MASERU-On June 27 Father Augustinus Khakhane was in deep sleep when he was startled by screams outside.
He scrambled out of the house to find the Mazenod Book Centre engulfed in a blazing fire.
“It was if I too was burning,” recalls Father Khakhane who is the book centre’s managing director.
In desperation, he broke windows to pour some water on the furious fire.
The fire brigade that arrived half an hour later struggled with the raging fire until the next morning but Father Khakhane says it was clear that they were fighting a lost cause. When it was all over the country’s biggest book depot had been reduced to ashes. Books worth more than M28 million had gone up in smoke.
“The warehouse was full as we had just bought tons of stock from South Africa and other local suppliers,” he said.
Some 120 jobs are now on the line and so is the livelihood of nearly a thousand people who are their dependents.
For the past two weeks Father Khakhane has been sorrowfully watching fumes from the smoldering fire that consumed one of Lesotho’s oldest book centres.
He says it is not only the books that have been destroyed but “history” as well. The Roman Catholic Church’s Oblates of Mary started the centre in 1932.
Only the Morija Book Depot is older.
“Watching it burn traumatised me so much as I didn’t know what to do.
“After a week reality sank in that it had happened and I had accepted the situation,” says Father Khakhane.
“I realised that crying was pointless as I had to find a way forward. Tomorrow, our psychologist father will be counselling them and maybe after that session they will feel better.”
The tragedy could not have come at a worse time. The centre was already in a crisis even before the fire.
The Covid-10 pandemic had reduced its sales to a trickle.
With schools closed, the centre was already struggling to collect its debts and was already burning through its cash reserves.
In the meantime there was no new stock coming in.
The centre had introduced shifts but was still managing to pay employees.
The fire however changed everything.
Father Khakhane says they will pay half salaries this month.
He says it is possible that they might have to cut some jobs.
“I am trying my best to protect them but I don’t know how but I do think God will provide.”
“Retrenching them will be adding more disturbances which can lead to a lot of things.”
Father Khakhane says the employees have started cleaning up in shifts but the recovery will be long.
Without new stock, the centre’s 13 shops around the country might soon run out of books.
“Our suppliers are willing to give us stock but transportation remains a major challenge,” said Khakhane, adding that most church books are imported from Italy, Singapore and Germany.
Yet even if they do get the books they no longer have a warehouse.
The centre supplies books to 80 percent of schools and churches in Lesotho.
The centre has negotiated some debt reprieve with most of its suppliers.
“This will be until we are stable again. Hopefully by July next year we will be fully functional,” he said.
’Mamohapi Ramabolu, Mazenod Book Centre Manager, says the centre was struggling even before the fire.
“We haven’t been generating income since the lockdown,” says Ramabolu who has worked at the centre for three decades.
“This feels like the end of us.”
She says they expect to pay half salaries for the next three months but much depends on the schools reopening and the centre’s insurers paying soon.
“I don’t know what we will do if the insurance doesn’t assist or we don’t get any funding.”
Ramabolu however says they managed to salvage one computer that has most of the records, meaning they still have a record of their debtors and creditors.
“I don’t know what we will do if the insurance doesn’t assist or we don’t get any funding,” she says.
“We have lost a lot and we don’t know where we will start.”
“I feel like my brain burnt in there as all was in there. It is a mess.”
The impact of the disaster at the centre goes beyond the business and the workers.
Ramabolu says the centre was providing bursaries to dozens of students in Mazenod.
“We want to keep them in school but the future looks bleak. We will however try our best.”
Mohale Lehlohonolo, a sub-editor at the Moeletsi oa Basotho, a Roman Catholic newspaper, worries that the centre might collapse.
The newspaper sells the bulk of its copies through the centre’s stores.
“We will lose our market as our copies are sold there,” Lehlohonolo.
Molupe Molupe, manager of the Meloling Book Centre, says they buy most of their stock from the centre.
Without the centre we are doomed, Molupe says,
He says the incident happened when his shop was already empty.
“I was still planning to buy some and this transpires. We are harshly affected,” he said.
Bokang Moroeng, general manager of the Morija Lesotho Book Depot, is equally worried.
The Morija Lesotho Book Depot and the Mazenod Book Centre might be competitors but they have a mutually beneficial working relationship.
