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Drugs crisis fuels gangsterism



’Masoana Saoana, the principal of Rasetimela Government High School, recalls a time when her school grounds would be turned into a battleground every Friday, with knives flying in the air.

Some heavily armed gangsters from other places, some in their early teens, would come and fight their rivals right in the school compound.

But no one, including the school teachers, dared stop the fights.

But no one, including the school teachers, dared stop the fights.

Their only option was to run to the nearby Mabote Police Station, which housed the crack Special Operations Unit (SOU), pleading with the police to come and intervene.

The police station is only 500 metres away from the school.

“The situation is terrible,” Saoana says. “This is the only way to describe the dire situation at the school.”

She spoke last Friday during an awareness campaign against gangsterism held by Limkokwing University of Creative Technology at her school.

The campaign themed “Rise above rebellion, stand for a better future” is meant to discourage youths from joining deadly gangs that have terrorised communities in the outskirts of Maseru for years.

Saoana says poverty appears to be at the root of the gangster culture in Maseru.

Most of the children who join gangs appear to come from economically disadvantaged families and see the gangster culture as their only route out of grinding poverty, she says.

Some of the students struggle to get enough resources to study efficiently, Saoana says.

When they fail to complete their studies, most of these students end up joining gangs, perpetuating a culture of poverty within families, she says.

Rasetimela Government High School has an enrolment of 800 students.

The school is adjacent to the villages of Naleli, Mabote, Khubetsoana, Koalabata and Sekamaneng which are hotspots of gangsterism.

The Lesotho Defence Force rehabilitated 75 gangsters from some of these villages in June 2020. The jury is still out whether that attempt by the army to reform the gangsters has served its purpose.

Saoana says gangsterism at her school has had a devastating impact on her students with some dropping out completely from their studies.

She says some of her students had confided in them that they had joined the deadly gangs. So far, only boys have joined the gangs.

Saoana says most of the gangsters exhibited odd behaviour, which suggested that they could be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Most of the gang members were involved in crimes such as theft, robbery and other criminal acts in a bid to earn a living.

“These students delve into crime so that they could have (something to eat),” Saoana says.

“They do not feel comfortable when they are with others and they do not have resources,” she says.

She says two years ago, one of their students was stabbed to death during a gang fight.

“He was stabbed to death as a direct result of this culture,” Saoana says.

Two years later, she says they have found it very difficult to forget what happened.

“We are still mourning his death,” she says.

Saoana says they usually hold regular meetings with students to warn them of the dangers of aligning themselves with gangs.
She says this culture has been at her school for at least eight years now.

Stephen Hlongoane from the Limkokwing Faculty of Communication, Media and Broadcasting says the culture of gangsterism has been springing up in schools of late.

He says they want to help students in schools reject this culture.

He says they are intending to roll out the anti-gangsterism programme to other schools in an effort to fight the scourge.
Woman Constable Nthabiseng Makobane, a national coordinator community service in the Crime Prevention Unit within the police, says their role is to sensitise people about the dangers of crime before it occurs.

To achieve this, they often go out to schools, churches and other places where people are gathered in big numbers.

“We are not expecting you to dabble in crime,” WC Makobane told the students, adding that they want to see students having a bright future.

“We are not expecting you to drink alcohol and use other harmful substances,” she says.

Once the students use drugs, they normally end up engaging in unprotected sex where they are highly likely to contract sexually transmitted infections (STIs), she says.

She also spoke about the increasing use of crystal methane, which is becoming a drug of choice among Basotho youths in Maseru.

WC Makobane says if youths indulge in sex and drugs they would usually find themselves at the wrong end of the law.

WC Makobane says most people who commit crimes such as rape would be under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
She says the Counter Domestic Violence Act has been enacted to save children from all sorts of abuse. She appealed to the youths to report crime as it happens.

“Please report crime without any fear. If you do not do that you are cowards,” WC Makobane says.

WC Makobane says teachers should play the role of parents while at school.

She says children are vulnerable and have sometimes been victimised in many cases.

“Khubetsoana and Mabote are known for crystal methane,” WC Makobane says.

“Those who use this drug show some odd behaviour in schools,” she says.

The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA) coordinator Lisebo Kose urged the students to stay away from drugs and other harmful practices.

“It is better for you to work on your future now,” she says. “Please avoid all that is unnecessary.”

Dr Pokane Felix Molumeli, a clinical psychologist from the National University of Lesotho (NUL) says the environment in which a child is brought up is often what determines their character.

He says some families do not have enough time to look after their children and such children usually end up joining the gang groups.

“Lack of family direction fuels gangsterism,” Dr Molumeli says.

“Parents have to provide guidance for their children.”

Because of poverty and unemployment, parents spend a lot of time away from their children and do not have enough time to provide guidance for their children.

So such children usually end up joining gangs and see some group members as their models.

For one to be a member of such groups, one has to go through certain rituals like killing and stealing.

“Parents do not have enough time to monitor and supervise their children,” Dr Molumeli says, adding that they just come back home to sleep.

He says if the members delve in some crime, they are rewarded with some status by their bosses.

Pearl Letsoela, a psychologist from Mohlomi Mental Hospital says there are two major factors that cause gangsterism.
And those factors are conforming and peer pressure.

“Some will join gangsterism because they want to fit in,” Letsoela says, adding that some just join because of peer pressure.

She says gangsterism could also start from being bullied at school or at home where new members are groomed.

“Some people are just bullied or threatened to become members of these groups,” Letsoela says.

She says a few could be recruited and those recruited could also recruit others and the group becomes bigger.

Dr Itumeleng Kimane, a former Sociology and Criminology lecturer at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) says poverty is what usually causes gangsterism.

She says problems in the family could fan and fuel gangsterism.

Dr Kimane now works as a consultant on laws and policies that deal with childhood care.

“If the family could not address the needs of the child, that could see a child deserting home,” Dr Kimane says.

Such a child could hunt for someone to respond to his or her needs.

Unfortunately, such a depressed child would get his or her peers to help him fend for his or her needs.

The sad reality is that the deserted child would be misguided and misdirected by those she or he hoped could save him or her.

Dr Kimane says the child could be advised to indulge in alcohol.

She says gangsterism could also start at schools where the children do not usually have someone to always keep an eye on.
She says once a child’s work deteriorates, there should be someone to identify the problem and address it.

“Teachers should be aware of such problems,” Dr Kimane says.

Majara Molupe


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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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