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Lockdown blues as ARVs run out

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Over 800 Basotho stranded due to lockdown

MASERU-ABOUT 800 Basotho who are on antiretroviral treatment are stranded in South Africa as they cannot come back to Lesotho to refill their supply of pills because of the lockdown in both countries.
These are official statistics based on Basotho whose presence in South Africa is well documented.

The number could be higher as many Basotho stay and work in South Africa illegally.
According to a study on the “Exploration of Constraints for Free Movement of People in Africa – A Case of Lesotho and South Africa” by Sipho Mokoena and others, Lesotho contributes over 40 percent of the people who pass through South African borders from all neighbouring countries.

Many end up settling in Maseru, only returning home periodically to collect medication such as ARVs.
According to a government minister, many of those who rely on local facilities for ARVs are stuck in South Africa with no idea on how to return home and collect their monthly and quarterly supply of their medication.
Deputy Minister of Health ’Manthabiseng Phohleli, this week told thepost that the affected Basotho do not know how they are going to get their monthly and quarterly supply of their medication.

They cannot travel within South Africa to reach to the border to the equally locked down Lesotho border, she said on Tuesday.
Many Basotho could not make it back home before the lockdowns took effect due to reasons that include lack of money to pay for transport and the fear of being stuck back home with no means of returning to work.

A Mosotho medical doctor working in the Department of Health in South Africa and prefers anonymity shared a conversation between him and a devastated Mosotho patient who lives in Harrismith.
The patient’s three month’s supply of ARV’s had run out and was worried that the lockdown extension which was announced by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa last week would “kill her”.

Luckily, according to the conversation, the patient was later able to get a week’s supply of ARVs from a local public health facility in Harrismith after sharing her story with a nurse there.

“I don’t know the name of the pills because I was just given enough for a week in my bottle,” she writes to the doctor.
She is scared that she might default on her medication and requested the doctor to help her secure enough to last the lockdown.

Her sibling could collect her supplies from a local hospital but is likely to find it difficult to get them to South Africa due to the strictly enforced lockdown.

The doctor asked her to return to the South African clinic and ask for more medication to keep her going at least until the lockdown is over.
The doctor says in 2016 Lesotho and South Africa agreed to ensure that people who are on a cross-border ARV distribution programme be given at least six months’ supply of drugs.

However, Lesotho, which operates cross border clinics in Maseru and Maputsoe, can only afford to hand out three months’ supply of drugs to beneficiaries.
This adds to the existing problem of health systems in both Lesotho and South Africa which are struggling to provide proper care and treatment for HIV infected migrants.

According to a study by Iyiola Faturiyele and eight other co-authors, service providers indicated a lack of transfer letters as the major drawback in facilitating care and treatment for migrants.
This is followed by discrimination based on nationality or language.
Service providers indicated also that most patients preferred all treatment services to be rendered in Lesotho as they perceived the treatment provided in South Africa to be different and “less strong” or has more serious side effects.

Even before the outbreak of coronavirus and the lockdowns, hundreds of migrants from Lesotho were already defaulting on their medication, according to studies.
According to a story published in thepost newspaper earlier this year by health care practitioners titled “The pill or the job” most of the defaulters are from Mohale’s Hoek, which is in the southern part of the country bordering South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province.

Almost all health centres and hospitals in Mohale’s Hoek are experiencing challenges with the migration of HIV/AIDS patients to South Africa who then default on their medication, according to the publication.
During the financial mitigation national address by the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane last week, Minister Tlohelang Aumane said that the ministry of health was organising to have ARV medication sent to the Lesotho embassy in South Africa.

The doctor who spoke to thepost described the plan as “interesting but not practical”.
The doctor said some of the migrants work in the most remote areas that getting to the embassy is impossible during the lockdown.
He said others work in farms, factories and homes that are located far from the embassy.

He put forward three options:
First, that the ministry stock-up supply by cross-border clinics and allow patients to collect them from these two points.

Second, patients be given transfer letters to get their medication from their nearest health centres as long as they have a password, ID or residential address to be given medication and third, that Basotho on medication be repatriated, quarantined in Lesotho after screening and testing.
“However, there is a risk of job losses. Undocumented immigrants may be scared,” he said.

Deputy Minister of Health, ’Manthabiseng Phohleli told thepost that the issue was on the agenda of a meeting held on Monday.
She said the Monday ministerial meeting discussed two options.
The first option was to request the South African government to supply Basotho ARV patients with medication with the promise that the Lesotho government would later pay for the medication.

“We believe that this is the best option for us because we cannot locate every Mosotho on ARVs within South Africa and we cannot have the medication in central places because some may not be able to access them,” Phohleli told thepost.

She said the plan is to have patients go to the nearest health facility with their documentation to be given the type of ARV they are on.
The second option is to request the United States funded PEPFAR programme to accommodate and supply Basotho in South Africa with medication within their hotspot regions.

