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Resource curse hits Mokhotlong



MASERU – WHEN a diamond mine was set up in Letšeng-la-terai, an estimated 20km away from Maloraneng in Mokhotlong, the villagers had hoped that this would result in a significant transformation of their lives.

Instead, the resource has literally turned into a curse. Now there is an outcry from the community in the village that is nestled at the confluence of Maloraneng River and Khubelu River in Mokhotlong district.

The village has about 70 homes located deep in the valley close to Letšeng mine operated by Gem Diamonds in partnership with the government of Lesotho.

Instead of enjoying benefits accruing from the construction of a mine in their area, the community is wallowing in poverty and poor infrastructure.

Travelling along the main route to Mokhotlong leading to Maloraneng village, the tarmac road is partly washed away by rains.

Local leaders say the presence of the mine in the area has resulted in an avalanche of socio- economic problems in an area where agriculture is the predominant source of livelihood for the people.

“Now all that is threatened by the mine,” said Chief Lentsoete Moahi, 50, who is a local traditional leader. He said people in the area are experiencing a litany of environmental problems such as contamination of water sources as well as noise and air pollution.

“There has been a degradation and loss of agricultural resources, land and vegetation since the mine was established. There is a constant menace since the mine was established in this area,” he said, adding that their food security is now under threat.

Villagers in the area survive on crops such as wheat, peas and sometimes maize.

Others used to plant vegetables on their small plots and irrigate them with water from nearby rivers, while some kept sheep and goats for wool and mohair, a big investment for farmers in the highlands.

“This used to be a lucrative project in this area,” Chief Moahi said, lamenting that the mine has deprived them of their land where their animals used to graze.

When blasting occurs at the mine, a yellow dust is usually seen bellowing into the sky and later settles on the grass.

This poses a double problem for animals that feed on the grass on which the dust gathers and also drink water from contaminated sources.

Chief Moahi said the quality of their wool and mohair has dropped because animals no longer drink clean water like they used to.

“The water is now salty,” said Chief Moahi.

Faced with the mounting problems, community leaders approached the mine for talks but nothing meaningful came out of it.

Chief Moahi said fish used to be in abundance at the confluence of Maloraneng and Khubelu Rivers but that is now a thing of the past.

“Tourists used to visit this area to fish but they are no longer coming,” he said, adding that tourists used to support the local economy by buying small handicrafts from villagers.

“We believe the fish died because of the chemicals found in the water,” he said.

Moahi fears that the dam built by the mine to keep its waste could burst and wreak havoc in their village.

“So the mine gave us roja-rojas (small radios) and sirens to mount in the area. The sirens can be used to alert people if there is any danger such as when the dam bursts,” said Chief Moahi.

He said he was among those who were employed to alert the community in case the dam burst.
The deal was struck in 2012.

“After almost nine years, we have not received even a cent from the mines. That’s why we quit the job. The mine came to repossess their equipment,” Chief Moahi said.

Letšeng Diamond Mine CEO, Kelebone Leisanyane, however said the company enjoys good relations with the community.

He said they have experts in various fields at the mine who are “always” out to meet the people and address their grievances through the mine’s Social Management Plan.

Leisanyane said the mine has a minimum of M5 million that it uses to finance the community projects in Mokhotlong district.

The councillor for Seate J01 in the area, ‘Matokelo Moahi, described the community’s plight as “dreadful”.

“This is above us as the community leaders,” she said.

“What frustrates us is that we can’t take on the mine legally because it has a bigger pocket than us,” she said, adding that only two people from Maloraneng village have landed jobs at the mine.

The chairman of Maluti Community Development Forum (MCDF), Advocate Thabo Lerotholi, said they roped in experts from the National University of Lesotho (NUL)’s department of Geography to conduct some tests.

He said the findings from the tests confirmed that the water is contaminated, although the mine disputed the results. Experts from the University of Free State also confirmed that the water is contaminated, said Advocate Lerotholi.

In response to the allegations, Letšeng Mine said it has established an official nitrate task team, which works in collaboration with the relevant departments within the Lesotho government.

The mine said since the commissioning of the nitrate management study, the operation has implemented the following solutions to conserve water quality:

l Commissioned a wetland construction and rehabilitation programme.

l Refined and amended blasting practices and procedures to limit the volume of nitrates from explosives released into the environment.

l Partnered with water conservation experts to trial the feasibility of fertigation and bioremediation as treatment methods and conducted leach testing to better understand the management options.

Further, the mine said it was able to successfully complete a bioremediation pilot project at Letšeng to treat water leaching from the waste rock dumps with potentially higher volumes of nitrates in 2021, and a full-scale bioremediation plant is now being designed for commissioning at the end of 2022.

This bioremediation plant will treat water seeping from the mine waste rock dumps, and the treated water will be discharged from the plant into a newly constructed wetland before leaving the mine lease area.

Majara Molupe

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Lawyer in trouble



A local lawyer, Advocate Molefi Makase, is in soup after he flew into a rage, insulting his wife and smashing her phone at a police station.

