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TUCKED somewhere in the inside pages of local newspapers was a story about Lesotho’s HIV prevalence rate increasing from 23 to 25 percent.

In another time such a story would have been given more prominence. Panic would have set in and vociferous calls would have been made for the government to step-up its fight against the disease.

But times have changed and so have attitudes towards the disease. In a way there is an indifference to the disease. Radio stations mentioned the increase in passing while other newspapers ignored it altogether.

HIV statistics no longer startle the people and those in power. That is thanks to life-prolonging medication that has removed the stigma of HIV being an instant “death sentence”.

Health Minister Dr Molotsi Monyamane, for instance, was calm about the figures, preferring to look at them as a sign that fewer people are dying of HIV related diseases. His logic is simple: antiretroviral medication has allowed infected people to live longer so the prevalence looks high.

But that doesn’t mean Lesotho is winning the battle against the disease. If anything, it shows that this is a long-drawn battle. It is therefore imperative for Lesotho to take stock of its strategies in the fight against HIV.

Let’s start with the prevention. Statistics show that more than 60 percent of youths in Southern Africa are ignorant about HIV. That alone should shock the government into action because it is that generation that is most affected. Prevention at that level helps us cut the prevalence rate and cut new infections.

This is particularly urgent in Lesotho where there are 100 new infections every day, the bulk of which are among teenagers. That young people are ignorant is a sign that our campaigns have not been well-targeted.

There is the issue of condoms which government has tried to distribute widely for free. Research has however shown that it is not enough to load people with condoms they don’t know how to use properly. Those who are on treatment must be encouraged to use condoms.

A worrying trend which government has failed to reverse is that of people being reluctant to get tested despite several campaigns. Linked to this is that even those who have been tested don’t stay longer on their medication.

Only about 45 percent of those infected are on medication, the rest have either dropped out or have not started.

It’s the same trend among pregnant women who have tested positive. It’s either they don’t know their status and those that know are not on medication.

Blame that on ignorance and lack of health centres. All this does not illustrate that we have failed to tame the scourge. Rather it just means we have to do things differently. The starting point though is to admit that we are not doing so well and realising that this fight does not belong to the government alone. Then we have to use our money wisely.

The issue of HIV/AIDS goes beyond issues of knowledge and effective communication campaigns. It is also an issue of poverty.

Unless we deal with structural issues that lie at the heart of society such as poverty alleviation we would struggle to tame the rising infections among our youths.

We need a cultural shift on how we view sex and how we talk to our children about sex. Sex is not sinful as long as it is practised in the proper context.

 

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Time to act to avert hunger

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A surge in food prices will likely make life miserable for Basotho in the coming year. Their situation had already been precarious in the previous year as the effects of Covid-19 continued to linger.

Over the last two weeks, Basotho had to bear the bad news with a spate of increases in the prices of basic commodities.

The Lesotho Flour Mills, the country’s biggest milling company, announced a seven percent price hike on all maize products. The increase is with effect from next Monday.

A ton of maize, which was trading at between M3 700 and M3 900 in January, is now costing a staggering M5 300. The result is that the high cost of maize will now be transferred to the consumer.
The surge in the price of maize is a result of crop failures in the southern Africa region due to high temperatures and erratic rains. The shortage has now triggered a surge in the price of maize.

Much more worrying was a warning by Lesotho Flour Mills that Basotho should brace for yet another round of price increases in the next two months.

The company warned that the wholesale price of maize could hit as high as M8 800 per metric ton.

It is not just the price of maize-meal that has gone up. Other basic commodities have also gone up in the last few weeks.

The price of fuel has gone up. A surge in the price of fuel will likely see a knock-on effect on the prices of basic commodities such as maize-meal and bread.

The result is that transport operators are likely to demand a review of taxi fares in the next few weeks. If the government rejects the request for a hike, we are likely to see protests on the streets.
With food in short supply, the prospect of food riots must not be discounted. We are heading into unknown territory for Lesotho. The general hardships could trigger instability in Lesotho.
This is not fear-mongering. It is real.

The massive price increases on the back of a jobs carnage in the textile sector, which is the second biggest employer in Lesotho.

At least 15 000 jobs have been lost in the textile sector in the last few months as companies closed.

What has compounded the crisis is the fact that no new jobs are being created. Instead, we are shedding jobs at an astonishing pace. The massive job losses have increased the levels of hardships in Lesotho across all levels.

This is deeply worrying.

While this is a matter of grievous concern, we do not see any concerted efforts by the government to prepare for the troubled times ahead.

Nearly every country in the southern Africa region is scrambling to put in place contingency measures to deal with the disaster. We are hearing very little from Lesotho about the plans to deal with the crisis.

Basotho are waiting to hear from the government what sort of safety nets it will put in place for the poor. They want to hear what orders the government has put in place to acquire enough maize for the next year.

We hope the government is not banking on some donor out there to avert the crisis. While donors might be welcome they must complement what the government is already doing for its own people.
The time to act is now.

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BNP must not recycle deadwood

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ELSEWHERE in this issue we write about a fierce power struggle within the BNP pitting current party leader Machesetsa Mofomobe and former leader Thesele Maseribane.
Mofomobe has accused Maseribane of orchestrating a rebellion against his leadership.

