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Last nail in taxi industry’s coffin



MASERU-ONCE the favourite of many aspiring businesspeople, the passenger minibus business is now a shadow of its former self, with smaller vehicles taking over the roads.

Only a decade ago, many people looked to the business as a viable retirement option.
Basotho men who would have retired from South African mines would use their savings to buy minibuses to venture into the passenger transport business. Then someone introduced the 4+1 and the game changed.

The 4+1s quickly became the preferred mode of transport, presenting passengers with convenience in terms of time as it carries fewer passengers and makes a few stops along the way.
The flood of cheap imports worsened the situation for minibus operators as most people could afford to buy a 4+1 and flood the roads.

Some even sold their minibuses to buy 4+1s. Civil servants like police officers, soldiers and teachers joined the party, most operating the vehicles without proper documentation.
In some villages like Koalabata, Tsoapo-le-Bolila and Qoaling minibuses are now a thing of the past.

Matšeli Qekisi is among those desperate to exit the minibus industry eight years after joining it.
Qekisi, who joined the industry as a driver’s assistant, has been a rank inspector since 2018.

“There is no money in this industry anymore, Covid-19 worsened the situation,” Qekisi said.
According to Qekisi, who is an inspector for the Ha-Pita, Semphetenyane and Likolong route, more than 70 minibuses plied the route before.
Now, only about 30 are still operating on the route.

“Due to business nose-diving some owners sold their minibuses, while some taxis are stuck at home in need of repairs,” he said.
Over half of the conductors or assistant drivers, he said, also had to be sent home as previous Covid-19 regulations only allowed taxis to carry a maximum of nine passengers.

The daily platform fee of M20 from which his salary is paid, has also dwindled. Some owners are unable to pay platform fees.
“Times are tough, having to fuel the car, pay a driver, service it and pay the platform fee, there really isn’t much that the owner gets,” he said.

Katleho Sehole, a taxi conductor for the last four years, has resorted to hawking fruits and cigarettes when he was retrenched due to Covid-19.
His dream of buying a 4+1 like some of his colleagues has been shattered.
Sehole, a father of two, said even before Covid-19 things were already bad.
“We did not have socks money (money hidden from your boss for your personal use) like we used to and with Covid-19 socks money is history,” Sehole said.

He said previously they would fuel the car, keep the owners’ daily amount (Mocheko) and take the rest for personal use.
“It is with that money that we bought clothes or saved, that money doesn’t exist anymore,” he said.
Most minibus owners can no longer afford to pay the M50 daily wage to employees, he said.

“Some of my former colleagues during this time would take home from M20 to M50 a day. How is one supposed to feed a family with that amount? Most of us are just waiting for borders to open and maybe we will get something better on the other side of the border,” he said.

Hawking, he said, is also challenging as almost everyone who lost their jobs has joined the ranks of vendors.
“I am out of options, I got mouths to feed. The only comforting thing is that the little I make is mine.”

Lereko Qhoali drives a minibus to Lithabaneng.
He said the industry was already struggling and Covid-19 was the final nail in the coffin.
Qhoali said a taxi would make a measly M120 a day due to worsening conditions.

“From this money, there is M20 platform fee, there is fuel, there is M20 or M30 for the taxi assistant and a driver to pay for those who earn daily,” Qhoali said.
“At the end of the day there is nothing to give to the owner and yet he must pay the driver and maintain the car.”

Tseko Tseko, a 4+1 driver, was hoping this would be his last year as an employee as his two year employment working under an arrangement popularly known as Totomeng was coming to end this year.
Under the Totomeng arrangement, a driver agrees to give the vehicle owner a certain amount daily for a certain period. In exchange, the car becomes his after the agreed period.

“My boss wanted M300 per day after fueling his car,” Tseko said.
“I would work hard to surpass the daily limit so that I could make myself money because in this arrangement I did not have a salary,” he said.
Because of Covid-19, he said, he thinks he will have to work for an additional year.

“It is a daily struggle. There are too many pirates owned by law enforcement officers.”
“Police demand bribes from us daily because we are not servicing or renewing licences or disks due to lack of funds, he said.
“And then there is the Iveco (Mobile Traffic Court). It is a nightmare working on these streets.”

