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A national emergency



ELSEWHERE in this issue we carry a heart-breaking story of scores of students who have been forced to pull out of school after their parents failed to pay fees for them in the last year.

While we may not have the full statistics on the number of children who have been affected, the story appears to confirm our fears — that this is a national crisis of immense magnitude with huge implications for the future of Lesotho.

In running the story, we are merely sounding the alarm bell to the government, international partners and civil society that something urgent must be done to rescue the situation.

With thousands of students pulling out of schools, we run the risk of creating a new generation of Basotho men and women who have not been prepared for the rigours of life in a modern economy.

That is scary.

At the centre of this new crisis has been the unavoidable effects that the Covid-19 pandemic has spawned on Basotho families that were already struggling to feed themselves.

Thousands of Basotho were thrown onto the jobless heap, exacerbating what was an already precarious financial position for most families with the result that some were left with no choice but to pull their children out of school.

It is also becoming increasingly clear that our social safety programmes are woefully inadequate to cushion the poorest of the poor amongst us. And when it goes down to a choice between a meal and paying school fees, most families will opt for the former.

That is where the problem lies.

While previous governments did extremely well in making primary school education accessible to every Mosotho child, some children could not proceed to secondary schools due to lack of money.

Maybe it is now time that the new government led by Prime Minister Sam Matekane looks at creative ways to make secondary education not only free but compulsory for all Basotho children.

This is an investment the government of Lesotho must make now.

It would appear the free primary school education was a brilliant policy that was not extended to secondary schools. Perhaps now is the time the government seriously considers taking this a notch up.

Matekane has a chance to shine if he extends the free primary education to secondary schools. Hardly a month into office, he is now facing a social crisis of huge magnitude.

Without a well-educated workforce, Lesotho will not be able to achieve its developmental objectives. That is why it is critical that we get as many Basotho through the school system as possible.

It is a given fact that no country has ever developed without first educating its own people. There are numerous examples that we can cite to back up this argument. Lesotho will be no exception.

It is therefore imperative that Lesotho goes the extra mile to educate her own people and get every Mosotho child on the deck as it were.

It is also sad that some of the students have quit school in order to fulfil societal expectations regarding initiation practices. We find this extremely odd and offensive.

While initiation remains a deeply entrenched cultural practice among Basotho, it should not be an impediment to children’s access to basic education.

What must be emphasised is that the two can in fact co-exist and it is possible for students to attend initiation school without disrupting and sacrificing their own education.

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Depoliticize civil service



OVER the last few weeks, we have watched with keen interest as the new government led by Prime Minister Sam Matekane began purging Principal Secretaries (PSs) who were appointed by the previous administration.

Matekane has since appointed new PSs in their place.

Predictably, that has triggered howls of disapproval from opposition parties who accuse Matekane of ousting “their” people from the civil service.

However, it would appear Matekane has not violated any law. He has merely exercised the power vested in him under the Constitution of Lesotho.

As the appointing authority, he can also fire individuals he thinks are not suitable to his developmental agenda. He has since put in place loyalists who he thinks will drive his agenda.

While Matekane might have acted within the law, we do not think the entire process of dismissals was neither fair nor just.

It is part of the rotten, toxic fumes of the past 50 years that have contaminated the politics of this country. Every time a new government takes over, it appoints its own new PS’s.

The new round of removals and dismissals does little to ensure stability and a level of continuity in government ministries.

It is on this basis that we have always argued for a depoliticized civil service with all PS’s being appointed on the basis of their professional competence and not party affiliation. There are huge benefits of taking up the former model rather than the latter.

Matekane is generally an affable, humble man who has promised to transform how politics is done in Lesotho. He has promised to bring a business mindset in running the affairs of the government.

In seeking to transform the fortunes of Lesotho, he will need a competent team of technocrats to run government ministries who may not be party loyalists.

In line with his pre-election promises, we would want to see a meritocratic process as he appoints new PS’s and other key officials in government agencies and commissions.

The days of reserving senior jobs to party loyalists who know nothing about running government business must be over.

That is key if the Prime Minister is to succeed in his mission of transforming Lesotho’s economic fortunes. To do so, Matekane must block the noise coming from party apparatchiks and focus on what works for Lesotho.

We also understand why the opposition has been peeved by this purge. There is a perception that the individuals who have been shown the door were aligned to the previous government.

So it is natural that they would defend their own people. But to ensure that we deal with challenges of this nature in future, it has become urgent for MPs to resuscitate and pass the Reforms Bill that failed to pass in the last parliament.

That way, Lesotho would depoliticize the appointment of senior civil servants such as PS’s and other positions of government parastatals and institutions.

As long as Lesotho has not passed a new Constitution that regulates the appointment of PS’s we will remain stuck with these political appointments, much to the chagrin of the opposition.

To his credit, Matekane has not been brazen about how he has conducted the dismissals. Those he has so far removed are tainted by serious allegations of corruption.

Even if they had not been fired, ethical leadership should have dictated that they step aside until the allegations levelled against them had been fully investigated. That is how things should go if we want to clean the government.


