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Lekokoaneng’s gold



LEKOKOANENG – FOR years the people of Lekokoaneng had known their villages are on a ‘gold mine’ of sorts.
They have known that the sandstone on which their houses and kraals stand would one day transform their lives.
Yet it needed a foreign company to start mining sandstone near their yards to jolt them into action.

When Lesotho Sandstone Company, a Chinese owned firm, started cutting stones in the area Lekokoaneng was a little hamlet in the throes of poverty.
A few mom and pop shops where what they pointed at when they talked about businesses. They tilled the land and reared animals for a living.
For jobs they went to either Maseru or Maputsoe.

That was eleven years ago and things have changed since then.
Now hundreds of the villagers either work in the small sandstone mines in the area or are members of cooperatives involved in mining.
Some have started dreaming big. Mountain Sandstone Mining (MSM), for instance, is now a big mining company owned by locals.
From humble beginnings characterised by near-bankruptcy experiences, the company now employees 14 people.

Letlala Tatane, a shareholder in the company, narrates how they struggled in the beginning. “It was so difficult that other people did not have patience to keep the ball rolling, and they decided to quit,” Tatane says.

“I still remember one day going to my wife to ask for meal. It was not good at all because I had not provided food for her to cook.”
As the going got tough some of the initial members started leaving.

After a few months only a few dozens of the 180 founding members remained.
“The bad thing was that we did not have money for food and for our families. Every weekend I needed to travel from work to home,” he says.
More members left as the company continued to struggle.
Now only four of the original members remain.

That exodus could have helped the remaining members make the necessary changes for it to remain in business. Tatane says they hired skilled people and bought equipment.
With time things have stabilised and the company is growing, Tatane says.
“I feel so pleased when I see this progress, I feel our kids can copy and do what we did.” “These days I feel blessed because I can be able to put bread on the table for my family, which was not easy at the beginning.”

“This mine is very important for us not just me and partners but workers and the community at large.”
Motseki Ralehana, one of the workers, says the job has transformed his life.
“I have seven people, whom I have to make sure that they have everything to live. I have four kids, my mother as well as my wife, whatever they need I’m the one to provide,” Ralehana said.
Tšepo Mokheseng has been at the mine for a few months but says “in reality there is a change I can see out of this work”.
“I was a shepherd before I come to the MSM mining. I have no parents and I live with my late sister’s kids,” Mokheseng said.
“I had to provide them with everything so during my arrival at this mine I felt my life was better.”

“Buying food for my sister’s kids and paying for school fees is not that difficult as it used to be while I was a herd boy,” he added.
’Marethabile Ntungoa, owner of a small shop near the mines, says her business is doing well.

“Sometimes they buy on credit and pay month-end. The profit is enough to sustain my family,” Ntungoa said.
’Mamohau Mongali, a local street vendor, describes the mines as a “blessing to the community of Lekokoaneng”.  She sells tobacco, airtime and maize.
Morapeli Ramothobi buys roughly cut sandstones from the mines to make tombstones.
He used to work for Lesotho Sandstone Company.

“Now I and the other two men have decided to start our own business because they were not paying us enough,” Ramothobi says.
“Our business is doing well. We are able to provide our families with food. That is the only thing we wanted.”

Angel Capital Market, an international research company, says Lesotho has a vast sandstone deposits but the full potential of the resource is yet to be tapped.
“The demand of sandstone in Lesotho’s only neighbour South Africa is so huge that local manufacturers are failing to meet the target. This is caused mainly due to ineffective local technology,” the company says.

Thooe Ramolibeli

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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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