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Mokhotlong farmers open lodge



MOKHOTLONG – WOOL and mohair farmers in Mokhotlong are slowly moving to the tourism industry after the government disrupted their business through policy mishaps in the last five years.

Under the government of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, the farmers were forced to sell their produce to the Thaba-Bosiu Wool Centre that was run by a by a Chinese businessman, Stone Shi.

It was a move that was to soon infuriate farmers countrywide as Shi failed to pay.

Five years after that controversial policy, the Mokhotlong’s wool and mohair district’s committee, which consists of 17 shearing centres, have now joined hands to build the Wool and Mohair Lodge to provide accommodation for tourists.

The lodge, although not yet fully fledged, is operational on a self-catering basis.

It opened its doors in 2019, shortly after the government intensified the crusade to force everyone to sell their wool and mohair to Shi.

The All Basotho Convention (ABC)-led government had created a wool trade monopoly for Shi, who collected a lot of wool and mohair from the farmers countrywide and later failed to pay.

The crusade to force farmers to channel their produce to Shi was led by Tefo Mapesela, who was the then Trade Minister, and Chalane Phori who was the Minister of Small Business Development.

Mapesela was the ABC spokesman while Phori was, and still is, the party’s deputy chairman.

Mapesela, then the Mokhotlong MP, has since defected from the ABC to found his Basotho Patriotic Party (BPP) which lost last Friday’s election dismally.

Farmers say they starved and sank deeper into poverty after the government failed to pay them.

Some farmers could no longer afford to take their children to school while others were left by their shepherds to seek employment in South Africa.

Other farmers are still owed while others were underpaid, they claimed.

“The situation was unbearable,” Aaron Moketa, Chairman of Moremoholo stud, said.

“Some had strokes while others died of heart attacks,” he said.

“We struggled a lot with the problems we had with the government,” he said, adding that “it had always been our forefathers’ plan and wish to have this”.

Moketa said they were extremely happy to have implemented this project, at long last. If things go south, Moketa said they would have “something to fall back on”.

These farmers invested a staggering M2 million to build a 20-roomed lodge comprising bedrooms, dining hall, kitchen and a hall.

Each centre contributed M50 000 annually. It took the farmers a year and four months to build the lodge. Moketa said they are going to use this project to help them navigate their way out of poverty.

At the beginning, only 17 centres were involved and now the figure has risen to 19. Moketa said their journey has not been an easy one.

He said they had toiled to make the project a success. He said the project became a success through strong leadership. One of the recent achievements is that they drilled boreholes at the lodge.

“We want to develop the place in order for it to be sustainable. It is through developments that we could achieve that,” he said.

Moketa said their aspiration is that the incoming government lead them to greener pastures and not meddle in the affairs of wool and mohair farmers.

What happened in the past, Moketa said, “should only remain in history books”.

Their wish is to see the government fishing around for investors to develop farmers and not the brokers because they have learnt the hard way.

Moketa said the Basotho National Party (BNP) through the leadership of the late Chief Leabua Jonathan built the shearing centres and allowed farmers to run them.

And since then all things were operating well for the farmers under successive governments.

For him, all hell broke loose under the coalition government led by the ABC.

Other parties in the coalition were the Basotho National Party (BNP), the Alliance of Democrats (AD) and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) which all performed dismally last Friday.

“They handled our wool and mohair with cruelty and we have forgiven them because now we are the same,” Moketa said.

“We are all going to wear the gumboots and head to the fields,” he said.

The Thaba-Ntšo Shearing Centre Chairman, Tieho Maqhama, said the major problem that they faced was to see the previous government violating their rights as farmers.

Maqhama said the ABC-led government robbed them of their livelihood. Worst of all, they were left unpaid after their produce was taken to Shi.

“This led to a major setback for us because we got divided as farmers,” he said.

He said it took time for them to come together and work collaboratively again. Another problem that they faced was that of climate change especially when there was snowfall.

Maqhama said although the snowfall occurs regularly, they never get used to it as it affects them badly as they have to keep their sheep and goats in safer places some days.

The chairman of Senqu Shearing Centre, Pheello Moloi, shared the same sentiments about climate change citing that they would have snowfall in winter only. But now they also have it in summer.

“These days, he said, due to climate change, snowfall could happen in October, something that did not happen in the past,” he added.

Moloi further said in the case of climate change, sometimes there is no rain due to drought and this affects their animals because they have nowhere to graze.

He said the Covid-19 pandemic affected farmers because the prices of medicines and products went up and the borders were also closed. This therefore frustrated their movement.

Through their collaboration as farmers in the district, they have secured a market internationally. Moloi said they are also known by lots of buyers because of this collaboration.

And it is easier to get donors because of their partnership. This association was established in 1972.

’Mapule Motsopa

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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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