MOKHOTLONG – WOOL and mohair farmers in Mokhotlong are slowly moving to the tourism industry after the government disrupted their business through policy mishaps in the last five years.
Under the government of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, the farmers were forced to sell their produce to the Thaba-Bosiu Wool Centre that was run by a by a Chinese businessman, Stone Shi.
It was a move that was to soon infuriate farmers countrywide as Shi failed to pay.
Five years after that controversial policy, the Mokhotlong’s wool and mohair district’s committee, which consists of 17 shearing centres, have now joined hands to build the Wool and Mohair Lodge to provide accommodation for tourists.
The lodge, although not yet fully fledged, is operational on a self-catering basis.
It opened its doors in 2019, shortly after the government intensified the crusade to force everyone to sell their wool and mohair to Shi.
The All Basotho Convention (ABC)-led government had created a wool trade monopoly for Shi, who collected a lot of wool and mohair from the farmers countrywide and later failed to pay.
The crusade to force farmers to channel their produce to Shi was led by Tefo Mapesela, who was the then Trade Minister, and Chalane Phori who was the Minister of Small Business Development.
Mapesela was the ABC spokesman while Phori was, and still is, the party’s deputy chairman.
Mapesela, then the Mokhotlong MP, has since defected from the ABC to found his Basotho Patriotic Party (BPP) which lost last Friday’s election dismally.
Farmers say they starved and sank deeper into poverty after the government failed to pay them.
Some farmers could no longer afford to take their children to school while others were left by their shepherds to seek employment in South Africa.
Other farmers are still owed while others were underpaid, they claimed.
“The situation was unbearable,” Aaron Moketa, Chairman of Moremoholo stud, said.
“Some had strokes while others died of heart attacks,” he said.
“We struggled a lot with the problems we had with the government,” he said, adding that “it had always been our forefathers’ plan and wish to have this”.
Moketa said they were extremely happy to have implemented this project, at long last. If things go south, Moketa said they would have “something to fall back on”.
These farmers invested a staggering M2 million to build a 20-roomed lodge comprising bedrooms, dining hall, kitchen and a hall.
Each centre contributed M50 000 annually. It took the farmers a year and four months to build the lodge. Moketa said they are going to use this project to help them navigate their way out of poverty.
At the beginning, only 17 centres were involved and now the figure has risen to 19. Moketa said their journey has not been an easy one.
He said they had toiled to make the project a success. He said the project became a success through strong leadership. One of the recent achievements is that they drilled boreholes at the lodge.
“We want to develop the place in order for it to be sustainable. It is through developments that we could achieve that,” he said.
Moketa said their aspiration is that the incoming government lead them to greener pastures and not meddle in the affairs of wool and mohair farmers.
What happened in the past, Moketa said, “should only remain in history books”.
Their wish is to see the government fishing around for investors to develop farmers and not the brokers because they have learnt the hard way.
Moketa said the Basotho National Party (BNP) through the leadership of the late Chief Leabua Jonathan built the shearing centres and allowed farmers to run them.
And since then all things were operating well for the farmers under successive governments.
For him, all hell broke loose under the coalition government led by the ABC.
Other parties in the coalition were the Basotho National Party (BNP), the Alliance of Democrats (AD) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) which all performed dismally last Friday.
“They handled our wool and mohair with cruelty and we have forgiven them because now we are the same,” Moketa said.
“We are all going to wear the gumboots and head to the fields,” he said.
The Thaba-Ntšo Shearing Centre Chairman, Tieho Maqhama, said the major problem that they faced was to see the previous government violating their rights as farmers.
Maqhama said the ABC-led government robbed them of their livelihood. Worst of all, they were left unpaid after their produce was taken to Shi.
“This led to a major setback for us because we got divided as farmers,” he said.
He said it took time for them to come together and work collaboratively again. Another problem that they faced was that of climate change especially when there was snowfall.
Maqhama said although the snowfall occurs regularly, they never get used to it as it affects them badly as they have to keep their sheep and goats in safer places some days.
The chairman of Senqu Shearing Centre, Pheello Moloi, shared the same sentiments about climate change citing that they would have snowfall in winter only. But now they also have it in summer.
