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A custodian of culture

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BELA-BELA-Chief Peete Lesaoana Peete, 43, sees himself as a custodian of Basotho culture and traditions.
This is happening at a time when most Basotho are ditching their culture, for instance, in their preference for the English language.

Revered cultural practices such as the initiation are now being looked down upon. Respect for the chieftainship is also being eroded.
A new generation of Basotho is beginning to pose serious questions about the relevance of the entire chieftainship system which they see as anachronistic in a modern democratic society.
Chief Peete says such views are wrong.

“It’s unfortunate that many academics don’t value their culture anymore. Tradition, the chieftainship, these things are still relevant in the 21st century,” he says.
He says as a chief his role is to ensure that such traditions as initiation are still respected at the village level.

“Our people still have trust in the chieftainship governance system as they still approach us to resolve issues,” he says.
He says a recent survey done during the SADC-driven reforms shows that at least 90 percent of Basotho are still in favour of the chieftainship system.
But what is his role as a chief? How does a normal day in the office look like for him as a chief?

Chief Peete says his day-to-day business includes solving disputes at the grassroots level, protecting borders with much of his time being spent on Senate business.
He says the Senate plays an oversight role to make sure that politicians do not enact laws that violate Basotho culture.
That oversight role is especially important given Lesotho’s colonial rule which sought to depict Basotho traditions as backward and evil.

“It’s surprising because other African people still preserve their own cultures. They are not ashamed of it,” he says.
He accused politicians of using the law to decimate the powers of traditional leaders.
“His Majesty is respected and crowned yet he doesn’t do anything. It is said he should not be involved in reprimanding anyone but I think he has to have more power,” he says.

“The King (Letsie III) should have more powers to intervene in political disputes just like we do in our communities.”
Chief Peete says Lesotho’s sad history of political turmoil was as a direct result of traditional leaders being sidelined in the country’s governance structures.

“Currently we fail to solve our own problems, we have to ask for intervention from our neighbouring countries or SADC and we even use judges from other countries in the Court of Appeal though we have our own qualified people here,” he says.
“We need to stop these wrong practices and be instilled with confidence that we can do it on our own.”

As a Senator, Chief Peete plays a key role in advising the government on governance issues.
He doesn’t take the role of chiefs lightly and wants all Basotho to treat the “royal seat” with the reverence it deserves
“Our responsibility (as senators) is to ensure that every law enacted in this country doesn’t go against our culture as Basotho. I see our relevance more now when I am part of the Senate as we carry that oversight role,” he says.

He says if he were to meet Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, he would press on him the need to enhance respect for the institution of the chieftainship in Lesotho which he says has been eroded over time.
“Our traditional institutions need to be recognised much more than what is happening now. It is the core institution that can bring Basotho together, unlike politicians who look only after themselves,” he says.

Chief Peete says he is satisfied with how he has handled matters as a traditional leader.
“Matšekha (the name for the people of Koeneng, Mapoteng and Mosalemane where he is chief) still respect our culture very much and they are very united and cooperative in any projects, whether it is developmental issues or stopping crime,” he says.

Chief Peete says he wants to see the Sesotho language being accorded the respect it deserves in society.
“It is very disappointing to see or hear our children not knowing Sesotho. We should push hard to make Basotho proud of their culture and language,” he says.
From a young age, Chief Peete was always passionate about the politics and workings of royalty.

That was no surprise since Peete was the son of a chief at the time.
But after his father, Chief Lesaoana Makhabane Peete, died when he was only a small boy, it was left to his mother to instil in him the virtues needed to be a good chief: discipline, education and hard work.
He says although he was passionate about his role, he had very little understanding of how the chieftainship worked as a young boy.

Chief Peete was inaugurated as the Principal Chief in 2008, taking over from his mother, Chieftainess ’Mantoetsi Lesaoana Peete, who was holding the office for him while he learned the ropes.
“I think my parents had good intentions as they wanted me to be disciplined,” says Chief Peete, recalling a time he felt like quitting education but was forced to go on by his mother.

“My mother always insisted that I should get an education,” says Chief Peete, who also served as a prosecutor after studying law.
“She said I should not rely on the chieftaincy alone,” he says.
Chief Peete graduated with a law degree from the University of Kwazulu-Natal in 2003.

He worked at Snyman and Companies, a law firm in Ficksburg, South Africa, after graduating, before making the extraordinary decision to leave the firm for initiation school in 2005.
He believed he would never be a complete Mosotho who understands his traditions without undergoing initiation.

When he returned home to Lesotho, Chief Peete worked as a prosecutor in the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP).
“From there I became a chief. I no longer practice as a lawyer as my focus is more on the chieftainship,” Chief Peete says.
His knowledge of the law has helped him fit in “perfectly” into his role as a chief.

“I knew I had to have a background of law and that was my motivation,” Chief Peete says.
“I saw my parents solving disputes so I knew law would suit my role.”
Growing up in the early 1980s, Chief Peete says he admired the late Basotho National Party (BNP) leader, Chief Leabua Jonathan.
Jonathan was toppled in a bloodless coup in January 1986.
“I didn’t know him for long. But when I looked at his achievements, I just loved him,” he says.

