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Schools run out of food supplies



NAZARETH – SOME schools in the central region have run out of food supplies for their feeding programmes, leaving hundreds of primary school students on the brink of starvation.

Many of the children, especially in the rural areas, are from poor families that rely on the school feeding programmes to keep hunger at bay.

With that safety net gone, some teachers fear that many vulnerable children will drop out of school. The development in the central region follows a similar experience in the northern region in

May when food supplies ran dry because catering companies had suspended services due to delayed payments from the government.

This led to students from poor families dropping out of school.

In the central region, some schools have been forced to cut operating hours. Schools that opened from 7:45 am to 2pm are now starting at 8:30 and send students away at noon so that the children can go home early to eat.

Some schools are reducing rations to make stocks last longer.

The new school feeding model, the National Management Agent (NMA), is administered by the School Self-Reliance and Feeding Unit (SSRFU) in the Ministry of Education. Two companies,

Ruele and TJ General Dealer, both registered in Lesotho, were awarded the tender to provide food.

Under the model, the companies are expected to buy, transport, supply and ensure that the food is cooked and served to the pupils.

According to the Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee (LVAC) report released in July 2022, about 521 000 people are food insecure (320 000 rural and 201 000 urban) and are in need of humanitarian support.

A grandmother of two, ‘Makhomane Pheko, said her 12-year-old grandson relies on the feeding programme.

“My last hope was on the school feeding programme and now that it has problems, I am stressed because it means I will be begging neighbours non-stop until their mother (who had them out of

wedlock and now married) gives us something,” she said.

“Lately he was reluctant to go to school but I talked to him not to abandon this opportunity to get an education despite the challenges.”

The 62-year-old is battling with arthritis and her leg recently got fractured forcing her to stay in bed.

“Life is hard,” she said, sobbing.

Ha-Ramotšoane Caterer, ‘Maitumeleng Sehlabaka, said she signed her contract in April but only started cooking in May because there was no food.

“As a parent, it broke my heart having to serve children pap only, my child included. Some of the children can’t afford to bring their own relish,” she said.

She said they (her and her colleague) were only paid salaries for two months, April and May.

“Every day I show up at work hoping to get paid as I am a breadwinner. My child had to drop out of school because I couldn’t afford to pay her Grade 9 fees. We can’t even afford to buy soap,” she said.

“I am expected to come to work clean but I don’t even have soap at home to wash my clothes. I am struggling,” she said, adding that her husband doesn’t work and relies on piece jobs and sometimes goes without pay.

“Sometimes, the seven of us go to sleep on empty stomachs. I am deep in debt as I had hoped to be paid soon. I dedicate my time here because I need money for my family’s basic needs and I am afraid to quit because it can be used against me when I have to claim my payment.”

Ha-Ramotšoane Government Primary School teacher, Molato Ramochele, said food stocks were available when schools reopened but ran out of relish (lijelello) beans/peas and pupils were expected to bring their own in September.

“Some pupils were eating pap without any relish,” he said.

Pupils were asked to bring their own pap on Monday when thepost visited the school. The caterers say they have been putting in personal sacrifices for the sake of the children, but they are getting fed up.

They said they at some point even slaughtered one of their two pigs “to meet the children half way.”

“We tried to plant crops but since our school yard is not fenced, animals ate those vegetables. We have been asking for a fence for a very long time with no luck,” he said.

He said Ruele kept on making empty promises that they will bring food but to date, there is still nothing.

“It affects pupils badly because some of them are orphans relying on school feeding on a daily basis.”

He said almost 40 percent of the 250 students from Grade R to 7 rely on the school feeding programme.

“Our education is also affected as attendance declines once food runs dry,” he said.

Ramochele added that “it’s heart-breaking because we live in a different era. During our time, we would eat Mphothe and call it ‘Malebota but for these children it’s foreign to them.”

He said primary schools in Nazareth generally experience problems when it comes to food supply.

“I am sure some schools are experiencing the same problem as us. It’s not something new,” he said.

“Ruele should give us food on time or stop because e ea re siteloa. It was better when the school feeding was handled by WFP because we never ran out of food…with Ruele, children are suffering.”

The school principal, ‘Maborane Manyeli, said she needed the school board’s permission to talk when thepost reached her for comment.

“It will not be an immediate thing as board members have their errands to run,” she said.

She later called back saying SSRFU officers had visited the school “and settled their affairs so I don’t think we need to talk about them anymore since they paid what they were supposed to pay and we discussed the matter.”

