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Examining why people stutter



ROMA – Stuttering is a common speech disorder that we rarely talk about.

Maky Bridget Letsie, a National University of Lesotho (NUL) graduate, says she has always been fascinated by why people stutter.

As a student at the NUL, she wanted to closely understand stutterers so she could educate people to treat them with respect.

In her research, she made captivating observations about stuttering which she said is often defined as, “a speech disorder in which the flow of speech is (marked by) involuntary repetitions and prolongations of sounds, syllables, words and phrases.”

She first made an observation that people stutter when they speak but when they sing, stuttering disappears.

Also, she has always suspected that stuttering had something to do with breathing rates.

So from mild stutterers to severe ones, she wanted to understand them.

A number of things motivated her to study stutterers.

“First I am a mild stutterer myself,” she says.

In fact, according to her, most people become mild stutterers now and then, depending on the situation.

Have you noticed that?

“Second, both my mom and gradma are mild stutterers,” she says.

“Worse still, my gradma had a child who couldn’t speak.”

All these things instilled in her, a passion to learn more about speech disorders, and after she did a course in psychology of language at the NUL, stuttering became an obvious target.

“My studies came in two versions,” she says.

“First I made a pre-study on how stutterers’ breathing rates varied when they were talking and when they were singing.”

She wanted to have a taste of what to expect, hence a pre-study.

After silently observing a number of stutterers among her peers at the NUL for some time, she cautiously approached them to find out if they could be willing to participate in her study.

Some refused, of course.

Others thought it was no big deal and they participated.

But she had no tools so she improvised, at least after consulting with scholars in the NUL’s Faculty of Health.

She asked the stutterers to sing and to talk as she captured their breathing rates in a video during the processes.

She would later meticulously observe the breathing cycles against time during both singing and talking on the videos.

“I saw a big difference. When they sang, stutterers had lower breathing rates than when they talked. But my methods were rudimentary.”

So she moved into a full study.

Again she enlisted willing participants who were stutterers on the condition that they remained anonymous.

She didn’t even know some of them herself.

This time she had to be a bit more scientific, so she needed to use a scientific machine – electrocardiogram.

She was introduced to this machine at St Joseph’s Hospital in Roma.

One kind doctor helped her with the understanding of how to use the machine.

Using this complex machine, she did not measure breathing rates directly but used extrapolations from heartbeats to breathing rates.

“The results were still the same after this study, breathing rates were higher in speaking than in singing and the stuttering was barely noted when singing compared to when speaking,” Letsie says.

“Of course the breathing rate phenomena could be extended to people without a stuttering problem. People generally breathe slowly when they sing.”

As she combed through literature and compared it with what she was learning, she discovered a few interesting things.

It turns out an average person has two ways of breathing, a normal breathing and the kind of breathing one experiences after an activity such as running.

Stutterers, she found out, were more inclined to adopt the latter breathing tendency under normal conditions.

But there is something more she learned about the role of breathing.

“When you sing, even if you still produce the same words you use in talking, singing tends to be slower, more relaxed than talking,” she revealed.

“Take for instance, when you are singing a national anthem and when you are just speaking the words in the anthem. You are more likely to finish faster when speaking than when singing the same flow of words.”

So why is her study worth a big note?

First of all, although some people have severe stuttering, a problem which is often associated with genetic inheritance, stuttering is common even on people who are not necessarily known as stutterers.

Even worse, such mild stuttering can happen in awkward times such as when one is giving a presentation, in which case some are anxious and breath faster.

While Letsie is the first to admit that she is no speech therapist, she feels that from this study, she learned that relaxing, slowing down and breathing slowly could be one of the ways to control stuttering although the degree of control will always depend on the severity of the problem.

But, “in the end, I just wanted to bring some public attention to stuttering, the problem we rarely give attention to,” says the NUL trained linguist.

Own Correspondent

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LEC to switch off households over debts



MASERU – The Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) will from Tuesday next week begin switching off clients who owe it money.

The LEC issued a seven-day ultimatum to all customers who owe it on Tuesday last week. The deadline ends on Monday.

It is expected that the LEC will begin switching off households that have defaulted.

The state-owned power company, however, is not going to touch any government department or business entities that owe it on grounds that they are in payment negotiations.

The LEC move comes barely two weeks after it cut electricity supplies to the Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) thus causing it to fail to pump water to communities countrywide for more than two days.

The LEC says it is owed close to M200 million by government departments, businesses and individuals.

The LEC spokesman, Tšepang Ledia, told thepost that the government and the businesses will not have their electricity cut because they are in negotiations.

“We are in negotiations with the government and businesses and hopefully they will pay,” Ledia said.

“We advise the ordinary people to pay their debts before the 20th of March 2023 or else we cut the services,” he said.

The LEC says it is running short of funds for its daily operations.

In December last year the company increased power tariffs by 7.9 percent on both energy and maximum demand charges across all customer categories for the Financial Year 2022/23.

Last week the LEC boss, Mohato Seleke, said postpaid consumers and sundry debtors owe the company M169.4 million.

He said unless the debtors pay he will be unable to buy electricity from ’Muela Hydropower Project, Eskom in South Africa and Mozambique’s EDM.

