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…..Covid-19 knocks out struggling hair salons…..

MASERU-FROM the doorway, one is greeted by the smell of hair and skin lotions.
Up the stairs at Oxford Building along Main North One Road in Maseru, the smell gets thicker. Inside small rooms, towels hang to dry while hairdressers sit idly, chat and look out for customers.

Hair salons are among the businesses that the government says should remain closed because they can become coronavirus epicentres.
But scores of hairdressers are defying the order, risking both arrest and infection in order to make a living.
It has been tough so far for many of them.

During normal times, the rooms would be a hive of activity but, thanks to the outbreak of Covid-19, customers are not streaming in.
Only three of the 10 rooms at the building seemed to have some customers.
’Makatleho Khabane* (name changed) had been sitting in her room for hours when thepost visited.

“Not a single client has walked in,” said Khabane, adding that business has never been slower in the 10 years she has been practising the trade.
She said she gets more police visits than from those who want to have their hair done.

“We are not supposed to be here. We are supposed to be staying at home but that is not an option for people like me who are breadwinners,” said an emotional Khabane.
She added, “We are living in fear of authorities arresting us for merely trying to earn a living.”

Life after lockdown has been “very hard”, she said.
“I think we will die of stress before coronavirus kills us. There are mouths to feed, bodies to clothe, rent and school fees to pay,” she said.
“Mind you there is too little coming in, the burden of this virus is too heavy,” she said, sighing.

Although the lockdown was eased two months ago and more people are leaving their homes, business has been bad because clients fear catching the virus at hair salons.
However, owners of the building seem unsympathetic to the plight of hairdressers and are demanding full rent.

Khabane said she was only given one month rent holiday in April.
“They temporarily closed the building on Saturday demanding rent despite the fact that we have not been working,” Khabane said.
Khabane said most of her colleagues did not return to work after the lockdown due to lack of funds.

“As a result, rent has become hefty for us that remain. Only a few of us are turning up and we have to pool the rent among ourselves,” said Khabane.
The government should chip in with financial assistance if it wants hairdressers to remain at home, said Khabane.

“We nearly starved to death during the lockdown, we had heard of relief measures but to date we have received nothing,” Khabane said.
“We have seen textile workers get assistance from the government but we have been forgotten. No one is coming to our aid yet we are expected to close shop and stay at home.”

To survive, some are taking their chances with both the law and the disease.
In a makeshift shelter made of black plastic, boxes and iron sheets, Tšeliso Mokhahlane, operates a barbershop at a bus stop in Maseru.
Unlike the hairdressers at Oxford Building, it is business as usual for Mokhahlane who seems busy.

Getting time to break for lunch is proving difficult as customers continue streaming in.
It’s a job that has sustained his family since 1994 and he says he isn’t going to stop because of Covid-19.

“All in all I provide for nine people, including my late cousin’s children and his spouse,” Mokhahlane said.
Mokhahlane said he has no option but to defy the order for hair salons to close down.

“I do not understand what they mean when they say we are an epicentre when our stalls are never full,” he said, noting that the situation is much worse at businesses that are allowed to operate.

“Have they seen what happens on the queues to get into grocery shops, the banks or taxis? Those are the high risk areas that need serious regulation not us. Here we sanitize and wear our masks while assisting clients,” he said.
Closing salons is not the solution, said Mokhahlane.

“Most of us have never asked for any compensation and even now we are not asking for any help, we are only asking to be allowed to continue operating,” he said.
Like those at Oxford Building, he has to play hide and seek with the police.
At Pioneer Mall, the doors to Image Hair and Beauty Salon are closed.
The manager, ’Mathabo Manyokole, said they closed two weeks ago to abide by the government regulations.

Manyokole fears the business could lose some clients due to the closure.
“We are losing clients to those who are still open because what clients need is to have their hair done and some will never return to us after this pandemic,” bemoaned Manyokole.

