Connect with us


Inside Lesotho’s sweatshops



MASERU – WHEN life in Mokhotlong, Khubelu, became extremely difficult for ’Mamohato Tšotetsi, 40, she packed her bags and moved to Maseru to work in the factories.
Because she did not go far in school to land a good job, working in the factories was the only way to help her escape the wretched poverty of Lesotho’s rural communities.
That was back in 1998 when Tšotetsi got a job and joined masses of women and men in the factories. At the time, a basic salary was as little as M650.
“I was happy to get the job,” she said. “At least I could buy some food for the family.”

But the money was hardly enough and working conditions were treacherous.
Thousands of Basotho have over the decades trekked to work in Maseru’s factories in hopes of changing their lives. But, like Tšotetsi, they have found life in the city tough, especially working for underpaying factories.
Narrating the life of a factory worker, Tšotetsi says working in the Chinese-owned factories is one of the toughest jobs one could think of.
Underpaid workers are always under pressure to meet targets set by their supervisors on a daily basis.

“It is difficult. The most painful thing is that the salary earned by a factory worker is not equal to the amount of work that is done,” said Tšotetsi.
To make ends meet, one has to take up overtime shifts to make extra money.
“You have to start work at 7am,” Tšotetsi said. “When the alarm bell rings at 7am, the factory worker has to be ready to start work, already putting on our aprons.”
Then at 12pm, the workers break for lunch which lasts for an hour. During the working hours, Tšotetsi says one is only allowed to go to the toilet for just three minutes every time nature calls.
“You will be in trouble if you spend more than three minutes in the toilet. You are dragged to a disciplinary hearing and charged with misconduct,” she said.

Men, she said, are sometimes given time out to smoke.
Breaking for lunch comes with its own humiliation. The women are thoroughly searched, most times invasively, by guards who want to ensure they have not stolen any items.
“That process can last for 25 to 30 minutes, meaning that it eats into your lunch time. Men are also searched but not like us. Sometimes we are forced to undress,” bemoaned Tšotetsi.
Tšotetsi said solely surviving on a salary from the factories is no mean feat.
Many end up trapped in debt due to low salaries.
Loan sharks hover around the industrial estates targeting desperate factory workers whom they charge extortionist interest rates.

Tšotetsi said the plight of factory workers who have to look after extended families is a dire one.
She says the rental houses which are near the factories usually charge high rentals “because the landlords know for sure that the workers are desperate for housing”.
A single room can go for as high as M450.
“We sacrifice a lot here,” said Tšotetsi. “We survive on unpalatable sinews”.
“You have to find some means to plug the gaping financial holes in your pocket. Life is tougher for single women who do not have husbands to add to the household income,” she said.

The mother of two said many factory workers have come together to form small associations (stockvels) where they contribute small amounts monthly that they lend to each other for a small interest. They share the profits at the end of every year.
Tšotetsi says the factory workers also give others some money during their birthdays so that they could buy something for their families.
The amounts, she says, could sound small but if well spent make a significant difference in the lives of the factory workers.

Working in the factories for 23 years has been “quite an experience”, said Tšotetsi, who berated Lesotho’s successive governments for failing to improve the working conditions of factory workers, despite the industry employing tens of thousands of Basotho.
The number of workers has now diminished because of the Covid-19 pandemic which saw close to 20 000 people losing their jobs.
Factory owners argued they needed to lay off workers because of a steep decline in orders from overseas buyers.

Lesotho’s textiles and apparels are sold mainly to the United States (US) through the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA), a trade preference regime between the US and selected African countries that include Lesotho.
For workers churning out the clothing that ends up in fashion stores overseas, it is an “animal farm” situation.
Pregnant women are not spared the harsh treatment, said Tšotetsi.
“They have to meet the targets. Pregnant women eat frequently but they are given only a few minutes to eat standing next to the toilets.”
Women are given three months maternity leave. They get their full salary for the first two months and half salary during the third. This forces some women to return to work before the end of their maternity leave to make some extra money.

Exchanging words with the Chinese employers is a sure way of inviting trouble, she said.
“A Chinese can beat up a worker with a skipper but when the worker fights back, she or he is fired. I once fought with a Chinese employer back then and I was fired,” she recalled, adding that she had to search for a job elsewhere.
“Sometimes you are told after 5pm that you have to stay for overtime starting from 5pm to 10 pm. You can’t argue with them,” said Tšotetsi.
Tšotetsi says “this is bad for married women” who have to convince their husbands that they are at work and not somewhere else.

She says the Chinese employers usually ask for the contacts of the husbands and call them to inform them that their wives are at work.
“Some marriages have collapsed because of these conditions,” she said. “It is a disaster when the woman lives with little school-going children. They will be expecting their mother to return from work around 6pm as usual. This means the children will have to take care of themselves.”
Such scenarios, she said, usually happen when there are a lot of orders from buyers abroad.

Those asked to remain behind for overtime are paid M10 per hour and double that if they stay during weekends.
Tšotetsi alleged workers are not allowed to eat their lunch inside the premises even during rainy days.
“We have to go out in the rain,” she said, adding that workers who are members of trade unions are usually targeted for dismissal, while workers who fall sick have to soldier on “because the Chinese don’t like people who fall sick easily.”
Tšotetsi recalled a time she lost a baby in 2014.

“I had to go to work even when I was not feeling well.”
There were media reports that workers at Taiwanese-owned Hippo Knitting are subjected to sexual harassment and violence in the workplace.
The reports further showed that supervisors and HR personnel were at times sexually molesting their colleagues at the workplace.
Managing Director of Hippo Knitting, To Chan, said he was not aware that gender-based violence and harassment were rife at his factory until they were reported by the media.

Chan said they have to rectify what has been happening at his factory so that every worker feels at home.
He said the working environment has to be friendly so that productivity soars for the betterment of economic growth.
National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU) Secretary General Sam Mokhele said they are aware of the problems affecting the factory workers.

He said they are trying by all means to address them.
He said the welfare of the factory workers is not well taken care of at some factories.
He said some factories do not have canteens where the workers could settle down to eat their lunch.
Mokhele said the workers have to endure severe weather conditions such as scorching sun or pouring rains.

Majara Molupe

Continue Reading


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

Continue Reading


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

Continue Reading


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

Continue Reading