“We think this is the second best option but we are concerned about people’s proximity to the hotspot regions and ability to get there. Some might make it while some might not,” Phohleli said.
Phohleli said it is imperative for Lesotho and South Africa to work out modalities for migrants to access ART treatment in the host country.

“We hope to see this happen not only in South Africa but in the region and at some point in the continent. We need our people to access health services without hiccups in Africa,” said the minister.
“Health does not know boundaries, rivers or country names. Health is non-discriminatory and we need to accommodate it as such,” Phohleli said.

Rose Moremoholo

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Mahao, PS in big fight

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PRIME Minister Sam Matekane this week summoned the Basotho Action Party (BAP) executive committee in a bid to defuse simmering tensions within the party.
This comes amid fears that Professor Nqosa Mahao’s fallout with his principal secretary at the Ministry of Energy, Tankiso Phapano, could threaten the unity in the BAP and the government’s stability.

thepost can reveal that Mahao has hinted that he would resign if Matekane doesn’t fire or reassign Phapano.

But there are strong indications that Mahao doesn’t enjoy the backing of his executive committee and MPs in his fight with Phapano.

Inside sources this week told thepost that some members of the BAP’s executive committee and MPs are openly siding with Phapano and have been secretly lobbying Matekane to reshuffle Mahao from the Ministry of Energy to Sports.

A source said Mahao is aware of these manoeuvres, including a clandestine meeting in Maputsoe, and has said he would rather resign than be the subject of a humiliating reshuffle instigated by people he leads.

The source of the bad blood between Mahao and Phapano is not clear but it is understood that they have disagreed over tenders and the ministry’s direction.

The source said Matekane was first briefed of the running battles at the ministry some three weeks ago just as matters were coming to a head.

It is the second briefing which revealed a complete breakdown in the relationship that triggered Matekane’s meeting with the BAP’s executive committee and MPs on Monday.

Three people who were in that meeting said Matekane told the BAP officials to deal with the crisis before it affected the ministry and threatened the coalition government’s stability.

The BAP’s executive committee, including MPs and Mahao, then had a marathon meeting to discuss ways to make peace between Mahao and Phapano.

A source who was in that meeting said “it was clear to Mahao that the majority of the committee and the MPs were on Phapano’s side”.

“Mahao quickly realised that he did not have the backing of the majority and took a conciliatory approach. It was clear that the committee would rather have him resign than get Phapano removed from the ministry,” the source said.

“In the past Mahao had flatly refused to reconcile with Phapano because of seniority. But this time he appeared to be open to a meeting to discuss reconciliation.”

Both Mahao and Phapano told thepost last night that their relationship was still cordial. ‘“We are still in good books with Phapano until further notice,” Mahao said.

“However, we cannot predict the future.”

Mahao denied ever discussing Phapano’s dismissal or transfer with Matekane.

Phapano also insisted that he was working well with Mahao.

“We are still on good terms,” Phapano said, adding that the allegation that they were fighting was “baseless”.

The fallout between Mahao and Phapano has been quick and spectacular.

The two had been almost inseparable months before Mahao agreed to join the coalition government.

Phapano would use his car to drive Mahao around. They would attend party meetings together. Some party insiders saw Phapano as Mahao’s right-hand man and adviser.

Mahao allegedly strongly pushed for Phapano to be appointed as his principal secretary when he became energy minister.

But sources said Mahao started having second thoughts days after recommending Phapano and tried to get his appointment reversed but it was too late.

A source says within weeks Mahao was telling cabinet colleagues that Phapano had captured the ministry and he was unable to function as the minister.

“He started pushing to oust Phapano within days because they were already clashing. It’s been war from the first days,” said the source.

Staff Reporter

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How chicken import ban hit vendors

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MALESHOANE Pakela used to work at small backyard chicken farms where she was paid with chicken heads, necks, legs, and offals that she would roast and sell to factory workers at the Thetsane Industrial Area.

Her job was to clean and pack chicken.
The profit wasn’t much but just enough for the 37-year-old widow to feed and keep her four children in school.

“It also covered her monthly rental of M150 for a room in Ha-Tsolo Sekoting.

Her life was however shattered last October when the government imposed a ban on chicken imports from South Africa following an outbreak of bird flu.
Without day-old chicks the farms quickly shut down, cutting Pakela’s supply of heads, necks, legs, and offals.
Within a few days, her family was starving.

Pakela had been struggling even for months before the ban. The closure of the factories and retrenchments of thousands of workers has severely hit her sales. She was behind on her rent and could barely feed her children.

The partial lifting of the chicken ban has not helped Pakela because her former employers still cannot import day-old chicks or live birds.
Pakela and a family were kicked out of their rented room in November when their arrears were about M1 000.
She has found another room nearby.

A ‘Good Samaritan’ has allowed her to use a room for free until she can afford the rent. But Pakela says she still feels obliged to pay something because she understands that things are hard for everyone.

“Here the rent is still M150 but the landlord accepts every amount that I give her,” Pakela says.
There are days when her children go to bed hungry.

