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Fresh from Matelile



MAFETENG – CAN any good come out of Matelile in Mafeteng district?
The answer is an emphatic “yes”.
The area, infamous for destructive famo gang wars that have left a host of widows and orphans, is also home to a thriving agriculture project.
Some of Matelile’s residents have dedicated their lives to turning the area into a haven of legitimate economic activity rather than violence.
They believe the area, an about 1 hour 20 minutes’ drive from Maseru (79.0 km) via Main South 1 Road, could be a better place if the residents work together.
About 100 people in the area have teamed up to form an organisation they hope can be their passport out of hunger and poverty that is rife in the rural community. The name of the association is called Matelile Farmers Association.

’Marethabile Mokitimi, the association chairperson, said they are also members of the Potato Lesotho Association (PLA), which is a member of the farmers’ mother body, Lesotho National Farmers Union (Lenafu). Mokitimi said they got potato seeds and fertilisers from the Food and Agricultural Association (FAO) through the assistance of Lenafu early this year.
FAO gave the association 600 bags (25kg) of potato seeds and 1 660 bags of fertilisers. Realising that this was not an opportunity to be missed, the farmers rolled their sleeves and planted 81 acres of land. “The harvesting process has just started but the yields are promising,” said Mokitimi. “Before venturing into potato farming, we used to plant peas and wheat as individuals for our own consumption,” Mokitimi said. The farmers have so far sold 2 000 bags of potatoes to different buyers, especially businesses in the country.

“More potatoes are yet to be harvested while some have already been packaged and ready for sale.” The potatoes are graded into extra-large, large, medium, small and extra-small sizes to give buyers more choice. After the potatoes are harvested, they are transported from the fields using an ox-drawn cart to a large storeroom for grading and sampling. This is followed by the packaging process. Mokitimi said they have “a massive and lucrative” market, adding that the farmers are projecting an overall harvest of 20 000 bags. The bags weigh 12kg each.
“We want the government to ban the importation of potatoes,” she chuckled. One of their challenges is paying for storage of the potatoes while awaiting delivery to the market, she said. Harvesting their potatoes using their cow-drawn plough is another big challenge as the farmers end up with losses that occur when some of the potatoes are damaged in the process, said Mokitimi. “We could experience better yields if we could be assisted with planter machines and modern harvesting machinery. We lose a lot of the crop because we are using traditional ways of harvesting,” Mokitimi said.

Director of Marketing in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Lekhooe Makhate, hailed the project.
“We work closely with the PLA,” he said, stating that ministry officials only visited the association before harvesting. “If they have already harvested their yields, they should inform us so that we can see how we can assist them,” Makhate said.
He said the ministry could help source markets by directing people and businesses in need of potatoes to Matelile.
“What the ministry only needs is information regarding the extent of the potato production in the area so that we can assist those farmers with market access,” said Makhate. Makhate said one of the primary guidelines that the farmers have to follow is the right packaging.
Makhate said potatoes are on the list of fruits and vegetables that the country imports from South Africa and the project could help reduce the country’s reliance on imports.

“We will have to protect the market for farmers like those in Matelile,” he said.
Refuoehape Chabalala from the Department of Agriculture Research (DAR) – the Horticulture Section – said producing potatoes is not as easy as some people think. He said there is a lot of expertise and knowledge that is needed for one to produce quality potatoes.
Chabalala said potato production is still low in the country despite the crop being in high demand and efforts by some farmers in Semonkong, Ha-Mohale and Marakabei to produce their seeds and the endeavour by the Potato Lesotho Association.
“The major challenge, among others, is that the country does not have breeders to produce early generation seed that is indispensable for high yields,” Chabalala said.

