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.
Has Matekane failed?
THE opposition this week was reported to be sharpening its knives as it plots to oust Prime Minister Sam Matekane from power.
Sensing blood, given the shambolic state of his own Revolution for Prosperity (RFP), the opposition is now going for the kill. The RFP is going through turbulence that saw three key MPs suspended last week in a move that will likely have serious ramifications for the one year-old political upstart.
The MPs are challenging the suspension in the courts of law. Even if the party’s national executive committee wins the case, the legal fight will likely leave the party weakened and seriously bruised.
It is against this background that the opposition has now been plotting to oust Matekane and his administration. They charge that Matekane, who was only elected into office 10 months ago, has dismally failed to deliver a better life for Basotho.
They also accuse him of presiding over a corrupt administration that has been parceling jobs to his relatives and cronies. They say Matekane has appointed his relatives into government positions and state-run enterprises.
They have also accused the Prime Minister of gross incompetence.
But perhaps their biggest grievance is what they see as an attempt by Matekane to use state security agencies to harass the opposition in an attempt to cushion himself politically.
These are very serious charges that will certainly need to be backed up by hard evidence. In the absence of such hard evidence, the opposition risks coming across as petulant and insincere.
Having acquired a five-year mandate in last October’s general elections, it would only be fair to give Matekane the space to govern. We are of the opinion that the damning assessment about Matekane’s competence or otherwise has come pretty too early.
In other words, we think it is just too early to make any sound assessment of Matekane’s competence. In any case, we would want to see any government in Lesotho running its full five-year term. It was not without reason that the crafters of our supreme law, the Constitution, set in place these five-year terms.
For the sake of political and economic stability, we would want to see any government run its full term, unless there are overwhelming grounds that would call for the removal of the Prime Minister.
Anything short of a monumental disaster is not enough to justify removing Matekane from office 10 months into his term. We write this editorial comment fully cognizant of the feelings by some readers that we are backing Matekane. That is not true. The fact of the matter is that we have no dog in this fight.
What drives our thinking is a realisation that Lesotho needs political and economic stability for it to prosper. Without a semblance of stability, we will be shooting ourselves in the foot.
Each political player, Matekane included, must be given a chance to play. Ten months is way too short. Even if Matekane is a hopeless failure as the opposition says the people of Lesotho are saying they have not clearly seen such failure.
Of course, we understand the growing impatience at the pace of economic transformation. But even with that slow pace, taking Matekane out at this juncture will not resolve the major structural issues that have haunted our economy for decades.
We are aware that the opposition now plans to file a motion of no-confidence against Matekane when parliament reopens next month. It says it has the required a number of MPs to get him out.
If that were to happen, we will be back to square one – a tragic moment for this great country.
A litmus test for SADC
ZIMBABWEANS trooped to the polls yesterday in elections and most people in the southern Africa region had hoped that would finally put an end to over two decades of a bruising political stalemate.
But any hopes that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the body tasked with running elections, would run credible elections were soon dashed with hundreds of thousands still to cast their vote by 5pm yesterday.
Some had been in the queues from as early as 8am.
Other voting centres did not even have the voting materials. The pathetic and amateurish way the commission ran the election would be laughable were it not tragic.
There were reports of serious mix-ups of ballot papers, which seemed to indicate that there was “an elaborate plan” to create chaos and discredit the whole election.
The opposition says the whole idea was to disenfranchise urban voters, who are said to be backing the main opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), led by Nelson Chamisa.
Even in the rural areas, ZANU PF was not leaving anything to chance. There were reports on social media of serious voter intimidation in rural areas where ZANU PF has traditionally relied on such tactics to cow the electorate.
Ruling ZANU PF youths were seen close to polling stations, recording details of those who had cast their vote. Their very presence was enough to put the “fear of God” in villagers who have had to bear the brunt of political violence since 2000.
We are not surprised that some opposition figures have described yesterday’s election as a complete farce. They said even the late Robert Mugabe did not stoop that low in trying to steal an election in such a brazen manner.
