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Cash injection saves families

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MOHALE’S HOEK-HIT by the deadly combination of successive droughts and the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘Malebusa Mofihli was giving up on being able to provide a square meal for her family in the near future.

Her fields barren and jobs hard to come by, Mofihli was distraught and sometimes even wondered whether she was cursed.
“I desperately needed help but none was coming my way,” she says.
Then, “a miracle” happened.

She was among those selected to benefit from support being provided to vulnerable people by the World Food Programme (WFP).
“I never thought that someday I would be among those who would receive food from donors,” says Mofihli, who was part of 150 people who received food and monetary aid from the WFP in Mohale’s Hoek last week.

Mofihli and other beneficiaries received a combination of cash through M-Pesa and a commodity voucher which she can use to get food items from local retailers.
Although the aid is meant for her family, Mofihli says she will make sure that some of her neighbours who are not part of the beneficiaries also “get a piece of the cake”.

After receiving her share, Mofihli sought out some of her neighbours and friends to make sure they don’t go to bed hungry.
So deep is the culture of togetherness in Mohale’s Hoek that even the poorest of the poor are sharing the little that they have received from donors with starving neighbours and relatives.

“People in this village have been so hard hit that we thought some would die from hunger,” Tšoeu Moteane, the local chief, says.
Villagers were unable to plant due to the drought and lack of money to buy agricultural inputs such as seed and fertilizer.

Those who did plant watched helplessly as the drought savaged their lands.
Hunger is one thing that villagers here have in common and that has brought people closer than before, says the Chief.

“Even though this food distribution did not benefit everyone, on our way home we will be meeting our neighbours asking for some of this,” he says.
He commended people in the village for sharing with those that didn’t make it to the beneficiary list.

“We can’t let them die when we can help. Sometimes, as men we ask our wives to share the little we have with families who have nothing,” he says.
He added: “At times our wives when seeing us with such people assume it is about bonyatsi and it leads to serious fights. If only I was paid as chief I would be in a good position to help them out but now I rely on part time jobs.”

“I wish donors would give more to those selected so that they will share with a larger number,” he says.
According to a 2019 report by the Lesotho Vulnerable Assessment Committee (LVAC), the majority of households in the country are struggling with a serious deficit of food and other basic items.

Most would not make it to the next harvest without help, according to LVAC, which is made up of the government, NGOs and UN agencies.
The WFP, in partnership with the European Union, is handing over M755 each per month to selected households in Lesotho.

Of this amount, M425 is for food (commodity voucher) and M330 comes in the form of cash that can be used for other non-food household requirements.
Beneficiaries in areas where connectivity and network for M-PESA agents and merchants is poor receive all of the M756 as a commodity voucher.

It is not just the poorest of the poor who are grateful for the WFP support.
Local businesspeople whose enterprises were facing collapse due to the biting economic conditions have also received a boost.
Many of them have been roped in to be partners in the project, cashing the vouchers for food and other items.

Sebisibe Korotsoane of Thaba-Tšoeu is one such businessperson. He has been in the retail business for the past 35 years but the past years have been “hell” and he was considering closing all his shops.
He blamed his woes on the influx of Chinese businesses who have put many local businesspeople out of business.

“Competition is growing every day and our government fails to monitor or support us so that we can also compete with the Chinese,” he says, who was forced to close one of his shops.
He says while still contemplating how to keep the remaining shop afloat, Covid-19 struck.

“I was on the verge of closing down (the remaining shop) when the World Food Programme and European Union came to my rescue,” he says.
“I was preparing to surrender this space to a foreigner,” says a relieved Korotsoane.

Another retailer, Rapelang Mabea of Maphutšeng, describes the partnership with the WFP and the EU as “heaven-sent”.
He said for years he has been trying to grow his business “but it was never easy and I closed down and even went as far as leasing the place to other people.”

“In 2010 I resumed my trading. Although business was still not that promising I never gave up this time,” he says.
Then he got a six-months contract with the WFP and his fortunes changed for the better.

“I am satisfied with the growth of my business and I will maintain it from here,” Mabea says.
Acting District Administrator of Mohale’s Hoek, Litšoeneng Thibeli, spoke highly of the WFP collaboration with the EU to assist the vulnerable people.
“This is a special occasion worth witnessing,” he says, describing the project as “a good initiative”.

He says the area has been ravaged by drought since 2015 and a study showed that over 40 000 people there are food insecure.
“The harvest has not been good and our people are suffering from hunger at district level,” he says.

Mpharane MP, Nkoane Lebakae, called on the government to introduce self-help projects to ensure people in the area do not continue relying on hand-outs from donors.
“Residents here don’t want to depend on donations as they are hands on people who plant. Mpharane has very rich soils,” he says, adding: “In future we don’t want food donations but seed.”

The July 2019 LVAC report revealed that 349 000 people were facing acute food insecurity between May and September 2019.
WFP Country Director Mary Njoroge said the UN food agency came to the help of the community following a request from the government.
“Our aim is to achieve Goal 2 of sustainable development – zero hunger,” she says.

She says since 2001, Lesotho has been affected by different shocks but drought was the most frequent one.
She says this is the third consecutive year in which Lesotho has experienced poor harvests, adding that “most importantly” people have to recognise that climate change is here to stay.

“If it is here affecting our livelihoods, we have to come with ways to adjust, adapt and adopt other ways of doing things so that we don’t get affected,” she says.
Njoroge says food is a basic human right.
“If one doesn’t eat, development will be affected.”
Hunger, she says, strips people of their dignity.
“Therefore, we need to look into how to address the root cause of hunger,” Njoroge says.

“We really want strong communities that are able to withstand shocks so as to reach the next level,” she adds.
She says in October last year former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane declared a national emergency due to severe drought.
In response, the WFP launched an emergency response from October until June 2020.

“Our response was aligned with the government’s response plan, with the WFP supporting the agriculture and food security sector,” she says.
She says beneficiaries were identified through the National Information System for Social Assistance (NISSA) in the Social Development Ministry.
“As much as it is from a drought perspective, we also know that the poorest people in the community are the ones also affected by the shocks. If we have more resources we would cater for more people,” Njoroge says.
She urged other donors to assist the country in these critical times.
EU Ambassador to Lesotho, Christian Manahl, said they are aware of the difficulties facing many people in Lesotho.
“We are happy that through our contribution, we are able to help the government,” he says.

He says their priority is to help people to get over the crisis.
“We can see that this place is a rich agricultural area but rains have failed so our first priority is to help them get over this.”
However, “the objective should not be to create situations where humanitarian assessments and assistance have to be repeated over and over again. We have to help these people to find ways of coping with this new situation.”

He says that they are already in the final stages of approving social grants as part of the broader support to help Basotho survive the crisis.
“This is to specifically help people cope with the effects of the Covid-19 threat, economic and social impact,” he says.
Political stability is vital for Lesotho to achieve its development goals.
“We hope this new government has stability to do what it intends to do and achieve what can be achieved,” he says.

’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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