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Finally, a boom for Semonkong



SEMONKONG-COMMUNITIES around the ’Maletsunyane Falls in Semonkong have started reaping the benefits of staying close to a tourist attraction following the government’s decision to cede 10 percent of gate takings for local development initiatives in 2017.

The community recently received a cheque for M14 000, which is 10 percent of money collected as entrance fees last year.
The Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) introduced entrance fees at the ’Maletsunyane Falls as part of efforts to develop one of the country’s premier tourist resorts to attract more domestic and international visitors.
The local community was also incorporated in the running of the tourist attraction.

’Maletsunyane Falls is located in an un-spoilt area in Semonkong, about two hours’ drive south-east of Maseru, deep in the mountainous region of the country.
It is a 192-metre waterfall dropping into a gorge, splashing into a natural pit that forms a thundering sound and billows of smoke ascending above the ravine hence the name Semonkong (Place of Smoke).
Many tourists go there to adore the beautiful views of lush valleys and mountain streams along the way to the falls.

The fall also attracts a steady stream of visitors who come to experience the pony treks, hikes, abseiling and waterfalls.
The abseiling is the big descent down the waterfall, the longest commercially operated single-drop abseil beside the plunging water.
For over a century ever since the falls became a tourist attraction, local communities had not benefited from it.

The local chief and councilor beamed with smiles while receiving the cheque. The money will be used to improve accessibility to the bottom of the falls.
Tourism Minister, Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, handed over the cheque to the Semonkong Tourism Development Group (TDG), which was set up to map out how locals can benefit from natural and historic tourist attractions in the area.

“Although this money is not much, what matters is the intention. We still have to work harder,” Rakuoane said.
He said there is a discussion to establish horseracing and gambling facilities in Semonkong.
Rakuoane urged the TDG to be committed to their work.
“You must ensure that there won’t be any corruption and fraud with the money on your watch,” he said.

The LTDC will monitor how the group uses the funds.
Rakuoane urged the local community to protect the tourist developments.
LTDC Acting Chief Executive Officer, Sehlabaka Ramafikeng, said tourism can only become meaningful to people when residents from key areas of attractions benefit.
He said they had realised that despite Semonkong having many tourist attractions the community had not benefitted from the tourist spots.
“We saw it fit to establish the TDG and signed an agreement to share the annual gate collections to improve the people’s livelihoods,” Ramafikeng said.

“The success of the tourism project here will mean more money being distributed to the communities,” Ramafikeng said.
The Semonkong Tourism Development Group Chairman, Lekhula Ntai, said the introduction of entrance fees to the falls had created jobs for local people. He said the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic had resulted in low tourist arrivals, while the bad road network needs to be improved.
“We lose a lot because the place is hard to reach,” he said.
Ntai said visitors to the falls have been paying entrance fees since January last year.

He said the disbursement of the money will serve as a motivating factor for the workers to work harder.
“People visited the falls without paying anything (in the past). Now we are very happy,” he said.
He said more tourists will mean the majority of the people in Semonkong will also benefit as they offer accommodation and sell their handcrafts.

Regina Thetsane, a senior lecturer in the Department of Business Administration at the National University of Lesotho (NUL), wrote in a research paper that local groups in and around existing and potential tourism destinations should be included in the running of tourist attractions.
Thetsane said the focus should be on the creation of employment opportunities for the young and women.
“Participatory planning enhances sustainability of the ‘product’ as it generates ownership,” Thetsane said.

“This custodianship immeasurably enhances the experiences of visitors especially when the combination of wildlife, nature and cultural ‘product’ is delivered by local people in special surroundings and marketed and maintained by the private sector and authorities at the national level,” she said.
She said tourism promotes a level of economic growth conducive to increasing social well-being and stability of the local communities.

“Local participation has been regarded as a positive force for change (which is key to a) country’s development,” she said.
“Participation of local people is a criterion often agreed on as an essential condition for development and sustainability of any form of tourism.”
She said there has been a relatively slow realisation of the importance of community participation in tourism development.

This, she said, might be the reason why in many developing countries, Lesotho included, tourism has been developed and controlled by large multinational companies that have little regard for local social and economic conditions.
“These large multinational companies would make decisions to be implemented by the local community and yet the local communities were not involved in the initial planning of the project,” she said.

Thetsane said the communities should also be encouraged to form tourism related associations that will represent them in the National Community Council (NCC) for effective management of tourism in Lesotho.
“As a result, the education and awareness campaign should not only be done by LTDC. It should involve all the tourism institutional structures in Lesotho, including the local community leaders,” she said.

“The local community leaders should play a major role in educating and creating awareness of tourism benefits in their respective villages through public gatherings, workshops and meetings.”

