debtors owe the company M169.4 million.

He said unless the debtors pay he will be unable to buy electricity from ’Muela Hydropower Project, Eskom in South Africa and Mozambique’s EDM.

This, he said, could cause serious load shedding in the country and could be devastating for businesses.

Seleke said the LEC spends M630 million monthly to buy electricity.

“If postpaid consumers do not settle their debts this could prevent the LEC from being able to buy electricity which can lead the country to encounter load-shedding,” Seleke said.

Seleke said collecting debt from government department ministries was a challenge as there is an understanding that since LEC is a state-owned company, it will continue supplying government agencies with electricity and they will settle their bills when they have funds to do so.

Seleke said the LEC has lost M21 million to vandalism during this financial year.

Relebohile Tšepe

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Bumper payout for former mineworkers



MASERU – AT least 11 316 current as well as former mine workers are set for a bumper payout after Tshiamiso Trust began disbursing the first billion Maloti to workers who are suffering from silicosis and tuberculosis.

The payment comes two years after Tshiamiso Trust began processing claims for the historical M5 billion settlement agreement between mineworkers and six gold mines in South Africa.

Speaking at the payment announcement in Maseru last week, the Trust’s CEO, Lusanda Jiya, said it has been two years since they officially began accepting claims.

“Our people come to work every day with the mission of impacting lives for the better, and the first billion rand paid out to over 11 000 families is just the beginning,” Jiya said.

“We know that there is no compensation that will ever be enough to undo the suffering endured by mine workers and their families,” he said.

“However, we are committed to deliver our mandate and ensure that every family that is eligible for compensation receives it.”

Jiya said the Trust is limited both in terms of the time in which they can operate, and the extent to which they can assist those seeking compensation.

Broadly speaking, the eligibility criteria include among others that the mineworker must have worked at one of the qualifying gold mines between March 12, 1965 and December 10, 2019.

Secondly, living mineworkers must have permanent lung damage from silicosis or TB and deceased mine workers representatives must have evidence that proves that they (the deceased) died from TB or Silicosis.

Tshiamiso Trust has a lifespan of 12 years, ending in February 2031.

Over 111 000 claims have been received to date, through offices in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, eSwatini, and Mozambique.

The Trust is working with stakeholders in these countries and others to mobilise its efforts and expand operations.

The history of silicosis in South Africa goes back to the late 1880’s when the first gold mines began operations.

The gold was stored and locked in quartz, a special rock that contains large amounts of silica.

Crystallised silica particles can cause serious respiratory damage if inhaled.

In the earlier days of gold mining, dust control, health and safety standards and the use of PPE (personal protective equipment) were not as advanced as they are today.

Tshiamiso Trust was established in 2020 to give effect to the settlement agreement reached between six mining companies.

The companies are African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American South Africa, AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold, Sibanye Stillwater and Gold Fields.

The settlement agreement was reached and made after a ruling by the Johannesburg High Court as a result of a historic class action by former and current mineworkers against the six gold mines.

Justice for Miners is a coalition of interested parties in the mining sector launched at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg in 2020.

The Johannesburg High Court approved the setting up of the Tshiamiso Trust to facilitate payment by the companies to affected miners.

Keith Chapatarongo

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Farmers cry over cost of livestock feed



MASERU – Lehlohonolo Mokhethi is a farmer who has been running a successful poultry business, thanks to a small loan he got from a local bank.

He now has 300 chickens.

He says his vision is to rear 5 000 chickens by 2025 and employ 30 youths. But he is now grappling with a new challenge: the ever increasing cost of chicken feed.

That is threatening the viability of his business.

“The biggest challenge is that food prices increase every day, feeding is expensive,” Mokhethi said.

“It is quite difficult to make profit in business if each and every day food prices increase. Today I am buying a bag of food with a certain amount then the next day the price has increased,” he says.

“Our customers fail dismally to understand that food has increased and the Chinese are taking our market because they sell at a low price thus I run at a loss.”

Last week, a top attorney in Maseru who is also a prominent farmer, Tiisetso Sello-Mafatle, called a meeting for farmers to discuss these challenges.

She says the government must regulate the prices of livestock feed.

That is critical if the farming business is to succeed, she says.

Attorney Sello-Mafatle says farmers must come up with a structure for livestock feed prices which they would present to the government for gazetting.

“We should state our regulations and give them to the government to make everything easy for both parties because we cannot wait for the government to make regulations for us,” Sello-Mafatle says.

She adds that “farmers should be bullish about what they want and never have fear endorsing new things”.

“I will not be challenged or cry (because of) what life throws at me but I will cry when things are not happening the right way,” she says.

Mafatle says farmers need to know who they are and know the capabilities they have.

“This will help a farmer in becoming the best in any field they are in once they are confident about themselves,” she says.

Karabo Lijo, another participant, said they have to influence the cost of inputs in agriculture, especially livestock feed.

“We have to go back to cost-price analysis where as farmers we are able to derive the selling price and the break-even point in our production,” Lijo said.

“We can also derive the stable or constant mark-ups on our products,” he said.

“We need to do research to increase the ability to produce byproducts which are likely to have the longest shelve life,” he said.

The meeting urged farmers to diversify their products by introducing such things as mushroom farming. They said mushrooms can grow very well in Lesotho due to its favourable climate.

The farmers also demanded that there should be regulations on how land can be sold or borrowed in Lesotho.

Tholoana Lesenya and Alice Samuel

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