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A minefield of hope

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MOKHOTLONG – ’MATŠOTLEHO Pelesa left Leribe 15 years ago with the hope of getting a permanent job at the Letšeng Diamond Mine. The job failed to materialise.
Years later, she heard that Mothae Mine, situated close to Letšeng, was hiring, she again tried her luck. Again, she did not get the job.
Last Thursday, Pelesa was hoping that maybe her dreams would finally be answered when Qaqa Mine, the third mine in her vicinity, was launched.
“We were hoping to get employed today,” Pelesa said while waiting outside the mine premises.

She was with dozens other jobseekers from Phutha-Lichaba, an impoverished village in Mokhotlong, an area close to the three mines.
Disappointment followed for many of them.
“We just learned that today is only a day for the official launch. They don’t seem to be hiring anyone as we were initially told,” she said.
Like many people here, hopes of securing a job at the mine are vanishing.
“We have found out just now that the mine will hire workers using a similar system used by the other two mines. They took lists of names from the villages. The problem is that people from our village are often side-lined in favour of those from surrounding villages,” said Pelesa.
“We are not treated as part of Mokhotlong but we will see what will happen this time around.”

It was windy, cool and dusty in the Qaqa valley, situated between the Letšeng Diamond and Mothae Mine, as the official launch of the new mine took place.
Gathered to witness and celebrate the event were people from all over Lesotho and others from South Africa. Top of their expectations was getting hired by the mine on the same day.
“At first we were very hopeful that we would get jobs here. As people from Phutha-Lichaba we have been unlucky with Letšeng and Mothae mines. It seems the trend is continuing,” said Pelesa.
Qaqa Mine is the second licensed mine run by Basotho.
The mine’s journey started in 2017 when authorities issued Morafe Group of Companies with a prospecting licence.

“The Qaqa kimberlite deposit was discovered around 1957 or 1956 alongside many and in 2017 Morafe received a prospecting licence,” Mohapi Khofu, the CEO of Qaqa Mine, said during the official launch.
Investors have poured in M48 million into the venture so far, Khofu said, highlighting their commitment to developing the Mokhotlong district and ultimately contributing towards poverty eradication in the country.
“We promise to acquire skills from locals because we know there are many Basotho who have various skills, Basotho who have trained in different parts of the world,” Khofu said.
He said so far 86 people have been employed and many more will be hired throughout the trial process and when the mine starts operating at full throttle.

The Principal Chief of Malingoaneng, Qetho Sekonyela, expressed hope that the opening of the mine would provide employment opportunities for people in his area.
“Our people are dying in abandoned mines in South Africa, they have become illegal miners. We hope that with mines opening in our area, eventually this business of Basotho going to South Africa to work as illegal miners will come to an end,” Chief Sekonyela said.
He pleaded with Qaqa Mine management to give priority to residents of Mokholong when hiring unskilled labour, and open skilled jobs for all Basotho.

The MP for Motete constituency, Tumahole Lerafa, said the unemployment crisis and poverty bedevilling the country can only be eased if companies such as Qaqa Mine flourish.
“When mines open we are grateful because this means our people are getting jobs and will be able to provide for their families,” Lerafa said.
Lerafa added that he is looking forward to the opening of many more mines throughout the country to create jobs and wealth for Basotho.
Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu described the initiative to issue mining licences to locals as “a noble one that is critical for the development of Lesotho, job creation and eradication of poverty”.
“Rome was not built in one day and a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” Mokhothu said.

“We are hopeful Basotho that are granted such opportunities will take full responsibility for the development of Lesotho,” he said.
“In order for these local businessmen to be able to develop and create jobs we need to have a development bank. We also need policies regarding shareholding to be reviewed so that we protect Basotho from getting into ventures that take advantage of them.”
Mokhothu said going forward, the Minister of Mining, Serialong Qoo, must see to it that the shareholding policy is reviewed to ensure that the government holds 51 percent of shares in the mines. Any international investor coming into the country must partner with a local to get business, he said.

“We have learned the hard way through the opportunity we had with the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA), which was exploited by the Chinese and after all these years there is no development we can point to,” he said.
“We put our fate in the hands of the Chinese and when they close the factories we are left helpless because we did not develop local investors.”
Mokhothu said the same happened with water, which Lesotho exports to South Africa while Basotho are left without water and “that is very embarrassing”.

“It is high time that Basotho benefit from our resources and opportunities,” Mokhothu said.
He advised that locals should make full use of opportunities that come their way.
“If they do not use these mining licences, let us revoke them and give them to those who will put them to use,” said Mokhothu.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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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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