It was not possible to establish why Adv Makase was so mad at his wife. He is now expected to appear before the Tšifa-li-Mali Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.

Earlier on Tuesday, he was released from custody on free bail on condition that he attends remands.

Magistrate Mpotla Koaesa granted Advocate Makase bail after his lawyer, Advocate Kefuoe Machaile, pleaded that he had to appear for his clients in the Court of Appeal.

Advocate Makase is facing two charges of breaching peace and malicious damage to property.

According to the charge sheet, on October 5, 2023, within the precincts of the Leribe Police Station, Advocate Makase allegedly used obscene, threatening, or insulting language or behaviour, or acted with an intent to incite a breach of the peace.

The prosecution alleges that the lawyer shouted at his wife, ’Mamahao Makase, and damaged her Huawei Y5P cell phone “with an intention to cause harm” right at police station.

During his initial appearance before Magistrate Koaesa, Advocate Makase expressed remorse for his actions and sought the court’s leniency, pleading for bail due to an impending appearance in the Court of Appeal.

His lawyer, Advocate Machaile, informed the court that an arrangement had been made with the police to secure his release the following day, as he had spent a night in detention.

Advocate Machaile recounted his efforts to persuade the police to release him on the day of his arrest.

He noted that the police had assured them of his release the following day, which indeed came to fruition.

Following his release, he was instructed to present himself before the court, which he dutifully complied with.

Advocate Machaile underscored Advocate Makase’s standing as a recognised legal practitioner in the court.

Notably, he was scheduled to appear in the Court of Appeal but had to reschedule his commitment later in the day to accommodate his court appearance.

Advocate Machaile asserted that Advocate Makase presented no flight risk, as he resides in Hlotse with his family and has no motive to evade his legal obligations.

He respectfully petitioned the court for his release on bail, emphasising that he had demonstrated his ability to adhere to the court’s conditions.

The Crown Counsel, Advocate Taelo Sello, expressed no objection to the bail application, acknowledging that the accused had a forthcoming matter in the Court of Appeal.

Consequently, the court granted Advocate Makase bail without any financial conditions, with the stipulation that he must not tamper with state witnesses and must fully participate in the trial process until its conclusion.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Trio in court for killing ‘witches’



THREE elderly women were all stabbed to death with a spear during a deadly night after they were accused of being witches.

Three suspects, all from Ha-Kholoko village in Roma, appeared in the High Court this week facing a charge of murder.
They are Jakobo Mofolo, Oele Poto, and Pakiso Lehoko.

They accused the elderly women of bewitching one of Poto’s relative who had died.

The stunning details of the murder was unravelled in court this week, thanks to Tlhaba Bochabela, 32, who is the crown witness.

Bochabela told High Court judge, Justice ’Mabatšoeneng Hlaele, last week that he had been invited to become part of the murder group but chickened out at the last minute.

Bochabela said in March 2020, he was invited by Rethabile Poto to come to his house in the evening.

He said when he went there, he found Mofolo, Poto, and Lehoko already at the house. There were two other men who he did not identify.

“I was told that the very same night we were going to do some task, we were going to kill some people,” Bochabela told Justice Hlaele.

He said he asked which people were going to be killed and was told that they were ’Malekhooa Maeka, ’Mathlokomelo Poto, ’Mampolokeng Masasa.

They said the three women had successfully bewitched Rethabile Poto’s uncle leading to his death.

Bochabela said after he was told of this plot, he agreed to implement it but requested that he be allowed to go to his house to fetch his weapon.

He said Lehoko was however suspicious that he was withdrawing from the plot and mockingly said “let this woman go and sleep, we can see that he is afraid and is running away”.

Bochabela said the only person he told the truth to, that he was indeed going to his home to sleep instead of going to murder the three elderly women was Mofolo who also told him that he was leaving too.

He said he told Mofolo that he felt uncomfortable with the murder plan.

Bochabela said he left and when he arrived at his place he told his wife all about the meeting and the plot to kill the women.

He said his wife commended him for his decision to pull out.

“I told my wife to lock the door and not respond to anyone that would come knocking looking for me,” Bochabela said.

He said later in the night, Rethabile Poto arrived at his place and called him out but they did not respond until he left.

Bochabela said in the morning they discovered that indeed the men had carried out their mission.

The village chief of Ha-Kholoko, Chief Thabang Lehoko, told Justice Hlaele that it was between 11 pm and 12 midnight when he received a phone call from one Pakiso Maseka who is a neighbour to one of the murdered women.

Chief Lehoko said Maseka told him to rush to ’Mampolokeng Masasa’s place to see what evil had been done to her.

“I rushed to Masasa’s place and on arrival I found Pakiso in the company of Moitheri Masasa,” Chief Lehoko said.

He said he found the old lady on the bed, naked with her legs spread wide.

“I was embarrassed by the sight of the old lady in that state, naked and covered in blood,” the chief said.

