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Autistic kids hit hard by lockdown

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MASERU-AS many Basotho try to come to terms with how to survive the inconveniences brought about by the lockdown, children with autism are some of the worst affected.

With schools closed, educationists have come up with ways to ensure children continue learning and online classes have become one of the most popular means of keeping learners hooked to their books.
Not so for children with autism whose special needs are not easily catered for by online learning, according to experts.

“The lockdown has brought serious disruptions in the education of autistic children,” says Elisa Morojele, the founder and principal of Maseru Special Edu-care and Autism Therapies Centre.
“Autistic children are visual in learning. They learn through seeing things and being reminded constantly to concentrate. They need special skills to make sure they grasp and understand what they are being taught and we cannot do that online,” Morojele says.

Take the case of 17-year-old Matebele Semakale, who was diagnosed with autism in 2004 after losing his speech as a child.
According to Refiloe Semakale, Matebele exhibited all signs of being a normal child in his early years.

Semakale’s wife, who was working at Lesotho’s embassy in the United States, stayed with Matebele. As a member of the Lesotho Defence Forces, Semakale had stayed behind.

“We talked every other day, our communication was all good. Even when I visited them nothing seemed wrong” Semakale told thepost.
However, all that suddenly changed when Matebele stopped talking when he was two and a half years old.

Matebele had suddenly stopped talking and communicating in class. Teachers approached his mother and told her that Matebele had stopped responding to anything in class.

Doctors checked Matebele and put him under surveillance for a while before finally diagnosing him with autism.
At three years old, his speech was non-existent but he could hear when people communicated with him. Luckily, Matebele’s autism is not severe and does not require medication to suppress it.

After spending some time in the US and then Thailand where Matebele had enrolled at special schools, his mother returned home in 2010 and finding a suitable school became a struggle for the parents.

One of Matebele’s uncles who also had an autistic child recommended a school in Johannesburg but the school fees were too steep.
“If I remember well, the fee was close to M50 000 per quarter and we could not afford that at all,” Semakale says.

Eventually, they found an affordable school in Bloemfontein but the fees were still a burden.
A teacher at Leseli primary school, a school for children with special needs, asked Semakale to enrol Matebele there and at least give the school a year to see if they could assist Matebele with his educational needs.

Semakale says the teacher had told them that they didn’t have a specific programme for autistic children and that no parent had clearly indicated their child was autistic among their students, hence Matebele might be the first.

Matebele started his Standard One when he was eight years old.
“In two months we saw changes in Matebele. He was able to interact with other children, his speech was developing well too,” Semakale says.
He finished his Standard Seven and the struggle of finding an appropriate high school began.

Semakale says they enrolled him at one of the high schools in Maseru but within one year they had withdrawn him.
“The school is not a special school and teachers were unable to care and keep up with Matebele,” says the father.

Matebele was exposed to bullying and manipulative dagga smoking. Some children stole his jacket and ate his lunch.
“He told me all of this when he got home. We talk about everything and he never even left out the dagga smoking,” Semakale says.

He says he approached the school and authorities at the school said it was hard to keep watch and monitor Matebele because they had to concentrate on other children too.

“I obviously had to withdraw him from the school.”
Matebele was sent back to Lesedi and has been there moving between the computer lab, the library and classrooms.
Semakale has also hired someone to teach his child art and drawing which he has shown interest in all his life.

“He loves drawing,” says Semakale.
Matebele is the first born child and has a younger sister.
“They have a beautiful relationship together. They look out for each other and understand each other more than they do with anyone,” Semakale says.
At a time when Matebele seemed to be finally making progress, the lockdown set in and has presented new challenges.

“We talked to him about the lockdown and what will happen during the lockdown and what will not happen,” says the father.
They communicated corona as a disease and what is expected of everyone to keep safe. Washing of hands regularly, keeping social distancing protocols sanitizing areas and coughing and sneezing in a flexed elbow.
“People with autism do not want surprises. They need time to let things sink in and for them to understand issues,” Semakale says.

Under normal circumstances, Matebele and his sister are always indoors or at school. They are mostly not out playing with other children and so it was not hard keeping him indoors.
However, he questions why his father isn’t home during the lockdown if everyone is required to be home.

“I tell him it is because I do a job that people cannot live without. He cannot wait for the lockdown to be over,” says Semakele.
Some special needs children can experience a serious meltdown without the normal routine of school, says Morojele, the founder and principal of Maseru Special Edu-care and Autism Therapies Centre.
A meltdown is described by the NAS as “an intense response to overwhelming situations” and can include shouting or screaming, as well as physical lashing out.

Morojele’s centre was established in 2017 to answer to educational special needs of disabled children. It is a centre that demonstrates inclusive education and an enabling environment to those that have learning disabilities.

Morojele says the government needs to step up implementation of policies that assist children with special needs.
“We have beautiful policies but implementation is the biggest problem and it has been for the longest time” Morojele says.

According to Matšilo Nkabane in an article published in thepost titled Dealing with Autism published last year, like most mental disorder conditions, autism is a bewildering and complex condition.
“There is a general ignorance about it in Lesotho. Parents with autistic children don’t have enough knowledge about the conditions,” Nkabane says.

Keiso Mohloboli is a mother to a 15-year-old autistic boy.
She says the biggest challenge is that parents do not know how to cope with meltdowns and deal with the behaviour of autistic children.
There is very little awareness about issues of autism, she says.
The children suffering from autism are also discriminated against, she says.
“Some people even call them lihole,” she says.

“I am lucky because people say my child is respectful,” Mohloboli says.
She says her son is used to playing with children who are younger than him.
“I am raising an introvert. I am able to deal with things I couldn’t in the past,” she says.

In the past Mohloboli says she hardly talked to her son but she was later made to understand the need to start communicating with him even if he was not saying anything.
She says she does not shout at him because he retaliates in a defensive manner.

“We need to learn what our children like. My son loves music and not cartoons,” she says.
Mohloboli says she is not sure if her son understands anything about the coronavirus.

“I just told him that schools are closed and he understands. I also taught him that we need to wash hands first,” she says.
Mohloboli says Lesotho seems to have a very narrow understanding of special education.

“Special education is deemed to be education for the blind, the deaf and physically impaired and the likes. We have a long way to go to address issues of autistic children,” she says.

Rose Moremoholo

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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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