He also paid a glowing tribute to Lesotho business mogul, Sam Matekane, whom he says “just makes things happen”.
“He makes things happen for his community. He is down to earth and is respectful and he loves the entire Basotho nation. He is one of my role models.”

’Mapule Motsopa

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Mahao, PS in big fight

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PRIME Minister Sam Matekane this week summoned the Basotho Action Party (BAP) executive committee in a bid to defuse simmering tensions within the party.
This comes amid fears that Professor Nqosa Mahao’s fallout with his principal secretary at the Ministry of Energy, Tankiso Phapano, could threaten the unity in the BAP and the government’s stability.

thepost can reveal that Mahao has hinted that he would resign if Matekane doesn’t fire or reassign Phapano.

But there are strong indications that Mahao doesn’t enjoy the backing of his executive committee and MPs in his fight with Phapano.

Inside sources this week told thepost that some members of the BAP’s executive committee and MPs are openly siding with Phapano and have been secretly lobbying Matekane to reshuffle Mahao from the Ministry of Energy to Sports.

A source said Mahao is aware of these manoeuvres, including a clandestine meeting in Maputsoe, and has said he would rather resign than be the subject of a humiliating reshuffle instigated by people he leads.

The source of the bad blood between Mahao and Phapano is not clear but it is understood that they have disagreed over tenders and the ministry’s direction.

The source said Matekane was first briefed of the running battles at the ministry some three weeks ago just as matters were coming to a head.

It is the second briefing which revealed a complete breakdown in the relationship that triggered Matekane’s meeting with the BAP’s executive committee and MPs on Monday.

Three people who were in that meeting said Matekane told the BAP officials to deal with the crisis before it affected the ministry and threatened the coalition government’s stability.

The BAP’s executive committee, including MPs and Mahao, then had a marathon meeting to discuss ways to make peace between Mahao and Phapano.

A source who was in that meeting said “it was clear to Mahao that the majority of the committee and the MPs were on Phapano’s side”.

“Mahao quickly realised that he did not have the backing of the majority and took a conciliatory approach. It was clear that the committee would rather have him resign than get Phapano removed from the ministry,” the source said.

“In the past Mahao had flatly refused to reconcile with Phapano because of seniority. But this time he appeared to be open to a meeting to discuss reconciliation.”

Both Mahao and Phapano told thepost last night that their relationship was still cordial. ‘“We are still in good books with Phapano until further notice,” Mahao said.

“However, we cannot predict the future.”

Mahao denied ever discussing Phapano’s dismissal or transfer with Matekane.

Phapano also insisted that he was working well with Mahao.

“We are still on good terms,” Phapano said, adding that the allegation that they were fighting was “baseless”.

The fallout between Mahao and Phapano has been quick and spectacular.

The two had been almost inseparable months before Mahao agreed to join the coalition government.

Phapano would use his car to drive Mahao around. They would attend party meetings together. Some party insiders saw Phapano as Mahao’s right-hand man and adviser.

Mahao allegedly strongly pushed for Phapano to be appointed as his principal secretary when he became energy minister.

But sources said Mahao started having second thoughts days after recommending Phapano and tried to get his appointment reversed but it was too late.

A source says within weeks Mahao was telling cabinet colleagues that Phapano had captured the ministry and he was unable to function as the minister.

“He started pushing to oust Phapano within days because they were already clashing. It’s been war from the first days,” said the source.

Staff Reporter

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How chicken import ban hit vendors

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MALESHOANE Pakela used to work at small backyard chicken farms where she was paid with chicken heads, necks, legs, and offals that she would roast and sell to factory workers at the Thetsane Industrial Area.

Her job was to clean and pack chicken.
The profit wasn’t much but just enough for the 37-year-old widow to feed and keep her four children in school.

“It also covered her monthly rental of M150 for a room in Ha-Tsolo Sekoting.

Her life was however shattered last October when the government imposed a ban on chicken imports from South Africa following an outbreak of bird flu.
Without day-old chicks the farms quickly shut down, cutting Pakela’s supply of heads, necks, legs, and offals.
Within a few days, her family was starving.

Pakela had been struggling even for months before the ban. The closure of the factories and retrenchments of thousands of workers has severely hit her sales. She was behind on her rent and could barely feed her children.

The partial lifting of the chicken ban has not helped Pakela because her former employers still cannot import day-old chicks or live birds.
Pakela and a family were kicked out of their rented room in November when their arrears were about M1 000.
She has found another room nearby.

A ‘Good Samaritan’ has allowed her to use a room for free until she can afford the rent. But Pakela says she still feels obliged to pay something because she understands that things are hard for everyone.

“Here the rent is still M150 but the landlord accepts every amount that I give her,” Pakela says.
There are days when her children go to bed hungry.