The salon had taken all the necessary measures to minimise the spread of the virus before being forced to close, she said.
“Our staff was working in shifts, customers booked appointments, they sanitised and wore their masks when entering the salon. We practised social distancing and our staff religiously adhered to precautionary measures,” said Manyokole.

The closure of salons, she said, has created “a conducive environment” for the spread of the virus.
“People still get their hair done in their homes where precautionary measures are not observed, thus putting people at greater risk of getting infected,” she said.

Efforts to engage relevant authorities to plead against the closure of hair salons have been in vain.
“I met the Minister of Trade who connected me with the Principal Secretary, who then referred me to the Nacosec (the National Covid-19 Secretariat). At Nacosec they were only explaining why they have to close us,” said Manyokole.

She said industry players even wrote a letter to Nacosec two weeks ago raising their concerns as the industry but there has been no response.
“We have really tried to knock on several doors to try and get assistance but no one is hearing our cry,” she said.

The confusion about opening or closing stemmed from the Covid-19 gazette which said nothing about the closure of salons only for Nacosec saying salons must be closed,” said Manyokole.
On Thursday, police raided salons citywide, forcing them to close.
Industry players on Monday told reporters that Nacosec was wrong in categorising them as potential virus epicentres, adding that they were not consulted on the decision to close them down.

Speaking at the press conference, George Mando, owner of several salons and a supplier of beauty products, said if consulted, industry players would have proven to Nacosec how the industry has long been practising precautionary measures.

“Warm running water is a requirement when seeking a licence for a salon. We have always used water and soap to wash hands and clean our equipment because of the chemicals we use,” Mando said.
Mando said they used masks to cover their noses and mouths even before the outbreak of Covid-19 because of the strong chemicals used in salons.
“I myself have been a victim of these chemicals as I ended up with cancer. It is then that I started preaching the importance of wearing masks in our line of work and we have been doing that for a long time now,” he said.

In salons, he said, they are already using aprons to cover themselves and towels to cover clients limiting chances of chemical spillage on both parties.
“The nature of our work requires social distancing as one needs ability to move around freely while tending to the customer’s needs. One cannot get their nails done before getting their hands disinfected,” he said.

“There really is nothing new in the precautionary measures, there is nothing that we haven’t been doing hence we are asking Nacosec to reconsider their decision and let us work freely,” Mando said.
Mosiuoa Tšiu, an employee of a salon in Maseru, said thousands of workers have been affected by the closure.

“We have been told several times that coronavirus will be with us for a long time so what needs to happen is to come up with a holistic solution that will keep people safe and their livelihoods safe,” Tšiu said.
“Salons are not even as dangerous as institutions offering essential services where hundreds of people queue without even observing social distancing,” he said.

Rose Moremoholo, the Nacosec’s communication specialist said the Nacosec held a meeting with saloon owners on Tuesday where they were promised to be engaged in discussions in the future. The Nacosec CEO Thabo Khasipe regretted that they were raising their concerns for the first time.
‘‘In the meantime, they should remain closed until further notice’’ she said.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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The beauty queen of Lesotho



MASERU – WHILE many children her age were still adapting to the early years of school after kindergarten, Reatile Molefe was already plotting her life goals. Barely 10-years-old, Molefe already knew exactly what she wanted to do in life.

“I was already geared towards being a model at that early age. I was already portraying fancy and modest moves linked to modelling,” said the beauty queen, now aged 22.

It didn’t take time for her mother to identify the potential and found a need to sharpen it further.

“My journey in beauty pageantry started at the age of eight in 2009. The reason my mom thought I should hop into pageantry was because I was active and smart. I also had role models from the industry by then. I mean, I had an ambition of every little girl’s dream of being a star or being dressed in cute ball gowns so I also had a strong desire to be like that,” she said.

“I started my cat walking lessons at Little Miss Lesotho Companies but didn’t win. Not winning gave me motivation to work more towards my craft, it pushed me into wanting more as I couldn’t settle for less,” she said.