They buy books from each other. So the demise of one will affect the other.
“But we will file their credits for now and still offer them books for resale and hopefully they will manage to repay with their profits,” Moroeng says.
Deadlock over reforms
MASERU – THE government’s plan to use state of emergency powers to recall parliament to pass the reforms faces serious resistance from the opposition and legal experts.
A marathon meeting this week to build consensus on the use of state of emergency powers to recall parliament could not break the impasse.
The deadlock comes as Lesotho is reeling under pressure from the international and regional community to pass the reforms. SADC, which instigated and part-funded the reforms, has promised Lesotho hell if the reforms are not passed.
The United States might pull the plug on its recently approved M4 billion development aid to Lesotho. The African Union is said to have registered its disappointment with the government and insisted that the reforms be passed.
The EU, which contributed generously to the reforms process, is not playing the ‘carrot and stick’ game but gently pushing the government to find a way to complete the reforms.
Law Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane told a meeting of political parties yesterday that the government will soon discuss how Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro can request the Council of State to advise the king to recall parliament to pass the reforms.
Rakuoane, a lawyer by profession, is still cautiously optimistic that it’s possible to use the state of emergency powers for the King to recall parliament.
That interpretation is however being rejected by some in the government and the opposition who believe the failure to pass the reforms is not an emergency.
The constitution defines a state of emergency as a war or a monumental threat to Lesotho’s sovereignty or life.
Monyane Moleleki, the Alliance of Democrats (AD)’s leader, told the meeting that he doesn’t believe the reforms constitute an emergency that justifies recalling parliament.
“In general, it is unthinkable to recall a National Assembly which was dissolved constitutionally, officially or formally by His Majesty the King,” Moleleki said.
“The country finds itself in a difficult situation. Lesotho is constitutionally in a predicament and some urge us to consider the predicament an emergency.”
“Actually, there is no state of emergency in Lesotho today but just a predicament,” he said.
Even if the government goes ahead to use the state of emergency clause to reopen parliament there will still be disagreements over which Bill parliament should pass.
The majority of the officials who were in the now disbanded National Reforms Authority (NRA) accuse the parliament of dismembering the initial Bill they submitted.
They say the parliament sneaked in new amendments and removed others to create a Bill that doesn’t reflect the people’s views.
The Senate has reservations about the parliament’s changes and appears sympathetic to the NRA’s view that the Bill should not be outrageously different to what the people suggested.
The Lesotho Council of NGOs (LCN), which facilitated this week’s dialogue, is reportedly not hostile to recalling parliament but wants parliament to pass the initial Bill from the NRA without changes.
MPs however insist they will not take instructions from any other institution because only parliament has the power to make laws.
But even if they agree to reopen parliament and find each other on which Bill to pass, there is likely to be another problem.
Advocate Tekane Maqakachane believes there is no legal loophole that the government can use to recall parliament.
“There is absolutely no loophole to use for that. There is no state of emergency to justify such,” Advocate Maqakachane said.
“The law is the law. You cannot violate it because you have created your own crisis by failing to do things on time.”
He said even if the government insists on violating the constitution by recalling parliament, the MPs will quickly find themselves in another legal jam.
He said several of the amendments that were before parliament require a referendum before they get royal assent. These include the changes to the Bill of Rights and changes to the structure of the judiciary.
“These are what we call double entrenched clauses and they are part of the Bill that some are saying parliament should be recalled to pass,” Advocate Maqakachane said.
“The trouble is that a referendum can only be held no less than two months and not more than six months after it has been passed by parliament.”
This, Advocate Maqakachane said, means there is no way the amendments can be legally passed before the October 7 election even if parliament is recalled.
His strong legal view is shared by several other lawyers who spoke to thepost.
That could indicate that there is a real possibility that a decision to recall parliament could be legally challenged. If that happens, the matter would no longer be in the government’s hands but would play out in the courts.
An epic legal battle might be looming.
Moleleki’s security guards, car withdrawn
MASERU – THE government has withdrawn security guards and a vehicle allocated to the official leader of parliament Monyane Moleleki.
The vehicle was taken away last Friday.
Moleleki could not be reached for comment but his Alliance of Democrats (AD) spokesman, Thuso Litjobo, confirmed the development.
