MOHALE’S HOEK – WHEN the El-Nino-induced drought severely ravaged the southern districts of Lesotho in 2015/2016, some ex-miners and those who had lost jobs in factories joined hands to solve the ensuing hunger problems.
These were men and women from Siloe in Mohale’s Hoek, the district worst affected by the drought.
Instead of waiting for the government to take the lead as is the norm across nearly all communities countrywide, they dug deep into their pockets to start a water harnessing project.
Selala Pitikoe, one of the supporters of the project, told thepost this week that they chose the Siloe catchment site because “it has a lot of water even during drought”.
“We realised that there cannot be life without water hence we resorted to bottling it for resale and to water our crops,” Pitikoe said.
He said the World Food Programme (WFP) came on board during the 2015/2016 season after the El-Nino shock led to the implementation of a Food for Work programme that was funded by the WFP and implemented by World Vision.
The Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation provided technical assistance.
“We planted trees and built stone terraces and gulley structures to control soil erosion. We also constructed water tanks, one is a closed water tank for household consumption and the overflow is collected by another tank for irrigation of fields down the slope,” said Pitikoe.
In 2019, the WFP continued to support the Siloe community resulting in the construction of more ponds.
Pitikoe said they continued to plant commercial crops and also set up a communal orchard and reared chickens in their individual households.
The Ministry of Agriculture moved in to introduce keyhole gardens to address nutrition issues. The community, said Pitikoe, raised money to start a pig rearing project.
“We have collected stones to build more pigsties, offices, toilets and a storeroom for our crops amongst other developments. We plan to develop a fish pond to increase our revenue,” said Pitikoe, commending the WFP for assisting the community realise its vision.
“We are already practising what we learnt (from the WFP) in our homes. Our objective is job creation and to eat nutritious food for a healthy lifestyle. We want our youths to work in this place too and neighbouring areas to learn from us,” Pitikoe said.
However climatic conditions such as heavy rains and storms remain a challenge.
“They destroy their plants but we learnt that we have to buy green houses and shade nets when the project grows to win the battle against climate change,” said Pitikoe.
One of the villagers participating in the project, ’Maqenehelo Motšabi, said she was grateful for the WFP’s intervention as it changed their lives for the better.
However, she said getting fertilizers were still a challenge.
The councilor for Siloe, Phuthehang Mokote, said the catchment site “is a treasure in the Taung constituency”.
However, he said they still have to push participants harder and set new targets.
“We do several springs and we have the potential to achieve our targets. We can do it, but we can only succeed if we work together,” Makote said.
Makote said neighbouring areas will learn how to conduct business of this standard appropriately and profitably with the assistance of partners.
The Forestry Ministry’s Director, Sekoati Sekaleli, attributed the success of the project to team work between the ministry, the WFP and the community.
“It was not easy to implement this project,” he said.
He said his previous bosses promised to complete fencing the orchard and “we will continue with that good plan”.
He also said the blue wattle trees that they have planted will have to be cut to create space for the grazing land.
“Not that they are unwanted but some need to be removed to create an open space for vegetation. We will also replant fruit trees that dried during the recent severe drought,” Sekaleli said.
“I will consult with my bosses so that we come back for plantation. We will work hard for the success of this project so as to set an example,” he said.
He said the ex-miners and other villagers have also been trained on bee keeping.
The WFP Country Director Aurore Rusiga said her organisation was impressed.
“It’s commendable how fast the damage can be controlled,” Rusiga said.
She said the WFP would continue working with the Forestry Ministry.
The WFP Regional Director, Menghestab Haile, said the progress was commendable.
“Developments like this take time and if we don’t maintain or work together continuously for sustainability it won’t make the difference,” Haile said. “Now, how do we duplicate this for other places?” he asked.
He assured the community of his office’s continued support, adding that Lesotho could be used as a pilot in the region. “What we do here can be done in other countries,” said Haile.
Harnessing water for irrigation and household use has been part of Lesotho’s main plans for decades, with the government and other development partners undertaking studies and injecting capital for the projects.
The Lesotho final report of the National Consultation on Water, Food Security and Nutrition issued in May 2016 showed that the spatial and temporal distribution of rain is uncertain to sustain healthy agricultural activity.
It noted that it is not just the spatial distribution of rain that is a problem but also that water does not always collect in places where it can be immediately accessible for agriculture.
“This in turn makes it necessary to build infrastructure that will be able to move the water from where it is to where it is needed,” reads part of the report.
Six years earlier, there was the NEPAD’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme document on Lesotho’s Small–scale Irrigation Development Project.
The document noted that groundwater in the form of springs and sources of most rivers, and water supplied from boreholes constituted over two thirds of the rural drinking water supply.
“Exploitation of groundwater for purposes of irrigation has only just begun on a small scale under projects in the mountain regions,” stated the document.
The document attributed the failure of past irrigation schemes to “the reluctance of farmers to operate these schemes on a cooperative basis and has led the government to contemplate a different arrangement whereby only the irrigation infrastructure is communally managed”.
The document showed that a large part of arable land is under rain-fed farming.
The government aimed to harvest water to improve overall agricultural land productivity through harnessing of runoff and application of rainwater in the form of irrigation and through holistic soil moisture management by trained and capable farmers supported by equally empowered extension staff.
The plan was to introduce and promote rainwater and runoff harvesting technologies at both household garden and open field levels as sources of moisture in between rains.
It also planned to increase the extent of irrigation through the use of low cost technologies among farmers and groups of small farmers and conventional irrigation for medium scale farmers.
The government also eyed to promote land improvement, improved tillage and management of soil structure and texture as methods of management of soil moisture.
It wanted to build the capacity of beneficiary farmers and supporting extension staff to manage irrigation systems and to maintain irrigation equipment.
It was also observed that households in Lesotho often dispose of land around the home in the form of a garden in an area that can be cropped intensively using low input systems as well as facilities to store water towards the end of the summer for growing through the winter and into the early part of spring.
The government wanted to assist these households in the form of training, soft credit for inputs and supervision of construction of these structures.
Landless farming households and those without access to irrigable land wishing to take advantage of impermeable surfaces around the home would be trained and supervised to construct roof gutters and masonry reservoirs to collect roof water for home gardens.
The plan was also to construct surface ponds to harness water from adjoining land to use in gardens. This infrastructure could also be used for rearing ducks.
Household ponds used to be widespread in Lesotho in the recent past and the government’s planned project would renew interest in these as well as improve the design to avoid rapid siltation and reduce seepage losses through stabilisation.
Another type of water harvesting is for use of land far from homesteads.
In the past earth dams were built on ephemeral channels primarily to retard water flow to reduce soil erosion.
These together with new similar structures would be built under the government project where feasible to provide water for irrigation.
However, all these plans have seen little success as the government struggles to move from words to action.
For Basotho, it may be time they took a leaf from the people of Siloe in Mohale’s Hoek, where community members identified their needs and own the projects which they financed from their own pockets.
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.
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.
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.
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