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Fixing a serious water crisis

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Thaba-Tseka – Nestled in the stunning valleys of Thaba-Tseka district is Methalaneng Clinic which serves over 8 500 people from the Methalaneng community and beyond.

For years, the clinic was a source of pride for the people of Methalaneng community. It was a place of comfort where their sick went for health care, a place where expectant mothers safely delivered their babies.

But things turned sour four years ago when the clinic’s water supply system broke down.

Litlhare Nkhati, a registered nurse and midwife, recalls how the centre battled to cope with the water crisis.

“In the maternal ward, we would struggle to wash our instruments. We would sometimes collect water from outside the clinic and keep it in the ward for deliveries,” says Nkhati who has been the

Centre’s maternal mortality reduction programme coordinator since 2019.

The crisis also affected the staff who also had to spend hours collecting water for their homes, instead of helping patients.

For close to 600 people of the Methalaneng community who shared the same water source with the clinic, the breakdown of the water supply system to the clinic was a double blow.

In addition to visiting a clinic that didn’t have water, the community members had to also contend with water shortages in their own homes. Worse still, it happened during a time when Lesotho was experiencing extreme drought.

It became common for community members, especially women and girls, to spend many hours queuing at the only available stand pipe in the community.

Nkhati says the situation worsened further, when the water tank that fed the lone tap started leaking. The community found it difficult to practise basic hygiene due to inadequate water.

Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, when water was so much needed for the required hand hygiene, the community members could not do much, as there was no sufficient water.

As the crisis bit, the villagers began working together to deliver water to the clinic in tins.

’Maphohleli Mohlalisi, 46, was part of the village’s water committee that coordinated efforts to deliver water to the clinic.

“It would get difficult for pregnant women in the maternity ward. As the community, we would get buckets of water and help the clinic with water whenever needed,” Mohlalisi says.

“Unfortunately, we ended up getting tired because of the long trips to the clinic with the buckets of water.”

In the midst of all this, the Methalaneng clinic and community received support from UNICEF which worked with the Government’s Department of Rural Water Supply, with financial support from the UK Government’s FCDO to rehabilitate the water system.

Bernard Keraita, UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) project coordinator, says when Lesotho was recovering from the 2019 drought emergency, the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in Lesotho in 2020.

It became even more urgent to fix the water supply systems in rural areas in Lesotho, especially those serving health care facilities and schools, and Methalaneng, was on top of our list.

This is part of UNICEF’s continued support to the Government of Lesotho to increase access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene services in communities, households, schools and health care facilities.

He says, for this particular project in Methalaneng, a total of 620 000 Maloti was used.

Thetsinyana Mahooana, a senior officer at Rural Water Supply in Thaba-Tseka, says the project involved the construction of four spring catchments, four 500 litres silt boxes, a 500-litre pressure break tank, valve chambers and storage tanks.

It also included the construction of standpipes, donga grossing, gabion structures, a stone wall as well as an excavation trench and backfilling the trench. Water minders were also trained to maintain the system.

Seven taps were installed, two in the clinic and five in the community.

Mahooana, who supervised the construction, says UNICEF’s intervention has gone a long way towards helping the government to achieve its goal of delivering clean water to rural communities.

“UNICEF has helped because these people were really in need of this water,” Mahooana says.

Tséle Tlali, the village chief, says the water project has improved the quality of life in the community.

Chief Tlali says all the people in the village now have access to clean water.

He says the project came when the people were desperate for water because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nkhati, the nurse, says the rehabilitation of the water system has made their work at the clinic easier.

“We all know that Covid-19 made it extremely important for people to frequently wash their hands and practise good hygiene. The water supply has helped us implement the infection prevention measures,” Nkhati says.

“In the maternal ward, we can now clean our equipment and beds, therefore there is a decrease in the chances for infection.”

Mohlalisi says villagers are thankful to UNICEF, the Rural Water Supply and the UK Government’s FCDO that made the project possible.

“Even the people who recently built houses have access to tap water.”

Keraita says the Methalaneng project is one of the most important interventions under WASH. This was one of the most remote locations we ever worked in, so implementation was a challenge.

But, UNICEF’s role is to ensure all people, regardless of their location have safe water.

The challenge with WASH in Lesotho, he explains, “is not about availability of water because the country has a lot of it”.

“The problem is that the water has to be accessible to people. It has to be where the people are. The water has to be in clinics, it has to be in schools, it has to be in or very close to households. And,

Lesotho is prone to climate change, especially droughts. So, we have to ensure that we construct and rehabilitate our water systems in such a way that they can cope when droughts or even flooding occur”

He says, we still have over 400 000 people in Lesotho that need access to safe drinking water in their households. In addition, more than 700 schools and over 30 health facilities lack adequate water supply in their premises.

“We are working in all these settings to ensure the people in this country have water. For this project that had support from the UK Government, we are focusing on rural water supply and our aim was to ensure we put in place systems that can be able to cope with droughts,” Keraita says.

