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Meraka boss fights back



Denies claims the government has created a monopoly

MASERU – MERAKA Lesotho, a private company running the national abattoir, is now the sole supplier of red meat in the country after the government banned beef imports. Small Businesses Development Minister, Chalane Phori, has said the goal is to promote local farmers and create employment.  But the decision has come under heavy criticism from other local meat suppliers and consumers. Meat suppliers say the decision makes Meraka a monopoly yet it does not have the capacity to meet market demands in both quality and quantity.

They say the ban on imports is meant to insulate Meraka from competition despite the fact that it’s a private company that does not deserve such protection from the government. Consumers complain about the quality of Meraka’s products. Our News Editor, Caswell Tlali, this week spoke to Meraka Lesotho chief executive, Mosito Khethisa, about those accusations and concerns.

Below are excerpts from the interview:

There are complaints that the government has created a monopoly for you and that you don’t have enough capacity to meet the market demand. What’s your response to this?

To start with, this is a national abattoir and from the beginning it was established to be a slaughter facility and a feedlot. Our main business is to slaughter animals for butcheries and meat wholesalers. This has always been the case for a long time, even when it was solely run by the government. In those years no animals were bought from outside the borders and as you will recall, there were auctions around the country, in every district, where Basotho cattle and sheep farmers sold them to this abattoir.

It was and still is a service offered to Basotho and we are not in competition with anybody. It is therefore wrong to say the government has created a monopoly. This facility belongs to Basotho as a nation. Nobody is favoured, nobody is put above others. Yes we are capable of slaughtering and supplying quality meat. This abattoir has the capacity to slaughter 500 cattle per week and 300 sheep per day.

Talk about the quality. There are complaints that your meat is of poor quality.

The quality of meat depends on what kind of animals we buy. We buy good quality cattle and sheep in South Africa for grade A meat while the ones we get locally are mostly for lower grades. In fact, our meat is of high quality compared to the one smuggled into the country or imported by some meat wholesalers because they buy rejects. The meats they buy have been turned away by agents of European companies. You have to know today that most of the quality meat produced in South Africa is exported to Europe and the rejects are dumped to countries like Lesotho.

These meat wholesalers who fight to import meat from South Africa are actually fighting to sell the rejects to our unsuspecting consumers. As for us, we don’t import carcasses but live animals of good quality and therefore we proudly say our meat is of high quality. Yes, we produce grade A. They are selling you grades B and C and tell you its grade A.

Do you have any expert who grades your meat?

We have an experienced one who has studied in Australia and Botswana. He has vast experience in classifying meat. We also have two students whom he is supervising. But surely one cannot complain just for the sake of complaining. There must be something that makes people complain about your services. People will not stop complaining. What the government has done is good for the economic growth of this country. It is good that the government has imposed a ban on red meat so that we help the local farmers to grow as livestock farmers and sellers.

Without the government’s intervention, especially in this way, they would never grow. This has given the people an opportunity they would never have. Livestock is what they have and let them enjoy rearing livestock. Our services are good and we are doing our best to adhere to the international standards. As you may know, mishandling meat can create serious problems as you have noticed with the outbreak of Listeriosis in South Africa.
It is important to look at this through the eyes of the government and you will realise that this is done for the sake of these very people who are complaining.

How many Basotho farmers have sold their cattle to you?

We are going around the country buying animals. You will recall that recently the Minister of Small Businesses invited Basotho wherever they are in the country to come and sell their cattle and sheep to the abattoir every Wednesday. So, ever since then we have seen scores of farmers coming forward to sell their animals. This week we went to Mathebe where a Mosotho man sold his 30 cattle. When you sell many cattle at once we go to you to collect them but if you are selling just one, it is understandable that you will have to bring it here yourself.

Like I said, this abattoir has the capacity to slaughter 500 cattle per week, we haven’t reached there yet but we are quickly getting there. Perhaps it is because it is autumn and many cattle are well fed hence their owners’ desire to sell while they are still in good shape. Come winter, many of them will show weaknesses and the owners will keep them until they are well fed. They are bringing their animals here. Come on Wednesday and you will witness it yourself.

Do local farmers have the capacity to meet the market demand?

Yes they do. Although we are currently buying their animals for the lower grades of meat, we are aware that we still have many who produce for selling and they know what they want. I want you to know that we are not the only ones buying from them. Every week trucks export cattle from here to South Africa, having been bought by abattoirs in South Africa. We compete with these South Africans at local auctions. This shows you that with good education Basotho can meet the local market and have a lot of surplus to sell outside the country. All Basotho need to do is to pay attention to how they feed and they will be self-sufficient. You can actually earn a living by selling cattle.

How much do you buy a cow for?

The highest price I bought a cow was for M13 000 and the lowest price was just over M3 000. Like I said people can earn a living by rearing cattle.

Why don’t you have a feedlot?

No, we have one. When this abattoir was established, it was established together with the feedlot. In the past the abattoir used to buy cattle from local farmers and feed them here until they are ready for slaughter. We have just started after this abattoir experienced some hiccups. The plan is to resuscitate the abattoir.  In fact, there is a plan to have many abattoirs around the country and feedlots and that has to happen if we want the meat industry to thrive in the country.

The abattoir failed to do any business in the recent past. What gives you hope this time?

I have worked at the abattoir for only one year. All I can say is that the abattoir does not make money out of supplying meat only. It’s only this year that we have won a tender to supply the army. Abattoirs in South Africa make money because almost all of those I know have their own butcheries while we don’t. They are selling meat directly to the public or to the wholesales. As for us, we only sell offal and hides.

Also many abattoirs are running tanneries and make good money from the hides. We sell the hides as they are. But we still believe that with the flow of animals that are being brought for slaughter we will remain afloat. There will be enough offal and hides to sell. You cannot believe that we only make M1.50 per kilogramme. This means without the offal and hides we wouldn’t survive as a business.

How many individuals does the abattoir employ?

When I arrived here there were 45 employees. We are now 72 and we are planning to have night shift because there is a lot of work, especially in the slaughtering department. Sometimes these workers work from 7:30 in the morning until 8:00 at night.

Staff Reporter

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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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