“I have told them (children) that if I have nothing they should accept (the status).”

She now survives on handouts from neighbours and other well-wishers. Pakela’s poverty is apparent.

Barefoot and holding her small child in a seshoeshoe dress, Pakela says her two children usually go to school without eating.
The other child has dropped out of school because she doesn’t have shoes.

’Mako Lepolesa, 44, who has been running a chesanyama (meat grill) at the Maseru West Industrial Estate since 2018. The father of three says his clients are mainly taxi drivers and factory workers.

Chicken was her main product until last October when the ban was imposed. It wasn’t long before his business started wobbling.

“I thought it would be just a short-lived problem (chicken import ban) but it passed on this year,” he says, adding that it might take months for his business to recover.
Moshe Ramashamole, 42, who also owns a chesanyama in the Maseru West Industrial Estate, tried to remain in business by sourcing chicken from local farmers.

It was a stopgap measure that however lasted a few weeks because the farmers also ran out of stock. He resorted to bad chicken but they were double the price of a full chicken before the ban.
Yet Ramashamole thought he could make it work by increasing the price of his plate from M35 to M55. The customers however resisted the new price and Ramashamole had to take the losses.

The poultry ban did not affect street vendors like Pakela alone.
Former Minister of Communications, Khotso Letsatsi, is one of those poultry farmers struggling following the chicken ban.

He ventured into poultry in January last year. It was an audacious venture that included a M100 000 investment in a shelter and other equipment.
He started with a batch of 300 chicks and had reached 1 000 by the time the ban was imposed.

“The business was lucrative,” Letsatsi says.

“I had to employ two people permanently to assist me on a full-time basis,” he says.

When it was time to slaughter the chickens, Letsatsi says he had to employ seven casual labourers.
Since the ban was imposed he had released all his workers.

“I do not know where they are now. Maybe they are starving,” he says of the workers he released.

Letsatsi doesn’t know how he will revive his business.
The Director of Marketing in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS), Lekhooe Makhate, says the ban has been devastating to farmers and businesses.

“Some big businesses are going to declare less tax to the government because there was no business,” Makhate says.

He says Lesotho spends M2.1 billion on the importation of chicken and its products from South Africa every year.
But that amount usually soars to M4 billion depending on the market forces of demand and supply.

Makhate says the M2.1 billion goes to South Africa where the chicken and its products are imported.

At the height of the scarcity of chickens in the country, Makhate says people were supposed to make initiatives to travel to villages to search for chickens.

“There is not enough production of chickens in the country,” he says.
“Economically speaking we rely on South Africa. We have to be self-reliant.”

Majara Molupe

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Letseng fends off threat to sue

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LETŠENG Diamond says it is under no obligation to advertise jobs for Basotho to provide certain services “where it has the capacity to undertake the same services”.
Letšeng Diamond boss, Motooane Thinyane, was responding to a threat to sue by a little-known political party called Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES).

Matekane’s company, the Matekane Mining Investment Company (MMIC), had been providing blasting, haulage and drilling services at Letšeng mine since 2005.
The deal with the MMIC was terminated in December last year with the mining company saying it was improper because Matekane had now become a politician.

Letšeng Diamonds announced that it had reached an agreement with the MMIC to acquire its mining equipment at the mine and offered employment to its current employees in line with operational requirements.

“This will enable Letšeng to continue with its mining activities,” the company said in its statement.

This infuriated opposition parties that argued that the mine should have called interested Basotho companies to bid for the contract, saying it is provided for in the Minerals Act of 2005.

The leader of Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES), Molefi Ntšonyana, wrote the mine last week threatening to sue for allegedly failing to follow section 11 of the Act.
Ntšonyana argued that the Act “does not grant the Letšeng Diamond 100 percent to mine with its good own equipment” but it should engage Basotho companies like it did with the MMIC.

Ntšonyana said Letšeng Diamond and the MMIC made the agreement to acquire the MMIC equipment so that the mine could continue with its mining activities “without any advertisement to seek qualified Basotho to provide such services”.

Ntšonyana said the agreement unilaterally denied Basotho a chance to tender for such services and ignored the fact that the government of Lesotho on behalf of Basotho own 30 percent in the Letšeng Diamond.

“It is advisable to reconsider your decision,” Ntšonyana said, adding that they would also write to the mining board requesting the resolution they made regarding this matter of insourcing mining activities.

He said the company should adhere to section 11 of the Mines and Minerals Act of 2005 and within 14 working days the matter should be reconsidered, “failing which we will have no choice but to drag the company to the courts of law”.

In his response, Thinyane said Ntšonyana must “revisit the section in question in full for its correct interpretation”.

“Letšeng Diamond is under no obligation to advertise to seek qualified Basotho to provide services where it is willing and has the capacity to undertake the same services,” Thinyane said.

He said the decision relating to the agreement referred to has been through the necessary governance structures and is therefore procedural.
Thinyane said Letšeng is a corporate citizen that is fully compliant with the laws of Lesotho.

Majara Molupe

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