“I have told them (children) that if I have nothing they should accept (the status).”

She now survives on handouts from neighbours and other well-wishers. Pakela’s poverty is apparent.

Barefoot and holding her small child in a seshoeshoe dress, Pakela says her two children usually go to school without eating.
The other child has dropped out of school because she doesn’t have shoes.

’Mako Lepolesa, 44, who has been running a chesanyama (meat grill) at the Maseru West Industrial Estate since 2018. The father of three says his clients are mainly taxi drivers and factory workers.

Chicken was her main product until last October when the ban was imposed. It wasn’t long before his business started wobbling.

“I thought it would be just a short-lived problem (chicken import ban) but it passed on this year,” he says, adding that it might take months for his business to recover.
Moshe Ramashamole, 42, who also owns a chesanyama in the Maseru West Industrial Estate, tried to remain in business by sourcing chicken from local farmers.

It was a stopgap measure that however lasted a few weeks because the farmers also ran out of stock. He resorted to bad chicken but they were double the price of a full chicken before the ban.
Yet Ramashamole thought he could make it work by increasing the price of his plate from M35 to M55. The customers however resisted the new price and Ramashamole had to take the losses.

The poultry ban did not affect street vendors like Pakela alone.
Former Minister of Communications, Khotso Letsatsi, is one of those poultry farmers struggling following the chicken ban.

He ventured into poultry in January last year. It was an audacious venture that included a M100 000 investment in a shelter and other equipment.
He started with a batch of 300 chicks and had reached 1 000 by the time the ban was imposed.

“The business was lucrative,” Letsatsi says.

“I had to employ two people permanently to assist me on a full-time basis,” he says.

When it was time to slaughter the chickens, Letsatsi says he had to employ seven casual labourers.
Since the ban was imposed he had released all his workers.

“I do not know where they are now. Maybe they are starving,” he says of the workers he released.

Letsatsi doesn’t know how he will revive his business.
The Director of Marketing in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS), Lekhooe Makhate, says the ban has been devastating to farmers and businesses.

“Some big businesses are going to declare less tax to the government because there was no business,” Makhate says.

He says Lesotho spends M2.1 billion on the importation of chicken and its products from South Africa every year.
But that amount usually soars to M4 billion depending on the market forces of demand and supply.

Makhate says the M2.1 billion goes to South Africa where the chicken and its products are imported.

At the height of the scarcity of chickens in the country, Makhate says people were supposed to make initiatives to travel to villages to search for chickens.

“There is not enough production of chickens in the country,” he says.
“Economically speaking we rely on South Africa. We have to be self-reliant.”

Majara Molupe

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Letseng fends off threat to sue

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LETŠENG Diamond says it is under no obligation to advertise jobs for Basotho to provide certain services “where it has the capacity to undertake the same services”.
Letšeng Diamond boss, Motooane Thinyane, was responding to a threat to sue by a little-known political party called Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES).

Matekane’s company, the Matekane Mining Investment Company (MMIC), had been providing blasting, haulage and drilling services at Letšeng mine since 2005.
The deal with the MMIC was terminated in December last year with the mining company saying it was improper because Matekane had now become a politician.

Letšeng Diamonds announced that it had reached an agreement with the MMIC to acquire its mining equipment at the mine and offered employment to its current employees in line with operational requirements.

“This will enable Letšeng to continue with its mining activities,” the company said in its statement.

This infuriated opposition parties that argued that the mine should have called interested Basotho companies to bid for the contract, saying it is provided for in the Minerals Act of 2005.

The leader of Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES), Molefi Ntšonyana, wrote the mine last week threatening to sue for allegedly failing to follow section 11 of the Act.
Ntšonyana argued that the Act “does not grant the Letšeng Diamond 100 percent to mine with its good own equipment” but it should engage Basotho companies like it did with the MMIC.

Ntšonyana said Letšeng Diamond and the MMIC made the agreement to acquire the MMIC equipment so that the mine could continue with its mining activities “without any advertisement to seek qualified Basotho to provide such services”.

Ntšonyana said the agreement unilaterally denied Basotho a chance to tender for such services and ignored the fact that the government of Lesotho on behalf of Basotho own 30 percent in the Letšeng Diamond.

“It is advisable to reconsider your decision,” Ntšonyana said, adding that they would also write to the mining board requesting the resolution they made regarding this matter of insourcing mining activities.

He said the company should adhere to section 11 of the Mines and Minerals Act of 2005 and within 14 working days the matter should be reconsidered, “failing which we will have no choice but to drag the company to the courts of law”.

In his response, Thinyane said Ntšonyana must “revisit the section in question in full for its correct interpretation”.

“Letšeng Diamond is under no obligation to advertise to seek qualified Basotho to provide services where it is willing and has the capacity to undertake the same services,” Thinyane said.

He said the decision relating to the agreement referred to has been through the necessary governance structures and is therefore procedural.
Thinyane said Letšeng is a corporate citizen that is fully compliant with the laws of Lesotho.

Majara Molupe

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