’Mapule Motsopa



A night of horror



THE police arrived in Ha-Rammeleke, a Mokhotlong village, in the middle of the night.
They stormed one house and found a couple sleeping.

They then dragged the man out and ordered him to follow their instructions if he didn’t want to be killed. Their order was that he should scream while announcing to his neighbours that his wife was gravely ill. The villagers who responded to the man’s plea for help didn’t know that they were walking into a trap.

The police rounded them up as they arrived at the man’s house.

Their night of horror has just begun.

Dozens of men and women were frog-marched to the edge of the village.

The police assaulted the men with sticks and whips. They kicked others.

In the crowd was Tebalo Lesita, a 48-year-old Rastafarian with dreadlocks.

He was called to the front and ordered to act like a Rastafarian.

First, they said he should sing Reggae while shaking his head so that his dreadlocks would wave from side to side. He did and they laughed.

“They also ordered me to mimic Lucky Dube.”

Lesita says he only shouted like he was singing because, due to fear, all Lucky Dube’s songs he knew had slipped out of his mind.

“I just mumbled some words as if I was singing. I have never experienced such torment before.”

“I only kept saying ‘Ye ye ye!’”, he says.

They laughed again.

Meanwhile, the police were hurling insults at him.

“I was told that I was smelling rubbish in the mouth.”

Lesita says the police then instructed him to act as if he was having sex.

And when he said he was tired of the act the police ordered him to act as if he was ejaculating.

He did and his tormentors roared with laughter.

The police, Lesita says, wanted him and other villagers to confess that they knew men who had shot and killed a man earlier in the village.

Lesita says after the ordeal that lasted nearly an hour the police ordered him to pray. He claims his body is full of bruises, especially on the buttocks.

“My body is aching all over.”

Lesita says he wants to sue the police but doesn’t know where to start.

“I understand that my human rights have been grossly violated but I do not know which legal steps to follow,” he says.

A week after the assault, he still hasn’t sought medical help.

Nor has he opened a case against the police.

“I find it impossible to open the case against them. I will have to go to the police station to open a case,” he says.

“How can I open the case against the police at the police station?”

As a sheep farmer, Lesita says he cannot afford the taxi fare to travel to Mapholaneng to report a case at Tlokoeng Police Station.

Lesita says he cut his dreadlocks a day after the incident “because they have put me into serious problems”.

“I rue the day that I started growing those dreadlocks,” he says.

Police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Kabelo Halahala, confirmed that there was a police operation in Mokhotlong but said he didn’t know how it unfolded.

Incidents of the police terrorising villagers under the guise of fighting or investigating crimes are common in Lesotho.

It is rare for police officers involved in such incidents to be arrested or prosecuted.

Majara Molupe

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Anger over Chinese businesses



FORMER Mining Minister, Lebohang Thotanyana, says Lesotho is shooting itself in the foot by allowing Chinese companies that win major construction tenders to import everything from China.

Thotanyana was speaking at the Basotho Business Empowerment Forum on Tuesday.

The forum was organised by the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Association.

Thotanyana told the forum that of all the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) countries, Lesotho is the one benefitting the least from hiring Chinese-owned companies for major infrastructure projects. 


Thotanyana said Chinese companies tend to “import everything save menial labour” in every government job they win.


“We only benefit minimally with the labour force,” Thotanyana said, adding that “more money goes back to the countries that have brought their own machinery”.


“This is exactly what is happening at the Polihali Dam which is under construction.” 


“There should be a value chain so that the economy grows.”


Tempers flared at the forum as local business owners accused the government of failing to protect them against Chinese businesses. 


The forum revealed the growing frustration among local business owners who feel the government is not doing enough to protect them against Chinese business muscling them out of sectors reserved for them. 


The local business owners criticised the government for failing to implement the Business Licensing and Registration Act 2019 that reserves certain businesses for indigenous Basotho. 


They told the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Trade, Thabo Moleko, together with a handful of MPs in attendance, that their patience had worn out.


“We want our business from the Chinese and Indians,” Thobei Motlere, the president of the MSME Association said.


“We are not afraid of these Chinese,” he added, adding that they could approach them head-on.


“We want to see the Act implemented now, not tomorrow or any other time. We want to push them out of the business peacefully. We want peace.”


Motlere said they have been pushed out of business by the Chinese yet there is a law to protect them “against unfair competition”.


“We have elected you as MPs but you are doing nothing to save us from the competition yet there is a law in place,” Motlere said.


The MPs tried to respond to some of the issues people but they were booed and heckled. 


“This is not the right place to answer. You should address this in parliament, not here,” said one woman in the crowd. 


