THE wool and mohair sector has become a political and legal battlefield in the past few weeks. The Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA) accuses the government of tinkering with the rules to benefit Maseru Dawning (Pty) Ltd, a Chinese-owned company that has a bitter relationship with the association.
The association says there is an ulterior motive to push out BKB, a South African company that has been buying wool and mohair from the farmers for the past four decades. Accusations have been flying back and forth as each party tries to defend its turf in the lucrative industry that has annual revenues of around M300 million.
BKB says it’s being pelted with trumped up charges by politicians who want to shore up Maseru Dawn’s fledgling business. The government says it has changed the rules to benefit both the farmers and the economy.
But what has been missing from the fiasco is the voice of Stone Shi, the owner of Maseru Dawning, who has been accused of hobnobbing with politicians to give his company an unfair advantage. \
thepost’s business reporter, Lemohang Rakotsoane, last week spoke to Shi about the allegations. She started by asking him about history of his now sour relationship with the wool and mohair farmers.
I came here February 2012 after being invited by the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association to talk about the wool and mohair business. I was taken to see shearing sheds to see the quality of the wool and mohair.
When they invited me here they said they wanted to cut out the middleman and reduce costs incurred by farmers so that they get better revenue which would then enable them to increase production. They were interested in my experience in the wool and mohair industry.
I have worked in this industry straight out of university. I have contacts in Italy, Pakistan, India, Australia and South Korea. I am a Vice Chairman of the Chinese Wool and Mohair Textile Factories Association.
In July that year I met a delegation made up of the then Minister of Finance Leketekete Ketso, CEO Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) Joshua Setipa, the former ambassador to Beijing and CEO of LNWMGA Lefu Lehloba and the association’s chairperson Mokoenehi Thinyane.
What followed thereafter?
In 2013 the two countries (Lesotho and China) signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the exportation of Lesotho’s wool and mohair to China.
I then came back in 2014 to continue with the talks and in 2015 we had agreed to start a centre to export wool and mohair that will offer farmers better revenue and translate into more sheep and more production.
In May 2015 the chief executive and chairperson of the association together with one member of the executive committee attended the international wool and mohair conference in China.
After the conference we signed a joint venture agreement that indicates that we would start with the wool store and later venture into other aspects of the value chain like wool scouring.
We then started with plans for the construction of the centre and in December 2016 and we received our lease for the site in Thaba-Bosiu.
The centre would store wool and mohair and sell directly to factories in China, Italy, Australia, etc. For the construction the association designated four members to form a sub-committee to work with me.
The first phase of the construction being the wool centre which cost M55 million. I contributed M37 million while my partner, the association, contributed four million and the balance is yet to be paid.
To my surprise upon the end of the construction in September the association stopped communicating with me. They suspended the sub-committee that I used to work with and gave me new people who were always angry at me for reasons unknown to me.
They ignored communication from me and when I went to their offices with my translator we were told to leave. I was shocked because even though I sensed that something changed or happened I did not know what it was.
Did you eventually find out what was the problem?
I had fulfilled my end of the deal and my partner was supposed to bring the wool as agreed upon in our discussions and joint venture agreement but was even reluctant to talk to me. At some point I even asked for wool from one district for a pilot project but they refused.
They refused to forge a way forward with me. The people who invited me here do not like me anymore. They walked away without an explanation and left me all alone here. Even two months ago I wrote them a letter seeking a meeting to discuss issues concerning the wool centre but they refused.
I felt stranded and did not know what to do. We were supposed to start business. How could we let the centre stay empty when millions have been invested? I felt stuck in a foreign country, not knowing what to do.
The government I came under was no more and in this government I knew no one. I went to seek assistance from the Chinese embassy and they introduced me to the government. Initially this government did not know anything about the centre.
We were not giving them any reports. They sat down and listened to my story and made their own investigations.
Is it true that you are being favoured by politicians who have changed the law to help you get ahead in business?
I really cannot emphasise enough that I am a simple businessman who has nothing to do with the ABC (All Basotho Convention) government or politicians. I am not here for politicians but I am here for farmers and my business.
All I want is for the farmers to know that this is their facility, operate it smoothly and make money so that we can contribute to economic development of this country.