The farce of an election in Zimbabwe will serve as a litmus test for SADC. There has been a perception that the regional body has done little over the years to defuse the crisis in Zimbabwe.
Instead, what the SADC leaders have done was to back ZANU PF, who they still see as a fellow liberation movement.
The result is that the political crisis in Zimbabwe has been allowed to fester, with devastating spill-over effects into the region. By failing to address the Zimbabwe question, SADC has been complicit in perpetuating a dictatorship in the region in clear violation of its own electoral norms and practices.
SADC has done so at great cost to its own integrity.
The regional bloc now has a great chance to salvage its reputation by doing the barest minimum – rejecting yesterday’s sham elections in Zimbabwe.
On yesterday’s performance alone, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission completely discredited itself and has shown it is not fit for purpose. As we have argued already, this was not an election at all; it was a charade.
To address the crisis in Zimbabwe, the first entry point would be to address the role of the security establishment in governance issues. The military is the big elephant in the room. It runs elections in Zimbabwe with the electoral commission in a mere front.
SADC will need to help de-militarise the electoral process in Zimbabwe. Unless SADC deals decisively with the military question in Zimbabwe, we would be delusional to think that an election run by the current commission will usher in any change of government.
The current regime is a beneficiary of a military intervention in 2017 that ousted Mugabe. It would be an act of naivety to expect Mnangagwa to surrender power through the ballot.
A motley collection of discordant voices
TWO MPs from the ruling Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) were arrested briefly this week after their drivers allegedly violated some traffic offense.
The duo, Thuso Makhalanyane and Lejone Puseletso, say they are not happy with the manner in which the police handled the matter.
They have now instructed their lawyers to sue the Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli for malicious arrest.
If this was a mere traffic offense the matter ordinarily should have ended there. But it would appear there are much bigger issues surrounding the arrest of the two MPs.
The two are claiming that their colleagues in the RFP are abusing state machinery, the police in this case, to go after political opponents.
That is a serious accusation.
Makhalanyane and Puseletso are generally seen as rebels in the RFP who have openly defied the party’s National Executive Committee on a number of issues.
They have in the past accused the party’s leadership of betraying their founding principles of appointing people to key positions on the basis of meritocracy.
Instead, they say the party has gravitated towards nepotistic practices that are at odds with the party’s founding principles.
It is on that basis that the two feel that they are now being targeted merely because they have opposed the party leadership on what they feel are matters of principle.
If it is true that they are being targeted through the use of law enforcement authorities, then that is highly unfortunate. In fact, that would be a very worrying development.
But if this is a straightforward traffic offense, the police must be allowed to proceed so that MPs do not think that they are above the law. We need order on our roads and that starts with our MPs setting an example.
While we can argue about the manner of the arrest and whether the police were justified to detain the two for hours only releasing them late into the night on Monday, it is clear that the RFP is dealing with a crisis of major proportions.
This is a new party that is not accustomed to resolving intra-party disputes. What we have seen in the last few months is a party leadership that has really struggled to whip its supporters into line and assert its authority.
The leadership of the RFP is therefore caught between a rock and a hard place. It is caught between being seen as an authoritarian party led by demagogues and being seen as a democratic and progressive entity that respects free speech.
So far the RFP has been prevaricating between the two extremes.
It is also becoming clearer that these shrills of discontent within the RFP are not going to go away on their own. The infighting will certainly test Matekane’s leadership skills as he battles to steer the ship towards safety.
In the meantime, development projects that were the cornerstone of his campaign last year, will not move an inch. The reform agenda which his government had pledged to complete will also be stalled. That is highly unfortunate.
The RFP MPs in parliament will need to sing from the same hymnbook on the reforms agenda. At present we have divergent voices in parliament even though they are from the same political party.
They will need to discuss these issues at party level and come up with a single position that they will defend in parliament. So far, the party is a motley collection of discordant voices.
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