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.
Infighting rocks BNP
MASERU – THE Basotho National Party (BNP) has become the latest party to be rocked by infighting triggered by its dismal performance in the October election.
As the party grapples to come to terms with its thumping defeat bigwigs have been pelting each other with blame for the poor performance.
So intense is the internal feuding that the party is now said to be on the verge of implosion.
In the tug of war is the party’s secretary general, Moeketsi Hanyane, who this week fired a salvo at party leader Machesetsa Mofomobe.
Hanyane told a press conference on Tuesday that Mofomobe should accept the blame for leading the party to its worst election defeat in history.
He said instead of taking responsibility as a leader, Mofomobe is blaming him for the dismissal performance.
Mofomobe has however fired back, accusing Hanyane of being rebellious.
“It has been a while since I have been shouldering the blame for the general election’s poor results,” Hanyane said, adding that Mofomobe has been instigating his supporters to insult him.
He said the party did not perform well because it didn’t have money to campaign.
He said the BNP did not get its share of the political campaign funding from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) because it failed to account for what it received in the 2015 election.
Out of the M175 000 that the BNP was supposed to get from the IEC, it got only M15 000 as campaign funds, Hanyane said.
He also said those in the past BNP national executive committee, of which Mofomobe was a member, did not account for the campaign funding received in 2017.
“As a result, our party failed to secure M111 000.”
Hanyane said because of the financial problems the party used rentals from its BNP Centre to fund the rallies in Maputsoe, Quthing, Mafeteng and Teya-Teyaneng.
He said this was the first time since 1993 that the party could not afford to print campaign regalia.
Hanyane also said the national executive committee is chaotic under Mofomobe’s leadership.
“They accuse other members of sabotage, which shows a lack of cooperation in the party.”
Mofomobe, Hanyane added, spent more time mocking other party leaders instead of advancing the BNP’s values and policies.
He said instead of pleading with members of other parties to vote for the BNP, Mofomobe called them “idiots beyond redemption”.
No wonder, Hanyane said, people turned against the party.
He said Mofomobe was not ashamed to use valuable campaign time to mock leaders who own aeroplanes.
“He said their aeroplanes were made of cardboxes, and that was his campaign message,” he said.
He also said the BNP supporters were put off by Mofomobe’s close relations with
Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu.
“That issue did not sit well with some party supporters and followers in constituencies,” Hanyane said.
He said Mofomobe angered the chiefs and the church, the party’s traditional pillars.
“The chiefs regarded our party as one of the parties that were fighting them and the church too, those are the pillars of the party.”
He said Mofomobe should “go back and apologise to the chiefs and the church for hurting them”.
“The leadership should also apologise to the members where they did wrong.”
Mofomobe however said Hanyane will face the music for organising a press conference without the national executive committee’s approval.
“The party will meet as soon as possible to take internal measures against the secretary general for doing what he did,” Mofomobe said.
He accused Hanyane of ignoring his orders.
“I told him to go on radio to campaign for the Stadium Area elections but he refused and I ended up going there myself,” Mofomobe said.
He said he will not hate Mokhothu without a valid reason.
“I will not hate him just because people want me to hate him,” he said.
He also stated that although they work well with Mokhothu he has his own reservations that include the DC’s support for Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli who has been wallowing in remand prison for the past five years as he goes through trial for murder, attempted murders and treason charges.
The DC is on record pushing for the withdrawal of charges against Lt Gen Kamoli.
Mofomobe said he is not the first BNP leader to work with congress parties as Leabua Jonathan, the party founder, once worked with Basutoland Congress Party (BCP)’s Pokane Ramoreboli who he made justice minister.
The high cost of school drop-outs
MASERU – ’MATŠEPANG Sello has gone for 14 months without a salary and life is spiraling into a struggle since she lost her job at one of Lesotho’s biggest textile factories last year.
The firm, C&Y Garments, shut shop due to a Covid-19 induced economic downturn, sending home hundreds of workers because it could no longer afford to pay them. To survive, Sello does piece jobs.
“But that is hardly enough to take care of my three children,” said Sello.
Sello’s daughter dropped out of Lesia High School in Grade Eight because she couldn’t afford to pay fees for two children. Her other child is in Grade 12.
“I couldn’t afford to pay for both of them. It broke my heart to withdraw my child from school because of my financial struggles. I failed her and this broke her too as she badly wanted to go to school,” Sello said.
“It gets tough every day and she wants to go back to school next year and by the look of things, I am not sure if she will return because I am still unemployed but I am already worried about their Christmas clothes.”
As the country battles to recover from the devastation of Covid-19, many children who dropped out of school are still in dire straits, with little hope that they will return to class anytime soon. Reasons for dropping out school vary, ranging from the effects of Covid-19 to fascination with initiation schools.
’Matebello Mphoto, 67, is another heartbroken person. Her 17-year-old grandson abandoned his Grade Eight studied at Masianokeng High School in July to join initiation school.