Nazareth Principal, Thabiso Sekoetja, said the school is running out of food commodities.

“But I am hopeful another batch will come soon as I was told that supplies will come before our current stock is finished. The stock we have will not last until schools closure, November 29.”

Machache Primary School principal, Phakiso Sekaleli, shared similar sentiments about the shortage of food, adding that the remaining stocks are enough for 13 days.

“The current food we are using was supposed to be for the second quarter but it arrived late. The first quarter ended without food and we only received stocks around April,” he said.

“Ruele needs to be removed because it gives us problems not only with pupils but caterers as well as they are not paid on time. We have to beg them to come even though they are not paid. Because they are desperate, they show up every day but in some schools, they have left.”

Ruele Group Lesotho supplied food stocks in September enough for three months.

“Miraculously, they didn’t even last for two months because the school rolls have increased drastically compared to the ones we were given by the ministry of education,” Sekaleli said.

Ruele Group Lesotho Director, Thabo Ntsane, said investigations are ongoing.

The problem, said Ntsane, was that principals didn’t highlight increased enrolment, resulting in schools getting inadequate rations.

“They just accept and sign, leading us to this problem.”

“We were contracted for 59 300 pupils and after realising the problem, we will be in talks with the government to find a way forward but it won’t be a one day thing as there are procedures to be followed in government,” he said, adding that “the ministry has to investigate enrolment thoroughly and give us the correct figures.”

Ntsane said delays in government payments have affected their operations. Heavy rains and the rough terrain and other challenges lead to delays in food distribution in schools.

“We supply on a quarterly basis and before it ends, we bring more to avoid starving pupils.”

Ntsane rubbished claims that caterers were only paid for April and May, saying caterers signed their contracts in April and they are only owed two months salaries.

“We are unable to pay them because we are still owed and it’s a lot of money. We have talked with them that they will not get their salaries on a monthly basis,” he said, without disclosing how much the ministry owes the companies.

The Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) CEO, Thuto Ntšekhe-Mokhehle, said the school feeding programme faces “a lot” of challenges that needs to be addressed structurally.

“We can’t request M182m for school feeding and be given only M140m and be expected to respond to why children starve. It’s a mixture of issues which we are now addressing and even if these suppliers are wrong, we can’t step on them hard because we owe them,” she said.

She says as a way forward for a permanent solution, they are reviewing the school feeding policy. One solution could be using produce of local farmers to feed pupils but there are challenges.

“It’s just a dream and unless agriculture, trade and finance ministries come on board, it is a mission impossible. We are moving towards making this policy multi-sectoral. Some of the things fail because we are alone.”

Ntšekhe-Mokhehle said attendance by underprivileged pupils is mostly affected as they are attracted to school by food provisions.

“We want children to be comfortable,” said Ntšekhe-Mokhehle. The government has acknowledged the importance of the school feeding programme.

Speaking during the donation of M31 million from the government of Japan through the World Food Programme for ECCD school feeding programme, the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET), Principal Secretary Basic Education, Dr Lira Khama, said the school feeding programme contributes to efforts to address social challenges confronting several vulnerable groups in communities.

These include malnutrition, undernutrition, stunting and low enrolment rates at pre-primary and primary levels.

“Over the years, this invaluable contribution has indeed made school feeding one of the largest safety-net programmes in Lesotho.”

He said studies have shown that “a well-designed school feeding programme can be a panacea for some of the bottlenecks persisting in our education system.”

He said the school feeding programme is critical in addressing nutrition challenges faced by children in Lesotho, particularly when the diet provided includes macro- and micronutrients to support the physical and mental development of children at the critical age group of two-three years found in pre-schools.

“The provision of school meals has thus proven to be even more critical in addressing these challenges faced by Basotho children from underprivileged families,” said Dr Khama.

He said the ministry recognises school feeding as an investment and not expenditure.

He said there is evidence to suggest that improved nutrition leads to improved cognitive capacities of children.

Other benefits of the school feeding programme include improved school attendance and access, he said.

“We are aware that many children attend school because it is a place where they can access a decent meal.”

He said hunger and malnutrition have adverse effects on the physical and mental health of children and negatively affects their behavioural and emotional development.

“Therefore, children are at the core of the school feeding policy…This augurs well with the Rights of the Child, especially Article 4 on the Protection of Rights, which requires governments to create environments where children can grow and reach their full potential.”

