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Fertile soils lost to cannabis plantations

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MASERU – The cultivation of medical cannabis was seen as a game-changer for Lesotho.
With its fertile, clean soils and climate, Lesotho was seen as the best-placed country to grow cannabis for medicinal purposes.
The expectation was also that the new industry would create thousands of jobs for unemployed Basotho youths.
That explains why there was so much excitement when the project was launched four years ago.

But the tide appears to have turned, with the government ministries now expressing exasperation over the way the whole thing has been managed.
What has irked the government is that instead of growing the cannabis in the highlands, the companies have now encroached on land that had traditionally been reserved for crop farming in the lowlands.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security says it is gravely worried by the unprecedented rate at which agricultural prime land is being lost to cannabis crops.

This is now posing a threat to food security, according to officials.
The director of crops at the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security Mofihli Motšetšero said they were shocked when they realised that marijuana had been planted in areas that fall under irrigation schemes.
He said they are not against the plantation of dagga in the country for medicinal purposes but that should be done in the highlands.
Motšetšero said they had assumed that the growing of cannabis would only be done in the highlands because of the high altitude and good climatic conditions there and not the lowlands were crops such as maize are grown.
The lowlands have prime soils and is where most of Lesotho’s crops are grown.

Officials say when marijuana is planted, the top soil which is mostly needed for farming is lost.
“We do not have a problem with cannabis plantation, our concern is why it is being planted on agricultural soil,” Motšetšero said.
Motšetšero said his ministry was not given enough time to study the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the cannabis plantations.
He said the Ministry of Environment would then issue a clearance certificate for the project to kick off.
He said they never endorsed the project to take off in their responses.
Regrettably, the cannabis plantations are interfering with the Irrigation Master Plan along some big rivers like Phuthiatsana, Makhaleng and Senqu.
This is because some farmers were already planting cannabis along the Phuthiatsana River.

Motšetšero said they had also invested in an irrigation system worth M10 million at Masianokeng. He said that investment has now been interfered with by the planting of cannabis.
He said the land belongs to the farmers and not his ministry.
He said the chiefs and councillors work with the farmers to decide what to do with their land.
So, they cannot refuse when farmers tell them that they have given out the land for cannabis plantation.

Motšetšero said there have been a couple of meetings among his ministry and those of Environment and Local Government to discuss the impact of the agricultural land being used for medicinal purposes.
At these meetings, his ministry had always insisted that they do not encourage the planting of cannabis on land that should be reserved for crops.
Motšetšero said there is already limited arable land to produce food in Lesotho and this is being exacerbated by the taking over of agricultural soil by cannabis plantations.
“Farmers sell their land and we do not have a right to object to them,” he said.

He said they have already informed the Cabinet sub-committee on soil that they are not happy that the agricultural land is being used to plant cannabis.
He said the agricultural land is also at a risk of being used up for other purposes such as building of houses.
Motšetšero said he feared that 20 years from now, there will be no land left for agriculture in Lesotho.
He said they have now embarked on programmes to warn councils about this new threat.

He said so far, they had approached two councils of Mazenod and Mohlakeng to sensitise them about the diversion of agricultural land for other purposes.
On Tuesday, the Minister of Development Planning Selibe Mochoboroane said there is no concept paper in his ministry that talks about the cannabis plantation.
He said his ministry was not involved in the project.
Mochoboroane said such projects are run by private companies, not the government.

He said it is the Ministry of Health that is involved in this project.
But the Minister of Health Semano Sekatle said they too are not responsible for the allocation of land.
“Here in Lesotho, it is the Ministry of Local Government that is responsible for the allocation of land,” Sekatle said.
He distanced his ministry from the allocation of land to plant cannabis.

Instead, he directed all questions to the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs.
The Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs Dr Neo Liphoto said he is still new in the office so he did not have proper information.
“I will need some time to look into the issue,” he said.

Majara Molupe

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Police hunt former minister

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THE police have launched a hunt for former police minister, Lepota Sekola, who is suspected of involvement in stock theft.
Police want to arrest Sekola in connection with two cattle carcasses that were found at his grandfather’s funeral in Borokhoaneng three weeks ago.

During the initial interview, Sekola had insisted that the cows belonged to his late grandfather who had kept them in South Africa for better pastures.

The police didn’t arrest him at that time because investigations were still in the early stages. Further investigations have however led the police to believe that the animals were stolen from South Africa.

But when they were ready for the arrest, Sekola could not be found at his home or on his phone.

Police say Sekola will be charged with unlawful possession and illegal importation of two cows from South Africa.

The National Stock Theft Coordinator, Senior Superintendent Mapesela Klaass, told thepost last night that they “have completed investigations but he (Sekola) is nowhere to be seen”.

“We cannot get him on his mobile phones,” S/Supt Klaass said, adding that the police have been “visiting his home but he is not there”.

“His family members are aware that we are looking for him,” he said.

S/Supt Klaass said they are continuing with their search and as soon as they find him, they are going to drag him to the courts.

He said the police suspect the cows were brought from South Africa to be slaughtered for Sekola’s grandfather’s funeral.

Police sources told thepost that one of the cows had new branding while another had nothing. Both had holes on the ears that signalled that they used to have ear tags.