“These days, he said, due to climate change, snowfall could happen in October, something that did not happen in the past,” he added.
Moloi further said in the case of climate change, sometimes there is no rain due to drought and this affects their animals because they have nowhere to graze.
He said the Covid-19 pandemic affected farmers because the prices of medicines and products went up and the borders were also closed. This therefore frustrated their movement.
Through their collaboration as farmers in the district, they have secured a market internationally. Moloi said they are also known by lots of buyers because of this collaboration.
And it is easier to get donors because of their partnership. This association was established in 1972.
Vodacom gives to schools
MASERU – FIVE schools in Malea-Lea area in Mafeteng received a gift of 20 computers from the Vodacom Lesotho Foundation last Friday.
Vodacom Lesotho has also provided the schools with free unlimited internet as part of its corporate social responsibility.
The company also donated a fully furnished computer laboratory worth M1.2 million, including solar energy to the Malea-Lea community in Mafeteng.
The computer lab will serve Malea-Lea Primary, Litšokeleng Primary, Makhetheng Primary and Botšoela Primary Schools as well as Malea-lea Secondary School.
The principal for Malea-Lea Secondary School, ’Masechaba Sekhesa, said computer studies are in their syllabus and this donation will help the teachers and students to access technology which will in turn improve their education and attract more sponsors in their schools.
“These will also encourage the communities to stop taking their children to schools outside Malea-Lea,” Sekhesa said.
“This will increase the number of students in our schools,” she said.
The Principal of Makhetheng Primary School, Thato Phethoka, said lack of computers has not only affected students’ education but also the teachers who had to spend their money to deliver education. He said in 2020, Covid-19 pandemic knocked them down even more.
He said after the lockdown was introduced in schools, education moved to digital platforms.
“In the absence of electricity in the community coupled with high unemployment which hinders parents from buying phones for their children, we had to find a way to deliver education,” Phethoka said.
“Teachers were forced by circumstances to use their own funds to buy data to do the research and download materials through their phones,” he said.
He said for an average class of 26 students, teachers had to spend their money to print the assignments for students which would cost M2 per copy.
Phethoka said even the computer centre present in Malea-Lea is a one hour walk away which discouraged students.
However, he said the presence of this new facility would help teachers and students to access the internet and research to improve education which is a 30 minutes’ walk from their school.
The Director of Malea-Lea Development Trust Fund, Khotso Au, said they only had 20 computers.
Au said in a day they would have more than 25 students and due to the shortage of computers, some would have to share.
He said the other challenge was that the facility had to buy contract data of 400 GB which cost M1 900.
He said although the facility has donors, it was still challenging to take out that huge sum of money since they also have other projects.
He said the schools’ performance has been bad and this discourages donors since they have to submit reports on students they are sponsoring.
He said he believes the presence of these new computers and access to the internet will help the students to access the internet for research and improve the education in the area.
Vodacom Lesotho’s corporate affairs executive head, Tšepo Ntaopane, said they had provided solar energy to help power the computers. They will also provide the schools with free data.
“We are seeking to give away other computers in other schools and communities to ensure that every Mosotho has access to technology,” Ntaopane said.
“We want to build a technology driven economy,” he said, adding that they are “willing to take out what we have to assist Basotho”.
New mobile filling stations on the cards
MASERU – THE Petroleum Fund has introduced mobile filling stations that have a higher life span.
The new filling stations have a life span of more than 50 years compared to traditional filling stations that have a life span of around 15 years, according to the Petroleum Fund’s Public Relations Officer (PRO), Rorisang Mahlo,
Mahlo said the outstanding features of this new investment include a petroleum tank which is stored in fabricated containers, unlike the traditional filling stations where the petroleum tank is underground.
“This exposure to more chemical reactions shortens the life span,” Mahlo said.
Mahlo said the mobile filling stations are also covered with layers which include the ordinary layer and upper layer which is resistant to fire.
“This makes them more advantageous than the traditional ones,” he said.
He said the traditional filling stations come in one size while the mobile filling stations come in various sizes which make them more business viable and flexible.
