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Garden miracles in Ha Tšilonyane

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MASERU – WHENEVER the rains fell, ‘Malikeleli Malefo, 86, would beg her neighbours to provide cattle to plough her fields.

But every time she would struggle to get some help. Sometimes the help would come at the very end of the ploughing season.
“People who have money would start ploughing their fields first and later would tell me that there is no time,” she says.
Malefo, from Ha Tšilonyane in Makhoarane, on the outskirts of Maseru, says because of her age she would also have a tough time getting the right type of seeds which are more resilient to drought.

That has been her ordeal for years. Malefo is staying with her two grandchildren. The three survive on her M500 old-age monthly pension from the government.
Every three months, they also pick up a M360 grant under the Child Grants Programme, the government’s flagship social safety net programme.
Under the programme, Malefo and many other pensioners in Lesotho are cushioned from the biting economic crisis.

While her M500 monthly pension is supposedly meant to take her far in the month, the reality is that the high cost of living has eroded its buying power over the years.
With the cheapest 10kg bag of maize-meal costing about M80, it is no wonder that Malefo often battles to get to the next pay day.

Despite receiving a pension, Malefo tells thepost she, together with her grandchildren, sometimes went to bed on an empty stomach.
“We would survive on hands-out or be forced to eat unpalatable sinews,” she says.
Life was a hard slog.

That was until the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), a social programme run by the Catholic Church, intervened three years ago.
To fight hunger and poverty in Lesotho, the CSR introduced the keyhole gardening concept in Malefo’s village of Ha Tšilonyane.
Thanks to the project, Malefo is now able to grow enough to feed her family, keeping hunger at bay.

A keyhole garden is a circular raised garden, about a metre off the ground, with a key-hole shaped indention on one side.
The keyhole garden is ideal for intensive growing of vegetables. The vegetables are placed closely together to maximise production.
The gardens are also easier to maintain.

Malefo is among scores of villagers who have benefitted from the project through the CRS’s programme of Sustainable Poverty Reduction through Income, Nutrition, and access to Government Services (SPRINGS).

‘Mamatsemela Matsemela, 59, who also gets a social grant from the government, says the keyhole garden project has changed her life for the better.
Matsemela, who is a widow, is taking care of four children.

She says she ventured into agriculture with almost zero knowledge about agricultural techniques and methods. The result was that her returns were poor.
But thanks to the keyhole garden project, Matsemela’s life has changed dramatically for the better.

She says she has been harvesting bumper yields from her garden ever since she ventured into the project in 2015.
Matsemela points at her flourishing vegetables in her keyhole garden in her backyard and says she is now among the leading vegetable growers in her area.
“Some farmers in the area come to my place and I guide them through as to how the keyhole garden concept can improve their lives,” she says.

Matsemela says small-scale farmers in Lesotho face various challenges including lack of capital leading to low or poor yields.
She says this is mainly because agriculture in Lesotho is rain-fed with few crops under irrigation.

The result is that Lesotho imports virtually all its agricultural produce from its biggest and only neighbour South Africa.
For instance, the Lesotho Potato Association (LPA) last October said the country spends more than M3 million a month on potato imports, mostly from South Africa.
To wean the country off its dependency on South Africa, the association pledged to boost the capacity of farmers by giving them enough seeds to grow enough potatoes.
Matsemela says because their vegetable garden is thriving, she does not have to divert her grant money meant for the children to buy food.
“This keyhole garden is more resilient to drought,” she says.

The chairperson of Makhoarane community council, Tsekiso Mpafi, says the keyhole garden project has lifted many villagers out of poverty.
It has also lowered the number of individuals who depended on food handouts from donors.
Mpafi says due to the persistent drought that Lesotho experienced over the last few years, keyhole gardening has provided a successful way out of poverty and hunger for many families.
“When this project was brought into our area, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief,” Mpafi says.

He says when the project was introduced three years ago most farmers in the area were reeling from a sharp drop in crop production due to prolonged drought brought about by climate change. Mpafi says the project was initially introduced in the villages of Matsieng, Mahloenyeng, Ha Tšilonyane and Ha Toloane. It has since been expanded to most villages in the area.

He says keyhole gardening has boosted food security in the villages.  “The project has changed our livelihoods,” he says.
Erica Dahl-Bredine, the CRS Country Representative, says SPRINGS is working in five community councils throughout the country.

She says this project was piloted in three community councils of Makhoarane, Likila, Menkhoaneng but has now also been rolled out to Tebe-tebe and Tenesolo community councils.
Erica says their goal is to help families ‘graduate’ out of poverty. She says they are happy because the results are promising.
Erica says the keyhole gardens are built in such a manner that they are easily maintained by people who are as old as Malefo.
“The keyhole gardening does not need a lot of manpower. Used water can also be used for watering the gardens.”

She says they also encourage villagers to preserve their vegetables in dried form when they harvest more so that they can be food secure during hard times.
“They can dry the vegetables or can them so that they can use them during difficult times,” she says.

Erica says their project works in the most vulnerable communities based on Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment reports produced by the Disaster Management Authority (DMA).
She says the CRS picks the most vulnerable communities as determined by the high percentage of social assistance beneficiaries or high rates of poverty in the areas.
Erica says the project seeks to achieve three objectives – increasing income, improve nutrition and improve access to government services.

She says their project helps vulnerable groups to graduate out of poverty while ensuring that social grants are only used to ensure that children are kept in school.
“Since there is free primary education and free health services in Lesotho, we hope the social grants will only be used to take care of the children,” she says.
Social Development Minister Molahlehi Letlotlo says the Child Grants Programme is one of the projects in which the government is doing well.
He says the government is planning to initiate developmental projects in rural areas to reduce dependency on donors.

Letlotlo however appealed to donors to pump in more resources to allow the projects to pick up on so they are able to run on their own in the future.

Majara Molupe

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Mahao, PS in big fight

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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

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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

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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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