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An oasis of hope

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MASERU – FOR years, the pain and distress of seeing people experience challenges associated with cancer burdened ‘Malichaba Lepheane.

Lepheane, the founder and director of Starlight Oasis of Hope Hospice registered in Lesotho and the United Kingdom, had a vision to start a hospice in 2010.

Having just General Nursing Midwifery and Education and Management qualifications, she had to go back to school in the United Kingdom to further her studies.

She has been working as a specialist in Palliative Care since 2012.

Afterwards, the challenge was how and where she could start implementing her vision as she did not have the means to launch the charitable organisation.

“It needed a lot of money and sustainability,” Lepheane said.

“I tried so hard to back off but my conscience would not give me a rest. Not only the people I know suffered but even those dear to me experienced the challenges associated with cancer,” she said.

Lepheane said seeing her loved ones suffer conjured up the spirit of helping.

“I could not take it anymore as it became a daily burden for me until I had to give in and let it be as God wanted it to be.”

The hospice was legally registered as a Non-Profit Organisation (NGO) in Lesotho in 2017 and in the United Kingdom with the Charity Commission for England and Wales as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO).

It is directed by a Board of Trustees who are bound by laws of both countries. She said the board is committed to adhering to the governance frameworks relevant to the two kingdoms to ensure the charity operates well and safely to achieve its objectives of delivering palliative and hospice care services.

The second hospice ever in Lesotho after Tebellong, which is situated atop Berea Plateau in Ha-Senekane, was launched on August 18 in Maseru.

“I was overwhelmed with gratitude to God for the tears I shed, distresses, disappointments, frustration and opposition to any means to bury this vision alive,” she said.

“I got support from many people, words of encouragement and those that prayed hard to make the vision come alive.”

Queen ’Masenate Mohato Seeiso is the hospice’s patron.

The hospice will holistically attend to individuals and families experiencing life-threatening non-communicable diseases such as cancer and other chronic diseases.

“As a country, we are still behind in means to support such people in a holistic way … be it pain, psychological issues, spiritual challenges and social or relational issues.”

Lepheane said palliative care focuses on all the total pain models to approach and support a patient and their families in an acceptable way that will give them hope and address their priority challenges.

“A patient is an expert of his or her illness, therefore we have to listen to them to be able to address their challenges accordingly,” she said.

She said the hospice will build an in-patient unit at Maqhaka, Berea, where they can manage patients’ pain and other distressing symptoms.

Also, she said, their community palliative care teams will visit patients in their own homes to provide ongoing support to patients and their families while awaiting construction of the inpatient unit and day care centre.

She said the charity will provide a day care facility for simple nursing treatments, social support and life skills empowerment.

It will also provide staff training and development for health and social care professionals.

The initiative will be piloted in two districts of Maseru and Berea.

Although the charity is starting small, the vision is to expand to “wherever our means and budget will allow us,” she said.

However, the goal for now is to register a presence in all of Lesotho’s districts.

“We are hoping and believing that God will ordain all the means to ensure that a Mosotho gets services wherever they are regardless of their status. That is our dream,” she said.

Lepheane partnered with the health ministry in 2017 after they appreciated her proposal to contribute to addressing the challenges and bridging the gap in palliative and hospice care.

In 2018, she signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the ministry.

Since then, she says she has been advocating whenever possible to raise awareness and be the voice of cancer patients and those with life limiting issues.

“I have been working in the same space to advance whatever I need to ensure that Basotho get services with the best that we can do and with the quality they deserve to have,” Lepheane said.

She said she didn’t have the privilege to look after her parents or say goodbye as they died suddenly, a year apart.

“However, I appreciated time as it is a precious gift from God and we need to use it wisely and profitably so that no one is left to suffer unnecessarily.

Therefore, I found palliative care to resonate so dearly with me because within the time one is diagnosed with a chronic illness, we need to do everything in our power to make it count by giving them medication that supports and relieves symptoms in a satisfactory way.”

She said patients should be given counselling to avoid them being in an anxiety mode, distress and depression for no reason with things that could have been assurance and explanation for what to expect.

“If need be, service providers should be honest for patients to accept their situation without uncertainties that make one lose sleep and be miserable. Time is everything and in palliative care we don’t have the second chance to make things right.

We have to do it well from the beginning with the best ability, gifts and talents we have to make sure that our beneficiaries receive everything possible within our means.”

Lepheane said there are elements within the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that countries have to follow. These include preventative measures, promotion of good health, treatment and control, rehabilitation and palliative care. Lesotho is still behind regarding palliative care.

“It is a primary pillar of UHC so as a country, we need to reach international standards because we have to see to it that we address good health and wellbeing that include palliative care when we talk about Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” she said.

Growing up in Semonkong, Lepheane wanted to be a health professional.

The inspiration came after seeing her late mother and younger brother (a couple of months old) fall ill. Her brother succumbed to the illness.

When she was six, she said she started asking her mother what really happened.

“Since then, I wished I could do something to make a difference in people’s lives. I always wanted to look after people for their betterment.”

Lepheane said she almost changed direction to teaching due to influence during her teenage years. Her dream returned towards Form E.

“As I waited for my results and seeing my neighbours who worked as nurses report for duty every day made me love the profession even more.”

The name of the charity is derived from her revelation from the loss of her parents in 1999 and 2000.

“It became a soul searching moment because many things could have happened; frustration, depression and trauma but instead of diving into that journey, I sought encouragement, peace, contentment and assurance from God.

As I did that, so many revelations came to my mind and spirit…we are just saying there is still hope in that darkest hour and a way out even in the midst of challenges.”

She appealed for donations, not just monetary, but anything available that could help the charity deliver its objectives to make a change and difference in the lives of Basotho who may need their care or sevices.

“We need to make this work,” she said.

’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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