I am also being accused by those who are not members of the association of having had something to do with the new regulations. That is preposterous.
How can a Chinese man, a foreigner, make regulations for a country? I had nothing to do with the regulations. They were made by the government, not me.
I don’t even think they are in my favour. Any company can come here, even the BKB or CMW and venture into the same business. The only thing I can say is maybe I am lucky because I am the first to invest heavily in this business. But at the moment I do not feel so lucky because only a few farmers are supportive.
During the wool season in the pilot project only over a 1 000 farmers brought their wool here. In order for the centre to operate to its maximum potential we need more farmers to bring their wool and mohair here.
That fraction is very small when taking into consideration the amount of farmers in this country. Most of them are small-scale farmers hence we only had 800 bales for the pilot project.
Sometimes I really want to cry because I invested a lot of money and I don’t know what is going to happen. Things need to improve. They cannot remain in this state.
At some point I wanted to quit and just go back home but the few farmers that have shown me support have encouraged me to forge forward. I still have a big worry about what will happen. In fact I am scared in Lesotho.
How will the centre benefit Lesotho’s economy?
The centre when fully operational can bring in US$40 million (about M549.8 million) every year boosting the economy, creating jobs and improving the lives of the farmers. It can also save the VAT and develop the wool and mohair business in Lesotho.
If this is a good deal then why are farmers fighting and rebelling against it?
I want farmers to understand me and realize that the centre is theirs. Most of them do not know that this centre is theirs. I have heard people saying it’s owned by a Chinese. That is not the case.
The association has 75 percent shareholding and I only have 25 percent. It is confusing because even those who invited me here are the ones referring to me as a Chinese man yet from the beginning they knew I was Chinese. They even went to China. Why are they acting surprised now?
I am here for them not politics. They are the engine of this business and I need their support. I need them to give me a chance to prove myself, a chance to show that I can deliver.
I think farmers should not be dragged into politics. They need to focus on their production. This centre is not different from a baby; it needs their support to grow. Without them it will die in its infancy.
Farmers, at least those who have been showing me support, are happy to work with me. The problem lies with the association. Most farmers are part of the association and therefore they listen to the association. However, more and more farmers are starting to learn the truth and bring their wool here.
How are you different from BKB?
Farmers will no longer get paid after six or seven months. They get paid after three months and get better revenue. In the pilot project they got from M80 to M90 per kg, something they never got before. They are happy.
We just need more to come and support us. The centre makes their lives easier as they do not have to pay hefty transportation fees, brokerage fees, storage and rent while waiting for auctions in Port Elizabeth because we sell directly to the factories in China.
Lawyer in trouble
A local lawyer, Advocate Molefi Makase, is in soup after he flew into a rage, insulting his wife and smashing her phone at a police station.
It was not possible to establish why Adv Makase was so mad at his wife. He is now expected to appear before the Tšifa-li-Mali Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.
Earlier on Tuesday, he was released from custody on free bail on condition that he attends remands.
Magistrate Mpotla Koaesa granted Advocate Makase bail after his lawyer, Advocate Kefuoe Machaile, pleaded that he had to appear for his clients in the Court of Appeal.
Advocate Makase is facing two charges of breaching peace and malicious damage to property.
According to the charge sheet, on October 5, 2023, within the precincts of the Leribe Police Station, Advocate Makase allegedly used obscene, threatening, or insulting language or behaviour, or acted with an intent to incite a breach of the peace.
The prosecution alleges that the lawyer shouted at his wife, ’Mamahao Makase, and damaged her Huawei Y5P cell phone “with an intention to cause harm” right at police station.
During his initial appearance before Magistrate Koaesa, Advocate Makase expressed remorse for his actions and sought the court’s leniency, pleading for bail due to an impending appearance in the Court of Appeal.
His lawyer, Advocate Machaile, informed the court that an arrangement had been made with the police to secure his release the following day, as he had spent a night in detention.
Advocate Machaile recounted his efforts to persuade the police to release him on the day of his arrest.
He noted that the police had assured them of his release the following day, which indeed came to fruition.
Following his release, he was instructed to present himself before the court, which he dutifully complied with.
