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‘HIV is no death sentence’



MASERU – WHEN ’Malijo Baji learnt that she was HIV positive, there was just one thought that came to her mind – suicide.
That was 20 years ago. Back then being HIV positive was seen as a slow yet painful death sentence.
As a young 19-year-old woman, Baji says she could not live with the stigma of being HIV positive.
The mere thought that she was going to die unnerved her.

Now 20 years down the line, Baji, from Qoaling on the outskirts of Maseru, is still alive, thanks to anti-retroviral medications.
Baji describes herself as “a fearless and brave individual who is not scared of anything”.
The 39-year-old has probably earned the right to make such a boast.
Baji has been living with HIV since 1999.

What makes her a particularly strong person is that she contracted the disease when stigma against people living with HIV was at its peak. People living with HIV and AIDS were viewed by many as zombies. So it was hardly surprising that Baji considered suicide when she first learnt that she was living with HIV.
But she cast away the thoughts of killing herself and chose to fight on.
Almost two decades on, Baji is full of life.

She shared her gripping story with people who gathered to commemorate World Aids Day at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (LUCT) last Thursday.
“I do not want to dwell on where I got the disease because I was young and you know how teenagers behave. So, that is a question I cannot answer because I do not know where I got it,” Baji said.
Exhibiting signs and symptoms synonymous with HIV, Bajo initially went into a period of denial before she mustered the courage to go for testing.
She was a shopkeeper at a local tuck shop at the time. When her boss realised that she was losing weight and seemed weak, he jokingly told her to see a doctor for an HIV test.
“I was coughing non-stop and blisters were also developing on my body,” Baji said.

Nonetheless, she laughed off her boss’ joke about taking an HIV test.
It was at the time when stigma was rampant and linked to early death, unlike now when a sizeable number of people living with HIV feel relatively free to disclose their status.
“With all the symptoms that I had, I was also pregnant. The symptoms that were against a pregnant lady who should be healthy,” she said.
Finally, she decided to go for testing.

Baji vividly remembers that during those days, one had to wait for almost two weeks before getting the results.
It was a period of anxiety and anguish.
“When the results finally came, I could not believe it,” she said, adding that her mind immediately raced to suicide as a solution.
United Nations agency, UNAIDS says Lesotho has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world, with one in every four people living with the condition.
The country has made some strides in curbing new infections but the number of people already infected with the disease has not dropped. Life prolonging Anti-retroviral drugs have become more accessible and people are living longer.

But for Baji, at the first the results seemed like a tragedy.
The fear of breaking the news to her parents and uncertainty on how they would respond left her broken. She was pregnant and was unsure how her boyfriend would react.
“I wondered what he was going to say. When I got the results it was still a working day,” she said.
She says she went back to work and packed her belongings.

Her workplace was close to Maqalika dam and she considered throwing herself in the dam.
She said she was taken aback when her then boyfriend came and took her home.
Tears streaming down her cheeks and she could not hide the truth when her mother inquired why she seemed devastated.
“I broke down and told her I had HIV/AIDs. I told her that my death was just imminent because that was how l felt,” she recalled.
Despite widespread stigma at the time, Baji said her mother’s warm reaction was unexpected.

She said her mother hugged her and told her told that it was not end of the world. She was relieved as her mother comforted her and told her the family would support her in those trying times.
Another surprise awaited her. Her boyfriend was also supportive.
She said she is thankful to her former boss and family who supported her financially to afford to buy ARVs, which were costly at the time.
“I took my medication and later gave birth to my baby who unfortunately died after only three months,” Baji said.

In 2004, she gave birth to a bouncing baby girl who is healthy and is not infected with the disease after Baji went on the Prevention of Mother-to- Child Transmission programme.
Unlike 19 years ago when she struggled to accept her status, Baji is at now peace – thanks to encouragement from support groups, the backing of her family and friends as well as openly talking about her status.

“I live with this disease and it is part of me and I am part of it. I talk to it every day and I have already named it Tšeli. I tell Tšeli that we are going to start this day and I am going to give you your medication and you’re not going to give me problems,” she said.

“I want people to know that as long as you take your medication Aids is not a death sentence and you can still live long just like me”.
The Minister of Health Nkaku Kabi described World Aids Day as an important day in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Kabi said government decided to intervene and help with ARVS after realising that people were dying due to failure to buy expensive drugs.

“So at that time many people died because they were unable to buy medication for themselves and it is at that time when we lost our friends, family members and our kids,” Kabi said.
“Now there is an opportunity to get medication freely, the only thing we have to do is to be responsible for our lives, let’s go and check and use treatment,” he said.
“We already have some people who have started using meditation and I can tell you those people are clever than those who do not know their status, who even fear to know it (status),” he quipped.

Authorities have ensures easy access to condoms by placing them conveniently in public places, said the minister, adding that the government is desperate to wipe out HIV and refocus resources on other needs such as sanitary pads for girls from poor backgrounds.
“So it’s high time we start to test and use treatment, we do this for us,” he said.

Dr Thithili Makhesi, who runs a medical centre dedicated to caring for HIV/AIDS-infected infants and children in Lesotho under the Baylor College of Medicine, says Lesotho has the second highest HIV prevalence in the whole world.

She said she was encouraged as Lesotho approaches 2020 to reach the 90 – 90 – 90 target (a UNAIDS aim was to diagnose 90 percent of all HIV-positive persons, provide antiretroviral therapy (ART) for 90 percent of those diagnosed, and achieve viral suppression for 90 percent of those treated by 2020).
“The 2020 Vision recommends that 90 percent of the total population should know their HIV status,” Dr Makhesi said.
She said at least 77.2 percent people now know their status.

Dr Mokhesi thanked the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) for opening a clinic in the Limkokwing University campus.
The Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation is a United States-based organisation seeking to end global paediatric HIV/AIDS through prevention and treatment programmes, research and advocacy.

Dr Mokhesi encouraged students to visit the clinic for testing and to get Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which lowers the chances of getting infected HIV.
Dr. Mokhesi said Mohale’s Hoek is the district with the highest HIV/AIDS infection in the country, with a 29.3 percent infection rate followed by Maseru with 27.8 percent. Butha-Buthe has the lowest HIV infection of 17.8 percent.

Kefiloe Kajane & Thooe Ramolibeli

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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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