If Maseribane is indeed plotting a political comeback as BNP leader, that would be highly unfortunate.
It would, in our humble opinion, be a recycling of deadwood.

Such a tired approach will not do any good to the BNP, a once glorious political movement that is now a shadow of its former self.
Instead, a Maseribane comeback will likely deliver the final knockout blow to a party that has teetered on the brink of collapse in the past two decades.

We hold no brief for either politician. However, we are of the strong opinion that Maseribane had his chance when he served as BNP leader during his two terms. And that a return at this point would not do any good to the party.
Maseribane must therefore move on.

Mofomobe took over the reins following a violent election that left one person dead. He has not done spectacularly well as party leader either.
Under his watch, the BNP has continued to decline as seen in the results of the last general elections when the party only won slightly over 7 000 votes.
As party leader, Mofomobe must shoulder most of the blame for the BNP’s disastrous performance.

So we can understand why BNP stalwarts across the divide are now asking hard questions and demanding a totally new broom to take over the reins.
Instead of rebuilding the party Maseribane and Mofomobe are tearing it apart. That is sad.

There are fears within the BNP that Maseribane wants to amend the party’s constitution to allow him to serve a fresh term.
That too would be unfortunate.

Maseribane, as an elder party statesman, must step back into the background and play an advisory role for the new generation of leaders within the BNP.
For that to happen, the BNP must be allowed to go through a self-regeneration process. And Maseribane must not have any role to play under the new leadership, serve to be an elder statesman.

If the BNP fails to manage this conflict, it risks slumping into yet another cycle of decline. The party will have none but itself to blame for euthanizing itself.
The BNP has been declining starting in 1998 when it won over 145 000 votes in the elections. That figure fell to 124 000 in the 2002 elections. In the 2007 elections, the BNP won a paltry 30 000 votes. In 2012, the BNP won 33 000 votes which increased slightly to 31 500 in the 2015 elections.

But it declined further in 2017 when it won just 23 400 votes before things really went south in 2022 when it won just 7 300 votes.
The stats are damning for Maseribane and Mofomobe. The two might be equally culpable for the BNP’s decline, having presided over the affairs of the party when its support significantly declined.

Admittely, the BNP is gifted with brilliant minds who are now disgruntled and have recoiled into a cocoon. It needs these brilliant minds if it is to reclaim its former glory.

That means electing fresh individuals with new ideas on how to take the party forward. That new generation of leaders does not certainly include Maseribane, a man who had his chance and did his best for the party when he was still at the helm.
It is nothing personal. It is the hard reality.

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Inheritance Bill long overdue

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Elsewhere in this issue we carry a story of how Lesotho’s MPs are now in a stampede to pass a raft of laws in an attempt to unlock millions of dollars in funding for development projects.
The United States government last year said it would not release the funds unless Lesotho passes into law the Administration of Estates and Inheritance Bill and the Labour Bill by the end of this month.

With just two weeks before the March 31 deadline, Lesotho’s MPs have now found themselves in a squeeze.

A delegation from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) was in Lesotho last week to check on progress.

The stampede by MPs to act comes only after the US government threatened to crack the whip by withholding funding.

One of the key demands is for Lesotho to pass the Administration of Estates and Inheritance Bill that will likely improve the welfare of women and the girl child in Lesotho.
For decades, women and girls were at the receiving end of discriminatory practices simply because they were women.

They could not inherit their parents’ wealth, with the customary law favouring sons. Women could not even succeed their fathers under the Lesotho chieftainship law.
The customary laws were patently discriminatory.

We can think of the long running legal wrangle involving Senate Masupha who was the first born child of the late Principal Chief Gabasheane Masupha and first wife Chieftainess ’Masenate Masupha.

Senate argued that a section of the Chieftainship Act denied her the right to succeed to the chieftainship solely on the basis of her gender.
She subsequently lost the case in the Constitutional Court.

The judgment was a devastating blow for the emancipation of women and confirmed that we remained stuck to our patriarchal ways of doing things.

Our courts had over the years backed the discriminatory customary laws by denying the girl child their inheritance.

The Administration of Estates and Inheritance Bill, tabled by Justice Minister Nthomeng Majara, will undo some of this damage. It will abolish a customary law which made males the only heirs of their parents’ late estate.

The law, once enacted, will introduce the female child as an heir even where she has brothers. However, it will leave customary chieftainship inheritance laws untouched.
The law will also introduce the giving out of inheritance to children born out of wedlock when their father dies.

We believe this is a progressive law that was long overdue.

Our question is simple: Did we have to wait for the Americans to nudge us to do the right thing? Couldn’t we have thought of this on our own and implemented it without the US holding a gun over our heads?

Now MPs are under pressure to deliver. If they don’t Lesotho risks losing massive funding that could have been used for development projects.

It is a law that will likely correct a historical injustice against women.

Our simple position is that it was never fair nor just to deny women their inheritance based on their gender. This is a practice that should have been reviewed a long time ago.

Once enacted into law, the government must go on an aggressive education and information campaign to educate the people about the change of law.

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