We invested over 13 million maloti and rehabilitated and constructed 79 community water supply systems serving water to communities, schools and health care facilities.

“This project has benefited more than 100 000 people, including over 14,000 learners in 69 schools across 7 districts in Lesotho,” he says.

He expressed sincere thanks to the UK Government for the continued support to UNICEF to increase access to drinking water in Lesotho, and the Ministry of Water, for their continued collaboration.

Staff Reporter

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Mahao, PS in big fight

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PRIME Minister Sam Matekane this week summoned the Basotho Action Party (BAP) executive committee in a bid to defuse simmering tensions within the party.
This comes amid fears that Professor Nqosa Mahao’s fallout with his principal secretary at the Ministry of Energy, Tankiso Phapano, could threaten the unity in the BAP and the government’s stability.

thepost can reveal that Mahao has hinted that he would resign if Matekane doesn’t fire or reassign Phapano.

But there are strong indications that Mahao doesn’t enjoy the backing of his executive committee and MPs in his fight with Phapano.

Inside sources this week told thepost that some members of the BAP’s executive committee and MPs are openly siding with Phapano and have been secretly lobbying Matekane to reshuffle Mahao from the Ministry of Energy to Sports.

A source said Mahao is aware of these manoeuvres, including a clandestine meeting in Maputsoe, and has said he would rather resign than be the subject of a humiliating reshuffle instigated by people he leads.

The source of the bad blood between Mahao and Phapano is not clear but it is understood that they have disagreed over tenders and the ministry’s direction.

The source said Matekane was first briefed of the running battles at the ministry some three weeks ago just as matters were coming to a head.

It is the second briefing which revealed a complete breakdown in the relationship that triggered Matekane’s meeting with the BAP’s executive committee and MPs on Monday.

Three people who were in that meeting said Matekane told the BAP officials to deal with the crisis before it affected the ministry and threatened the coalition government’s stability.

The BAP’s executive committee, including MPs and Mahao, then had a marathon meeting to discuss ways to make peace between Mahao and Phapano.

A source who was in that meeting said “it was clear to Mahao that the majority of the committee and the MPs were on Phapano’s side”.

“Mahao quickly realised that he did not have the backing of the majority and took a conciliatory approach. It was clear that the committee would rather have him resign than get Phapano removed from the ministry,” the source said.

“In the past Mahao had flatly refused to reconcile with Phapano because of seniority. But this time he appeared to be open to a meeting to discuss reconciliation.”

Both Mahao and Phapano told thepost last night that their relationship was still cordial. ‘“We are still in good books with Phapano until further notice,” Mahao said.

“However, we cannot predict the future.”

Mahao denied ever discussing Phapano’s dismissal or transfer with Matekane.

Phapano also insisted that he was working well with Mahao.

“We are still on good terms,” Phapano said, adding that the allegation that they were fighting was “baseless”.

The fallout between Mahao and Phapano has been quick and spectacular.

The two had been almost inseparable months before Mahao agreed to join the coalition government.

Phapano would use his car to drive Mahao around. They would attend party meetings together. Some party insiders saw Phapano as Mahao’s right-hand man and adviser.

Mahao allegedly strongly pushed for Phapano to be appointed as his principal secretary when he became energy minister.

But sources said Mahao started having second thoughts days after recommending Phapano and tried to get his appointment reversed but it was too late.

A source says within weeks Mahao was telling cabinet colleagues that Phapano had captured the ministry and he was unable to function as the minister.

“He started pushing to oust Phapano within days because they were already clashing. It’s been war from the first days,” said the source.

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How chicken import ban hit vendors

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MALESHOANE Pakela used to work at small backyard chicken farms where she was paid with chicken heads, necks, legs, and offals that she would roast and sell to factory workers at the Thetsane Industrial Area.

Her job was to clean and pack chicken.
The profit wasn’t much but just enough for the 37-year-old widow to feed and keep her four children in school.

“It also covered her monthly rental of M150 for a room in Ha-Tsolo Sekoting.

Her life was however shattered last October when the government imposed a ban on chicken imports from South Africa following an outbreak of bird flu.
Without day-old chicks the farms quickly shut down, cutting Pakela’s supply of heads, necks, legs, and offals.
Within a few days, her family was starving.

Pakela had been struggling even for months before the ban. The closure of the factories and retrenchments of thousands of workers has severely hit her sales. She was behind on her rent and could barely feed her children.

The partial lifting of the chicken ban has not helped Pakela because her former employers still cannot import day-old chicks or live birds.
Pakela and a family were kicked out of their rented room in November when their arrears were about M1 000.
She has found another room nearby.

A ‘Good Samaritan’ has allowed her to use a room for free until she can afford the rent. But Pakela says she still feels obliged to pay something because she understands that things are hard for everyone.

“Here the rent is still M150 but the landlord accepts every amount that I give her,” Pakela says.
There are days when her children go to bed hungry.

“I have told them (children) that if I have nothing they should accept (the status).”

