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Textile industry on its knees

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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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Police hunt former minister

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THE police have launched a hunt for former police minister, Lepota Sekola, who is suspected of involvement in stock theft.
Police want to arrest Sekola in connection with two cattle carcasses that were found at his grandfather’s funeral in Borokhoaneng three weeks ago.

During the initial interview, Sekola had insisted that the cows belonged to his late grandfather who had kept them in South Africa for better pastures.

The police didn’t arrest him at that time because investigations were still in the early stages. Further investigations have however led the police to believe that the animals were stolen from South Africa.

But when they were ready for the arrest, Sekola could not be found at his home or on his phone.

Police say Sekola will be charged with unlawful possession and illegal importation of two cows from South Africa.

The National Stock Theft Coordinator, Senior Superintendent Mapesela Klaass, told thepost last night that they “have completed investigations but he (Sekola) is nowhere to be seen”.

“We cannot get him on his mobile phones,” S/Supt Klaass said, adding that the police have been “visiting his home but he is not there”.

“His family members are aware that we are looking for him,” he said.

S/Supt Klaass said they are continuing with their search and as soon as they find him, they are going to drag him to the courts.

He said the police suspect the cows were brought from South Africa to be slaughtered for Sekola’s grandfather’s funeral.

Police sources told thepost that one of the cows had new branding while another had nothing. Both had holes on the ears that signalled that they used to have ear tags.

Majara Molupe

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Magistrate saves WILSA boss

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A Maseru magistrate, Nthabiseng Moopisa, this week stayed the criminal prosecution of Advocate ’Mamosa Mohlabula who is accused of tax evasion, money laundering and corruption.

In her application Advocate Mohlabula, who is the director of Women and Law in Southern Africa (WILSA), said the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) should not charge her pending finalisation of her tax evasion case.

Advocate Mohlabula is out on bail after she was formally charged with tax evasion in July last year.

She told Magistrate Moopisa that the DPP, Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane, was wrong to have agreed with the Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) to bring charges against her.

“In my viewpoint, the DCEO cannot be heard to charge me in relation to matters already seized with this Honourable Court,” she said in an affidavit.

She also said there is a pending civil case in the High Court in which the DCEO’s abuse of power is referenced, saying the precise way the case is handled will depend “on the way an alleged offence comes to the light”.

“Before that pending case is finalised, DCEO has no jurisdiction to detail me to court over isolated phenomenon of tax evasion and or over grievances of former employees of WILSA,” she said.
Advocate Mohlabula was charged together with the WILSA’s chief accounting officer.

She argued that it was WILSA that was being investigated, not individuals, further saying that was “a significant safeguard that the DCEO was impartial from an objective viewpoint”.

“To exclude any legitimate doubt in this respect the DCEO returned the items it seized from WILSA,” she said.

“This was a realistic and practical step towards administering justice and to avoid premature embarrassment to the management of WILSA.”

She said the Board of Trustees of WILSA were sent briefing notes which in certain respects reflected that the DCEO returned the properties of WILSA without warning them that they were suspects.

“In any event, we proceeded to fashion our arguments before the High Court. There was, and could be, no evidence to back up the decision of the DCEO to apply for the search warrant,” she said.

Advocate Mohlabula said before they took the matter to the High Court, she cooperated with the DCEO and it conducted an inquiry into the alleged crimes.

“Now that the matter is pending before the High Court, there is no more reason for the DCEO to remand me before the pending cases are finalised,” she said.

Staff Reporter

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Mphaka barred from ABC deputy’s race

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THE All Basotho Convention (ABC) has barred former Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka and three others from contesting for the deputy leader’s position at an elective conference set for this week.
The three are Kefeletsoe Mojela, Katleho Molelle, and Lekhetho Mosito.

Mosito was an MP who was appointed Defence Minister for a day and removed the following day during Dr Moeketsi Majoro’s premiership.
The elective conference is set to be held at the Leqele High School hall this weekend.

A circular from the ABC said the three did not qualify to enter the race because they had not held any positions in the party’s committees.

The decision to bar the three is reminiscent of the same tactics that saw former leader Thomas Thabane block Professor Nqosa Mahao from contesting for the party’s deputy leader’s position.
Professor Mahao subsequently walked away and formed the Basotho Action Party (BAP).

A weakened ABC has never recovered from that split.

Mphaka and his colleagues were vying for the deputy leader’s position until they were stopped in their tracks by the circular which was issued out on Monday this week.
Dr Pinkie Manamolela is the current deputy leader.

She was plucked from the women’s league to replace Dr Majoro who had resigned from the national executive committee after losing the leadership race to Nkaku Kabi in 2022.

There is a high chance that the four could drag the ABC to court to assert their right to contest. The legal wrangles will likely destabilise the party that is still smarting from a thorough thrashing in general elections held in October 2022.

Mphaka this week told thepost that he will challenge the decision to block him in the courts of law.
“They are crazy people,” Mphaka said.

“I will not allow this to happen,” he said.

“I have already instructed my lawyers to launch an urgent application in the High Court to challenge the decision before Friday this week.”

He complained that it was not clear why the party had decided to kick him out of the race after he spent a lot of time and resources campaigning.

Mphaka said the national executive committee “usually allows members to contest for positions without considering whether they were ever in the constituency committees or not”.

The contenders in the race are former Water Minister Samonyane Ntsekele, ex-Police MP Lehlohonolo Moramotse, former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Leshoboro Mohlajoa, and Maseru Star Taxi Association member Sekhonyana Mosenene.

A member of the national executive committee told thepost that “many of us support Mphaka and Kefeletsoe at all costs”.

“We were dismayed when we saw the circular removing the duo from the race,” he said.

He said many ABC members were rallying behind Mphaka because “he has been campaigning even before everyone could start”.

“They know he has lots of followers.”

He said it is unfair that Mosenene has been allowed to run but he has never held any position in any constituency except that he represented his taxi association in the ABC national executive committee.
“Why has he been allowed to contest yet he is just like Mphaka and Kefeletsoe?”

He complained that Sekhonyana, while representing taxi operators in the committee, was eventually made the deputy party spokesman despite not being in any constituency committee after ’Matebatso Doti resigned from the position.

“Mphaka was chosen by the party to lead the 2022 elections campaign teams and develop a party manifesto,” he said.

“He was allowed to do all that without being involved in any party structures.”

The party’s spokesman Montoeli Masoetsa declined to comment.

Dr Manamolela told thepost that “the decision was not made by the party’s national executive committee”.

“I do not want to talk much …but it is not true that the party’s NEC decided to remove Mphaka and Kefeletsoe”.

Kabi could not be reached for comment.

Nkheli Liphoto

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