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‘Driver gave us no chance to get off’



Taxi passenger recounts horror river accident………………..

MASERU – Clinging to a wheel to save his own life, Thesele Kosi could only watch as two infants were swept to their death by a strong current.
This was after the taxi they were travelling in plunged into a raging Linakeng River in Thaba-Tseka. The daring driver even ignored pleas from his own mother who was in the same vehicle not to proceed.
One of the babies was only a day old.

Kosi told thepost that the incident, which happened last Thursday, still haunts him. Eight passengers, including the two babies, were washed away, while eight others were rescued. Kose says as the taxi approached the river, the mother of the driver who was one of the passengers warned her son that it would be dangerous to cross. “Instead, one of the passengers who sat near the passenger door argued that letting us disembark would waste time. He called on the driver to proceed,” Kose says.

“The driver drove the taxi into the river and we were afforded no chance to get off,” he says. Kose says they tried to open the door while the taxi was speeding but the passenger sitting near the exit held the door tight to prevent them from escaping.

What followed were horrific incidents. A strong wave hit the taxi, which rolled. Kose says he saw the driver getting out after the first roll. He too managed to get his head out and held steadfastly to a wheel. He felt one of the drowning women, who had been sitting next to him, wrapping her hands around his leg.

But he could not pull her out as he too was struggling to get out of the submerged vehicle, at the same time fighting to avoid being washed away by the current. Shortly the woman’s hands went numb and he could feel her no more. He looked and, just like the two babies moments earlier, she saw being swept away. “I called for help and a rope was thrown. That is how I was rescued,” he said.

The driver, his mother and the passenger who prevented others from getting out of the taxi were among the survivors.
Kose says he confronted the driver and the malicious passenger after the incident and told him: “Maybe you two are satisfied that people have been washed away.”

The driver was in a suicidal mode. He rushed to the river trying to throw himself into the water but was held back by his mother and other people.
“The driver moaned saying he was going to account for these many heads of people,” Kose says.
The survivors were taken to a nearby health centre.

Police in Thaba-Tseka say they have arrested the driver, who is facing charges of reckless and negligent driving and eight counts of culpable homicide.
Police spokesman Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli says the driver should account for the deaths of six adults and two infants.
“We are still investigating the matter. So, after the investigations are completed the driver will know the charges he is facing,” Mopeli says.
Communications Minister Thesele ’Maseribane, who is also the government spokesman, says the government will make sure that the driver is prosecuted.

“We will not allow people to be killed like this and fold our arms without taking action,” ’Maseribane says.
“The police will do their job and the courts will do theirs,” he says. This accident happened barely a week after a truck driver in Mount Moorosi constituency in Quthing was involved in a similar incident. The driver tried to cross the overflowing Tele River despite the danger it posed to passengers.

Four men died, including the driver, when the river washed the truck away while one man survived.
These incidents highlight the dire need for the construction of bridges, especially in rural areas like Linakeng, for people to have easy access to services during the rainy season.

In last year’s financial year, the Ministry of Public Works was allocated M1 billion but used only 56 percent of the budget.
The rest was returned back to the public purse unused. There is no statistical data yet on the number of bridges that should be built in various places around the country. Both the Public Works Minister Motlohi Maliehe and his principal secretary Mothabathe Hlalele could not be reached at the time of going to print. The spokeswoman, Lemohang Lekhoba, referred thepost to the Roads Directorate.

Road Directorate spokeswoman, Nosizolo Mpopo, said she was busy and could not immediately respond to questions.
The Roads Directorate was established as a corporate body by the Roads Directorate Act of 2010.
The directorate was established mainly to spearhead effective and efficient management of the road network.
The directorate is responsible for construction, upgrading, rehabilitation and maintenance of primary, secondary, tertiary and other roads as well as bridges on the Lesotho road network.

Last year the World Bank approved US$18.3 million (approximately M201.3 million) International Development Association (IDA) credit to the Lesotho Transport Infrastructure and Connectivity Project (LTIC). The credit was provided to improve transport infrastructure and facilitate the construction of 35 footbridges in the country. According to the World Bank, more than 27 000 people from 19 isolated communities in five of Lesotho’s 10 districts were set to benefit from the construction of the footbridges.

The project was in line with the government’s strategy to address road safety in an integrated manner.
The government would be able to achieve its objective of meeting the United Nations’ Global Decade of Action for Road Safety target, which is to reduce road deaths by half between 2010 and 2020. The March 2017 Lesotho Country Profile Report, mentions the bridge that was under construction at that time as the Bethel Bridge which was built by Stefanutti Stocks for M137.3 million.

The report lists Lesotho’s achievements in terms of road projects as: Upgrading of the Likalaneng–Thaba-Tseka road to bitumen standard.
Construction of the Roma–Ramabanta–Semonkong–Sekake road to bitumen standard, including two bridges at the confluence of the Senqu and Senqunyane rivers.

Resealing of the Matsieng, Maseru–Mafeteng and Maseru–Maputsoe roads. Paving of town centres in all districts, including some surrounding urban areas and building of new roads in rural areas – an initiative which connected communities, which were formerly isolated from the rest of the country.

In a document titled Integrated Transport Study and Policies Development, Integrated Transport Project, the Roads Directorate says “the difficulties of penetrating rugged mountainous terrain and the associated construction and maintenance costs have resulted in the road network being concentrated in the lowlands, foothills and Senqu River Valley (SRV) regions at the expense of the mountains region where numerous crossings, cuttings, and fillings are necessary, and where maintenance costs are more prohibitive”.

“These topographic constraints and the limited number of safe and year-round river crossings have severely constrained coverage with transport infrastructure, particularly in the Mountains region, limiting development activities such as tourism and access of communities to socio-economic services,” the document reads.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Mahao, PS in big fight



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



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



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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