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‘Sex work is work’

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MASERU – SEX workers in Lesotho say life on the streets is rough in a country where trade is rife with treachery, violence and stigma.

Some say decriminalising sex work could reduce the suffering and help sex workers with easier access to services.

Sello, a 38-year-old Maseru pansexual man, says he prefers sex with other men than with women.

But, for money, he often finds himself sleeping with women as part of his job as a sex worker for the past 14 years.

“It is demanding to have sex with a woman and I have to satisfy her because she is paying,” said Sello, who requested that his full name be hidden to protect his identity.

“Although I am pansexual, mostly I am homosexual so I have to take drugs such as Viagra for me to get my system going to satisfy a client.

I don’t know what these drugs will do to my body, I am scared,” he said.

He said men he sells sex to often refuse to wear condoms.

“I take PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) but it only protects me against HIV. It’s risky and I am still rolling with the punches as I haven’t conquered any of the challenges.”

Sello uses social media to market his services. He says sex work has its own rules.

“Re hoeba ka thobalano, e seng ’mele (We sell sex, not our bodies). There is no foreplay before intercourse so the buyer must come prepared or aroused and ready to do what they paid for.”

Sello said decriminalisation of sex work is vital for the industry.

“It will be easier for us to have security, brothels and commodities (lubricants). It will help reduce HIV infection,” he said.

Sello said criminalising sex work promotes violence, rape and stigma towards sex workers and also police brutality.

“Currently, police officers don’t deal with Gender Based Violence cases fairly because sex work isn’t decriminalised and some clients take advantage of that. We are violated,” he said.

He said he regards sex work as a business opportunity.

“I realised that there are men in need of sex with other men but they are still in the closet.

“I realised that I can help them but as time went on, I realised there were women too who were in need of sex and they were willing to pay so I grabbed the opportunity.”

A female sex worker, Lisebo, described her work as “hell on earth”.

She described scenes of one evening. She said she showed up at work as usual at around 7:30 pm. She said a client approached her seeking services two hours later and asked to go to his place.

“I went there because I needed money. Little did I know that he would refuse to use protection and when I disagreed, things turned rough.

“He beat me up and nearly stabbed me with a knife. I ran out of his house naked. Luckily it was at night,” said the 34-year-old who has been a sex worker since 2019.

She said men often take advantage of her.

“Some will come with little money that isn’t worth my services. They beat me up if I refuse. Some tear condoms or remove condoms without my consent,” she said.

She said she was treated for a Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) at a clinic recently.

“It was difficult as the people at the clinic I went to were hostile. The attitude of a health care professional changed suddenly when I informed her about the nature of my illness.

“She said to me ‘siki ena ea hau ea nkha, ha u tsebe u n’u nts’u luletse’ng’ (You have a stinking illness and I don’t know why you delayed coming),” she said.

“I no longer feel free to open up to our healthcare providers. My job is risky and people will be asking why I can’t quit. But what will happen to my dependents?”

Lisebo also called for decriminalisation of sex work “because we are not safe”.

“Recently, two of my colleagues were brutally killed and we saw their pictures making rounds on social media,” she said.

“Criminalising sex doesn’t mean there will be no sex workers,” she said.

“We exist and all we need is an organised brothel so that some clients will stop violating us.

“If sex work gets decriminalised, it will be very helpful because we would be able to report abuse to the police.

“Currently, they dismiss us on the basis that what we are doing is unlawful.”

She added that decriminalising the trade could also help deal with the scourge of child prostitution.

“Maybe children as young as 12-years-old will stop coming here. We have tried to stop them but we have failed,” she said.

Lisebo said when they approached the police about children selling sex they were told that they were jealous because they were being outcompeted.

Lisebo was introduced to sex work by some sex workers whom she said were her neighbours but are now late.

“Other than poverty, I envied their lives because they wore beautiful clothes and ate delicious food,” she said.

They told her that they worked the night shift as factory workers and invited her to join them one night, lending her their beautiful clothes to wear.

To her surprise, when they got to a spot they gave her condoms and showed her a place to stand so that she could attract customers.

That was when she realised that she had been invited to sell sex.

“I have not stopped since then.”

Sex work is largely deemed illegal and immoral in Lesotho and other parts of Africa.

Although prostitution is a punishable offence under Lesotho’s Penal Code, sex workers and other queer groups have succeeded in legally registering an association advocating for their rights.

The association, Key Affected Populations Alliance of Lesotho (KAPAL), consists of current, past sex workers and allies.

Advocate Joanna Jonas, an ally, who is also a human rights lawyer, lamented that sex work is illegal under Lesotho’s 2010 Penal Code.

The Penal Code Act of 2010, Section 55, defines a prostitute as a person who engages in sexual activity for payment.

It criminalises inciting, instigating or engaging or procuring another to engage, either in Lesotho or elsewhere, in prostitution.

A person who persistently pesters others in a public place with the intention of engaging in sexual intercourse or with the intention of facilitating sexual intercourse with another person commits an offence, according to the Code.

The Code also states that a person who lives or habitually associates with a prostitute or is proven to have exercised control, direction or influence over the movement of the prostitute in such a manner as to show aiding or compelling prostitution for commercial gain, is deemed to have committed an offence.

The Code also says a person who detains another person against his or her will in premises which are used for prostitution or in any other place with the intent that such a person should engage in sexual intercourse with another person, commits an offence.

Advocate Jonas said KAPAL wants to challenge section 55 of the Code.

“We do not recruit people to be sex workers. Sex work is already there but we want it to be decriminalised,” she said.

“Decriminalisation should seek to recognise sex work as work governed by labour laws and other related laws,” she said, adding that legalisation of sex work is recognising sex work as work that is protected by labour laws and any other related laws.

Advocate Jonas argues that criminalisation of sex work is a contributing factor to new HIV infection, violation of the human right to economic development, violence promotion, stigma and discrimination towards sex workers.

“It violates the human right to have sex with anyone, the right to bodily autonomy, limits the human right to equal access to sexual reproductive health services and the contributing factor to police brutality and rape,” she said.

KAPAL is on an ongoing six-months project funded by Urgent Action Fund Africa (UAFA) to capacitate key stakeholders about sex work issues, and lobbying MPs to decriminalise sex work.

The association said it is planning to approach the Constitutional Court to declare as unconstitutional the criminalisation of sex work.

KAPAL Executive Director, Lepheana Mosooane, said a sex worker must be someone who is 18-years-old and above and must not be forced by drugs, alcohol, human trafficking, sex slavery or any form of threat.

People under 18 cannot be defined as sex workers and are understood in law as victims of sexual exploitation, he said.

He said the difference between sex work and prostitution is that sex work is a voluntary buying and selling of sex by two consenting adults and it is governed by rules and regulations.

Prostitution, he said, refers to exchange of sex for goods, services or gifts by anyone with no governing regulations.

“Some of the crimes under prostitution include sex with underage kids, drugs, human trafficking, sex slavery and many more,” said Mosooane.

He said sex work is a career of choice, income generating activity, second income, lack of equal access to employment and lack of equal access to business opportunities to mention a few.

“It can be bought on the streets and public places, bars, home, stockvel, online or brothel,” said Mosooane.

The Lesotho Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (LePHIA) 2020 statistics says there is high prevalence of HIV among women aged 15-44 at 29.4 percent, 71.9 percent among female sex workers and 32.9 percent among male sex workers.

’Mapule Motsopa

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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.

Staff Reporter

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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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