“We fetched him twice and for the third time, he said he would go very far to ensure that we don’t reach him,” ’Matebello said.
“What he did to us was very painful as he was sponsored by Social Welfare. He ruined his chances. Hele! haeba ha ke a shoa ke high-blood (I almost died of high blood pressure),” she said.
She said her grandson succumbed to peer pressure as his friends were already out of school. Other children simply lost interest in school, leaving their parents and guardians baffled.
Motlalepula Mokhele is one such disappointed guardian. His three nephews dropped out of school saying they “don’t want school anymore”.
Mokhele said Covid-19 forced the 11, 13 and 16-year-olds to spend time on the streets following school closures in 2020.
“They said they are used to making money and that they would not waste their time with school. We tried to get them back in schools multiple times but failed as we were informed that they bunked classes,” Mokhele said.
Masianokeng High School Principal, ’Mapesha Lehohla, said the school lost close to 100 students in 2019 due to a teachers’ strike. Some dropped out because of lack of school fees while others were pregnant.
This year, 44 of the school’s 355 students did not return to school after winter recess because they could not raise the required school fees.
“Since 2019 some children lost interest in education and parents are too busy or stressed to check their children’s school progress,” Lehohla said.
She said many parents said they do not have money to pay school fees and “we end up negotiating ways of payment”.
She said fees paid by the Social Development Ministry do not cover the children’s daily educational needs.
The Principal of St James High School in Mokhotlong, ’Masetho Matalasi, said the Covid-19 outbreak had a devastating impact on children’s education.
“Many children dropped out of school, some went to Durban to seek jobs…they have lost interest in education,” said Matalasi, adding that initiation schools are also a cause of many dropouts.
“It was getting better before initiation. Yearly, we lose children to initiation school and luckily some still come back after initiation,” Matalasi said.
She said lack of school fees is another contributing factor causing students to drop out “but we try as much as we can to keep them at school”.
“We still have students who owe first quarter fees because their parents are unemployed and some even wrote their exams without paying even a cent,” she said.
“We keep them as long as they are able to pay the exam fees. We really don’t expel them,” she said, adding that “it is evident that some parents and caregivers are struggling to make ends meet”.
She said children along with their parents have to be constantly reminded about the importance of education.
However, she said delays by parents to pay fees adversely affects the operations of the school, particularly the school feeding programme.
Lesia High School Principal, Mathafeng Moteuli, who is also the Lesotho Principals Association’s president, said dropouts are a common phenomenon in schools due to lack of finances because many parents have lost their jobs.
He said many parents left their children behind while they went out of the country to seek jobs.
“This year we lost even those who were supposed to write their final examinations,” Moteuli said.
“Initiation schools made things worse for us as some of the pupils wrote just one subject and left for initiation. I really don’t understand how they make such decisions,” he said.
Moteuli said some children have lost interest in education, revealing that they had three cases of children whose parents paid exam fees but the children refused to write.
He said to retain students in schools, authorities are planning to talk to parents through counselling because “parents are going through a lot as it is”.
“We want to identify their problems and ways in which we can overcome them.”
He said they are also planning to have an exchange programme with the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) to raise awareness about children who end up in juvenile training centres.
St James High School (Maseru) Principal, Thato Koeete, said although the money issue is not publicly discussed, “it is a major cause to why we lose children”.
“I am wondering whether our students will return back next year now that some factories are shutting down. Parents are struggling and children are suffering,” Koeete said.
She said parents should be capacitated to start small businesses, adding that the school loses about 20 students every year.
“Most fail to return to school in the second quarter,” said Koeete.
Basic Education Principal Secretary, Dr Lira Khama, said the ministry has several strategies in place to reduce high costs of education at secondary school level.
He said the government meets parents’ half-way to provide books through the book centre scheme.
He also said vulnerable pupils receive sponsorship.
“Ours is inclusive education. Paying at secondary level affects a lot of children negatively and it is evident that our operation on its own is wrong,” Dr Khama said.
He said there are over 1 400 primary schools countrywide and only 300 secondary schools.
“It shows that there are many children who never proceed to secondary school after completing their primary,” he said.
“The question is where do they go because primary education is not enough to empower them with enough information to survive? Besides that, they are still too young and have to be enrolled in school until they finish at least secondary level,” said Dr Khama.
He said the ministry released a circular after realising that some children were expelled from school due to hyphenate of fees. The circular is to make principals and parents aware that “it is not in the best interest of a child to drop out of school because of school fees”.
He urged parents to prioritise their responsibilities, while schools should collaborate with parents to find other ways to help affected children.
“A child shouldn’t be expelled because of unpaid fees. School fees isn’t a child’s responsibility but a parent’s,” he said.
