Connect with us


From journalism to activism



MASERU – THE Form E class at St John’s High school, in Mafeteng, had gone for several months without a mathematics teacher.

One day, a student stood in front of the class to say his piece.

His opinion however quickly veered into a ‘political’ speech.

He told the class that they had a right to education and being denied a mathematics teacher was an injustice they should fight.

And they should remember that they paid school fees, he said.

The students then summoned the principal to a meeting in their classroom.

The principal said he was a mathematics teacher and would take their classes.

But little changed for the class because the principal rarely made it to lessons.

Now incensed, the students called the principal to the class again.

As soon as he entered the class they closed the door and told him that they would detain him until he explained why he was not teaching them.

Leading the haranguing was the same boy who had made the rousing speech that encouraged the students to call the principal to the first meeting.

Several other students stood outside the door to block other teachers from coming.

The teacher was ‘released’ after a few minutes.

The boy who led the small revolution is Kananelo Boloetse, a freelance journalist who has just won a court judgement to nullify the government’s state of emergency and constitutional amendments passed after the parliament was recalled.

For Boloetse, that episode was not out of juvenile delinquency or youthful exuberance to get 15 minutes of fame.

“There was so much at stake for me,” Boloetse said on Tuesday, a day after the Court of Appeal dismissed the government’s appeal against the Constitutional Court ruling.

His fury was informed by his circumstances and love for mathematics. Boloetse was not born with a silver spoon.

His mother could not afford school fees for him and his two brothers.

Their fees were paid by their grandmother who was a primary school principal. His mother and father separated when he was nine.

Their father had been retrenched from the mines in South Africa and came back home to Mafeteng with almost nothing. With the family’s only source of income gone, the parents started quarrelling.

His mother packed her bags and left.

“It was just toxic,” he says of that time.

Boloetse, then nine, and his brothers were shipped off to live with their grandmother in Mohale’s Hoek. By the time they returned to live with their mother in Mafeteng, five years later after their father died, Boloetse had passed Grade Seven.

But the poverty he had left a few years earlier was still stalking the family.

His mother could not afford his fees and he had to wait three months for her grandmother to pay for his Form A.

That battle to remain in school would continue throughout high school as his grandmother struggled to pay fees for him and his brothers.

So when his Form E class went for months without a mathematics teacher Boloetse felt the school did not appreciate how his grandmother was sacrificing to keep him in school.

“By denying me maths lessons they were undermining my grandmother who was toiling to pay my school fees. They were cheating her, me, my fellow students and their parents.”

“It was an injustice.”

Boloetse also felt the school, and the principal, in particular, were sabotaging his career prospects.

“I planned to study accounting and mathematics was the key to that. Yet they were not getting us a maths teacher.”

Boloetse is not sure if their action as a class is what led the school to appoint a new mathematics teacher a few weeks later.

What matters is that he made it to the National University of Lesotho (NUL) to study marketing.

It is at college that he witnessed the power of activism. Together with his comrades in the Students’ Representative

Union, they won many battles against the government and university management.

“We had a voice and it was being heard”.

Boloetse did not know that the experience gathered and the bonds created in the students’ movement would have an impact in future.

He graduated in 2012 and joined a marketing company affiliated with Public Eye newspaper.

He says his foray into journalism started when the Public Eye editor would occasionally assign him to write stories for events he would have attended as a marketer.

When the marketing company folded, the editor invited him to join the newsroom and he quickly learned the craft.

He liked the idea of being impartial and objective. He kept his opinions out of stories.

But there were times when he felt his work as a journalist was not going far enough.

He would write stories he thought would change things but most were met with indifference by those whose conscience should have been pricked to make things right or change course.

He felt he was banging his head against a wall or flogging a dead donkey.

His investigative stories would expose wrongdoing but would not go as far as changing things.

The corrupt people he exposed either kept their jobs or flourished through their sleaze. The poor, whose plight he exposed, remained miserable

Journalists claim there is a wall between their profession and activism.
Although social media has chipped some bricks off that wall, journalists are largely correct.

Activists are opinionated and clear that their agenda is to influence or quicken the change they desire. Journalists, however, work under stringent ethical boundaries.

They should keep their views and emotions out of their stories.

They derive some satisfaction when stories have an impact but that is only secondary to the core business of informing, educating and entertaining.

Yet many journalists secretly wish they could do more to steer this in a certain direction.

They wish investigative stories on corruption would result in a cleaner government and force public officials to keep their hands off the cookie jar.

They want heads to roll and public officials to pay for their actions. At the very least, they want the public officials to explain themselves.

Boloetse was one such journalist.

An incident in 2018 made him cross the wall between journalism and activism.

