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‘I’m ready to lead’

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MASERU-AT 36, ‘Machere Rose Seutloali will be the youngest woman to ever contest for the BNP presidency in elections set for June 11 to 13 this year.
But the odds are heavily staked against her.
Seizing on her tender age, her political adversaries are throwing brickbats at her.
Her age has now become a serious “electoral issue”.

Her political adversaries have claimed that at 36, Seutloali is still wet behind her ears, politically.
They would prefer that Seutloali stay quietly in the BNP “kindergarten” which is the party’s youth league.
They would also instead prefer to have not just a male candidate to take over the party leadership but someone more seasoned politically.

But what appears to have irked the “battalion of male chauvinists” within the BNP is the fact that Seutloali is a woman.
How dare a mere woman seek to seize control of “their” political party? That to them is a slight to their male ego.
They think Seutloali is refusing to be boxed into the traditional role for women in Lesotho – washing the dishes and raising children quietly at home.

Seeing her as a threat, some of her political adversaries have now resorted to “dirty” tactics using proxies to knock her out of the race, even before it has begun in earnest.
In doing so they have now resorted to character assassinations; they also want to discredit her candidature and what she stands for.
Their modus operandi, she says, is to play the “gender card” with gusto.

But a defiant Seutloali told thepost this week that she remains alive to the challenge and will not shift an inch from her goal of leading the BNP.
At the same time, she says it would be a pity were she to wave the gender card and argue that she must be elected party leader merely because she is a woman.
She insists she is not looking for a “sympathy vote” just because she is a woman.
“This is not about me being a woman. I want to lead the party based on merit,” she says.

She however admits that being a woman presents its own set of challenges because most men in Lesotho are still beholden to the archaic thinking that a woman’s place is in the kitchen.
Seutloali will be among six BNP stalwarts who will be vying to succeed Thesele ’Maseribane as party leader. ’Maseribane’s term ends in June.
The other five candidates are current deputy leader Machesetsa Mofomobe, Lesojane Leuta, Advocate ‘Mota Nkuatsana, Professor Lehlohonolo Mosotho and ‘Malineo ‘Motšepe.

Out of the six, only two are women. The other woman candidate is Motšepe.
Seutloali says it has not been easy to throw her name into a ring dominated by men. Her detractors are already pushing an aggressive message that “we can’t be led by a woman”.
In a deeply patriarchal society like Lesotho, that is a serious charge. It could cost her a few precious votes.
“I may be young in their eyes but I am ready to lead,” is Seutloali’s defiant response.

But this is not the first time that Seutloali has had to try and scale a wall of gender prejudice.
Even when she wanted to lead the BNP youth league back in 2015, her detractors pushed the same message but she overcame.
“This is not a new thing. They said we cannot be led by a woman but I just did it,” she says.

She says certain elements within the BNP youth league wanted Seutloali to deputise a certain male candidate. But when they held meetings, the gentleman was actually depending on her for ideas.
“I realised the man had nothing that I didn’t have (in terms of ideas). I therefore asked myself, does this mean I should be led and be submissive just because he was wearing a trouser?”

Even during periods of political turmoil, Seutloali would find herself boldly confronting soldiers brandishing AK47 rifles.
“I would be in front and this comrade would be cowering under a table. This is what led me to decide to stand for the leadership position, hoping that the young people of this noble party would decide.”

Come June 13, Seutloali believes the BNP would have a new leader with a new vision to take the party forward. She is confident that she will be that new leader.
“I want to grow this party,” she says. “But I will not be able to grow the party without unity and oneness.”
After what likely looks to be an extremely divisive election, Seutloali wants all BNP stalwarts to rally behind the new leader to restore the party to its glorious past.

The BNP has been one of the dominant political parties since independence in 1966 but its grip on the political scene has loosened over the years.
It is now a pale shadow of its former self. For instance, the party only won a single constituency in elections held 2015. The last time it had won a constituency was in 1993.

Instead, the party had relied on Proportional Representation (PR) seats to sneak a few MPs into Parliament where its influence has been diluted. The party has relied on coalitions with other political parties to stay relevant.
Seutloali however says all this must change.

She wants to see serious differences that have tore the party in the past being quickly resolved through the office of the secretary general.
She wants to strengthen the BNP starting first at the village level, at branches, at constituencies, districts and then the national level.
“Our Constitution as the supreme law of the party should be the only tool that should bind us together in one accord with the members,” she says.
She says she is “looking forward to a one BNP, a stronger BNP and a united BNP for a better Lesotho”.

