‘Chinese squeezing us out of business’
MASERU – A case in which a Chinese businessman allegedly assaulted a fellow countryman last month could open a can of worms regarding the relations between
Basotho and businesspeople from the Asian countries. Huang Liang appeared before the Maseru Magistrate’s Court in December last year charged with assaulting fellow
Chinese businessman Youming Chen. He was remanded out of custody on a M1 000 bail.
Huang allegedly assaulted his fellow Chinese landlord for supporting a business owned by a Mosotho instead of his.
The landlord, Youming Chen, owns a business complex in Roma where Huang and several other Basotho are tenants.
Huang is running a restaurant competing with a Mosotho’s in the same complex.
The case is yet to be heard in the Maseru Magistrate’s Court.
The case, though pitting two Chinese businessmen, has put the spotlight on relations between locals and foreign business owners, particularly of Chinese origin.
Youming, the victim of the alleged victim, owns a business complex in Roma, where Huang and several Basotho are tenants.
Youming claimed to thepost that Huang assaulted him for helping Basotho businesspeople compete against a fellow Chinese.
According to Youming, Huang called him one Saturday night to come to the complex.
“He told me that my building did not have electricity and therefore I should come and check,” Youming said.
He said when he arrived at the building around 1am, Huang lured him into the shop.
“When we entered the shop, he pushed me and locked the door.”
He said Huang asked him why he was supporting Basotho businesses instead of his fellow Chinese.
“He started beating me and said I had nowhere to run to.”
Youming said Huang beat him severely and kicked his private parts. The case comes amid growing tensions between Basotho business people and their Chinese competitors.
Locals allege unfair competition is pushing them out of business.
Teboho Modona, who runs a nightclub in Roma, less than a kilometre from the National University of Lesotho (NUL), says he started operating in the area in October last year.
He runs the nightclub at a building belonging to a Chinese businessman. When he first arrived at the place, he said he found another Chinese man running a restaurant.
“And that rival Chinese man slashed his drinks prices as a way to attract clients to him. I did not decrease mine, instead I looked around on how I could stay afloat,” Modona said.
“My rival used to drink in my bar so I was surprised to hear that my competitor had fought the landlord asking him to kick me out of his business,” said Modona.
Their case is still pending in court. Poloko Rantho, 55, from Mathebe Mafeteng said he has been operating a small shop for the past ten years and his business was generating enough profits to keep the wolves off the door.
But today things have changed. Rantho said his business is in financial distress because of “unfair and stiff competition” from Chinese competitors.
“He sells at ridiculously low prices. This makes the customers run away from me,” lamented Rantho, adding that his stock sometimes takes months on the shelves without being bought.
“I make a huge loss on perishable goods such as fruits and vegetables. I hardly sell anything,” he said.
Rantho said people only buy from his shop when his competitor has not yet opened since he starts trading at 10am.
Rantho said Basotho would waylay the Chinese man from Mafeteng where he stays and start buying goods before he even reaches the shop.
“He sells goods from his car on the way to the shop. Customers in the villages through which he passes line up for the Chinese man,” Rantho said.
Even vendors say they are not spared. Matšeliso Lefane, 34, who sells fruits as a street vendor in Mafeteng, said they are suffering because of unfair competition from the Chinese.
The mother of two said she buys the fruits from Chinese shops, but unfortunately the same shops also sell to individuals who are supposed to be customers of vendors.
“We were hoping the Chinese would only sell in bulk. When we sell an apple for M3, the Chinese sell it at M2,” Lefane said.
Another street vendor, Vuyisile Masia, 27, who is the deputy secretary-general of Micro-Small Enterprise Association in Mafeteng, also cried foul.
“Unfair competition is killing us,” said Masia, who sells clothes, cosmetics and other small items at his small shack in Mafeteng town.
Masia says they embarked on a strike in October last year asking the relevant authorities in the district to intervene.
“We are waiting to hear the progress from the District Administrator,” he said.
“We complain about the unfair competition because we buy from the very same Chinese who are pushing us out of business. It is their legitimate expectation that the
Chinese would give them a chance to sell their products without any competition because they buy from them.
“We have been told that there is no law that protects us as street vendors against the Chinese. We have been told that the Bill is still in Parliament,” he complained.
Chinese started off by operating in towns then slowly moved to remote areas, conquering the market with cheap prices, drastic cost-cutting measures and bulk-buying through deep-pocketed syndicates.
Now the Chinese retailers are all over the country, selling anything from bread to alcohol.
Across the country there are sad stories of business people who shut their shops as soon as Chinese retailers landed in their area.