Molefe now boasts of 14 tittles to her name. She has donned the beauty pageant crowns in all stages of her life.

“I was crowned Queen in my two previous schools. I was Miss New Millennium High School in 2012 and Miss Lesotho High School in 2017. The 14th title I scooped made me believe in myself even more as I got to gain experience competing with people from different countries,” said Molefe, who has also made a bold statement by competing at the international level.

Molefe attributes her prowess to her high levels of confidence.

“Pageants create a bonding experience where women lift each other up, but what gives me an upper hand is being comfortable, secure with myself and being me throughout,” said Molefe, adding that her favourite category during pageantry competitions is when models are asked to strut the ramp in evening wear.

“That’s when the audience and the judges get to see the creativity, the poise and eloquence of the queens,” said Molefe, who believes that the audience’s response can destroy or build a contestant’s confidence.

“The audience can play either of the two roles during a contest. They may make a positive impact on females taking part because they teach them how to be resilient thus prepare them for real world situations. On the other hand, the audience may also make a negative impact and lead to a whole host of mental issues among participants who may be worried about their image and appearance. This can lead to harmful side-effects,” stated Molefe.

Like other women in the modelling industry, Molefe has come across some challenges.

“An example is trying to get enough support from the general public on my first international contest,” she said.

Another was the cost of competing in beauty pageants as well as evolving body changes, she said.

“Being a beauty queen is not a walk in the park, especially when being judged by the community. And, yes, pageants do help women grow in confidence but without proper mental health support, they can also create insecurities. But through all the struggles, I am thankful to my family and friends. They are my biggest supporters. I may have gone through it all but their unbending support has kept me going,” she said.

Molefe says she considers being crowned second runner up in the Miss Culture International competition held in Johannesburg in 2021 as her most outstanding achievement. She was also crowned Miss Culture Lesotho in 2018.

“What was intriguing to me about this contest was the fact that I was the youngest among the contestants. It proved to be a learning experience for me and it deepened my knowledge about what the modelling world really entails.

“I never doubted myself but I thought I wouldn’t make it as I was the youngest. I got to compete with people of different races, which got me even more motivated. I learned a lot in participating in a multi-racial event,” she said.

Pageantry isn’t just about looks, according to Molefe.

“There is to more to it, like being able to embrace glamour. Beauty is subjective and it can be interpreted in different ways according to the perception of individual viewers. I consider being beautiful as an inside and out perception but the golden rule is to brim with confidence to make it in pageantry,” said Molefe, urging parents to enroll their children in pageantry schools at an early age “even as early as three-years-old”.

“This gives them ample time to develop because the young ones are able to easily learn from others to improve their skills and boost their self-confidence,” said Molefe, who dreams of a day when a beauty queen is considered a legendary woman in Lesotho.

One of her goals is to assist in educating the youth, especially young women, about menstrual health and other sexual and reproductive health issues.

Her target group is mainly girls that live in rural areas and small towns.

“Pageants promote goal setting, encourage us to value personal achievement and community involvement,” she said.

Calvin Motekase

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The stock-theft menace



MASERU – IF you recently enjoyed a nice beef stew at a restaurant in Lesotho there is a high possibility that the slaughtered cow might have been stolen from a farm in South Africa.

If you are in South Africa, it is equally possible that the cow was stolen from a cattle post in Mokhotlong or any other mountainous region of Lesotho.

That is because cross-border stock-theft is on the increase between the two countries. In fact, it has become a thorn in the flesh for farmers on both sides of the border.

Since 1990, 85 percent of livestock owners on the border villages of Lesotho have lost animals to thieves as compared with 49 percentage from non-border villages, according to a study published by Wilfrid Laurier University.

Earlier this month, this problem came into sharp focus when four Basotho men were picked up by the police in Thaba-Nchu in the Free State.

These men, aged between 24-51 years old, were travelling in a car bearing Lesotho number plates. They were transporting cattle that did not have documents.