‘Mapule Motsopa

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MP defies party, backs opposition



MOHLOMINYANE Tota, the only MP for the United for Change (UFC), has defied the party’s order to stop voting with the opposition in parliament.
Tota, the UFC’s deputy leader, told thepost this week that he will vote, guided by his own conscience, and not the party’s instructions.

His defiance comes after the party publicly chastised him for voting with the opposition in parliament.
A fightnight ago, Tota angered his party when he sided with the opposition to vote against the government’s motion to continue discussing the reforms’ Omnibus Bill despite that it was being challenged in the Constitutional Court.

The government however won with 57 votes against the opposition’s 50.
The UFC issued a statement reprimanding Tota for defying its decision to always vote with the government.
But Tota told thepost this week that he was unfazed by the party’s warning.

“I will continue to vote with the opposition where need be, and I will also vote with the government where need be,” Tota said.
He said he respects the party’s position but “I also have a right to follow my conscience”.

This, he added, is because “it is not mandatory for an MP to toe the party line even when his conscience does not allow it”.
He said whether he will vote with the government or the opposition will depend “on the issue on the table”.
He said his conscience would not allow him to vote with the government on the Omnibus Bill motion.

“It was wrong,” Tota said.
“I will do the same again given another chance.”

Tota’s response comes three days after the UFC issued a statement distancing itself from his stance in parliament.
The party said its national executive committee had an urgent meeting over the weekend to discuss Tota’s behaviour.
It said its position is to always support Prime Minister Sam Matekane’s coalition government.

“‘The issue has caused a lot of confusion in the party and among Basotho at large,” the statement reads.

The party also said Tota did not bother to inform the national executive committee about his decision so that he could get a new mandate.

“He did not even inform the committee before voting,” the statement reads.
“The national executive committee held an intensive meeting with Tota about the matter because the purpose of the party is to support the government,” it reads.
The UFC said where the government goes wrong “the party will continue to confront it with peace and not with a fight” (sic).

“We have confidence in the current government because it was voted in by Basotho.”
The UFC’s statement makes it clear that the party “will not support anything against the government”.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Inside plot to oust Matekane



THE plot to topple Prime Minister Sam Matekane thickened this week amid allegations of brazen vote-buying ahead of the opposition’s planned vote of no-confidence.

The opposition is said to be ready to push out Matekane when parliament reopens sometime in September. They accuse Matekane’s government of incompetence, nepotism, corruption and using the security forces to harass opposition MPs.

But as the lobbying and touting of MPs reaches fever pitch, there are now allegations of each side using bribes to secure votes crucial in the vote to remove the government.
Democratic Congress leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, this week accused the government of bribing its MPs to defeat the motion against Matekane.

Mokhothu, who made the allegations at the opposition’s press conference yesterdday, did not give further details or names of those bribed and those bribing.
But on Monday, the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MP, Puseletso Lejone, told thepost that Mokhothu offered him a M2.2 million bribe to support the opposition’s motion to upend the government.

Lejone said Mokhothu made the offer at a secret meeting, attended by almost all opposition leaders on August 14, at Monyane Moleleki’s house in Qoatsaneng.
The Thaba Moea MP said the leaders claimed that 60 MPs were supporting the motion against Matekane and wanted his vote to make it 61.

“The money was to come directly from Mokhothu,” Lejone said.
“They asked me to provide them with my bank account so that they could transfer the money.”
Mokhuthu denied the allegations, saying he wondered if Lejone “was smoking socks”.

Lejone repeated the same allegations on the sidelines of yesterday’s press conference where Matekane assured Basotho that his government has enough numbers to fend off the opposition’s attempt to push him out.
He said apart from Moleleki and Mokhothu, other political leaders who attended the meeting were Lekhetho Rakuoane, Machesetsa Mofomobe, Nkaku Kabi, Professor Nqosa Mahao, Teboho Mojapela, Tefo Mapesela and Tšepo Lipholo.

He said the leaders gave him a document showing that six RFP MPs had pledged to support the vote of no confidence. Lejone however refused to name the RFP MPs, saying he still wants them to remain in the ruling party.
He said four MPs from parties in the RFP-led coalition had signed.

They are Mohlominyane Tota (UFC), Reverend Paul Masiu (BAENA), Mokoto Hloaele (AD) and Motlalepula Khahloe (MEC).
The deal, Lejone said, was that Mokhutho would become prime minister and be deputised by Dr Mahali Phamotse.
He said the RFP’s faction was going to be rewarded with 10 ministerial seats for their role in toppling Matekane.
Nearly all the political leaders mentioned by Lejone denied attending the meeting at Moleleki’s house.