Majara Molupe

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Magistrate saves WILSA boss

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A Maseru magistrate, Nthabiseng Moopisa, this week stayed the criminal prosecution of Advocate ’Mamosa Mohlabula who is accused of tax evasion, money laundering and corruption.

In her application Advocate Mohlabula, who is the director of Women and Law in Southern Africa (WILSA), said the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) should not charge her pending finalisation of her tax evasion case.

Advocate Mohlabula is out on bail after she was formally charged with tax evasion in July last year.

She told Magistrate Moopisa that the DPP, Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane, was wrong to have agreed with the Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) to bring charges against her.

“In my viewpoint, the DCEO cannot be heard to charge me in relation to matters already seized with this Honourable Court,” she said in an affidavit.

She also said there is a pending civil case in the High Court in which the DCEO’s abuse of power is referenced, saying the precise way the case is handled will depend “on the way an alleged offence comes to the light”.

“Before that pending case is finalised, DCEO has no jurisdiction to detail me to court over isolated phenomenon of tax evasion and or over grievances of former employees of WILSA,” she said.
Advocate Mohlabula was charged together with the WILSA’s chief accounting officer.

She argued that it was WILSA that was being investigated, not individuals, further saying that was “a significant safeguard that the DCEO was impartial from an objective viewpoint”.

“To exclude any legitimate doubt in this respect the DCEO returned the items it seized from WILSA,” she said.

“This was a realistic and practical step towards administering justice and to avoid premature embarrassment to the management of WILSA.”

She said the Board of Trustees of WILSA were sent briefing notes which in certain respects reflected that the DCEO returned the properties of WILSA without warning them that they were suspects.

“In any event, we proceeded to fashion our arguments before the High Court. There was, and could be, no evidence to back up the decision of the DCEO to apply for the search warrant,” she said.

Advocate Mohlabula said before they took the matter to the High Court, she cooperated with the DCEO and it conducted an inquiry into the alleged crimes.

“Now that the matter is pending before the High Court, there is no more reason for the DCEO to remand me before the pending cases are finalised,” she said.

Staff Reporter

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Mphaka barred from ABC deputy’s race

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THE All Basotho Convention (ABC) has barred former Government Secretary Moahloli Mphaka and three others from contesting for the deputy leader’s position at an elective conference set for this week.
The three are Kefeletsoe Mojela, Katleho Molelle, and Lekhetho Mosito.

Mosito was an MP who was appointed Defence Minister for a day and removed the following day during Dr Moeketsi Majoro’s premiership.
The elective conference is set to be held at the Leqele High School hall this weekend.

A circular from the ABC said the three did not qualify to enter the race because they had not held any positions in the party’s committees.

The decision to bar the three is reminiscent of the same tactics that saw former leader Thomas Thabane block Professor Nqosa Mahao from contesting for the party’s deputy leader’s position.
Professor Mahao subsequently walked away and formed the Basotho Action Party (BAP).

A weakened ABC has never recovered from that split.

Mphaka and his colleagues were vying for the deputy leader’s position until they were stopped in their tracks by the circular which was issued out on Monday this week.
Dr Pinkie Manamolela is the current deputy leader.

She was plucked from the women’s league to replace Dr Majoro who had resigned from the national executive committee after losing the leadership race to Nkaku Kabi in 2022.

There is a high chance that the four could drag the ABC to court to assert their right to contest. The legal wrangles will likely destabilise the party that is still smarting from a thorough thrashing in general elections held in October 2022.

Mphaka this week told thepost that he will challenge the decision to block him in the courts of law.
“They are crazy people,” Mphaka said.

“I will not allow this to happen,” he said.

“I have already instructed my lawyers to launch an urgent application in the High Court to challenge the decision before Friday this week.”

He complained that it was not clear why the party had decided to kick him out of the race after he spent a lot of time and resources campaigning.

Mphaka said the national executive committee “usually allows members to contest for positions without considering whether they were ever in the constituency committees or not”.

The contenders in the race are former Water Minister Samonyane Ntsekele, ex-Police MP Lehlohonolo Moramotse, former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Leshoboro Mohlajoa, and Maseru Star Taxi Association member Sekhonyana Mosenene.

A member of the national executive committee told thepost that “many of us support Mphaka and Kefeletsoe at all costs”.

“We were dismayed when we saw the circular removing the duo from the race,” he said.

He said many ABC members were rallying behind Mphaka because “he has been campaigning even before everyone could start”.

“They know he has lots of followers.”

He said it is unfair that Mosenene has been allowed to run but he has never held any position in any constituency except that he represented his taxi association in the ABC national executive committee.
“Why has he been allowed to contest yet he is just like Mphaka and Kefeletsoe?”

He complained that Sekhonyana, while representing taxi operators in the committee, was eventually made the deputy party spokesman despite not being in any constituency committee after ’Matebatso Doti resigned from the position.

“Mphaka was chosen by the party to lead the 2022 elections campaign teams and develop a party manifesto,” he said.

“He was allowed to do all that without being involved in any party structures.”

The party’s spokesman Montoeli Masoetsa declined to comment.

Dr Manamolela told thepost that “the decision was not made by the party’s national executive committee”.

“I do not want to talk much …but it is not true that the party’s NEC decided to remove Mphaka and Kefeletsoe”.

Kabi could not be reached for comment.

Nkheli Liphoto

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