Leluma Maluke joined the taxi industry as a driver in 2013.
After three years, Maluke bought a 15-seater minibus from his boss for M27 000 in 2017.
Excited and ready to double his work ethic, the completion of the tarred road in Tsoapo-le-Bolila halted his plans as the avalanche of 4+1s hit the route.

By the end of 2018 there was no money to be made.
“Passengers refused to board our minibuses. They now preferred 4+1s,” said Maluke.
“We would only get passengers in the morning when taking textile workers to work and in the evenings when they came back home,” he said.
Even today there are no minibuses on that route.
With maintenance costs pilling, fuel, paying a taxi assistant, Maluke decided to get employed and drive long distance taxis with the hope that things would be better.

“The situation there was worse, I only worked for six months.”
He later managed to buy a 4+1. 
“That was when life improved,” he said, adding that he would take home an average of M300 a day.
COVID-19 restrictions have however become a new challenge, with his income dwindling to as low as M100 a day.

“Sometimes I went home empty-handed having worked only for fuel, especially during the week before month end.”
He said even though they are back to carrying a “full load”, the situation is still dire.

“People do not have money, even when we were only allowed to carry three passengers we would still go to town without any passengers.”
Lebohang Moea, Chairman of the Maseru Route Transport Operators (MRTO), said many jobs have been lost in the sector due to a combination of COVID-19 and the flooding of smaller vehicles on the road.
Moea said there are over 9 000 taxis and 4+1s in Maseru alone and over 18 000 employees.

Despite the new regulations for the purple level that allowed taxis to fill their vehicles as before, many have already gone under.
“They do not have the means to re-employ workers. During Covid-19 most drivers and their assistants were sent home, simply because there was not enough money,” Moea said.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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[BREAKING NEWS] Lebona sets curfew



MASERU– In an effort to curb the rampant increase of homicides in Lesotho, the Minister of Police Lebona Lephema has announced a 10:00pm-4:00am curfew, effective Tuesday May 16, 2023. Failure to comply with the curfew attracts a 2 years imprisonment or a fine.

Staff Reporter

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Two nurses deleted for misconduct



MASERU – A Kolonyama midwife, ’Mamalibeng Ralenkoane, who allegedly neglected a woman during labour has been deleted from the nurses’ register for the next six months.

The woman went on to deliver her baby by herself without professional assistance.

In another case the secretary-general of the Lesotho Nursing Council (LNC), ’Mamonica Makhoswonke Mokhesi, has also been deleted for violating a patient’s privacy.

The LNC’s disciplinary chairman, Advocate Rapapa Sepiriti, said Ralenkoane had committed an act of serious misconduct and deserved severe punishment.

Advocate Sepiriti ruled that Ralenkoane “should not be seen anywhere attending (to) patients”.

Ralenkoane was working as a midwife at the Little Flower Health Centre in Kolonyama, Leribe, when ’Mateboho Letlala was admitted there for labour in August 2020.

Letlala told the panel that Ralenkoane took her to the examination room and later left her despite that there were signs that she could give birth anytime.

“At 19:00 pm Ralenkoane examined the patient but left her unattended and the patient had to deliver on her own,” Advocate Sepiriti said in his verdict.

“Clearly the blame has to be put at the door of Ralenkoane,” he said.

Adv. Sepiriti ruled that she should be deleted with immediate effect for 12 months, half of which was suspended.

“During these six months period, Ralenkoane is prohibited in any way from attending patients and this judgment should be delivered at her place of work,” he said.

Letlala in her testimony said by the time Ralenkoane arrived, she was already having severe labour pains and was told to go to the labour ward for assessment.

She said when she stepped down the labour bed Ralenkoane said to her: “Ua seke ua tatela ho hema empa molomo oa popelo o buleile ka 3cm’ (meaning she seemed to be in a hurry yet the cervix had opened by 3cm only).

“I was so surprised because I could feel I was very close to delivering because this was my second child and I could say I have experience,” she said.

She said she told the nurse that she needed to use the toilet but was instructed to use a pan instead.

“As she left me on the bed pan I could not stand from the pan as the pains were severe. I called for help but to no avail,” she said.

She said the moment she got energy to stand from the bed pan she saw blood, she called her but there was no response.