Seutloali says when the party is strong and united, it will act like a magnet in attracting party supporters who are fatigued and those who might have lost interest in national politics.
And that is the unity she wants to bring if she is elected BNP leader.
As a young leader, Seutloali says she will bring a new set of thinking to resolve Lesotho’s major developmental challenges.
The poverty and shocking levels of unemployment must be tackled firmly to set Lesotho on a new developmental trajectory, she says.

She wants to see energy being re-channeled towards agriculture.
“We need to reboot the economy,” she says. “By channeling our focus towards commercial farming, we would ensure food security for ourselves and beat poverty.”
“If I become Prime Minister there will be zero hunger and no poverty in Lesotho. I would fight to ensure we have decent jobs at the farms for our people. We will use technology and innovation to improve our agriculture.”
She is probably making the right noises within the party ranks to make herself a serious contender for the party’s top job.

She says she is confident that Lesotho can regain her former glory as the breadbasket of the region.
Under Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan agriculture was the backbone of the Lesotho economy and the country was able to export some of its produce.
Jonathan was toppled in a military coup in January 1986. The fields that used to churn out massive crops now lay fallow.

“Our people are hungry. They do not need food parcels. They need projects that are sustainable so that they can feed themselves.”
“By voting for me, the people will be voting for unity,” she says.
While Seutloali is campaigning fiercely to lead the BNP, she has not stopped preaching unity within the party telling her competitors that the “BNP is a party for all of us”.

“We all love the party and as we continue the race, we must ensure that our followers do not speak ill of others who are in the race.”
It would appear, however, that the appeal for unity is not being heeded at all. She admits that the fight is getting nastier as the election date draws nearer.

But all Seutloali wants is a fair race.
“We are a party based on Christian values of respect for each other and have subscribed to principles of Bosotho,” she says.
Fight as we might, we shall still need each other post-election, she says.
It is a message that is finding no takers at present as the candidates seek to undo each other before the poll.

Seutloali says she is fiercely pro-Lesotho and would want to see strong affirmative policies that promote the interests of Basotho.
A certified accounting technician, Seutloali says she will also push for accountability from those running the party and the government.
“Every cent must be accounted for,” she says. “That is what I will bring to the party in the event that I win, come June 13.”

Born on February 10, 1985, Seutloali grew up in a family that was fiercely pro-BNP. Her mother was a staunch BNP supporter. Her grandfather, Charles Dube Molapo, was a Cabinet minister in the government led by Chief Leabua Jonathan.
It was therefore no surprise that Seutloali was literally bathed and baptised in BNP politics.
“I fell in love with the party from a very young age,” she says. “Even at that tender age, I knew the BNP loved Basotho very much.”

But it was not everybody who appreciated her sometimes exuberant demonstration of loyalty to her party.
For instance, when she was 13, she got herself into trouble with the school principal at Holy Family High School in St Monica’s when she would wear her party’s regalia on the school compound during weekends.
That was a clear violation of the school’s regulations.
Sometimes she would attend BNP rallies and pitsos.

During the political riots of 1998, Seutloali would find herself closely following political developments in Lesotho. She would even attend the Langa Commission hearings into the political riots.
She says she always had “this spark” for the BNP even during the formative years of her political life.
In 2011, Seutloali was elected the deputy secretary general of the BNP youth league. She served in that position until 2015 when she was elected the first woman president for the BNP youth league.

She was to serve as the BNP youth league president until 2018 when she lost to the creatively named Patriot David who is the current youth league president.
Seutloali’s father, an energetic, talkative tough man, was a member of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF). He was also an avid football player for the army team.

“He called a spade a spade but was generally a very good man.”
As “daddy’s girl”, Seutloali would find herself attending football matches when her father was an assistant coach and later the head coach for LDF.
She says she later heard from friends that her father was a roving left-back who represented the team with distinction.

When she was still young, her mother left to work in the United States, leaving her to take on “parental” duties for her two younger brothers who were both under the age of five.
This was a tough task for a young girl.
But what that period did was to prepare her for the trials that lay ahead in her political career.

“That upbringing helped me develop a thick skin. I know I can stand against any challenges. Whatever stones that are thrown at me, I know I have been through a lot since childhood. I have had to be strong and courageous.”
Yet Seutloali admits that she is only human and sometimes can take only so much. But when she can no longer bear up under vicious persecution, she finds solace in her faith.

A deeply devout Christian, Seutloali is quick to spice this interview with a few quotes from the Bible on the challenges to her Christian faith.
“I am getting this strength from the author and perfector of my faith who is Christ,” she says.

She says her Christian faith gives her the strength and courage to continue when the going gets tough.
“I know all things are working for my good and I love the Lord and have been called for a purpose.”

Abel Chapatarongo

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A night of horror

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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

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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

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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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