He said he went out and asked Maseka what had happened but Maseka referred him to Moitheri Masasa.

Chief Lehoko said Masasa told him that there were people with spears who had threatened to kill him if he came out of the house.

He said Maseka said he knew that Masasa’s neighbour, ’Malekhooa Maeka, was a light sleeper and she could have heard something.

The chief then sent one Patrick Lehoko to Maeka’s house to check if she had heard anything but Patrick came back saying Maeka was not at her house.

“I immediately stood up and went to ’Malekhooa’s place,” Chief Lehoko said.

He said when he arrived, he knocked at her door but there was no response so he kicked the door open, went in and called out ’Malekhooa Maeka by name.

Chief Lehoko said he then lit his phone and saw her lying in bed covered in blankets.

He said he then went closer to her and shook her but she was heavy.

Chief Lehoko said he tried to shake her again one last time while still calling her out but he touched blood.

He said he immediately left and went back to tell others that Maeka seemed to be dead too.

“I decided to go and buy airtime from the nearest shop which I had passed through near ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s home.”

He said on his way he met one Sebata Poto who asked him who he was.

Chief Lehoko said he only replied by telling him that the two women, Masasa and Maeka, had been murdered.

He said Sebata Poto told him that “’Matlhokomelo has been stabbed with a spear too”.

Chief Lehoko said he rushed to ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s house where he found her seated in the middle of the house supported by her children with blood oozing from her chest, gasping for air.

“I stepped out and went to get airtime, but I found her dead when I returned from the shop,” the chief said.

The case continues.

Tholoana Lesenya

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Opposition fights back



THE opposition is launching a nasty fightback after Prime Minister Sam Matekane defanged their no-confidence motion by roping in new partners to firm up his government.

Matekane’s surprise deal with the Basotho Action Party (BAP) has trimmed the opposition’s support in parliament and thrown their motion into doubt.

But the opposition has now filed another motion that seeks to get Matekane and his MPs disqualified from parliament on account that they were elected when they had business interests with the government.

The motion is based on section 59 of the constitution which disqualifies a person from being sworn-in as an MP if they have “any such interest in any such government contract as may be so prescribed”.

Section 59 (6) describes a government contract as “any contract made with the Government of Lesotho or with a department of that Government or with an officer of that Government contracting as such”.

Prime Minister Matekane’s Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) has a history of winning road construction tenders. Other Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MPs, most of whom were in business, had had business dealings with the government.

It is however not clear if the MPs were still doing business with the government at the time of their swearing-in.
Matekane’s MGC Park is housing the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which is a government institution established by the constitution, getting its funds from the consolidated funds.

The motion was brought by the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Lekhetho Rakuoane who is a key figure in the opposition’s bid to topple Matekane.

The motion appears to be a long shot but should be taken in the context of a political game that has become nasty.
Advocate Rakuoane said the IEC’s tenancy at the MGC is one of their targets.

“The IEC is one of the government departments,” Rakuoane said.

“It is currently unethical that it has hired the prime minister’s building.”

“But after the motion, he will have to cut ties with the IEC or he will be kicked out of parliament.”

The Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said although the IEC is an independent body, it can still be regarded as part of the government because it gets its funding from the consolidated fund.

The Basotho Covenant Movement (BCM)’s Reverend Tšepo Lipholo, who seconded the motion, said the Matekane-led government “is dominated by tenderpreneurs who have been doing business with the government since a long time ago”.

“Now they have joined politics, they must not do business with the government,” Lipholo said.

He said some of the MPs in the ruling parties are still doing business with the government despite their promises before the election to stop doing that.

“Those who will not abide by the law should be disqualified as MPs,” Lipholo said.

“Basotho’s small businesses are collapsing day-by-day, yet people who are in power continue to take tenders for themselves.”

He applauded the Abia constituency MP Thuso Makhalanyane, who was recently expelled from Matekane’s RFP for rebellion because he withdrew his car from government engagement after he was sworn in as an MP.

“He set a good example by withdrawing his vehicle where it was hired by the government,” Lipholo said.

Rakuoane said during the past 30 years after Lesotho’s return to democratic rule, section 59 of the constitution has not been attended to even when it was clear that some MPs had business dealings with the government.

“This section stops you from entering parliament when doing business with the government. Those who are already members will have to leave,” he said.

Rakuoane said they are waiting for Speaker Tlohang Sekhamane to sign the motion so that the parliament business committee can set a date for its debate.

“The law will also serve to assist ordinary Basotho businesses as they will not compete with the executive,” he said.

“There are many Basotho businesses in business these MPs are in. They must get those tenders instead.”

The new motion comes barely a week after a court application aimed at disqualifying Mokhothu.

The government-sponsored application sought the Constitutional Court to declare Mokhothu unfit to be prime minister because he was convicted of fraud in 2007.

Mokhothu has been suggested as Matekane’s replacement should the motion of no confidence pass in parliament.

Nkheli Liphoto

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