In his welcoming remarks, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Petroleum Fund, Thato Mohasoa, said the major objective of the institution is to ensure security supply of petroleum products in the country.
He said they are expected to facilitate the improvement of the distribution and accessibility of those products throughout the country.
Mohasoa said the Petroleum Fund realised that there was a need to assess the extent of the supply shortage of petroleum products in the country.
He said one of the projects that were recommended for consideration were the Mobile Filling Stations in underserviced and remote parts of the country.
He said the mobile filling station is intended to create opportunities for investment and jobs for local people while ensuring the security of supply of petroleum products in the country. He said this will in turn stimulate the country’s economy.
The Operations Manager at Petroleum Fund, Lebohang Makhoali, said the petroleum sector’s needs analysis was completed in 2020 to identify gaps within the Petroleum Fund mandate. Amongst others, a mobile filling station project was recommended.
He said the mobile filling station will increase local ownership and assist in building local capacity and training of local entrepreneurs. He said the estimated capital required to establish a mobile filling station in these sites range from M1.2 million to M1.7 million.
He said this entails the facility infrastructure, a fuel management system and a payment system. Makhoali said these filling stations are best investments for highlands and rural parts of Lesotho since they will not compete with the existing traditional filling stations as a set radius will be determined.
“It is a low investment expenditure compared to a traditional filling station,” he said.
The Petroleum Fund Officer ’Makhauta Fosa said once the policies and regulatory frameworks have been formulated, the companies will be issued with business licenses. However, he said an applicant must have business registration documents as issued by the Registrar of Businesses in Lesotho.
She said before the construction can start, applicants must have a building permit and apply for the certificate of occupancy as the construction continues. Fosa said an applicant must have a supply contract with a licensed oil company.
“A filling station is not allowed to have more than one supplier,’’ she said.
An applicant must submit a written application for a trading licence to the Department of Energy.
MMB workers down tools
MASERU – WORKERS at the Maluti Mountain Brewery (MMB) downed tools from Monday this week demanding a 20 percent raise on their salaries.
The MMB’s legal officer, ’Mapulumo Mosisili, however insisted that the strike will not affect the company’s daily operations.
Mosisili said they had “already put in place measures to continue with our job smoothly”.
“We are doing our best to ensure that the strike does not affect us,” Mosisili said.
She said the process started through the Wages Board in August where they tried to explain the company’s financial situation to the workers.
“But it is their right to strike,” Mosisili said. She said the 20 percent increment the workers are demanding is not affordable because “everything has become expensive now, like water and electricity”.
The company had promised a 4.6% salary increment but the workers opposed the proposal
She said no company has given the employees a salary rise above the inflation rate due to a lack of finances.
The MMB workers launched their strike by blocking the company’s gates with trucks and singing protest songs.
One of the songs they were signing while holding their placards says Mona ha rea tlela masaoana, which translates to “We are not here for fun”.
Their placards were written Ha re batle 4.6% e nyane, which translates to “We do not want 4.6% increment because it is too
Another was written Re kopa moputso o phelisang which translates to, “We are asking for enough salaries to earn a living”.
One of the workers, Mohafa Malefane, said the prices of basic commodities have increased which requires that workers get enough salaries for them to cope.
“He (the employer) says he will offer only 4.6 percent, we do not want that, it is not enough,” Malefane said.
Malefane said they ended up striking because their employer has clarified that he will not give them the 20 percent they are demanding.
He added that last year they received a four percent salary increment.
“It was still below the inflation rate as it was seven percent then,” he said.
He said the striking departments include brewing, packaging, logistics, and utilities.
“It’s just that some workers in the distribution department have turned their backs on us, they are busy working now,” he said.
The employees’ representative, Fokothi Thite, told thepost that the lowest-earning employee gets M2 000.
“If they add their 4.6 percent it will make a difference of only M80. We will not allow that,” Thite said.
He stated that at least the 20 percent they propose will raise their salary from M2 000 to M2 400.
“The salaries we are paid here are spent on transport to bring us to work and take us back to our homes, and nothing else,” he
He also said they approached the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Reconciliation (DDPR) and their management to fix the matter “but no one listened”.
“We will stand here and sing until 2023.”
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