This, he said, could cause serious load shedding in the country and could be devastating for businesses.

Seleke said the LEC spends M630 million monthly to buy electricity.

“If postpaid consumers do not settle their debts this could prevent the LEC from being able to buy electricity which can lead the country to encounter load-shedding,” Seleke said.

Seleke said collecting debt from government department ministries was a challenge as there is an understanding that since LEC is a state-owned company, it will continue supplying government agencies with electricity and they will settle their bills when they have funds to do so.

Seleke said the LEC has lost M21 million to vandalism during this financial year.

Relebohile Tšepe

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Bumper payout for former mineworkers



MASERU – AT least 11 316 current as well as former mine workers are set for a bumper payout after Tshiamiso Trust began disbursing the first billion Maloti to workers who are suffering from silicosis and tuberculosis.

The payment comes two years after Tshiamiso Trust began processing claims for the historical M5 billion settlement agreement between mineworkers and six gold mines in South Africa.

Speaking at the payment announcement in Maseru last week, the Trust’s CEO, Lusanda Jiya, said it has been two years since they officially began accepting claims.

“Our people come to work every day with the mission of impacting lives for the better, and the first billion rand paid out to over 11 000 families is just the beginning,” Jiya said.

“We know that there is no compensation that will ever be enough to undo the suffering endured by mine workers and their families,” he said.

“However, we are committed to deliver our mandate and ensure that every family that is eligible for compensation receives it.”

Jiya said the Trust is limited both in terms of the time in which they can operate, and the extent to which they can assist those seeking compensation.

Broadly speaking, the eligibility criteria include among others that the mineworker must have worked at one of the qualifying gold mines between March 12, 1965 and December 10, 2019.

Secondly, living mineworkers must have permanent lung damage from silicosis or TB and deceased mine workers representatives must have evidence that proves that they (the deceased) died from TB or Silicosis.

Tshiamiso Trust has a lifespan of 12 years, ending in February 2031.

Over 111 000 claims have been received to date, through offices in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, eSwatini, and Mozambique.

The Trust is working with stakeholders in these countries and others to mobilise its efforts and expand operations.

The history of silicosis in South Africa goes back to the late 1880’s when the first gold mines began operations.

The gold was stored and locked in quartz, a special rock that contains large amounts of silica.

Crystallised silica particles can cause serious respiratory damage if inhaled.

In the earlier days of gold mining, dust control, health and safety standards and the use of PPE (personal protective equipment) were not as advanced as they are today.

Tshiamiso Trust was established in 2020 to give effect to the settlement agreement reached between six mining companies.

The companies are African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American South Africa, AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold, Sibanye Stillwater and Gold Fields.

The settlement agreement was reached and made after a ruling by the Johannesburg High Court as a result of a historic class action by former and current mineworkers against the six gold mines.

Justice for Miners is a coalition of interested parties in the mining sector launched at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg in 2020.

The Johannesburg High Court approved the setting up of the Tshiamiso Trust to facilitate payment by the companies to affected miners.

Keith Chapatarongo

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Farmers cry over cost of livestock feed



MASERU – Lehlohonolo Mokhethi is a farmer who has been running a successful poultry business, thanks to a small loan he got from a local bank.

He now has 300 chickens.

He says his vision is to rear 5 000 chickens by 2025 and employ 30 youths. But he is now grappling with a new challenge: the ever increasing cost of chicken feed.

That is threatening the viability of his business.

“The biggest challenge is that food prices increase every day, feeding is expensive,” Mokhethi said.

“It is quite difficult to make profit in business if each and every day food prices increase. Today I am buying a bag of food with a certain amount then the next day the price has increased,” he says.

“Our customers fail dismally to understand that food has increased and the Chinese are taking our market because they sell at a low price thus I run at a loss.”

Last week, a top attorney in Maseru who is also a prominent farmer, Tiisetso Sello-Mafatle, called a meeting for farmers to discuss these challenges.

She says the government must regulate the prices of livestock feed.

That is critical if the farming business is to succeed, she says.

Attorney Sello-Mafatle says farmers must come up with a structure for livestock feed prices which they would present to the government for gazetting.

“We should state our regulations and give them to the government to make everything easy for both parties because we cannot wait for the government to make regulations for us,” Sello-Mafatle says.

She adds that “farmers should be bullish about what they want and never have fear endorsing new things”.

“I will not be challenged or cry (because of) what life throws at me but I will cry when things are not happening the right way,” she says.

Mafatle says farmers need to know who they are and know the capabilities they have.

“This will help a farmer in becoming the best in any field they are in once they are confident about themselves,” she says.

Karabo Lijo, another participant, said they have to influence the cost of inputs in agriculture, especially livestock feed.

“We have to go back to cost-price analysis where as farmers we are able to derive the selling price and the break-even point in our production,” Lijo said.

“We can also derive the stable or constant mark-ups on our products,” he said.

“We need to do research to increase the ability to produce byproducts which are likely to have the longest shelve life,” he said.

The meeting urged farmers to diversify their products by introducing such things as mushroom farming. They said mushrooms can grow very well in Lesotho due to its favourable climate.

The farmers also demanded that there should be regulations on how land can be sold or borrowed in Lesotho.

Tholoana Lesenya and Alice Samuel

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