Advocate Machaile underscored Advocate Makase’s standing as a recognised legal practitioner in the court.
Notably, he was scheduled to appear in the Court of Appeal but had to reschedule his commitment later in the day to accommodate his court appearance.
Advocate Machaile asserted that Advocate Makase presented no flight risk, as he resides in Hlotse with his family and has no motive to evade his legal obligations.
He respectfully petitioned the court for his release on bail, emphasising that he had demonstrated his ability to adhere to the court’s conditions.
The Crown Counsel, Advocate Taelo Sello, expressed no objection to the bail application, acknowledging that the accused had a forthcoming matter in the Court of Appeal.
Consequently, the court granted Advocate Makase bail without any financial conditions, with the stipulation that he must not tamper with state witnesses and must fully participate in the trial process until its conclusion.
Trio in court for killing ‘witches’
THREE elderly women were all stabbed to death with a spear during a deadly night after they were accused of being witches.
Three suspects, all from Ha-Kholoko village in Roma, appeared in the High Court this week facing a charge of murder.
They are Jakobo Mofolo, Oele Poto, and Pakiso Lehoko.
They accused the elderly women of bewitching one of Poto’s relative who had died.
The stunning details of the murder was unravelled in court this week, thanks to Tlhaba Bochabela, 32, who is the crown witness.
Bochabela told High Court judge, Justice ’Mabatšoeneng Hlaele, last week that he had been invited to become part of the murder group but chickened out at the last minute.
Bochabela said in March 2020, he was invited by Rethabile Poto to come to his house in the evening.
He said when he went there, he found Mofolo, Poto, and Lehoko already at the house. There were two other men who he did not identify.
“I was told that the very same night we were going to do some task, we were going to kill some people,” Bochabela told Justice Hlaele.
He said he asked which people were going to be killed and was told that they were ’Malekhooa Maeka, ’Mathlokomelo Poto, ’Mampolokeng Masasa.
They said the three women had successfully bewitched Rethabile Poto’s uncle leading to his death.
Bochabela said after he was told of this plot, he agreed to implement it but requested that he be allowed to go to his house to fetch his weapon.
He said Lehoko was however suspicious that he was withdrawing from the plot and mockingly said “let this woman go and sleep, we can see that he is afraid and is running away”.
Bochabela said the only person he told the truth to, that he was indeed going to his home to sleep instead of going to murder the three elderly women was Mofolo who also told him that he was leaving too.
He said he told Mofolo that he felt uncomfortable with the murder plan.
Bochabela said he left and when he arrived at his place he told his wife all about the meeting and the plot to kill the women.
He said his wife commended him for his decision to pull out.
“I told my wife to lock the door and not respond to anyone that would come knocking looking for me,” Bochabela said.
He said later in the night, Rethabile Poto arrived at his place and called him out but they did not respond until he left.
Bochabela said in the morning they discovered that indeed the men had carried out their mission.
The village chief of Ha-Kholoko, Chief Thabang Lehoko, told Justice Hlaele that it was between 11 pm and 12 midnight when he received a phone call from one Pakiso Maseka who is a neighbour to one of the murdered women.
Chief Lehoko said Maseka told him to rush to ’Mampolokeng Masasa’s place to see what evil had been done to her.
“I rushed to Masasa’s place and on arrival I found Pakiso in the company of Moitheri Masasa,” Chief Lehoko said.
He said he found the old lady on the bed, naked with her legs spread wide.
“I was embarrassed by the sight of the old lady in that state, naked and covered in blood,” the chief said.
He said he went out and asked Maseka what had happened but Maseka referred him to Moitheri Masasa.
Chief Lehoko said Masasa told him that there were people with spears who had threatened to kill him if he came out of the house.
He said Maseka said he knew that Masasa’s neighbour, ’Malekhooa Maeka, was a light sleeper and she could have heard something.
The chief then sent one Patrick Lehoko to Maeka’s house to check if she had heard anything but Patrick came back saying Maeka was not at her house.
“I immediately stood up and went to ’Malekhooa’s place,” Chief Lehoko said.
He said when he arrived, he knocked at her door but there was no response so he kicked the door open, went in and called out ’Malekhooa Maeka by name.