He subscribed to a weekly internet bundle with his mobile service network.

When the bundle was exhausted within a few days the service provider started deducting the internet charges from his airtime.

Within hours and without prior warning his airtime had been gobbled.

This was the last straw for Boloetse.

He wrote to the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) complaining about the unfair practice. He told the LCA that the mobile network had no business deducting his airtime for internet services when his bundles were exhausted.

His use of the internet should be restricted to the bundle because that is what he subscribed to.

The implications of that letter were clear to both the LCA and his mobile service provider.

For the LCA it was a chance to whip mobile companies into line and redress a wrong that has been happening for years.

Boloetse was the first to officially complain about the practice but many others were sore about it. For the mobile service provider, Boloetse’s letter was a threat to profits.

Prepaid airtime is unlike bread or milk.

The airtime you buy on the streets doesn’t automatically translate into a sale for the mobile service provider. The sale is complete if you use the airtime and only then can the company record it as revenue.

This means the only time you grant the company permission to deduct your airtime is when you use its service. It’s the same concept for other prepaid utilities.

The sale between you and the power company is completed when you switch on the lights or plug.

By buying the bundle Boloetse had essentially restricted how much the company should deduct for internet services.

“Charging my airtime after the bundle was finished amounted to a violation of the agreement or even fraud,” Boloetse says.

The company called him to a meeting to discuss the issue after the letter to the LCA but he says “it was clear they had no justification for pinching his airtime”.

His employers were uncomfortable with his crusade because mobile companies are some of the major advertisers in the newspaper.

The LCA agreed with him and immediately instructed mobile companies to stop the practice. Boloetse had forced a regulator to protect customers and mobile companies to change the way they do business.

His actions changed the way Lesotho’s two million mobile service customers are charged.

Boloetse admits that he crossed the line between journalism and activism but can justify it.

“I am a citizen first and then a journalist. I was complaining to the LCA about an issue that affected me as a citizen and a customer,” he says.

He uses the same rationale to justify his complaints to the Ministry of Education about secondary school fees. For the past two years, Boloetse has been on a one-man campaign to push the government to make secondary education free.

“It doesn’t make sense that primary education is free and tertiary education is fully sponsored but secondary students have to pay fees.”

“It means we are saying it’s fine for our people to have primary education only because there is a premium on secondary education. It’s a deliberate policy to block the poor from tertiary education which is fully sponsored.”

Boloetse doesn’t pretend that he had no vested interest in this matter.

He wants to correct a government policy that almost blocked his way to high school.

“If it was not for my grandmother I would not have finished secondary school. I would not be where I am now. I see a lot of children who are going through what I went through.

I see myself in them and I feel I have an obligation to fight for them.”

It is the same obligation he felt a few weeks ago when he challenged the government’s decision to declare a state of emergency to recall parliament to pass the constitutional amendments for the reforms.

Boloetse felt the decision was illegal but did not have the money to file a court case to challenge it. Help came from friends he had met at the NUL.

Advocate Lintle Tuke, who became one of the applicants, agreed to handle the case pro bono.

Their efforts have paid off because the state of emergency has been nullified by a ruling that could also have serious implications on how the people interact with the government.

The judgement had opened the way for anyone to challenge a government decision based on public interest. This means nearly every citizen had the legal right to sue the government even if they were not directly affected by its actions.

The Court of Appeal endorsed that judgement this week when it dismissed the government’s appeal with costs. Boloetse is happy that the state of emergency has been nullified but says it is the court’s ruling on public interest that thrills him.

“This changes a lot. It means the government cannot use someone’s lack of legal standing to challenge a policy or decision.

It’s a victory for all people who want to see the government being held to account.”
Boloetse is 33 and works as a freelance journalist.