The SAPS informed their counterparts in Lesotho who rushed to the place to repatriate the suspects.

Maseru Urban Commanding Officer Senior Superintendent Rantoane Motsoela said their investigations uncovered that the cattle crossed into South Africa at Ha Tsolo through the Mohokare River.

Then they were transported from the border into South Africa.

S/Supt Motsoela said they have found that the cattle already had tattoo marks from one farmer in Ficksburg.

But the suspects had no documents to prove that the animals belonged to them.

Both the cattle and the car are still in the hands of the SAPS while investigations are continuing.

S/Supt Motsoela said the suspects are assisting the police with investigations.

In another incident police recovered five cattle of a Mosotho man in Qwa-Qwa, still in the Free State Province.

These cattle were reported stolen in Tšehlanyane in Leribe at the beginning of this month.

Police under their sting operation “Zero Tolerance to Stock Theft” launched their investigations that led to the discovery of the cattle.

The Leribe District police commanding officer Senior Superintendent Samuel Thamae said they were able to recover the animals with the help of the community who tipped them off.

S/Supt Thamae said they stormed Qwa-Qwa with their counterparts in South Africa to identify the stolen animals.

After convincing the SAPS that the cattle belonged to the concerned farmer, they were released to him.

The Mokhotlong District Administrator (DA) Serame Linake says they have been battling cross border stock theft for years.

He says Basotho in Lesotho would go to South Africa to steal the animals that they sell back to South Africa in Vanderbijlparkl after getting fraudulent documents.

Linake says these animals, cattle and sheep, are sold at an auction in Vanderbijlpark.

He says the South Africans on the other hand sometimes also cross the border into Lesotho to steal the animals.

To fight this theft, they have formed good relations with the SAPS, chiefs and councillors.

Linake says when animals are stolen from South Africa into Lesotho, their counterparts simply inform them on this side so that they could waylay them.

“Stolen animals are strictly sold in Vanderbijlpark in South Africa,” he says.

He says in his district animals are not sold in the butcheries like is the case in Maseru and other lowlands districts.

Linake says they are now struggling to control theft that takes place between the northern district and Qwa-Qwa because the perpetrators are Basotho who have now migrated to South Africa.

He says these perpetrators have lived in Lesotho and know all the corridors that they could use to come and steal animals in Lesotho and go back to South Africa.

Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli says stock-theft is a grave problem in the country.

He says they have formed a special team that is going to reinforce the team that is already dealing with stock-theft in the country.

When there is an alarm that some animals have been stolen, this new team is informed so that it can lend a helping hand.

S/Supt Mopeli says the theft happens within the country’s borders and between Lesotho and South Africa.

S/Supt Mopeli says they are managing to deal with the theft because they arrest the perpetrators and bring them before the courts of law.

He says the public should alert the police when they see animals being stolen so that they can be saved from the hands of thieves.

Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola says they have registered big successes in curbing cross-border theft especially after having a post in Mokota-Koti in Maputsoe.

He says they usually hold frequent patrols at the borders to fight this crime.

“We also hold frequent crossings with the South African army to share information regarding cross-border theft,” Lt Col Lekola says.

Lt Col Lekola says they sometimes use air patrols as another way to fight stock-theft.

He says they usually erect camps along the borders so that they can stop animals coming out of Lesotho or vice-versa.

“Last year we had a successful collaboration with South African soldiers where we patrolled the borders from Leribe to Mafeteng. The South African army was on their side and we were also on our side,” he says.

He says they were working together with the police and they reaped good results.

Lt Col Lekola says some herd boys report the theft of livestock long after first trying to track the animals themselves.

He says this gives the cattle rustlers a chance to hide.

He advised the farmers not to erect cattle posts near the borders because they are stolen easily.

“When the South Africans enter Lesotho borders to trace their stolen animals, they make the first encounter with the animals at the cattle posts and drive them away,” Lt Col Lekola says.