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Matekane’s 5-year strategic plan



IN our last week’s edition, we carried a story headlined, ‘‘Matekane’s five-year strategic plan,” which explained how the government intends to develop Lesotho over the next few years.

We must state that the strategic plan really looks impressive. Our only reservation is that the plan looks so broad to the extent that the government seems so eager to do so much in such a little time.

We would have liked the government to break down the plan to a few issues that need urgent addressing and are easier to implement given the state of its finances.

But generally, we are in full agreement with the vision as articulated in the National Strategic Development Plan for 2023/27.

Without a cohesive and cogent plan, the government would be fumbling in the dark and will not be able to bring the necessary changes that the people have been clamouring for the past five years.

Having articulated its vision, the people can see where Prime Minister Sam Matekane wants to take Lesotho which makes it easier for every Mosotho regardless of political persuasion to pull in the same direction.

That is critical if we are, extricate ourselves from the jaws of poverty and put Lesotho on the path to economic development. We need to look at the Rwanda-model to see that it can be possible to have a quick turn-around in economic fortunes.

After reading the document, it has become clear that Matekane is aware of the scale of work that needs to be done to roll back poverty and take Lesotho to the next level of development.

Half of Lesotho’s 2 million people are living in abject poverty. The unemployment rate is currently standing at over 20 percent, according to aid agencies.

Our private sector is so small that it is not creating enough jobs to absorb graduates from universities and colleges.

Without the support of donors, whom we euphemistically call development partners, the majority of Basotho would starve to death. This is the reality that needs to be turned around.

We are excited though that the National Strategic Development Plan for the 2023/27 successfully identifies the problem and goes on to prescribe what appears to be the correct medication to cure what ails Lesotho.

We will only cite two issues in this editorial: the push to revolutionise the agriculture sector and the decision to set up a National Social Security Fund.

The National Social Security Fund will be a contributory scheme for the employer and employee and will pay benefits to workers in the event they lose their jobs, are impaired or they retire.

As we have seen elsewhere, the fund is the surest way that pensioners can be looked after when they most need the funds.

It can also underwrite Lesotho’s economic development as it has the potential to amass lots of resources that can be invested into the country’s future.

The funds that will be generated will be pushed towards sustainable development within Lesotho. That way, we will build Lesotho together.

But the success of the fund will hinge on whether the government appoints the right calibre of technocrats to drive the strategy. It must break with the old, irritating habit of making appointments on the basis of political affiliation.

We need competent individuals to drive the implementation of the strategic plan. If the government botches the hiring, then it must be prepared for the consequences.

Matekane will only need to look next door in South Africa to see that the “cadre deployment policy” does not work.


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SR mob attacks journalist



MASERU – TŠENOLO FM presenter, Abiel Sebolai, was allegedly beaten and injured by a mob of Socialist Revolutionaries (SR) supporters on Saturday.

Sebolai said the mob, which he suspected was drunk, attacked him with fists, sticks and stones.

He said the group was enraged after he tried to take pictures of their cars which belonged to the Ministry of Local Government

Sebolai told thepost that he had gone to Thaba-Tseka with the Thaba-Moea MP, Puseletso Lejone Paulose, on a work trip when he spotted a group of people clad in SR regalia riding in the government vehicle, hoisting beer bottles.

“We were in Mantšonyane when I saw the Local Government vehicle full of men and women with bottles of beer in their hands,” Sebolai said.

“I saw that the majority were wearing Socialist Revolutionaries regalia.”

He wanted to talk about the abuse of government vehicles on his programme the next day.

“I then took out my phone to capture a few pictures and a video,” he said.

He said just as he started taking pictures, the vehicle made a U-turn and approached him.

“The driver came to me and asked me what I was doing with my phone,” he said.

He said he told the driver that there was nothing wrong with taking pictures as a journalist.

“The person I was with reprimanded him and he attempted to walk away only to turn back and punch me.”

“After the first punch, I retaliated by throwing a punch too. I managed to hit him hard and he fell.”

He said the group then jumped off the car and started assaulting him with stones and sticks.

Sebolai said he tried to flee but was stopped by the “stones that were coming to me like rain until I was hit and fell”.

“What nearly took my life was a stone that was thrown while I was falling. It hit me on the forehead and from then I went blind.”

“They were insulting me so much.”

Sebolai said he was helped by a Good Samaritan who risked his life to drag him into his vehicle.

“From there I was taken to the clinic in Lesobeng before an ambulance took me to Mantšonyane Hospital.”

“I went to the Mantšonyane police station where I found the same Local Government vehicle parked,” he said.

“I am told that the Local Government Minister instructed it to be impounded and my assailants arrested.”

He complained that he was injured while doing his work “but the Ministry (of Communications) and MISA are silent about my attack”.

The SR spokesman, Thabo Shao, told thepost that they received a report about the incident and the party does not “condone that behaviour”.

“I hear arrests are not yet made, those people should be arrested,” he said.

The MISA director, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, said the board will soon meet to discuss the matter and call the victim before issuing a statement.

“We are going to work it out and then issue a condemnation,” Ntsukunyane said.

Nkheli Liphoto

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