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Lighting up dreams



BEREA – A cattle herder from Ha-Makujoe, Thabiso Monokoa, is atop Berea Plateau on voting day. The nearest polling station is two kilometres away and is about to close. He is unlikely to make it, even though he wishes he could cast his ballot and help secure the change he desperately yearns for.


Clad in a worn-out Lefitori (Victorian) blanket of blue and black colours with white stripes, a pair of jeans and gumboots, Monokoa is looking after 12 head of cattle in Berea. He doesn’t wish to be here, but he has little choice.

Dreams of becoming a respected professional vanished in 2008 when the 26-year-old failed to proceed to secondary school after completing primary education because his parents couldn’t afford it.

Although his dreams are up in smoke, he still harbours some hope for his siblings-only if the electorate could vote for a government that can extend the provision of free education to secondary education for poor families like his.

“I have many wishes but the most urgent among them is free secondary education so that my siblings can go to school,” Monokoa told thepost last Friday, on Election Day.

As the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party vacates the seat of power to make way for a coalition government led by businessman Sam Matekane’s Revolution for Prosperity (RFP), some dreams are getting reignited.

Chief among them is a chance at getting an education for thousands of Basotho who can’t afford to pursue their dreams due to poverty.

“The incoming government must extend free education to secondary schools,” said Monokoa.

“Had the government done so in 2008 when the first batch of pupils who received free and compulsory primary education passed to secondary school, I would not be where I am today,” said the 26-year-old.

“Had the government introduced free secondary education at that time, I could have gone to school like other children,” he said.

He said before the election, several parties promised to extend free education to secondary schools.

“May they keep their promises, whichever party wins,” said Monokoa.

The RFP is setting up a coalition government with the Movement for Economic Change (MEC) and the Alliance of Democrats (AD), whom it says it shares a common understanding on economic development.

Monokoa said his parents are surviving on piece jobs and struggle to feed their family of five, let alone save enough money to pay for secondary education.

Annual fees for secondary education in public schools, whether state-owned, church-owned or community-owned, range from M1 500 to M3 000, excluding registration and other costs. Uniforms and stationery are paid for separately.

“I was 18 years old when I dropped out of school and out of no choice I had to find a job. I got a temporary job at a construction company as a labourer and after that I have always looked after cattle,” he said.

“I don’t want any child of this country to drop out of school because their parents cannot afford to pay school fees. I know how it hurts. I felt it.”
Monokoa’s experience is not isolated.

A 15-year-old boy we will call Tseko to protect his identity was forced to drop out of school last year to make the sojourn to the capital from Mafeteng, about 80 kilometres away.

The boy said abject poverty and hunger drove him to seek employment.

His grandfather was looking after him and his younger sister because the parents were too poor to take care of them.

‘‘I had no uniform and my parents were unable to pay my fees. Going to school without uniform made me feel like an outcast and I also hated being expelled due to lack of fees. It affected my school work and I dropped out,” he said.

His grandfather gave him his last M300 to buy fruits and vegetables stock.

He said he later opted to sell motoho (a traditional Sesotho sour porridge) as competition was too stiff in the fruits and vegetable business.

“The motoho business is promising as I now have people who I supply weekly,” he said.

“With the little that I make, I have to pay M1 200 yearly for my younger sister’s education to ensure that she doesn’t endure the same pain I did,’’ said Tseko.

A local group, ≠bachashutdown has been campaigning for free secondary education for the past three years.

“Lesotho is experiencing high level of secondary and high school drop-outs students because most families are poor and cannot afford to pay the fees,” the group said in a letter to the incoming government this week.

The group cautioned that failure to implement this measure would result in increased youth unemployment “and the worst part is that they end up in the streets committing crimes”.

The group warned that failure to ensure access to education for children from poor families would promote drug and alcohol abuse and gangsterism.

“Young people are becoming increasingly impatient with the lack of progress towards eradicating unemployment and cannot wait any longer when government continues to pay lip service,” the letter reads. “We will be watching and listening to you with eagerness and hope.”

Lesotho introduced free primary education in 2000 as a strategy towards achieving the Education for All (EFA) goals, and made it universal and compulsory.

As a result, thousands of children enrolled in primary schools but failed to proceed to secondary level because their parents could not afford the fees and other costs.

Experts have noted that failure to make secondary education free has made access to secondary education skewed towards urban areas and higher income groups.

A situational analysis published in the Education Sector Plan 2016 – 2026 says the drop-out rate is a source of concern as it hovers around 25 percent and 21 percent at junior and secondary levels respectively.

The analysis states that it is internationally recognised that repetition is a driving factor for dropping out, “especially at school levels where opportunity costs gain weight”.

“These features describe a secondary sub-sector that does not succeed to promote students efficiently through the schooling process,” states the analysis. “As a consequence, significant amount of resources are also wasted at junior and senior secondary levels.”

Other studies have revealed that barely 30 percent of parents whose children pass primary education are able to afford tertiary education fees.

A recent World Bank report, titled Kingdom of Lesotho: Education Public Expenditure Review, shows that education spending in Lesotho is in favour of the rich and mostly urban residents as opposed to those in rural areas.

The World Bank showed that Lesotho spends more on education compared to all countries in the world as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

It states that for every M1 000, Lesotho spends M165 per student in secondary education and M326 per student in tertiary education.

Education spending, according to the World Bank report, is highly regressive and unequal, considering that only a small number of students reach tertiary education.

The institution states that among the lowest income people, the net attendance ratio of 13 to 17-year-olds in secondary education was only 15 percent, while this was 72 percent amongst the richest.

“For instance, for every 100 students that complete their primary education, only 36 complete their secondary education and five complete their tertiary education. This strongly favours the richest quintiles,” the report reads.

Caswell Tlali

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Mahao, PS in big fight



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.

Staff Reporter

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How chicken import ban hit vendors



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



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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