The Social Development’s Director of Planning, ’Mankhatho Linko, said the department will jointly embark on a basic education strengthening project with the Education Ministry by offering top-up grants worth M1 500.
The grants will be paid twice a year – M1 000 at the beginning of the year and M500 in the middle of the year for 9 000 students.
The grants are for orphaned and vulnerable beneficiaries in Grade Eight and Nine and will start next year.
She said the World Bank is funding the three components at a cost of US$7.5 million (approximately M129 million). These are helping children to return back to school, training teachers in schools where children underperform in Maths and science, and the formation of youth clubs.
“The majority of such children are from the mountainous regions, which indicates that they are children from poor families, who are already being helped by the ministry with Child Grants Programme.”
Social Development Principal Secretary, ’Mantšenki Mphalane, said although poverty seems to be the main factor behind school drop-outs, there are other issues causing the lack of enthusiasm for school.
“The main issue seems to be the need for work for parents, low income for parents to send children to school, child labour, and other customs and practices such as initiation schools,” Mphalane said.
Meanwhile, the 10th Parliament dissolved before the proposed Initiation Bill could be enacted into law.
During public consultations in June 2022, the MP for Teele constituency, Mothepu Mahapa, said the proposed Bill on initiation prescribes 18 years as the minimum age for initiation for both males and females.
“This is to ensure that children do not drop out of formal schools and go for initiation like what has happened in the past,” he said.
“Children should stay in schools and access quality education as stated in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4,” Mahapa, former deputy education minister, said.
Basotho migrant workers deported
MASERU – Limpho Kanetsi was working at a factory in Newcastle, South Africa, when she heard that the police had started a special operation to arrest illegal migrant workers. She immediately went into hiding.
She said she had to sleep in an open space for days after running away from the police, afraid that even the house she rented would be raided.
“We did not have food or clean water,” she said.
The police eventually caught up with her and she left everything she had in her rented house in Newcastle.
Kanetsi was among the more than 500 Basotho who were arrested by the South African police in a crackdown against illegal migrant workers last week.
She says she cannot go back to fetch her belongings because she has now been banned from the country for five years.
“I do not even have my phone with me. I only have a few clothes,” she said.
She said her employer did not pay them the money they had worked for.
The South African authorities raided factories in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, purging illegal immigrants working there including hundreds of Basotho.
Prime Minister Sam Matekane dispatched seven buses to go to Newcastle and fetch Basotho home.
They arrived on Monday, with the government spokesperson Communications Minister Nthati Moorosi promising that the buses were going back to collect those who stayed behind.
Of the 500 brought back home, 27 were rearrested at the border and taken to Ladybrand for crimes that were not yet clear.
The deportees told thepost that, as it often happens when employers avoid paying workers without proper work permits, they were arrested at a time when they were supposed to get paid.
Keketso Setipa said she left Lesotho on January 22 and went to work in Newcastle at a garments factory.
Setipa said she had been working there until last week on Tuesday when some people tipped them that the police were coming for them.
She said she tried to flee to the township where she stayed but found police cars already there looking for her and others.
“We fled and tried to hide at a place owned by one Afrikaner but they chased us away and called the police on us,” Setipa said.
She says they then decided to hide in the nearest bush without food and water.
“We were living under the rains and the sun for those days,” she said.
She complained that they slept in the open space for more than five days.
“It hurts because I did not go to South Africa to steal. I went there in search of a job for my children,” she said.
She added that she has left her belongings behind.
“I only have this small bag.”
She worries that once she goes back to South Africa to collect her important things she would be arrested again. She worked in South Africa without a work permit.
She said herdboys who found them wandering in the veldt offered them milk and “we survived on that milk”.
“We used to drink any water we found. When we found a pond of dirty water we knelt down and drank,” she said.
Another victim who declined to be named said her employer managed to hide them “but the employer forced us to work saying if we did not work we should walk out of the gates so that we could be arrested”.
“For the sake of our safety we had to work even at night,” she said.
“We left Lesotho to work not to commit crimes, but the (political) leadership in that country does not welcome us. It makes one cry.”
Lisebo Mahamo, another deportee, said the employer only paid them M150 each saying they would get their full salaries the following day.
“On the following day, we did not get our money. Instead the police arrived.”
Some of the illegal workers, she said, are still in Newcastle as they are afraid to go out of their hiding places.
The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Limpho Tau, said the government is in talks with South Africa so that those who were arrested are brought back home.
“Where there were challenges, please forgive us, our plan was always to ensure that you arrive here at home safely,” Tau said.
“We are working on bringing back all those who are still in hiding in Newcastle,” he said.
He added that “there is no other neighbour except South Africa”.
“The free movements documents were signed, but they were never implemented.”
He said Matekane will meet Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss the matter and “the terms and conditions must be made flexible for both countries”.
He said the government is working hard to ensure that enough jobs are created in Lesotho so that Basotho are not forced to seek jobs in other countries.
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