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How politicians killed the reforms



MASERU – WEDNESDAY July 13 and the clock is ticking towards midnight. Apart from small mobs of skimpily dressed ladies of the night basking in blazing paper fires in corners, the streets of Maseru are empty.

But the parliament building’s lights are glowing and its parking bays crowded with cars. Panic seems to have set in among the MPs inside.

In a nondescript building across town, Senators are also having their moment of anxiety. Rarely had Lesotho’s MPs and Senators burned the midnight oil on official duty.

Both are racing to pass constitutional amendments for the national reforms.

Anyone landing in Lesotho from another planet would have been forgiven for thinking that the bills whose import and wording both houses were haggling over had been drafted a week earlier.

The reality was that those reforms had been in the making for the past six years and the bills had been drafted months earlier.

Yet the lawmakers were now counting minutes to push the bills through before their five-year tenure ended.

It is hard to suppress the feeling that the MPs and Senators did not know that they were attempting to achieve the impossible. As hours dissolved into minutes, the Senators would approve clauses and immediately send them via email to the MPs for passing.

The last clauses arrived at the parliament 15 minutes before midnight to trigger a mad race. With five minutes to go, the Speaker announced that they had run out of time because the king had dissolved parliament.

It was an anti-climax of epic proportions. Years of hard work, hundreds of miles travelled and millions of maloti spent had come to nothing.

There was an eerie silence as MPs streamed out of parliament after midnight.

They failed to pass the reforms they had promised the people and the international community. The same reforms that years earlier they had vowed to pass come rain or sunshine.

These were the same politicians who months earlier had signed a commitment to “remove all obstacles and impediments that have potential to derail and delay the passing of the 11th Amendment of the Constitution Bill”.

Predictably, the morning after came with excuses, blame-shifting, regret and a palpable fear of the implications of their botched job.

It however was telling that the government sounded more fearful of the international community than Basotho, the very people they were supposed to serve and had given them the mandate.

There was no apology from either the government or the leaders of opposition parties.

The reaction from SADC, which had chaperoned Lesotho’s reforms in cash and kind for more than half a decade, was instant and furious.

The Lesotho delegation that sheepishly walked into the conference room at the SADC meeting in Pretoria a few days later was tongue-lashed by the regional colleagues who threatened sanctions and other censures if the reforms were not passed.

The message was clear: SADC had run out of patience with Lesotho. Pressure was also mounting from the EU, the United States, the United Nations, and the African Union.

The delegation promised that Lesotho would clean the mess. The government was cornered.

But how the government set out to resolve the conundrum would trigger events that would lead to the same conundrum they wanted to avoid.

They used the constitution’s state of emergency clause to recall parliament so they would pass the amendments.

They were on a slippery slope because even as they pondered the state of emergency it was clear this was a desperate measure to get the reforms across the line and appease the international community.

There was an overwhelming consensus in the legal fraternity that there was no legal justification to declare a state of emergency to pass the amendments.

Lesotho’s generally porous constitution was airtight on what constitutes a state of emergency.

Even Law Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane did not sound convinced that it was legally possible to sneak in the reforms via the state of emergency.

In interviews with this newspaper and radio stations, Rakuoane, a lawyer himself, sounded noncommittal as if trying to avoid being blamed for pointing that the government was taking a wrong legal direction.

“We are now in unchartered waters,” he said after timidly hinting at the state of emergency as “our last hope”.

He was probably aware that a declaration of a state of emergency would not pass the constitutional test but still had to be done for political reasons to save face and pacify the clamouring international community.

The members of the Council of State perhaps had the same feeling as they trooped into their meeting to discuss the state of emergency.

The Law Society president, Tekane Maqakachane, gave the council members a mini constitutional law lecture as he forcefully argued against the state of emergency.

Advocate Maqakachane had earlier told thepost that there was ‘absolutely no loophole in the constitution to justify a state of emergency”.

“It’s legally impossible,” he said.

It is inconceivable that the members did not understand that they were about to molest the constitution to achieve a political goal.

You did not need to be a legal expert to understand the constitution’s unambiguous clause about the conditions for a declaration of a state of emergency.

Even those who had not read the clause had probably heard lawyers speaking in the media about the impossibility of massaging the constitution on that issue.

There was neither a war nor a natural disaster. No event imperilled lives and the welfare of the country.

In the end, the council’s decision had nothing to do with legal considerations but the politics of the moment. They gave Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro what he wanted and he gladly took it.

He was so sure that the council would bend to political will that he told SADC heads of state at a summit in the Democratic Republic of Congo that Lesotho was on course to pass the reforms.

A member of the council would later tell thepost that they understood that what they were doing was unconstitutional but wanted to “kick the problem back to the politicians who had caused it in the first place”.

“He (Majoro) wanted a rubber stamp and we gave it to him. We knew he would run into problems sooner rather than later. I think government lawyers had also told him that problems were coming,” he said.

For a moment it looked as if the government had dodged the bullet. The parliament was recalled and it passed the amendments.

But it wasn’t long before the plan started unravelling. Journalist Kananelo Boloetsi and lawyer Lintle Tuke filed an urgent court application to have the state of emergency declared illegal and the laws subsequently signed off by the king nullified. The writing was on the wall.

The import of the constitutional court’s judgement was to nullify the laws and constitutional amendments the King had signed off for the implementation of the reforms. Its impact was beyond killing the reforms.

The court had opened the floodgates for anyone to challenge a government decision based on public interest. In other words, nearly every citizen had the legal right to sue the government even if they were not directly affected by its actions.

You did not need to show the court a bleeding or festering wound to prove that you had the right to bring a case against the government or a public institution. All you needed was to prove that your case was in the public interest.

