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Textile industry on its knees



MASERU – ’MANTLELE Chakalane has gone for 14 months without a salary and life is spiraling into a struggle since she was retrenched from Lesotho’s biggest textile factory last year due to a Covid-19 induced economic downturn.

Chakalane was retrenched from Nien Hsing Global Textile in July last year when the firm sent home hundreds of workers because it could no longer afford to pay them.

To survive, the 42-year-old who lives in a two-roomed rented house in Ha-Tsolo does piece jobs. But that is hardly enough to feed her big family, which includes her extended family members.

“I can barely afford my monthly rent of M800,” she told thepost in a recent interview.

Among her dependents is her adult unemployed daughter, who is herself a new mother. Chakalane also looks after her unemployed and ailing 67-year-old mother. Add to this, Chakalane’s three nieces and her late brother’s children are also dependent on her. Social grants for orphans are paid quarterly, which means there is no money to buy food most of the time.

Chakalane’s husband, with whom she stays in a rented house in Ha-Tsolo, is also unemployed and relies on piece jobs.

“Life was better when I was still working at Nien Hsing where I was earning M2, 400 monthly because I was able to split it into two; to feed the family in Mohale’s Hoek and to cater for my needs in Maseru with the remainder,” she said.

With her salary, Chakalane says she was able to cover her living expenses, pay rent and also pay her life insurance policy.

Now her insurance policy has lapsed.

“I am failing to cover my living expenses, including paying the rent. The rise in food prices and rent have exacerbated the situation,” Chakalane said.

Chakalane says she sometimes get a laundry piece job from a client who is not reliable anymore, because she too has been hit hard by the economic decline.

Chakalane wakes up each morning to go to the factories to try her luck, in case they hire.

“What I see most of the time are people being retrenched or laid off. No one is hiring,” said Chakalane, who now struggles to send money to her mother to go for her medical check-ups.

“My mother is diabetic and lives far away from the health centre. She can’t go a day without taking her medication. Although the medication is free, she needs over M60 for transport monthly from

Maphutšeng to the closest clinic.” Chakalane is not alone in this crisis. ’Mareitumetse Asia worked at a factory firm in Ha-Tikoe from 2017 until April 2022 when it was closed.

The 38-year-old describes her experience as akin to “drowning in great agony”. Asia is from Semphetenyane in Maseru, a city that many associate with employment opportunities. For Asia, that is a myth.

“There are no job opportunities in Maseru. Life has worsened ever since I was retrenched. From a salary of M2, 400, I was able to cover living expenses despite being the only one working in a family of four,” said Asia.

“My husband is old and his health has deteriorated,” she said.

At first, the company cut working hours, and resultantly salaries, and Asia’s earnings was reduced to about M1 200 monthly. But it was not all gloom.

“That was still better than having nothing on the table,” she said, adding that although the money was little, she could at least still afford to buy food, electricity and cosmetics for her family.

“Due to increased food prices, I was spending at least M1000 on food and cosmetics and life was not that bad. I was not living a glamorous life but we could afford the basic needs,” she recalled.

Asia says she is now failing to cover even the basic needs such as food and sometimes her relatives chip in to buy food for her family.

She says together with her husband they also get some piece jobs which only cover the basic needs such as porridge a day, paraffin and soap.

“The rest of the food items are now a luxury to us. We rarely eat meat which has become a luxury for us,” she said.

“Sometimes we go to bed on empty stomachs but God has been watching over us because in such conditions there is always someone among our relatives who comes to our rescue.”

Asia said the situation has affected them emotionally, stating that her husband was once admitted in hospital due to diabetes that was exacerbated by stress.

“I am going through so much stress and as a woman, I also have to be strong for my family at the same time,” she said.

Despite his health condition, my husband still has to rise up and take on piece jobs which are even harder to do due to his health. My husband was a builder and that kind of job requires energy, so it’s difficult for clients to hire him now,” said Asia.