He appealled to farmers to work collaboratively with their herders to pay them their dues.

He says some farmers do not pay their herders and those herders usually bounce back to steal the animals in revenge.

“They enter the cattle posts easily because the dogs know them,” Lt Col Lekola says.

Because Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa, stock-theft takes place easily between the two countries especially in the provinces of Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

The porous borders make it easy for the movement of animals to take place between the two countries.

And the theft between these countries has been happening since time immemorial.

The cross-border menace continues to take place despite patrols that are organised by the security agencies from both countries.

A Transnational History of Stock Theft on the Lesotho–South Africa Border, Nineteenth Century to 1994 Journal states that stock theft has long been a problem along the Lesotho–South Africa border.

It says from Moshoeshoe I’s cattle-raiding in the nineteenth century through to the start of the democratic era in Lesotho (1993) and South Africa (1994), the idea that stock theft is both prevalent and an international problem has been generally accepted by all.

According to Farmer’s Weekly livestock theft has a much more detrimental effect on the economy than previously thought, and is becoming more violent.

It says organised livestock theft feeds into other more serious types of transnational organised crimes such as drug, weapons and human trafficking.

And ultimately this results in the creation of illicit financial flows.

Challenges to safety included no fencing along large stretches, and the lack of a suitable roads to enable South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops to conduct border patrols effectively, Farmer’s Weekly says.

In a piece published in November on the International Security Studies (ISS) website, ISS Today, stock theft was on the rise in South Africa, with 29 672 cases recorded by the South African Police Service (SAPS) for the 2018/2019 financial year.

This represented an increase of 2.9 percent over the previous year.

The ISS said the problem is exacerbated by porous and poorly secured borders, lack of capacity to monitor the border, and mountainous terrain that is difficult to police.

“Such challenges create opportunities and trafficking routes for criminal networks to smuggle livestock, drugs and, at times, firearms across the border.”

The ISS said the transnational livestock theft affects farmers revenue and adds to consumer costs.

It says thousands of animals are stolen and sold through the black market.

And this hurts the economy and goes even further to impact consumers, as these animals could have provided meat.

Majara Molupe

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Matekane to launch microchip project



MAPUTSOE – PRIME Minister Sam Matekane will this Sunday launch a new microchip project designed to combat the rampant stock-theft in Lesotho.

The launch will be held in Peka in Leribe.

Speaking at a rally for his Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) in Maputsoe last weekend, Matekane said the government is weary of the rampant stock-theft that impoverished rural farmers in Lesotho for decades.

“When your livestock leaves your kraals your phones will alert you and your families,” Matekane said amid loud cheers.

He asked the people to go to Peka in great numbers to witness the launch and learn from the livestock microchipping experts how the project will work to combat stock-theft in the villages.

The project was first spearheaded by Thomas Thabane when he was the Home Affairs Minister in 2003.

That year, 120 rams were implanted with the microchip identification system in Masianokeng.

The rams belonged to a company called Mahloenyeng Trading Company (Pty) Ltd.

The then police boss, Jonas Malewa, had microchipped 64 horses at the Police Training College (PTC) a year earlier in a pilot project.

The Home Affairs Ministry had contracted a company called Primate Identity Technology ran by a Jewish man, Yehuda Danziger, to carry out the pilot project.

Danziger was also tasked with observing any side-effects the animals could have after the implantation of the microchip.

The government introduced the microchip implantation technology after realising that stock thieves would easily erase the branding and tattoo marks with red hot metal and acid.

The stock thieves also cut off stolen animals’ ears if they bore the owner’s identification marks.

Microchips are tiny electronic devices, about the size of a grain of rice, which could be stored in a capsule and implanted near the animal’s tail to make it easy to identify and trace lost or stolen animals.

The project however never picked up with successive government not showing any political will to carry it through.

Things are now set to change with Matekane launching the project this Sunday.

Tšepang Mapola & Alice Samuel

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