Staff Reporter

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

6 + 2 =


Government is broke



… Borrows M500m to pay salaries
MASERU – THE government is so broke that it had to borrow a staggering M500 million to pay civil servants’ salaries.
thepost can reveal that the money was borrowed through Treasury Bills from the local market this week.
The borrowing spree comes as the government is battling to pay salaries and suppliers due to a massive drop in tax revenues.
It comes as Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s government is left with two weeks in office.
But those few days left on its tenure have not stopped the government from making plans to borrow more money from the local market.
Highly placed sources told this paper of plans to issue more Treasury Bills in the next two weeks to raise money to pay suppliers.
A source however said there is some reluctance from some technocrats in the Ministry of Finance who believe the government’s books and financial control systems are so shambolic that it doesn’t know exactly how much it owes the private sector.
The arrears fluctuate every day but this paper understands that the government owes between M800 million and M1 billion to the suppliers.
Although the government has been grappling with the financial crisis for the past few years the crunch began to bite this year.
Sources say this month has been particularly terrible for the government.
By last week, a source said, the government had only M150 million for salaries. The total public wage bill is around M600 million.
This explains why the government had to borrow half a billion this week through treasury bills issued by the Central Bank of Lesotho.
The money arrived in the government’s account yesterday afternoon according to sources privy to the transaction.
The government has options to pay the debt in three, six, nine or 12 months. But given its precarious financial position, the government is likely to opt for the 12 months.
This means the debt will be paid on September 21 next year at about 7.8 percent interest. That translates to an interest of M39 million which brings the amount to M539 million.
The latest borrowing pushes the government’s domestic debt to M4.3 billion.
The foreign debt is around M15.6 billion. Although the debt is moderate, the government might be forced to borrow more if revenues continue to drop.
That could spell disaster for the country.
As things stand the government has to cut expenditure or look for ways to generate more revenue.
But with the economy still smarting from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and companies shutting down, there doesn’t seem to be much wiggle room.
Donor fatigue and the drop in the Southern African Customs Union, once the anchor of Lesotho’s budget, have made things worse.
Cutting expenditure seems to be the only option but the government appears reluctant to bite the bullet.
Lesotho has consistently failed to implement the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s recommendation to cut the wage bill.
Successive ministers have hinted at plans to retrench some government employees but have never implemented them because that has political implications.
There are signs that the chickens are eventually coming home to roost.
A few days ago Government Secretary Lerotholi Pheko issued a circular announcing a raft of measures to “contain expenditure and overdue payments for ministries, departments and agencies”.
Pheko said due to increasing expenditure pressures and a drop in revenue the government is implementing measures that will contain expenditure to levels that are aligned with available resources.
“The Ministry of Finance will continue to issue monthly warrants only for wages and salaries as well as essential and critical expenditures in line with the approved procurement and cash plans plus availability of funds,” Pheko said.
He ordered chief accounting officers to stop international travel, buying furniture, large maintenance, subsistence allowances, and hiring new staff.
Also, all vehicles other than VVIPS will not fuel more than once a week unless they are for essential services as authorised by the government.
All government vehicles other than for VVIPs and selected offices must be parked at their designated places by 5pm and shall be used only for authorised purposes, Pheko said.
Nkheli Liphoto

Continue Reading


We’ll gang up against RFP, says Rapapa



MASERU – Lesotho’s biggest political parties have hatched a grand plan to throttle the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) led by Sam Matekane.
The plot was revealed by the All Basotho Convention (ABC) chairman Sam Rapapa at an election rally held in Mashai constituency last Friday.
He said even if the RFP makes it into parliament, they will make sure that it would not be part of the next government.
The plan, Rapapa said, is to “keep the RFP leader Sam Matekane at least as the leader of opposition, with no party to cobble up a coalition government”.
He said Matekane’s “dream of becoming a government alone is practically impossible because” the ABC, the Movement for Economic Change (MEC), the Democratic Congress (DC), and the Basotho Action Party (BAP) “will gang up to sabotage him”.
Rapapa spoke as he appealed to ABC members not to join the RFP which he said will not form a government or be in the next coalition government.
“These big parties will gang up against him (Matekane) and he will not be part of the government,” he said.
Rapapa wondered out loud why anyone would therefore want to leave the ABC to join the RFP.
“We will do everything to stop Matekane from getting into the government,” Rapapa said.
He urged Basotho to analyse critically which parties are likely to form the next government so they vote wisely on October 7.
“Both ABC and DC are likely to form a coalition government,” Rapapa said.
He said although he would in the past viciously attack the DC, he had since toned down after the two parties formed a coalition government in 2020.
In a lighthearted moment, Rapapa compared the political landscape in Lesotho to that of a child who runs away from his home to a neighbour’s house because the head of that house has arrived home with stolen wors.
Rapapa said people who are claiming they are leaving the ABC because it is engulfed in conflicts are lying.
Instead, he said the conflicts are in the RFP which has been battling numerous court battles as party members fight to represent the party in the general election.
“There is no peace in Moruo,” Rapapa said. “There is a fight that is going on in the RFP.”
Moruo, which means wealth, is the RFP’s slogan.
Rapapa urged the members to either vote for the DC or the ABC as there is peace and direction in those parties.
After the election, Rapapa said they will tell Maketane to stand in the corner with his people and a few constituencies.
He said Matekane is going to lead the opposition because they had discussed amongst themselves that he is a businessman and he should go back to business.
“We gave you a job to build roads, (but) you leave them with potholes and join politics,” Rapapa said.
He said Matekane is likely to only qualify as an MP and not a Prime Minister.
The ABC secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, however distanced himself from Rapapa’s statement this week.
He said the party is busy campaigning to win next month’s election to form the next government and has not yet pronounced itself on any coalition deals.
“We have not planned to do anything about Matekane as the ABC National Executive Committee,” Hlaele said.
The ABC leader Nkaku Kabi told another rally in Thaba-Bosiu that “it is still premature as to which parties we would align ourselves with after the election”.
He said there are some parties that had been approaching the ABC to discuss coalition possibilities but they have not sat down to decide to cobble up any coalition agreements with any of them.
“Our committee has never met any party to discuss the formation of a coalition government after the election,” Kabi said.
Kabi said the matter should not trigger any ruckus in the party.
Nkheli Liphoto