Chief Thato ’Mako Mohale of Tajane said they are not against a law that protects local businesspeople.
He said the Bill should state and show the penalties to be imposed on businesses that breach the law.
“So the legal department of the ministry has to deal with that irregularity,” said the Chief.
Last year, there was a tense standoff between Mafeteng street vendors and foreign investors running big shops like supermarkets.
The spokesperson of the street vendors in the district, Vuyisile Masiea, told this publication that they are getting tough and unfair competition because the Chinese sell
“small items that are supposed to be sold by us”.
“They squeeze us out of business. The sad reality is that the Chinese are found even in the hard to reach areas of the country,” he said.
The founder and leader of Micro-Small Enterprise Association, Thobi Motlere, said the government should protect local businesspeople.
“We have already written two letters to the new minister to intervene. We will not rest. We are taking our battle further,” Motlere said.
Trade Minister Mokhethi Shelile said there are laws in place that have to be implemented to protect locals.
“What we have to do is to enforce the laws,” Shelile said.
The beauty queen of Lesotho
MASERU – WHILE many children her age were still adapting to the early years of school after kindergarten, Reatile Molefe was already plotting her life goals. Barely 10-years-old, Molefe already knew exactly what she wanted to do in life.
“I was already geared towards being a model at that early age. I was already portraying fancy and modest moves linked to modelling,” said the beauty queen, now aged 22.
It didn’t take time for her mother to identify the potential and found a need to sharpen it further.
“My journey in beauty pageantry started at the age of eight in 2009. The reason my mom thought I should hop into pageantry was because I was active and smart. I also had role models from the industry by then. I mean, I had an ambition of every little girl’s dream of being a star or being dressed in cute ball gowns so I also had a strong desire to be like that,” she said.
“I started my cat walking lessons at Little Miss Lesotho Companies but didn’t win. Not winning gave me motivation to work more towards my craft, it pushed me into wanting more as I couldn’t settle for less,” she said.
Molefe now boasts of 14 tittles to her name. She has donned the beauty pageant crowns in all stages of her life.
“I was crowned Queen in my two previous schools. I was Miss New Millennium High School in 2012 and Miss Lesotho High School in 2017. The 14th title I scooped made me believe in myself even more as I got to gain experience competing with people from different countries,” said Molefe, who has also made a bold statement by competing at the international level.
Molefe attributes her prowess to her high levels of confidence.
“Pageants create a bonding experience where women lift each other up, but what gives me an upper hand is being comfortable, secure with myself and being me throughout,” said Molefe, adding that her favourite category during pageantry competitions is when models are asked to strut the ramp in evening wear.
“That’s when the audience and the judges get to see the creativity, the poise and eloquence of the queens,” said Molefe, who believes that the audience’s response can destroy or build a contestant’s confidence.
“The audience can play either of the two roles during a contest. They may make a positive impact on females taking part because they teach them how to be resilient thus prepare them for real world situations. On the other hand, the audience may also make a negative impact and lead to a whole host of mental issues among participants who may be worried about their image and appearance. This can lead to harmful side-effects,” stated Molefe.
Like other women in the modelling industry, Molefe has come across some challenges.
“An example is trying to get enough support from the general public on my first international contest,” she said.
Another was the cost of competing in beauty pageants as well as evolving body changes, she said.
“Being a beauty queen is not a walk in the park, especially when being judged by the community. And, yes, pageants do help women grow in confidence but without proper mental health support, they can also create insecurities. But through all the struggles, I am thankful to my family and friends. They are my biggest supporters. I may have gone through it all but their unbending support has kept me going,” she said.
Molefe says she considers being crowned second runner up in the Miss Culture International competition held in Johannesburg in 2021 as her most outstanding achievement. She was also crowned Miss Culture Lesotho in 2018.
“What was intriguing to me about this contest was the fact that I was the youngest among the contestants. It proved to be a learning experience for me and it deepened my knowledge about what the modelling world really entails.
“I never doubted myself but I thought I wouldn’t make it as I was the youngest. I got to compete with people of different races, which got me even more motivated. I learned a lot in participating in a multi-racial event,” she said.
Pageantry isn’t just about looks, according to Molefe.
“There is to more to it, like being able to embrace glamour. Beauty is subjective and it can be interpreted in different ways according to the perception of individual viewers. I consider being beautiful as an inside and out perception but the golden rule is to brim with confidence to make it in pageantry,” said Molefe, urging parents to enroll their children in pageantry schools at an early age “even as early as three-years-old”.