She now survives on handouts from neighbours and other well-wishers. Pakela’s poverty is apparent.

Barefoot and holding her small child in a seshoeshoe dress, Pakela says her two children usually go to school without eating.
The other child has dropped out of school because she doesn’t have shoes.

’Mako Lepolesa, 44, who has been running a chesanyama (meat grill) at the Maseru West Industrial Estate since 2018. The father of three says his clients are mainly taxi drivers and factory workers.

Chicken was her main product until last October when the ban was imposed. It wasn’t long before his business started wobbling.

“I thought it would be just a short-lived problem (chicken import ban) but it passed on this year,” he says, adding that it might take months for his business to recover.
Moshe Ramashamole, 42, who also owns a chesanyama in the Maseru West Industrial Estate, tried to remain in business by sourcing chicken from local farmers.

It was a stopgap measure that however lasted a few weeks because the farmers also ran out of stock. He resorted to bad chicken but they were double the price of a full chicken before the ban.
Yet Ramashamole thought he could make it work by increasing the price of his plate from M35 to M55. The customers however resisted the new price and Ramashamole had to take the losses.

The poultry ban did not affect street vendors like Pakela alone.
Former Minister of Communications, Khotso Letsatsi, is one of those poultry farmers struggling following the chicken ban.

He ventured into poultry in January last year. It was an audacious venture that included a M100 000 investment in a shelter and other equipment.
He started with a batch of 300 chicks and had reached 1 000 by the time the ban was imposed.

“The business was lucrative,” Letsatsi says.

“I had to employ two people permanently to assist me on a full-time basis,” he says.

When it was time to slaughter the chickens, Letsatsi says he had to employ seven casual labourers.
Since the ban was imposed he had released all his workers.

“I do not know where they are now. Maybe they are starving,” he says of the workers he released.

Letsatsi doesn’t know how he will revive his business.
The Director of Marketing in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS), Lekhooe Makhate, says the ban has been devastating to farmers and businesses.

“Some big businesses are going to declare less tax to the government because there was no business,” Makhate says.

He says Lesotho spends M2.1 billion on the importation of chicken and its products from South Africa every year.
But that amount usually soars to M4 billion depending on the market forces of demand and supply.

Makhate says the M2.1 billion goes to South Africa where the chicken and its products are imported.

At the height of the scarcity of chickens in the country, Makhate says people were supposed to make initiatives to travel to villages to search for chickens.

“There is not enough production of chickens in the country,” he says.
“Economically speaking we rely on South Africa. We have to be self-reliant.”

Majara Molupe

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Letseng fends off threat to sue

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LETŠENG Diamond says it is under no obligation to advertise jobs for Basotho to provide certain services “where it has the capacity to undertake the same services”.
Letšeng Diamond boss, Motooane Thinyane, was responding to a threat to sue by a little-known political party called Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES).

Matekane’s company, the Matekane Mining Investment Company (MMIC), had been providing blasting, haulage and drilling services at Letšeng mine since 2005.
The deal with the MMIC was terminated in December last year with the mining company saying it was improper because Matekane had now become a politician.

Letšeng Diamonds announced that it had reached an agreement with the MMIC to acquire its mining equipment at the mine and offered employment to its current employees in line with operational requirements.

“This will enable Letšeng to continue with its mining activities,” the company said in its statement.

This infuriated opposition parties that argued that the mine should have called interested Basotho companies to bid for the contract, saying it is provided for in the Minerals Act of 2005.

The leader of Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES), Molefi Ntšonyana, wrote the mine last week threatening to sue for allegedly failing to follow section 11 of the Act.
Ntšonyana argued that the Act “does not grant the Letšeng Diamond 100 percent to mine with its good own equipment” but it should engage Basotho companies like it did with the MMIC.

Ntšonyana said Letšeng Diamond and the MMIC made the agreement to acquire the MMIC equipment so that the mine could continue with its mining activities “without any advertisement to seek qualified Basotho to provide such services”.

Ntšonyana said the agreement unilaterally denied Basotho a chance to tender for such services and ignored the fact that the government of Lesotho on behalf of Basotho own 30 percent in the Letšeng Diamond.

“It is advisable to reconsider your decision,” Ntšonyana said, adding that they would also write to the mining board requesting the resolution they made regarding this matter of insourcing mining activities.

He said the company should adhere to section 11 of the Mines and Minerals Act of 2005 and within 14 working days the matter should be reconsidered, “failing which we will have no choice but to drag the company to the courts of law”.

In his response, Thinyane said Ntšonyana must “revisit the section in question in full for its correct interpretation”.

“Letšeng Diamond is under no obligation to advertise to seek qualified Basotho to provide services where it is willing and has the capacity to undertake the same services,” Thinyane said.

He said the decision relating to the agreement referred to has been through the necessary governance structures and is therefore procedural.
Thinyane said Letšeng is a corporate citizen that is fully compliant with the laws of Lesotho.

Majara Molupe

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