“And the right choice of cultivar is important before the plantation starts as some varieties take a long time to mature,” he said.Chabalala said farmers have to test and prepare the soil before planting.
“They should ensure that there are no soil lumps as that would frustrate bulking of the potato tubers in the soil,” he said.He said the spacing of the crop rows is important depending on whether the crop would be rain-fed or irrigated.
“The seeding rate under rain-fed production is lesser,” he said.
He said the seeding depth is also critical when planting potatoes and it should equal the diameter of the seed depending on the soil moisture level.
“During planting potato seeds do not need excess moisture because they could rot,” Chabalala said, adding that the moisture that the seed has suffices for it to germinate.
Fertilisers can be applied at planting, he said, adding “but carefully close to seed tubers because the potatoes have a weak rooting that could easily explore the nutrients. The choice of fertiliser and application rate depends on soil analysis results.”

Before the farmers can select seeds, it should be clear if they want potatoes for home consumption, sales or industrial purposes (processing).
He said the ridging of potatoes is done within 4-5 weeks after the emergence of crops. “During this time the crop is about 20-25cm high,” he said.
At that time, the application of nitrogen (LAN) is also needed to help boost the growth of the plants.
He said the purpose of ridging is to protect formed tubers from the sunlight, insect pests and disease-causing organisms.
He said the potatoes do not need much sunlight because that reduces their quality and could be toxic.

The farmers need to scout potato crops at least every two weeks so that they can monitor the growth of the plants, pests and diseases.
After harvesting, Chabalala said packaging is of great importance and farmers should be equipped with the necessary skills at this stage.He said the potatoes have to be stored in a cool, dry and well-ventilated place where there is no direct sunlight.
He said paper bags and perforated baskets are preferable.
“If exposed to sunlight, they can change the colour,” he said, adding the potatoes could turn greener, something which is dangerous to human health.

Majara Molupe

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Lawyer in trouble



A local lawyer, Advocate Molefi Makase, is in soup after he flew into a rage, insulting his wife and smashing her phone at a police station.

It was not possible to establish why Adv Makase was so mad at his wife. He is now expected to appear before the Tšifa-li-Mali Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.

Earlier on Tuesday, he was released from custody on free bail on condition that he attends remands.

Magistrate Mpotla Koaesa granted Advocate Makase bail after his lawyer, Advocate Kefuoe Machaile, pleaded that he had to appear for his clients in the Court of Appeal.

Advocate Makase is facing two charges of breaching peace and malicious damage to property.

According to the charge sheet, on October 5, 2023, within the precincts of the Leribe Police Station, Advocate Makase allegedly used obscene, threatening, or insulting language or behaviour, or acted with an intent to incite a breach of the peace.

The prosecution alleges that the lawyer shouted at his wife, ’Mamahao Makase, and damaged her Huawei Y5P cell phone “with an intention to cause harm” right at police station.

During his initial appearance before Magistrate Koaesa, Advocate Makase expressed remorse for his actions and sought the court’s leniency, pleading for bail due to an impending appearance in the Court of Appeal.

His lawyer, Advocate Machaile, informed the court that an arrangement had been made with the police to secure his release the following day, as he had spent a night in detention.

Advocate Machaile recounted his efforts to persuade the police to release him on the day of his arrest.

He noted that the police had assured them of his release the following day, which indeed came to fruition.

Following his release, he was instructed to present himself before the court, which he dutifully complied with.

Advocate Machaile underscored Advocate Makase’s standing as a recognised legal practitioner in the court.

Notably, he was scheduled to appear in the Court of Appeal but had to reschedule his commitment later in the day to accommodate his court appearance.

Advocate Machaile asserted that Advocate Makase presented no flight risk, as he resides in Hlotse with his family and has no motive to evade his legal obligations.

He respectfully petitioned the court for his release on bail, emphasising that he had demonstrated his ability to adhere to the court’s conditions.

The Crown Counsel, Advocate Taelo Sello, expressed no objection to the bail application, acknowledging that the accused had a forthcoming matter in the Court of Appeal.