“This gives them ample time to develop because the young ones are able to easily learn from others to improve their skills and boost their self-confidence,” said Molefe, who dreams of a day when a beauty queen is considered a legendary woman in Lesotho.
One of her goals is to assist in educating the youth, especially young women, about menstrual health and other sexual and reproductive health issues.
Her target group is mainly girls that live in rural areas and small towns.
“Pageants promote goal setting, encourage us to value personal achievement and community involvement,” she said.
The stock-theft menace
MASERU – IF you recently enjoyed a nice beef stew at a restaurant in Lesotho there is a high possibility that the slaughtered cow might have been stolen from a farm in South Africa.
If you are in South Africa, it is equally possible that the cow was stolen from a cattle post in Mokhotlong or any other mountainous region of Lesotho.
That is because cross-border stock-theft is on the increase between the two countries. In fact, it has become a thorn in the flesh for farmers on both sides of the border.
Since 1990, 85 percent of livestock owners on the border villages of Lesotho have lost animals to thieves as compared with 49 percentage from non-border villages, according to a study published by Wilfrid Laurier University.
Earlier this month, this problem came into sharp focus when four Basotho men were picked up by the police in Thaba-Nchu in the Free State.
These men, aged between 24-51 years old, were travelling in a car bearing Lesotho number plates. They were transporting cattle that did not have documents.
The SAPS informed their counterparts in Lesotho who rushed to the place to repatriate the suspects.
Maseru Urban Commanding Officer Senior Superintendent Rantoane Motsoela said their investigations uncovered that the cattle crossed into South Africa at Ha Tsolo through the Mohokare River.
Then they were transported from the border into South Africa.
S/Supt Motsoela said they have found that the cattle already had tattoo marks from one farmer in Ficksburg.
But the suspects had no documents to prove that the animals belonged to them.
Both the cattle and the car are still in the hands of the SAPS while investigations are continuing.
S/Supt Motsoela said the suspects are assisting the police with investigations.
In another incident police recovered five cattle of a Mosotho man in Qwa-Qwa, still in the Free State Province.
These cattle were reported stolen in Tšehlanyane in Leribe at the beginning of this month.
Police under their sting operation “Zero Tolerance to Stock Theft” launched their investigations that led to the discovery of the cattle.
The Leribe District police commanding officer Senior Superintendent Samuel Thamae said they were able to recover the animals with the help of the community who tipped them off.
S/Supt Thamae said they stormed Qwa-Qwa with their counterparts in South Africa to identify the stolen animals.
After convincing the SAPS that the cattle belonged to the concerned farmer, they were released to him.
The Mokhotlong District Administrator (DA) Serame Linake says they have been battling cross border stock theft for years.
He says Basotho in Lesotho would go to South Africa to steal the animals that they sell back to South Africa in Vanderbijlparkl after getting fraudulent documents.
Linake says these animals, cattle and sheep, are sold at an auction in Vanderbijlpark.
He says the South Africans on the other hand sometimes also cross the border into Lesotho to steal the animals.
To fight this theft, they have formed good relations with the SAPS, chiefs and councillors.
Linake says when animals are stolen from South Africa into Lesotho, their counterparts simply inform them on this side so that they could waylay them.
“Stolen animals are strictly sold in Vanderbijlpark in South Africa,” he says.
He says in his district animals are not sold in the butcheries like is the case in Maseru and other lowlands districts.
Linake says they are now struggling to control theft that takes place between the northern district and Qwa-Qwa because the perpetrators are Basotho who have now migrated to South Africa.
He says these perpetrators have lived in Lesotho and know all the corridors that they could use to come and steal animals in Lesotho and go back to South Africa.
Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli says stock-theft is a grave problem in the country.
He says they have formed a special team that is going to reinforce the team that is already dealing with stock-theft in the country.
When there is an alarm that some animals have been stolen, this new team is informed so that it can lend a helping hand.
S/Supt Mopeli says the theft happens within the country’s borders and between Lesotho and South Africa.
S/Supt Mopeli says they are managing to deal with the theft because they arrest the perpetrators and bring them before the courts of law.
He says the public should alert the police when they see animals being stolen so that they can be saved from the hands of thieves.
Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola says they have registered big successes in curbing cross-border theft especially after having a post in Mokota-Koti in Maputsoe.
He says they usually hold frequent patrols at the borders to fight this crime.
“We also hold frequent crossings with the South African army to share information regarding cross-border theft,” Lt Col Lekola says.
Lt Col Lekola says they sometimes use air patrols as another way to fight stock-theft.