“By the living God, I have never been in a meeting with that man (Lejone),” Mokhothu said, adding that Lejone’s allegations are “defamatory”.

Mahao said he last visited Moleleki’s house, which is up the road from his, 22 years ago. Mofomobe said Lejone is lying about the meeting because he wants to curry favour with Matekane, whom he had been criticising for months.
Mofomobe said all his meetings with Lejone were at the BNP Centre and their agenda was toppling Matekane.

“We were discussing his (Matekane) incapability to rule this country,” Mofomobe said.

Rakuoane and Mapesela said they have never been to Moleleki’s house.
So did Kabi who implied that Lejone could have smoked something intoxicating “to talk about a meeting that never happened”.
Lipholo, Rev Masiu, and Tota said they were not at that meeting while Moleleki said he had “no comment”.

Staff Reporter

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Matekane abusing state agencies, says opposition



THE opposition has accused the government of weaponising security agencies to harass and intimidate their MPs.
The accusations come as the opposition plots to push a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Sam Matekane when parliament re-opens in September.

Opposition leaders told a press conference yesterday that the government has resorted to using the army and the police against its MPs because it is afraid of the motion.
Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said the security bosses have been willing tools for the government because their bosses are desperate for Matekane to renew their employment contracts.

He was talking about Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli, army boss Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela and National Security Service (NSS) boss Pheello Ralenkoane.

“Employment contracts for the security agencies’ bosses are the ones causing these problems because the commanders end up working towards pleasing the government for their contract extension,” Mokhothu said.

He said the army has also started setting up roadblocks closer to parliament to search MPs. Mokhothu said the army searched Nkaku Kabi and Advocate Lebohang Maema KC at the parliament premises last week.

“The government is now bringing back the security agencies into party politics,” Mokhothu said.
“This was the first time the army entered the parliament premises to search members and other people there. It is an embarrassment.”
“The responsibility of our soldiers is to guard the borders and ensure security, not to enter politics or set up roadblocks on the parliament roads.”
“They are now running the country like a shop or a company.”

Basotho National Party leader, Machesetsa Mofomobe, alleged that Matekane had a meeting with the security bosses in Teya-teyaneng to discuss how they could use their institutions to clip the opposition’s wings.

“The LDF, LMPS and NSS boss’s contracts have expired, and now they are using the institution to get extensions,” Mofomobe said.
“The LDF and LMPS are doing this deliberately to protect the government.”
thepost could not independently verify this allegation.

Tefo Mapesela, the Basotho Progressive Party leader, said Matekane’s government is taking Lesotho back to 2014 when the army was wooed into politics.
He warned that officers who allow themselves to be used as pawns in political fights might find themselves in jail while their political handlers enjoy freedom.
He referred to Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli who has been in remand prison for seven years as he faces charges of murder, attempted murder and treason.
Mapesela however said the opposition will not be intimidated because it is their democratic right to bring a motion of no confidence against the government.

“When there is time to enter a motion of no confidence it is time, it is written in the law, there is nothing wrong there,” Mapesela said.
“I once launched a motion of no confidence in the previous parliament, but I was never arrested or threatened.”

“We do not owe Matekane anything. When the time has come he has to go. We will lobby others as it is not a crime.”

The Basotho Action Party’s Nqosa Mahao criticised the police for issuing a press statement with political undertones.

In a controversial statement last week, Commissioner Molibeli said the police were aware that some MPs were coercing their colleagues to support their plot to topple the government.
Molibeli also said they were aware that such MPs were surrounding themselves with armed groups.

“Police warn those perpetrating these acts to stop immediately to avoid action that could be taken to protect the country,” Molibeli said.

Matekane made the same allegations at his press conference yesterday.
Professor Mahao said the statement shows that the police have now been entangled in politics.

“Every time parties experience internal problems the leaders conspire with the security agencies,” he said.
“The opposition leaders are now being harassed because the government wants to stop them from exercising their rights.”

The opposition’s charge sheet against Matekane

  •  Filling of statutory positions despite the reforms aiming to change the system.
  • Corruption
  • Nepotism
  • Using security agencies to deter MPs from ousting Matekane.
  • Job losses.
  • Lack of job creation.
  • Failure to fulfil campaign promises.
  • Protecting mining companies’ interests at the expense of Basotho.
  • Incompetence and lack of communication skills.
  • Arrest of MPs by the police.
  • Cherry-picking reforms that insulate his government.

Staff Reporter

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