The Court of Appeal endorsed that judgement this week when it dismissed the government’s appeal with costs. The reforms are back to square one.

Where did it go wrong?

It would be naïve to start an inquest into the death of the reforms from the point when the parliament failed to pass the amendments. The constitutional court’s ruling might have hit the final nail into the reforms coffin but it wasn’t the disease that killed the reforms.

It is a time-honoured fact that politicians never legislate or reform themselves out of power or trim or dilute their powers. The delays that dogged the reforms were therefore not out of the politicians’ respect for procedures but a strategy.
Constitutional law professor Hoolo ‘Nyane says there was a method in the way the politicians spent months quarrelling over the reforms.

“It was clear that most did not want the fundamental changes that were going to be ushered by the amendments,” Professor ‘Nyane says.

He says a particularly sore point for the politicians, especially those with the potential to be in government, was the proposal in the initial Bill to reduce or dilute the prime minister’s power to appoint senior government officials, senior diplomats, judges and security agency bosses.

Professor ‘Nyane says politicians initially agreed to implement the reforms to appease the international community because they did not think they would go as far as gnawing on their executive powers.

He notes that nearly all the clauses that eventually became contentious had something to do with the power of certain offices or the central government.

“Instead of being a national and technical process, the reforms became a subject of turf wars and power contestations.”

“Right from the appointment of the National Reforms Authority (NRA) it was clear that politicians were trying to carve out their spheres of influence and drive the process to achieve their own agenda.”

Professor ‘Nyane has first-hand knowledge of the internal battles in the NRA and the politicians’ muddling in the process because he was one of the experts that participated in drafting the reforms. He understood how the prime minister’s power was one of the main sources of the perennial political instability that the reforms were meant to nip in the bud.

It was because of the abuse of the prime minister’s powers that two army commanders were assassinated months apart. The same can be said of the chaos in the judiciary and the police.
Professor ‘Nyane is of the view from the people that were clear that the prime minister’s powers should be limited.

He however says he watched in horror as politicians in the NRA argued over technical issues beyond their knowledge. Others, he says, did not hide their loathing for certain clauses and openly complained that they took power from certain offices and the central government.

“In the end, it did not matter what the people wanted in the reforms because the politicians had so many vested interests.”

This explains the brouhaha that ensued after the initial Bill was tabled in parliament. MPs griped that those in the NRA had sneaked in some clauses to favour them. That is to say, the NRA had misrepresented the people’s views. One MP told thepost that they will not allow the NRA to dictate what the parliament should do.

“They are trying to make a lame duck of a prime minister by running the country through commissions. The Bill had commissions for this and that as if the government should always defer to some parallel authorities when it makes executive decisions,” said the MP.

“We are the lawmakers here.”

His sentiments came just as the chaos over which Bill represented the people’s views was starting. It, therefore, did not come as a surprise to people like Professor ‘Nyane when the Bill that parliament submitted to the Senate did not have the initial clauses limiting the prime minister’s powers.

Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu would later come out during a parliamentary debate to say he was against those clauses. Mokhothu said the government “must always have power through the prime minister”. “The day we have weakened that office would be the day we would have killed the government, it won’t move,” Mokhothu said.

“You cannot reform by killing one of those sectors which are being reformed,” he said.

He said politicians promise to eradicate crimes through the institutions “therefore it would not be right to deprive the prime minister’s office of such powers”.

“There is a spirit by some people to weaken the prime minister’s office. There would be no reason for the parties to campaign if the prime minister does not have powers,” he said.

Mokhothu was therefore speaking for many other politicians when he stood in parliament to protest against the clauses that clipped the prime minister’s wings.

The only difference with other politicians is that he had the guts to speak openly about it. It is instructive that none of his fellow political leaders challenged his position on those clauses.

The government’s refusal to renew the NRA’s terms was probably one of the most visible signs that the reforms were headed for a storm instigated by politicians.

Once the NRA was out of the way, the politicians could dismember the Bill that was a function of the views of the people to suit their ends.

The prevalent excuse among the politicians was that parliament had the final say on what becomes law. This was despite that the Bill that they were discussing represented the wishes of the people. Those clauses were not mere suggestions but instructions from the people about the nature of the reforms they wanted.

As Advocate Maqakachane said this week: “That is what is meant by ‘The Lesotho we want’ slogan of the reforms (See Advocate Maqakachane’s article on Insight 2-3).

Having lost the legitimacy that came with the NRA, the members of the authority resorted to guerrilla tactics. They lobbied Senators to reject the parliament’s Bill and restore the clauses in the initial Bill.

Their influence was clear during the Senate’s debate on July 13. The Senators wanted to reinstate the clauses that parliament had dismembered from the initial Bill. The parliament, on the other hand wanted to keep the Bill it had submitted to the Senate.

“What is clear is that many politicians never wanted these reforms from the start. They might have agreed to go ahead with the process but that doesn’t mean their hearts were in it,” Professor ‘Nyane says.

Whose victory is it?

Given the way that politicians delayed the reforms and then fought against some clauses, very few of them may be shedding tears over the government’s defeat in the courts. As Tuke and Boloetsi basked in the glory of their victory some politicians could have been jumping for joy. The two young men might not have set out to please the politicians but they did.

Their interests coincided with those of politicians bent on killing the reforms. Now that the courts have reversed the amendments, the international community cannot insist on the reforms being passed before the elections. That is practically impossible.

The government can go back to SADC to report that their hands are now tied because the highest court in the land has blocked the amendments. The can has been kicked down the road. Professor ‘Nyane says politicians are the ultimate winners of the chaos.

“They have always liked the status quo and they get to keep it for now.”

Basotho have to wait to fight another day for the Lesotho they want.

Staff Reporter

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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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