He says they usually erect camps along the borders so that they can stop animals coming out of Lesotho or vice-versa.
“Last year we had a successful collaboration with South African soldiers where we patrolled the borders from Leribe to Mafeteng. The South African army was on their side and we were also on our side,” he says.
He says they were working together with the police and they reaped good results.
Lt Col Lekola says some herd boys report the theft of livestock long after first trying to track the animals themselves.
He says this gives the cattle rustlers a chance to hide.
He advised the farmers not to erect cattle posts near the borders because they are stolen easily.
“When the South Africans enter Lesotho borders to trace their stolen animals, they make the first encounter with the animals at the cattle posts and drive them away,” Lt Col Lekola says.
He appealled to farmers to work collaboratively with their herders to pay them their dues.
He says some farmers do not pay their herders and those herders usually bounce back to steal the animals in revenge.
“They enter the cattle posts easily because the dogs know them,” Lt Col Lekola says.
Because Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa, stock-theft takes place easily between the two countries especially in the provinces of Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.
The porous borders make it easy for the movement of animals to take place between the two countries.
And the theft between these countries has been happening since time immemorial.
The cross-border menace continues to take place despite patrols that are organised by the security agencies from both countries.
A Transnational History of Stock Theft on the Lesotho–South Africa Border, Nineteenth Century to 1994 Journal states that stock theft has long been a problem along the Lesotho–South Africa border.
It says from Moshoeshoe I’s cattle-raiding in the nineteenth century through to the start of the democratic era in Lesotho (1993) and South Africa (1994), the idea that stock theft is both prevalent and an international problem has been generally accepted by all.
According to Farmer’s Weekly livestock theft has a much more detrimental effect on the economy than previously thought, and is becoming more violent.
It says organised livestock theft feeds into other more serious types of transnational organised crimes such as drug, weapons and human trafficking.
And ultimately this results in the creation of illicit financial flows.
Challenges to safety included no fencing along large stretches, and the lack of a suitable roads to enable South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops to conduct border patrols effectively, Farmer’s Weekly says.
In a piece published in November on the International Security Studies (ISS) website, ISS Today, stock theft was on the rise in South Africa, with 29 672 cases recorded by the South African Police Service (SAPS) for the 2018/2019 financial year.
This represented an increase of 2.9 percent over the previous year.
The ISS said the problem is exacerbated by porous and poorly secured borders, lack of capacity to monitor the border, and mountainous terrain that is difficult to police.
“Such challenges create opportunities and trafficking routes for criminal networks to smuggle livestock, drugs and, at times, firearms across the border.”
The ISS said the transnational livestock theft affects farmers revenue and adds to consumer costs.
It says thousands of animals are stolen and sold through the black market.
And this hurts the economy and goes even further to impact consumers, as these animals could have provided meat.
Matekane to launch microchip project
MAPUTSOE – PRIME Minister Sam Matekane will this Sunday launch a new microchip project designed to combat the rampant stock-theft in Lesotho.
The launch will be held in Peka in Leribe.
Speaking at a rally for his Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) in Maputsoe last weekend, Matekane said the government is weary of the rampant stock-theft that impoverished rural farmers in Lesotho for decades.
“When your livestock leaves your kraals your phones will alert you and your families,” Matekane said amid loud cheers.
He asked the people to go to Peka in great numbers to witness the launch and learn from the livestock microchipping experts how the project will work to combat stock-theft in the villages.
The project was first spearheaded by Thomas Thabane when he was the Home Affairs Minister in 2003.
That year, 120 rams were implanted with the microchip identification system in Masianokeng.
The rams belonged to a company called Mahloenyeng Trading Company (Pty) Ltd.
The then police boss, Jonas Malewa, had microchipped 64 horses at the Police Training College (PTC) a year earlier in a pilot project.
The Home Affairs Ministry had contracted a company called Primate Identity Technology ran by a Jewish man, Yehuda Danziger, to carry out the pilot project.
Danziger was also tasked with observing any side-effects the animals could have after the implantation of the microchip.
The government introduced the microchip implantation technology after realising that stock thieves would easily erase the branding and tattoo marks with red hot metal and acid.
The stock thieves also cut off stolen animals’ ears if they bore the owner’s identification marks.
Microchips are tiny electronic devices, about the size of a grain of rice, which could be stored in a capsule and implanted near the animal’s tail to make it easy to identify and trace lost or stolen animals.
The project however never picked up with successive government not showing any political will to carry it through.
Things are now set to change with Matekane launching the project this Sunday.
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