Continue Reading


Stunning details of how Matela died



 MASERU – A witness has revealed shocking details of how ’Mahlompho Matela died.
Lekhooa Monaleli told the court that ’Mahlompho told her that she had been strangled.
Monaleli was testifying this week in the trial of Qamo Matela who is accused of the murder of his wife ’Mahlompho.
Monaleli was friends with the couple.
He was testifying before High Court judge, Justice Tšeliso Mokoko, last Thursday.
Monaleli said he went to the couple’s home after Qamo Matela had told him that his wife was not feeling well and he needed help to take her to hospital.
Monaleli said he found ’Mahlompho and Qamo on the bathroom floor. He said ’Mahlompho was sitting between Qamo’s thighs while their children were in the lounge.
Monaleli said Mahlompho looked “tired and helpless”.
“I helped the accused to lift (his wife) and carried her to the car,” Monaleli said.
He said Qamo had thrust a spoon into ‘Mahlompho’s mouth to stop her from biting her tongue.
“I noticed that something might have happened to the deceased (‘Mahlompho) apart from her being ill,” he said.
“What I picked from the deceased was that her eyes showed that she had been assaulted.”
“I kept quiet because this hit me hard,” Monaleli said.
They drove to Willies Hospital in Khubetsoana.
At the hospital, Qamo left them in the car as he went to fetch a wheelchair for ‘Mahlompho.
Monaleli said this gave him a chance to ask ’Mahlompho what happened.
Monaleli said ’Mahlompho told him that Qamo had assaulted and strangled her.
“I asked the deceased why she did not call for help when what happened. The response was that the accused was strangling her.”
Monaleli said ’Mahlompho told him that Qamo had strangled him for a long time.
The court heard that later on the same day, after helping the couple to the hospital and back, Monaleli sent Qamo a voice note on WhatsApp telling him that he had ruined his day.
Monaleli said he later went to the couple’s house with his wife but they could not see ’Mahlompho because they were told that she was still asleep after taking her medication.
Monaleli said seeing that his friend’s family needed help, he arranged for them to see a psychologist.
The crown’s second witness Rorisang Mofolo, ’Mahlompho’s sister, said she received a call on September 4 last year from Qamo telling her that ’Mahlompho had fainted four times.
Mofolo said Qamo told her that he suspect ’Mahlompho might have a heart problem but she was now feeling better after giving her some sugar.
“He also told me that they were waiting for a car to take them to Willies Hospital,” Mofolo said.
“After our conversation with the accused (Qamo) I called my nurse friend to ask about the temperature change issue, she said it might be Covid-19 so the deceased should get tested,” she said.
She said every time she tried to call ’Mahlompho the phone would be picked by Qamo who would speak on her behalf.
Mofolo said during a video call with ’Mahlompho, in Qamo’s absence, she noticed that she had bruises on her face.
She said ’Mahlompho told her she had fainted three times.
Mofolo said she was relieved after Qamo gave him the impression that ’Mahlompho was recovering but was shocked when Monaleli called and insisted that she goes to see her sister.
She said in their telephone conversation ’Mahlompho said she was “trapped in a hell of a marriage…this man is a psycho”.
Mofolo said ’Mahlompho told her that at one point Qamo had helped her pack her belongings and that of the children so they could leave but suddenly changed his mind and said she would not leave with the children.
She testified that ’Mahlompho said Qamo started assaulting and choking her, saying she refused to give his mother M20 yet she had M30 000 in her bank account.
Mofolo said ’Mahlompho was later taken to  Maseru hospital which quickly referred her to Bloemfontein where she died a few days later.
She said when a nurse at the Bloemfontein hospital called her to break the news of ’Mahlompho’s death she advised her to go to the police to open a murder case.
She reported the case at the Mabote police station.
She said when she arrived at the couple’s house she found Qamo crying in the bedroom.
Mofolo said Qamo said: “I am very sorry, please promise me that you will be there for me and the kids and that we will plan the funeral together”.
Mofolo said she did not reply but she went out.
Tholoana Lesenya

Continue Reading