The position of official leader of opposition in parliament is equivalent to that of a deputy minister and is entitled to the use of a government vehicle and security guards.
Even when the King dissolves parliament and calls for fresh elections, ministers and their deputies do not lose their entitlements such as cars or security.
The same goes for the official leader of opposition in parliament, the Speaker and his deputy.
Litjobo said the withdrawal of the vehicle and security was meant to ensure that Moleleki did not have resources to campaign for the October 7 general elections.
He said this was unfair since all ministers and their deputies still have access to state resources to campaign.
“Our leader is still entitled to those benefits,” Litjobo said.
“We do not have the power to do anything about this.”
Litjobo said they were shocked when they learnt that Moleleki’s security, staff, salary and everything had been taken away.
“For now the only thing we can do as a party is to complain,” he said.
Moleleki has been the official leader of opposition in parliament since the establishment of the Moeketsi Majoro-led government in 2019.
The Thomas Thabane-led government which began its tenure in 2017, in which Moleleki was the deputy prime minister, collapsed and Moleleki’s party was the largest in the opposition, making him leader of opposition.
As the official leader of the opposition, the Constitution grants Moleleki some benefits.
Among these, he has an office, staff, salary, a vehicle, and free fuel.
Moleleki had qualified to be the leader of opposition with his 11 MPs although most of them have since joined other political parties.
The army spokesman, Captain Sakeng Lekola, told thepost that he was not aware of the removal of Moleleki’s security.
“Such things can be asked to the government,” Captain Lekola said.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman, Buta Moseme, said the premier’s office is not responsible for the installation or removal of entitlements of the leader of opposition.
The government spokesman, Communications Minister Sam Rapapa, said the questions should be directed at the Clerk of Parliament Fine Maema.
Maema’s phone was ringing unanswered last night.
Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu, who is the leader of parliament, could not be reached for comment last night.
ABC at war over Thetsane candidate
MASERU – A fight over who should represent the All Basotho Convention (ABC) in the Thetsane constituency in Maseru spilled into court this week.
Two separate constituency committees which were elected on June 11 and July 2 respectively are now fighting over who has the right to preside over the selection of a candidate this Sunday.
The June 11 committee is made up of Silase Mokhitli, Semonko Lesenyeho, Mako Chobokoane, Khoale Thene, Thabo Nkesi and ‘Mathabo Makalanyane.
The July 2 committee is made up of Motinyane Motinyane, ‘Matsekiso Motinyane, ‘Matokelo Morie, Mphonyane Kekana, Nondabesithe Babeli and Lelimo Monese.
The June 11 committee filed an urgent application in the High Court yesterday seeking to interdict the July 2 committee from holding themselves out as the members of the constituency committee pending determination of their application.
The June 11 committee also asks the court to order the party’s spokesman, Montoeli Masoetsa, and the National Executive Committee to file a record of proceedings of the elective conference of July 2 for the constituency.
They say the court should declare the July 2 committee election null and void.
A lawyer representing the June 11 committee, Advocate Letuka Molati, in his certificate of urgency, said the July 2 committee prejudiced his clients.
Advocate Molati said the July 2 committee is unlawfully preparing the nomination of the candidate for the Thetsane constituency on Sunday.
“Applicants have no alternative remedy as the National Executive Committee of the All Basotho Convention is ignoring to pronounce itself on the matter such that the illegal body will prepare for the nominations of the candidates for the up-coming national elections,” Advocate Molati said.
The June 11’s representative, Silase Mokhitli, told the court in an affidavit that Masoetsa and Senator Mphonyane Lebesa conducted the July 2 elections fraudulently.
“On the 11th June 2022, my co-applicants and I were elected as members of the constituency committee of the All Basotho Convention for the Thetsane constituency no. 34,” Mokhitli said.
Mokhitli said there was a peaceful handover of power from the old constituency committee and he was elected as the chairperson of the new Constituency committee.
The newly elected constituency committee submitted reports to the NEC on June 13 that there was only one branch of Thetsane West that had abstained from the constituency committee elective conference.
“We worked very well as the new constituency committee with the NEC of ABC for a period of about two weeks without any complaint,” he said.
He said on June 24, he was surprised to get a call from the secretary general of ABC, Lebohang Hlaele, ordering him and the new committee to report at the party’s headquarters.