Asia says she wanted to go to South Africa with a friend who told her about job opportunities there but the thought of leaving her ailing husband behind forced her to cancel the trip at the eleventh hour.

The experiences of Chakalane and Asia show the far reaching consequences of Covid-19 induced closure of firms in Lesotho.

Nien Hsing, Lesotho’s largest textile firm which remained the hope of many Basotho after Covid-19 hit, is set to introduce unpaid lay-offs, thus threatening the livelihoods of thousands of workers.

Nien Hsing Global Textile, which is part of the Nieh Nsing International Group, will soon introduce the unpaid lay-off of three months from October to January 2023.

The manager of Nien Hsing, Ricky Chang, said the textile industry was affected by the disruption in the supply chain.

“The economic climate, which is unfavourable, triggered by Covid-19 has affected the textile industry. This has forced the buyers to reduce orders and the production has been affected negatively.

The Russia-Ukraine war has also exacerbated the condition even worse,” Chang said.

Chang said the United States economy, a major market for Lesotho’s textile industry, has been affected negatively by the war where the food prices increased sharply.

“This has affected the Lesotho textile industry too. The situation has worsened to a point where we have to introduce the lay-off since there will be no production going on during the December period,” he said.

Nien Hsing Textile has been in operation in Lesotho since 1990 and it has created more than 10 000 jobs for Basotho.

Due to covid-19, the Nien Hsing group closed most of its textile firms, leaving only Global Garment. Between 2020 and 2021, the company retrenched about 7 000 workers.

The shutdown came as the United States market, where Lesotho sold 90 percent of its textile products under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA), dried up as the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic began to be felt.

Under AGOA, a US law giving eligible African countries duty-free access to the American markets, Lesotho has been the biggest beneficiary and managed to create about 40,000 direct jobs in the textile sector.

Nien Hsing International, a denim jeans producer, is selling to Levi Strauss and Co which is based in the US. The factory is part of the larger Taiwanese Nien Hsing Textiles group, which has four textile manufacturing factories in Lesotho.

The four factories are Nien Hsing International, Global International, C & Y Garments and Formosa Textiles. The fifth factory, Glory International, closed in 2020 sending home 1,500 workers.

Deputy Secretary of the National Clothing and Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU), Tšepang Makakole, said the situation in the textile industry has become precarious.

“The big textile firms in the country are exporting their products to America. The exports destined to America are the most affected,” Makakole said.

“This has also forced the Nien Nsing Global Garment to lay-off its workers for about two months and some weeks,” he said.

“We are worried about how people are going to survive these months without getting paid, especially in January when the schools will be opening.”

“The situation is worsening and we can’t to do anything to mitigate this crisis. Only the government can rescue Basotho from this crisis,” he said.

The chief executive officer of the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC), Molise Ramaili, told an investment forum in May that “this is a crisis which requires collaborations”.

Ramaili said there is a lack of cohesive vision and collaboration among stakeholders such as government, labour, investors, and civil society.

“Stakeholders vilify each other,” Ramaili said, adding that there is a shortage of skills locally to fully domesticate the industry.

He said there is a lack of a deep understanding and knowledge of the sector to be able to develop and reinvent it further.

“There are trade issues with SARS holding Lesotho bound orders’ containers too long,” he said.

However, Ramaili said although the damage is huge, “we still stand a chance to resolve this matter”.

He said trade facilitation needs to be streamlined with both physical and soft infrastructure.

He further said streamlining and enriching the value chain vertically is important.

“We can still rebuild and rebrand Lesotho as a sourcing location and leader in the African textiles and apparel manufacturing industry,” he said.

“This can be achieved by expansion of standards auditing to local manufacturers and pursuing joint stakeholders’ orders sourcing.”

The textile sector is the second largest employer in Lesotho, after the government, with about 40 000 workers.

Refiloe Mpobole

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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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