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A harvest of thorns



MASERU – ONE day in the mid-1970s Utloang Sello felt his life was in danger. He decided to flee to Botswana, fearing torture by the Basotho National Party (BNP) government led by the late Chief Leabua Jonathan.
Feeling safe, he decided to return home in 1987. Misery awaited him.
“I missed my family,” Sello, now 81, told thepost
There was no family to welcome Sello when he returned home to Lesotho in 1987. His wife had left together with their children.
“I had no home to go to,” he said.

Since then Sello has been living in the home of a nephew who felt sorry for him. He said he has never garnered enough funds to rebuild his home.
“No wife, no children and no home. I am old, I will die a disappointed man,” he said, summing up his situation.
The political history of Lesotho is characterised by turmoil, dictatorship and state sponsored torture and killings that forced many Basotho to skip the country.

In the 1970s, some people particularly those supporting the congress movement, fled Lesotho alleging that their lives were at risk.
Many left the country for South Africa for good but still retained Lesotho citizenship.
As political tensions soared, the leader of the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) Dr Ntsu Mokhehle skipped the country to seek asylum in Botswana and later in South Africa.

Hundreds of members of his party who felt the brunt of Chief Leabua Jonathan’s wrath left with him and later formed a rebel group called the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA).
Sello, from Ha-Makhathe in Mohale’s Hoek, was a combatant in the guerilla force fighting “a struggle for liberation”. Like many others, he ended up fleeing.

Leaving their families behind to live in a foreign land was one of the toughest decisions the guerillas had to make, he said.
“Our lives were full of suffering and agony,” said Sello, a former teacher.
From Botswana, where Sello and his group first sought refuge, they headed to Libya for military training.
Such training was also conducted in countries such as Uganda and Tanzania.

Sello recounted the time of hardships in Tanzania.
“We used to stay in a bizarre and wild environment,” he recalled, adding that they were not living in towns.
“You could see an elephant or lion nearby. But you were not allowed to shoot it,” he said.
He said they went through “massive military training” to topple Chief Jonathan’s government.

Sello said he was in the first group to return home in the southern districts of Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing in 1987.
Others returned in later years after the army toppled Jonathan.
He said he went through Zambia to meet Dr Mokhehle who was holed up in that country.
Returning to the country was not a stroll in the park as he used an illegal entry point. He didn’t know the agony he was walking into.

Leaving the family behind when he went into hiding proved “disastrous and catastrophic”.
“My family disintegrated when I skipped the country. I lost responsibility of the family. There was no control while I was in exile,” he said.
He said the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union (AU) supported the exiles “against all odds”.
Sello said he spent “a long time” coming in and out of the country spying on the movements of Lesotho security institutions.

His assignment was to work in the southern districts of Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing.
“The work was dangerous because I could only walk at night,” said Sello.
“I toiled and suffered because I had to do this work with the utmost intelligence. I had to walk because taking a car would mean that some people could identify him.

“It was not easy to do the job. The world knows how hard it was,” he said. “Our efforts and sacrifices were however never acknowledged.”
In January 1986 Jonathan’s own army toppled him, opening the way for the exiles to return home starting from 1987 until 1992 when the country prepared for the first democratic elections since 1970.
Sello said he was expecting to be recruited into the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) together with his comrades as per the AU recommendation.
Unfortunately for people like Sello, their leader Mokhehle disbanded the LLA and it was no longer recognised as a military force at home and abroad.

Their dream of being incorporated into the national army died, and the BCP leadership did little to help the guerillas.
“Worse, Mokhehle made a public statement saying he never invited the guerillas to work with him. We got nothing in return. No benefits,” Sello lamented.
He said BCP disowned them at a time when they thought they would protect them.

It was only in 2012 when the government led by Pakalitha Mosisili, a former exile but who did not join the LLA, decided to pay the cadres M300 each monthly as their pension.
The government’s decisions to give the war veterans a pension came two months after the Lesotho Liberation Army Veterans Association (LLA-VETA) announced that its members would stand for election under the flag of the Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC).

The then LLA-VETA chairperson, Fusi Koetje, had announced that the association had resolved to go to parliament through one of the congress parties after they got a cold shoulder from the then ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), a BCP splinter party, when they wanted their plight discussed.
Sello said the ex-combatants tried to form income generating societies to help them escape poverty without much success.
He cited the formation of the LLA-VETA as an example of such societies.
One of the responsibilities of the LLA-VETA was to repatriate the remains of Basotho freedom fighters who died in foreign countries.

Sello said some of their responsibilities included teaching their loyal supporters about guerrilla warfare.
“A lot happened during the struggle,” Sello said.
Another ex-LLA combatant, Lebohang Sekotlo, 70, from Quthing in Masitise, said he was working in the South African mines when he joined the military movement under the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC), which had ties with the BCP.
The PAC is a South African national liberation Pan-Africanist movement that is now a political party.
That was back in 1975.

“I was still a boy at that time,” Sekotlo said.
He said he was compelled to join the movement because his family back in Lesotho was being persecuted for being members of the BCP.
The LLA was a guerrilla movement in Lesotho, formed in the mid-1970s and connected to the anti-apartheid Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA), which was the PAC’s military wing.

The LLA was the armed wing of the BCP, a pan-Africanist and left-wing political party founded in 1952, which opposed the regime of Prime Minister Jonathan.
The PAC, he said, at the time was chaired by Potlako Leballo who was from Mafeteng.
Because the movement was supported by the United Nations, it was provided with some basic items to save them against starvation.
Sekotlo said Dr Mokhehle was part of the movement.

He said he trained under the umbrella of the PAC by the Azania People’s Liberation Army (APLA) in different countries such as Tanzania, Libya and Syria.
The LLA was fighting to restore the Lesotho constitution which Chief Jonathan had suspended and banned all political movements in the country except his own BNP, which formed its own militia called Lebotho la Khotso (Army of Peace).
“It was only Chief Leabua who had power,” Sekotlo recalled.
He said their mandate was to topple Chief Jonathan.

He said members of his family were in distress because of the persecution caused by his decision to join the armed struggle.
Sekotlo said Leballo was toppled as the chairman of the PAC and the PAC refused to support them afterwards.
Then they were forced to be independent from any other movement.
This saw the Basotho mine workers who were against Chief Jonathan coming together to form the LLA.

“The BCP had to be supported by its members,” Sekotlo said, adding that the mission was to topple the Jonathan-led government without any bloodshed.
“We had our people in the Lesotho army,” Sekotlo said.
He said the Afrikaners who were in power at the time in South Africa arrested about 30 Basotho who were returning from training.
The Afrikaners handed over those people to the BNP government that executed them at Setibing, the Lesotho army’s training camp.
A lot happened at that time, Sekotlo said.

“While we were still trying to see how we could remove Chief Jonathan from power, the military toppled him in 1986,” he said.
Sekotlo said it took about three to four weeks to inaugurate Dr Mokhehle after his BCP won elections because “there were a lot of conditions that were put by the Afrikaners in South Africa”.
He said one of the conditions was for Dr Mokhele to disband the LLA because the guerillas were trained personnel who were deemed a threat to South Africa.

The majority of the LLA ex-combatants have been wallowing in poverty after only a selected few were given jobs in different government departments.
“Many have died disappointed,” said Sello.
“I will probably also die a disappointed man like many of my comrades,” he said.

Majara Molupe

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Mahao, PS in big fight



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



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



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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