Hlaele also invited the old committee, Mokhitli said.
However, Hlaele was not in the office when they arrived on June 27.
Instead they found one ’Maseeng Maputsoe who was accompanied by Masoetsa.
Maputsoe asked why there were two committees in the Thetsane constituency.
Mokhitli said there was only one committee for which he was the chairperson.
He said there were no disputes as all went on smoothly.
Mokhitli said after the deliberations, Maputsoe left with Masoetsa.
“They said they were going to deliberate alone and when they came back they said they made the decision that there should be a repeat of elections in Thetsane constituency,” he said.
Mokhitli said they were not satisfied and they wrote the executive committee seeking intervention but they have not received any response to date.
Instead, Maputsoe and Masoetsa went to Thetsane constituency on July 2 to oversee the repeat of elections.
“They did not have any official document that shows delegation to them from the NEC of ABC,” he said.
“They conducted everything through dictatorship.”
He said during the elections Masoetsa announced that he had expelled two branches and dissolved the four remaining branch committees out of six.
“They then proceeded to conduct elections without verifying the cards of those who qualify to elect and he took 12 people from three branch areas,” Mokhitli said.
“He took 13 people from Thetsane West branch which had abstained when I was elected on the 11th June 2022,” he said.
When people objected, Mokhitli said, Masoetsa strangled one ’Mako Chobokoane with his clothing and one Semonko Lesenyeho came to his rescue.
“Masoetsa, when faced with another objection, assaulted ’Mako Chobokoane, and Lesenyeho intervened again,” he said.
He said Senator Lebesa “was electing on behalf of the electors”.
He said when Maputsoe was asked whether it was proper that Lebesa was writing ballot papers on behalf of voters, she said Lesenyeho could do what he wished.
“Masoetsa and Maputsoe scolded everyone who objected,” he said.
He said the results of the elections were not announced publicly.
Many people left in disgust, Mokhitli said.
“When there were about less than 20 remaining from the original number of more than 150 people Maputsoe announced (the results).”
Mokhitli argued that it would be wrong for people who were not rightly elected to prepare and hold an elective conference for the constituency candidate.
“The fairness and democracy shall not reign. It is clear that democracy is already under threat,” he said.
Deadlock over reforms
Moleleki’s security guards, car withdrawn
ABC at war over Thetsane candidate
Akani to appeal judgement
LEC switches off Prime Minister’s office
Minister dumps ABC, joins DC
RFP betrayed me, says businessman
The ‘post-partum blues’
Doti says goodbye!
Panic as syndicate terrorises Maseru
Fight violent armed robberies
Punching above their weight!
LAA wins another international award
In the best interest of development
Zambian influence in journalism
I made Matekane rich: Moleleki
Musician dumps ABC
MP dumps party, joins Matekane
South Africa won’t tolerate illegal immigrants
Row over army secrets
MP charged with stock-theft
End of the road for Letsatsi
Testy exchange in Mahao trial
Nthane acquitted of murder charges
Babolai ba Ha-Tsolo baa ahloloa
Metsing strikes ‘deal’ to return
Lesotho ease travelling restrictions
Mofomobe attacks RFP
A maize threshing machine
Thabane And Wife Go Scott-Free
Lesotho Soldier Dies In Mozambique
China-UNFPA Gift Lesotho With Sexual Health Commodities
TRC boss holds a presser
COMPOL Holomo Molibeli loses yet another court battle
MISA Lesotho blasts parliament
Molibeli licks the dust
Retired DCP Hlaahla Takes a Stand in The Mahao Murder Trial
Retired DCP Keketso Monaheng gives evidence in the Mahao murder trial
Compol Holomo Molibeli appears in court
RFP e roka lipitsi
I will Not Abdicate My Powers, Says Chief Justice
Prof. Alemu-Best scientist in Lesotho
Thabane in court: trial set for July
‘Muso o lefa bahlanka
News2 months ago
Soldiers beat up Terene gang members
News4 weeks ago
Teachers launch own financial services firm
News2 months ago
Terene members in shoot-out with police
News3 weeks ago
Lesotho angers SADC
News4 weeks ago
A tale of two stalwarts
News2 months ago
Army takes over DPP security
News2 months ago
’Maesaiah wins ‘sham’ election
News2 weeks ago
RFP douses fires