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Jobs carnage in factories

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MASERU – THE Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a jobs carnage in textile factories with over 18 600 employees losing their jobs in the first quarter of 2020.
That is according to a Manufacturing Report which was released by the Bureau of Statistics recently.
The report says on an annual basis, the total number of employees in the manufacturing sector decreased by 33.8 percent in the first quarter of 2021 over the same quarter of 2020.

The major contributors to the decline were “Textiles & Clothing” and “Food and Beverages” with 39.0 and 13.1 percent respectively.
There was an overall decrease of 22.8 percent to the total number of persons employed in the first quarter of 2021 over the previous quarter.
Textiles and clothing were the major contributors, depicting a decline of 28.4 in employment over the previous quarter.
Although there was an overall decrease in employment, other industries registered double-digit figures growth.

The report attributes the significant drop in employment during this period to the effect of the national lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The uncertainty brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a halt of some of economic activities hence, employment has been impacted differently for some months of the quarter under study,” the report reads.
The job losses have hit female-led households extremely hard, according to the report.
It says in the first quarter of 2021, there were more females than males in the manufacturing sector at 76.9 and 23.1 percent respectively.

Although there were more females in the sector, they held other positions and were engaged mostly as part-time labour as opposed to their male counterparts who held managerial positions.
Though the first quarter saw a lot of employees without jobs, the monthly wages and salaries in the manufacturing sector were estimated at M2 333 during the first quarter of 2021.
This indicated an overall increase of 84.9 percent for all the industries.
The increase was mostly observed in all industries, with Food and Beverages, which contributed most with 211.6 percent followed by Leather & Footwear with 188.7 percent.

On a year-to-year basis, the general decrease of 4.7 percent of average monthly wages and salaries was observed in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same quarter in 2020.
“Other Manufacturing” and “Leather & Footwear” contributed largely to the decrease by 39.8 and 21.7 percent respectively.
Nonetheless, all the industries had some impact on the decline of salaries and wages, with the exception of Food & Beverages which saw about five percent growth.
The manufacturing sector, especially the textile and clothing sector, is mostly owned by foreigners.

“The establishments engaged in manufacturing of goods were mostly fully foreign-owned (55.9 percent) while those that were “Fully National Private”, and “More than 50 per cent National”, constituted 23.5 percent and 8.8 percent of the establishments respectively”, the report reads.
These factories have been exporting their products to South Africa, United States and other five countries, with the majority of products being exported to the first two countries.
Thabisang Lenoesa, 45, has worked at the Nien Hsing textile factory since 2001 when it was opened.
The end of July marked her last day at work after 20 years of service as an operator.

Lenoesa is amongst the thousands of textile workers who have lost their jobs.
Early July her former employer informed her and many other employees that they should not come back for the new month.
Like many others, Lenoesa did not go home by choice but rather was forced by the prevailing crisis facing textile companies.
“The employer said due to the Covid-19 pandemic there was no market for the items we produced. The orders were failing to reach their destination on time and business in general was bad,” Lenoesa said.
“I lost my husband in 2004, all these years my job at the factory was the core of my livelihood,” she said.

“I paid for my children’s education through this job, I clothed and fed them through the same job even though the income was not much.”
Today Lenoesa has joined hundreds of street vendors selling sheep trotters and heads.
“There is no other option, our children are still at home even though they have educational certificates. There are no jobs for the young and strong, what more for someone old as me,” Lenoesa said.
Meanwhile, each passing day is a huge battle for 42-year-old Mpho Molungoa.
Molungoa, a mother of a three-year-old, has been working as an operator since 2012 at the Nien Hsing factory.
As it is, only one line of operators is remaining in the factory, many have been sent home.

“I saw it when my colleagues left, each not knowing what the future holds, not knowing how they were going to survive or start all over,” Molungoa said.
“Now with each passing day, I feel the weight of expectation. A sense of doom is hanging over me, I do not know how I am going to make things work,” she said.
Last month Molungoa received a letter notifying her that the company was letting her go.
However, the letter did not have a specific date on when she would be expected to pack and go.
“I have heard some say that by the end of this month we will be out of jobs. What is happening to us is a very painful tragedy that we cannot stop,” she said.

“Even if other factories were to hire us it would only be a portion as Nien Hsing was the biggest factory. Seeking employment in South Africa as a domestic worker is also out of question for me, my child is too young.”
“Only the Good Lord will see us through this calamity.”
Sam Mokhele, the Secretary General of the National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union (NACTWU), said they are overwhelmed and saddened by these job losses.
According to Mokhele, since last February employees were already losing their jobs and it does not seem like things will change any time soon.
“It is a hopeless situation because employers say they do not have a financial problem rather a market access problem. Products are no longer selling, employers are constantly losing money,” Mokhele said.

The impact of these losses, he said, will increase crime as people will be looking for means to survive.
“Our unemployment rate was already high even before these job losses began. With thousands and thousands expected to go home, the unemployment numbers are going to shoot,” Mokhele said.
“We have a meeting tomorrow with another factory that is planning to retrench about 800 employees,” he said.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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Lawyer in trouble

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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’

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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

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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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