Consequently, the court granted Advocate Makase bail without any financial conditions, with the stipulation that he must not tamper with state witnesses and must fully participate in the trial process until its conclusion.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Trio in court for killing ‘witches’



THREE elderly women were all stabbed to death with a spear during a deadly night after they were accused of being witches.

Three suspects, all from Ha-Kholoko village in Roma, appeared in the High Court this week facing a charge of murder.
They are Jakobo Mofolo, Oele Poto, and Pakiso Lehoko.

They accused the elderly women of bewitching one of Poto’s relative who had died.

The stunning details of the murder was unravelled in court this week, thanks to Tlhaba Bochabela, 32, who is the crown witness.

Bochabela told High Court judge, Justice ’Mabatšoeneng Hlaele, last week that he had been invited to become part of the murder group but chickened out at the last minute.

Bochabela said in March 2020, he was invited by Rethabile Poto to come to his house in the evening.

He said when he went there, he found Mofolo, Poto, and Lehoko already at the house. There were two other men who he did not identify.

“I was told that the very same night we were going to do some task, we were going to kill some people,” Bochabela told Justice Hlaele.

He said he asked which people were going to be killed and was told that they were ’Malekhooa Maeka, ’Mathlokomelo Poto, ’Mampolokeng Masasa.

They said the three women had successfully bewitched Rethabile Poto’s uncle leading to his death.

Bochabela said after he was told of this plot, he agreed to implement it but requested that he be allowed to go to his house to fetch his weapon.

He said Lehoko was however suspicious that he was withdrawing from the plot and mockingly said “let this woman go and sleep, we can see that he is afraid and is running away”.

Bochabela said the only person he told the truth to, that he was indeed going to his home to sleep instead of going to murder the three elderly women was Mofolo who also told him that he was leaving too.

He said he told Mofolo that he felt uncomfortable with the murder plan.

Bochabela said he left and when he arrived at his place he told his wife all about the meeting and the plot to kill the women.

He said his wife commended him for his decision to pull out.

“I told my wife to lock the door and not respond to anyone that would come knocking looking for me,” Bochabela said.

He said later in the night, Rethabile Poto arrived at his place and called him out but they did not respond until he left.

Bochabela said in the morning they discovered that indeed the men had carried out their mission.

The village chief of Ha-Kholoko, Chief Thabang Lehoko, told Justice Hlaele that it was between 11 pm and 12 midnight when he received a phone call from one Pakiso Maseka who is a neighbour to one of the murdered women.

Chief Lehoko said Maseka told him to rush to ’Mampolokeng Masasa’s place to see what evil had been done to her.

“I rushed to Masasa’s place and on arrival I found Pakiso in the company of Moitheri Masasa,” Chief Lehoko said.

He said he found the old lady on the bed, naked with her legs spread wide.

“I was embarrassed by the sight of the old lady in that state, naked and covered in blood,” the chief said.

He said he went out and asked Maseka what had happened but Maseka referred him to Moitheri Masasa.

Chief Lehoko said Masasa told him that there were people with spears who had threatened to kill him if he came out of the house.

He said Maseka said he knew that Masasa’s neighbour, ’Malekhooa Maeka, was a light sleeper and she could have heard something.

The chief then sent one Patrick Lehoko to Maeka’s house to check if she had heard anything but Patrick came back saying Maeka was not at her house.

“I immediately stood up and went to ’Malekhooa’s place,” Chief Lehoko said.

He said when he arrived, he knocked at her door but there was no response so he kicked the door open, went in and called out ’Malekhooa Maeka by name.

Chief Lehoko said he then lit his phone and saw her lying in bed covered in blankets.

He said he then went closer to her and shook her but she was heavy.

Chief Lehoko said he tried to shake her again one last time while still calling her out but he touched blood.

He said he immediately left and went back to tell others that Maeka seemed to be dead too.

“I decided to go and buy airtime from the nearest shop which I had passed through near ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s home.”

