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Fatal misconceptions about Coronavirus

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THABA-TSEKA-MIXED messages on the coronavirus (Covid-19) are doing the rounds in rural areas as the disease spreads across Africa.
Some are aware of the deadly virus while others are in the dark. Many others wrongly think local people are immune to the virus.
“This is a disease for the whites and rich, it will not kill us at all,” says a taxi driver travelling from Thaba-Tseka to Maseru.
“We have been immune from many deadly diseases and we will not start now to succumb to this one,” he shouts while buying a packet of potato chips from a bus stop shop near Ha-Moholobela, over 100 kilometres north-east of Maseru.

“We eat food that not many other countries eat, our bodies are strong, our ancestors have protected us from the worst, we are not going to be killed from sneezes and coughs and mere touching,” he says with a sense of bravado.
He is not the only one who assumes that the lack of reported cases in Lesotho is evidence that locals are immune to the virus.
Social media messages, taxi conversations and random conversation on coronavirus by Basotho suggest there is little sensitisation going on by the Ministry of Health and if it has been there, the message has not been driven home.

In Ha-Tšiu, Mohlanapeng in the Thaba-Tseka District, Seitlheko Tšoaoa says he only knew of coronavirus when he arrived at a public gathering of herd-boys, parents and community leaders on Monday.
Tšoaoa heard about the virus for the first time when the Principal Chief of Matsieng, Chief Seeiso Bereng Seeiso, started spreading messages on coronavirus.
Tšoaoa was in Sani Pass in Mokhotlong at a cattle post and had just returned home on Monday.
He said herd-boys are always the last people to receive information.

“We don’t get to hear anything about outbreaks or what the country is doing until it is too late, we are always not informed (on time),” Tšoaoa says.
However, community members in Ha-Tšiu appear to be aware of the virus.
Their clinic, Mohlanapeng Health Centre, is continuously teaching villagers about Covid-19 and how to lower chances of transmission or infection.
’Matšosane Lekhutla is one of the villagers who now knows what corona is and how dangerous the virus is if found in a community.

She says all they can do is abide by the precautionary measures prescribed by health experts.
“This virus is dangerous because it is quickly transmitted though touching a contaminated surface or being too close to a person who can infect you,” she says, displaying a deep understanding of the virus.

“It is unlike any disease that we have seen because even without knowing if anyone is infected they will pass the virus on to you,” Lekhutla says.
She says they have started washing their hands more regularly; they now do not meet in large numbers in a closed place and that if one shows any signs of a common cold and flu they should rush to the hospital and isolate themselves.
Raphotho Senauoane, another resident, says he has never been this scared in his life.

“I see this virus as the end of all of us,” Senauoane says.
“Basotho are going to die if they do not take precautionary measures seriously. The fact that one gets infected so easily is what scares me,” he says.
Chief Seeiso Bereng Seeiso told the villagers that the virus may look like flu and common cold but should not be taken lightly because it is deadly.
“It is not common flu. There are reported cases in the Free State and this means it is closer than we could ever think, if not in the country already,” Chief Seeiso says.

“It is worse because we already have high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and TB in the country, we are at greater risk of facing a fatal experience if we don’t keep ourselves safe,” he says.
Chief Seeiso warns that from his research he had learned that the virus adopts well in cold weather and with Lesotho in the early months leading to winter, June and July will be bad for the country if nothing is done to fight possible outbreak of the virus in the country.

“We need to listen to health care providers now more than ever,” the chief says in a raised voice.
“This virus does not discriminate. It is not for the rich or poor, not for the old or young,” he says.
“However, the old are at a greater risk of dying from the virus.”

“Wash your hands as many times as you can because sanitisers are hard to find and very expensive. Do not stand too close to people, cough and sneeze in your elbow. We all need to work together to not reach devastating numbers of transmission.”

Dr Rodrigue Mwanawabene, the District Health Manager, says they are working with different stakeholders to spread the message on Covid-19.
Dr Mwanawabene says although Thaba-Tseka does not have a legal border gate, people still find ways to illegally cross over into South Africa.
“These are the spots that we might miss out on screening people because screening happens at official border posts,” Dr Mwanawabene says.

He says because of the geographic mapping of the district and limited human resources it is hard to reach herd boys and the most remote communities to share the message with them.
“The only time to get hold of herd-boys is if we arrive where they are in the early hours of the morning or late afternoon because during the day they are out grazing their livestock,” Dr Mwanawabene says.

“These hours are very awkward to work around especially when human resources are not enough and there aren’t vehicles to assist,” he says.
Dr Mwanawabene says they have talked to Paray Hospital to sensitize religious leaders.
We have engaged the Ministry of Police and the Ministry of Home Affairs who are trying to keep the district safe, he says.

“We need to screen everyone who comes from SA and investigate how they got home.”
Dr Mwanawabene says there is “a suspected case in Sehong-Hong but we have not been able to go there because we do not have fuel for our cars”.
Dr Marc Derveeuw, the UNFPA country director, says Lesotho needs to be ready to safeguard the lives of Basotho because it is not a matter of if it will come to Lesotho but when it does get here.

He says the government should be ready to minimise the chances of its spread and the infection rate.
“Lesotho is already under a burden of diseases and cannot take up corona as a light issue,” Dr Derveeuw says.
He advises the health department to be up on all fours to sensitize the people and see that necessary steps are taken to screen and keep the virus from spreading.

Rose Moremoholo

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Deadlock over reforms

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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.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Moleleki’s security guards, car withdrawn

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MASERUTHE 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.

Nkheli Liphoto

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ABC at war over Thetsane candidate

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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.

’Malimpho Majoro

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