Some MPs walked out of the forum in protest but were eventually coaxed to return to their chairs. 


’Maremi ’Mabathoana, a street vendor, said the Chinese sell almost every item.


“We buy from their shops so that we can sell small items. But the Chinese also sell small items,” ’Mabathoana said.


“When we sell a sweet for M1, they sell it for 50c,” she yelled.


“When we sell apples for M4, the Chinese sell them for M2. This is unfair.”


Moeketsi Motšoane, the Mafeteng MP who is the chairman of the parliament’s Natural Resources committee, said he is also facing similar challenges in his home district.


Trying to calm the irked traders, Motšoane said he could bet that some people were being used by the Chinese to kick Basotho out of business.


“There are such people amongst you who are being used by the Chinese to knock Basotho out of business,” Motšoane said.


He told the Ministry of Trade to move swiftly to implement the Act.


“If you do not implement the Act, we will drag you before the committee to account,” he said.


 Moleko, the principal secretary of Trade,  promised to implement the law. 

Majara Molupe

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Labour unions in nasty fight



TWO trade unions representing workers at Polihali Dam construction site have turned on each other.
Instead of fighting for better pay and conditions for members, the Construction, Mining, Quarrying and Allied Workers (CMQ) and the Lesotho Workers Association (LEWA) are locked in a nasty battle that could be linked to a fight over membership.

CMQ alleges that LEWA officials intimidated its members who wanted to vote for a proposed strike against companies working at Polihali Dam.

CMQ also accuses LEWA’s secretary general, Hlalefang Seoaholimo, of conflict of interest which it says renders him unable to effectively represent workers in their battles against employers in Polihali.

CMQ says Seoaholimo is working as a union leader and an employer at the same time. This, CMQ says, is because Seoaholimo’s company, Domino Blasting (Pty) Ltd, has been subcontracted by some companies working at Polihali Dam.

The allegations of intimidation and conflict of interest are part of the letter that CMQ’s secretary general, Robert Mokhahlane, has written to the Registrar of Trade Unions.

In that letter, seen by thepost, Mokhahlane pleads with the Registrar of Trade Unions to deregister LEWA over the alleged intimidation and Seoaholimo’s conflict of interest.

Mokhahlane tells the registrar that because of Seoaholimo’s shareholding in Domino Blasting, LEWA has “characteristics of a company, not a trade union”.

“At Polihali Dam construction, there (were) workers who were employed by Domino Blasting Services at various projects,” Mokhahlane alleges.

“They (Domino Blasting) have a long list of projects that have references and include some companies involved in the construction of Polihali Dam.”

Seoaholimo is one of Domino Blasting’s four directors and holds 300 of the 1000 shares in the company.

Mokhahlane tells the registrar that Seoaholimo cannot claim to be independently fighting for workers’ rights when his company is working with the same companies accused of unfair labour practices in Polihali.

He also accuses Domino Blasting’s human resource officer, Mpho Kanono, of being conflicted because she is also an official of the United Textile Employees (UNITE).

“Both the two officials (Seoaholimo and Kanono) are workers’ representatives within the Wages Advisory Board whereby Hlalefang Seoaholimo is the spokesperson of the workers,” Mokhahlane says.

Mokhahlane also accuses Seoaholimo of “intimidating workers who will be balloting for a strike action by encouraging LEWA members to observe and identify workers” who would participate.

He claims that Seoaholimo mocked a CMQ official who was mobilising workers for the strike at the construction site.

The Labour Code, which the registrar has been asked to invoke, says a union or employers’ organisation may be cancelled by the Labour Court on the registrar’s application.

Seoaholimo has however vehemently refuted allegations that his company is working at Polihali Dam. He told thepost that CMQ is in a campaign to tarnish his name and that of LEWA because “they are aware that workers do not want to join their union”.

He admits that he is a shareholder in Domino Blasting but insists that “as we speak now Domino Blasting does not have a job anywhere in Lesotho”.

“CMQ has to provide evidence that a company called Domino Blasting (Pty) Ltd is working and has any employees in Polihali,” Seoaholimo said.

“Domino Blasting does not even have an office anywhere in the country because it is not working anymore.”

“They should identify the people hired by Domino Blasting (Pty) Ltd among workers in Polihali.”

He said the company has not operated in Lesotho since 2016 when it completed a project. Seoaholimo, however, says he is aware of a South African company with a similar name working in Polihali.

“I as a person have nothing to do with that company,” Seoaholimo said.

He said it is true that Mpho Kanono used to work for Domino Blasting back in 2016 when it still had contracts but she has since left because “the company stopped working”.

“Mpho Kanono is an official of UNITE and has nothing to do with Domino Blasting at present moment.”

Staff Reporter

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