“Ralenkoane promised to come after two hours but there were no instructions on what to do in case I needed help prior to two hours,” she said.

“I wheeled myself to the bed and sat on it, still calling to no avail.”

She said while still alone, her membranes raptured and the time of birth came and the baby was delivered.

“The child did not fall as I was able to hold him,” she said.

She phoned her aunt who told her to find s scissor to cut the umbilical cord.

She said she bled a lot and ran out of energy, then Ralenkoane arrived at around midnight.

“When she came in she asked where the baby was and I pointed to where I had put him where he clamped the cord,” she said.

She said it was then that she got assistance.

The investigator for Professional Conduct Committee (PCC), one Nteso, told Advocate Sepiriti that his findings were that “the mother’s life was in danger as she was found having bled heavily and tired and the baby’s life was also in danger from prolonged exposure which could lead to hypothermia and brain damage”.

“Ralenkoane was not there for the mother until she delivered in the absence of the midwife, this is a case of negligence,” he said.

However, in mitigation Ralenkoane said this was her first time to appear before the panel and has been a nurse for more than nine years.

She said she has two children to support and she has already been punished by the clinic as she was dismissed and that she has policies and loans.

She pleaded with the panel to have mercy on her.

In another case Mokhesi who was the Secretary General of LNC was also deleted from the register for two years after she was found guilty of sharing a patient’s picture on social media without their consent.

She was accused of defamation of character and violating the patient’s privacy by posting pictures of the injuries he had incurred.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Nurses back at work



MASERU -NURSES who have been on strike since Monday are set to resume work this morning after the government started paying their salaries.

The nurses went on a go-slow last week but escalated to a full-fledged strike on Monday after the government delayed their salaries. Some nurses claimed they had not been paid since March.

Morephe Santi, the secretary general of the Lesotho Nurses’ Association (LNA), said they have started telling members to go back to work after the government said the salaries will start reflecting in their accounts last night.

The strike has inflicted huge reputational damage on Prime Minister Sam Matekane’s government which came to power on promises of efficiency.

Minister of Public Service Richard Ramoeletsi blamed the Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS) and the Human Resource Management System (HRMS) for the delay in April salaries.

Ramoeletsi told parliament last week that the two financial management systems were unable to reconcile, leading to delays in salaries.

But that explanation was little consolation for patients who bore the brunt of the strike.

At least 20 expectant mothers at Machabeng Hospital in Qacha’s Nek were told to go home because nurses could not help them.

Some of the women were later admitted at Tebellong Hospital, a facility under the Christian Health Association of Lesotho (CHAL).

“We were staying at the hospital’s roundavel awaiting our time to go to labour but on Thursday afternoon (last week we were called by the nurses and they told us to go to other hospitals or go back home,” said Maretlotliloe Mpeli, who is heavily pregnant.

She said the nurses told them that they could not work on empty stomachs.

’Matlotla Poling, 19, from Ha-Rankakala said she had to call her parents because she did not have any money to either go back home or to Tebellong Hospital.

The Machabeng Hospital management declined to comment, referring thepost to the ministry’s headquarters in Maseru.

Ministry of Health spokesperson, ’Mateboho Mosebekoa, said Machabeng Hospital “did not expel the expecting mothers but merely sent them back home”.

“Due to the ongoing strike by doctors countrywide …they decided to take those women to the places where they would get help,” Mosebekoa said.

There was similar anguish at Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital.

“The strike has affected all the departments including the kitchen, maternity, and emergencies, but the managers are on duty,” said ’Makananelo Sepipi, the hospital’s spokesperson.

Sepipi said managers were forced to hold the forte “because some sections cannot be left unattended utterly due to their importance”.

“The operations are happening in the emergency section, even though they do not operate in a normal way.”

She said patients whose operations were scheduled for this week were sent back home.

Santi, the LNA’s secretary general, blamed the government for the chaos caused by the strike.

Santi said as much as the government likes to call them an essential service they do not prioritise their ministry.

“They do not appreciate us, it is like they do not see the importance of our job,” Santi said.

“The government turns a blind eye to the fact that our working environment alone can put us at risk of contracting diseases.”

“Now we are not able to buy food and other necessities.”

Nkheli Liphoto & Thooe Ramolibeli

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