Chief Lehoko said he then lit his phone and saw her lying in bed covered in blankets.
He said he then went closer to her and shook her but she was heavy.
Chief Lehoko said he tried to shake her again one last time while still calling her out but he touched blood.
He said he immediately left and went back to tell others that Maeka seemed to be dead too.
“I decided to go and buy airtime from the nearest shop which I had passed through near ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s home.”
He said on his way he met one Sebata Poto who asked him who he was.
Chief Lehoko said he only replied by telling him that the two women, Masasa and Maeka, had been murdered.
He said Sebata Poto told him that “’Matlhokomelo has been stabbed with a spear too”.
Chief Lehoko said he rushed to ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s house where he found her seated in the middle of the house supported by her children with blood oozing from her chest, gasping for air.
“I stepped out and went to get airtime, but I found her dead when I returned from the shop,” the chief said.
The case continues.
Opposition fights back
THE opposition is launching a nasty fightback after Prime Minister Sam Matekane defanged their no-confidence motion by roping in new partners to firm up his government.
Matekane’s surprise deal with the Basotho Action Party (BAP) has trimmed the opposition’s support in parliament and thrown their motion into doubt.
But the opposition has now filed another motion that seeks to get Matekane and his MPs disqualified from parliament on account that they were elected when they had business interests with the government.
The motion is based on section 59 of the constitution which disqualifies a person from being sworn-in as an MP if they have “any such interest in any such government contract as may be so prescribed”.
Section 59 (6) describes a government contract as “any contract made with the Government of Lesotho or with a department of that Government or with an officer of that Government contracting as such”.
Prime Minister Matekane’s Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) has a history of winning road construction tenders. Other Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MPs, most of whom were in business, had had business dealings with the government.
It is however not clear if the MPs were still doing business with the government at the time of their swearing-in.
Matekane’s MGC Park is housing the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which is a government institution established by the constitution, getting its funds from the consolidated funds.
The motion was brought by the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Lekhetho Rakuoane who is a key figure in the opposition’s bid to topple Matekane.
The motion appears to be a long shot but should be taken in the context of a political game that has become nasty.
Advocate Rakuoane said the IEC’s tenancy at the MGC is one of their targets.
“The IEC is one of the government departments,” Rakuoane said.
“It is currently unethical that it has hired the prime minister’s building.”
“But after the motion, he will have to cut ties with the IEC or he will be kicked out of parliament.”
The Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said although the IEC is an independent body, it can still be regarded as part of the government because it gets its funding from the consolidated fund.
The Basotho Covenant Movement (BCM)’s Reverend Tšepo Lipholo, who seconded the motion, said the Matekane-led government “is dominated by tenderpreneurs who have been doing business with the government since a long time ago”.
“Now they have joined politics, they must not do business with the government,” Lipholo said.
He said some of the MPs in the ruling parties are still doing business with the government despite their promises before the election to stop doing that.
“Those who will not abide by the law should be disqualified as MPs,” Lipholo said.
“Basotho’s small businesses are collapsing day-by-day, yet people who are in power continue to take tenders for themselves.”
He applauded the Abia constituency MP Thuso Makhalanyane, who was recently expelled from Matekane’s RFP for rebellion because he withdrew his car from government engagement after he was sworn in as an MP.
“He set a good example by withdrawing his vehicle where it was hired by the government,” Lipholo said.
Rakuoane said during the past 30 years after Lesotho’s return to democratic rule, section 59 of the constitution has not been attended to even when it was clear that some MPs had business dealings with the government.
“This section stops you from entering parliament when doing business with the government. Those who are already members will have to leave,” he said.
Rakuoane said they are waiting for Speaker Tlohang Sekhamane to sign the motion so that the parliament business committee can set a date for its debate.
“The law will also serve to assist ordinary Basotho businesses as they will not compete with the executive,” he said.
“There are many Basotho businesses in business these MPs are in. They must get those tenders instead.”
The new motion comes barely a week after a court application aimed at disqualifying Mokhothu.
The government-sponsored application sought the Constitutional Court to declare Mokhothu unfit to be prime minister because he was convicted of fraud in 2007.
Mokhothu has been suggested as Matekane’s replacement should the motion of no confidence pass in parliament.
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