He said on his way he met one Sebata Poto who asked him who he was.

Chief Lehoko said he only replied by telling him that the two women, Masasa and Maeka, had been murdered.

He said Sebata Poto told him that “’Matlhokomelo has been stabbed with a spear too”.

Chief Lehoko said he rushed to ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s house where he found her seated in the middle of the house supported by her children with blood oozing from her chest, gasping for air.

“I stepped out and went to get airtime, but I found her dead when I returned from the shop,” the chief said.

The case continues.

Tholoana Lesenya

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Opposition fights back



THE opposition is launching a nasty fightback after Prime Minister Sam Matekane defanged their no-confidence motion by roping in new partners to firm up his government.

Matekane’s surprise deal with the Basotho Action Party (BAP) has trimmed the opposition’s support in parliament and thrown their motion into doubt.

But the opposition has now filed another motion that seeks to get Matekane and his MPs disqualified from parliament on account that they were elected when they had business interests with the government.

The motion is based on section 59 of the constitution which disqualifies a person from being sworn-in as an MP if they have “any such interest in any such government contract as may be so prescribed”.

Section 59 (6) describes a government contract as “any contract made with the Government of Lesotho or with a department of that Government or with an officer of that Government contracting as such”.

Prime Minister Matekane’s Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) has a history of winning road construction tenders. Other Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MPs, most of whom were in business, had had business dealings with the government.

It is however not clear if the MPs were still doing business with the government at the time of their swearing-in.
Matekane’s MGC Park is housing the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which is a government institution established by the constitution, getting its funds from the consolidated funds.

The motion was brought by the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Lekhetho Rakuoane who is a key figure in the opposition’s bid to topple Matekane.

The motion appears to be a long shot but should be taken in the context of a political game that has become nasty.
Advocate Rakuoane said the IEC’s tenancy at the MGC is one of their targets.

“The IEC is one of the government departments,” Rakuoane said.

“It is currently unethical that it has hired the prime minister’s building.”

“But after the motion, he will have to cut ties with the IEC or he will be kicked out of parliament.”

The Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said although the IEC is an independent body, it can still be regarded as part of the government because it gets its funding from the consolidated fund.

The Basotho Covenant Movement (BCM)’s Reverend Tšepo Lipholo, who seconded the motion, said the Matekane-led government “is dominated by tenderpreneurs who have been doing business with the government since a long time ago”.

“Now they have joined politics, they must not do business with the government,” Lipholo said.

He said some of the MPs in the ruling parties are still doing business with the government despite their promises before the election to stop doing that.

“Those who will not abide by the law should be disqualified as MPs,” Lipholo said.

“Basotho’s small businesses are collapsing day-by-day, yet people who are in power continue to take tenders for themselves.”

He applauded the Abia constituency MP Thuso Makhalanyane, who was recently expelled from Matekane’s RFP for rebellion because he withdrew his car from government engagement after he was sworn in as an MP.

“He set a good example by withdrawing his vehicle where it was hired by the government,” Lipholo said.

Rakuoane said during the past 30 years after Lesotho’s return to democratic rule, section 59 of the constitution has not been attended to even when it was clear that some MPs had business dealings with the government.

“This section stops you from entering parliament when doing business with the government. Those who are already members will have to leave,” he said.

Rakuoane said they are waiting for Speaker Tlohang Sekhamane to sign the motion so that the parliament business committee can set a date for its debate.

“The law will also serve to assist ordinary Basotho businesses as they will not compete with the executive,” he said.

“There are many Basotho businesses in business these MPs are in. They must get those tenders instead.”

The new motion comes barely a week after a court application aimed at disqualifying Mokhothu.

The government-sponsored application sought the Constitutional Court to declare Mokhothu unfit to be prime minister because he was convicted of fraud in 2007.

Mokhothu has been suggested as Matekane’s replacement should the motion of no confidence pass in parliament.

Nkheli Liphoto

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