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Metsing loses big funder

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MASERU- IN a clear case of deepening trouble, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) has lost one of its major funders. Bothata Mahlala, the businessman some refer to as the LCD’s banker, is leaving the beleaguered former ruling party to join the Democratic Congress (DC).

Mahlala has been one of LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing’s closest confidants.
In recent years, the LCD has relied heavily on Mahlala’s financial muscle and fundraising skills.

Party insiders told thepost that he occasionally bailed out the party using his own money or what is raised from his deep-pocketed contacts.
For the 2015 election campaign Mahlala raised M3 million for the party and donated 20 000 T-shirts.

In the 2017 election he raised more than M4 million for the party, including from dozens of funders who were ready to dump the party.
It is because of Mahlala that money flowed into the LCD coffers from funders in Lesotho and South Africa.

Mahlala would take Metsing along with him to meet potential funders, several LCD sources said this week. “No one brought in more money than Mahlala. If he is leaving it means we will face a serious financial problem,” said a senior LCD official.

So crucial was Mahlala’s fundraising expertise that some LCD members had nominated him to become the party’s treasurer.

On Tuesday the LCD’s deputy spokesperson, Apesi Ratšele, said the party was making frantic efforts to persuade Mahlala to change his mind. He said they have since sent an emissary to Mahlala who however told thepost that his decision is final.

“They are sending people to me but I can’t undo my decision. That will not happen,” Mahlala said.

He said he was leaving the party because he feels it has been “captured by its incompetent leaders who don’t want to leave even when it’s clear that they have dismally failed to revive its fortunes”.

He said he doesn’t want to “sweat for nothing like a dog”.
“I am not going to be running around sweating for no benefit. I am not a dog.”

“There is no point in remaining in a party that is declining and whose leaders don’t want to listen to those who have ideas on how to grow it.”
Mahlala said his decision should not surprise anyone because he had warned that he will leave the party if things don’t change.

Mahlala said what angers him the most is that the LCD’s national executive committee (NEC), elected in 2015, remains in office nearly two years after its term ended.

“And there are no indications as to when the new committee will be elected.”
He said he noticed that the committee was reluctant to leave in 2017 when Metsing and his deputy, Tšeliso Mokhosi, went into self-imposed exile after claiming that their lives were in danger.

He said a few months after Metsing and Mokhosi arrived in South Africa the LCD held a conference in Wepener, a small farming South African town near Mafeteng. At that conference, he explained, Metsing said the party could not hold an elective conference when its leaders are in exile.

Matlala said although that seemed to make sense to other people he was not convinced that this was “reason enough to violate the party’s constitution”. He said it was clear that the leader was using the “exile issue” to protect Mokhosi. My reasoning at that time, he said, was that we cannot violate the constitution to protect one man.

“It’s clear that the leader was protecting Mokhosi because his own position was not going to be contested.”

He said since then the leadership has come up with new excuses to avoid an elective conference.

When Metsing and Mokhosi came back in November last year they said there was no money to organise the conference.

“That shocked me because the same committee was supposed to raise money for the elective conference. They were elected at a conference organised by funds raised by the previous committee yet they say they have no money. It was their job to find the money,” Mahlala said.

He said the committee has a habit of creating problems they then use them to justify their illegal stay in office.

In January this year the committee said the elective conference could not happen because supporters in the constituencies have not renewed their membership.

“That registration process was postponed to March, then April, then May and then June. So the same people who are supposed to ensure that supporters renewed their membership are now saying they cannot have a conference because supporters have not renewed their membership. It doesn’t make sense at all.”
“You can see again that the committee is benefiting from its incompetence and chaos.”

The latest excuse, which Mahlala still sees as an attempt to hang on to power through chicanery, is that most of the constituencies don’t have committees.
“We don’t have constituency committees because the NEC has not done its job. But the same NEC now says it cannot have a conference because of the same problem they caused.”

“We cannot have people benefiting from their own incompetence and problems they deliberately created.” Mahlala had no kind words for Metsing, whom he accused of interfering in the democratic process of the party to protect his deputy.

To illustrate this he narrated what happened to Lebohang Thotanyana, his former LCD colleague, when he was nominated to be the deputy leader.
He said Thotanyana, who recently left to join Professor Nqosa Mahao’s faction of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), received a call from Metsing “who said he doesn’t want him to be the deputy leader”.

“I started wondering whether the leader has forgotten that the people, not him, have the power to decide who holds what position in the party.”

Thotanyana has confirmed that he received such a call from Metsing. He too left the LCD after he fell out with the Metsing, whom he accused of protecting what he called “an inept but power-hungry committee”.

Thotanyana, like Mahlala, was one of Metsing’s closest allies in the party.
That the two have left the party could be a sign that Metsing’s circle of friends in the LCD is shrinking fast. Mahlala is leaving with the LCD’s constituency committee in Mount Moorosi, his home area.

He said there are clear signs that the LCD is haemorrhaging support.
The crowds at the party’s recent rallies are laughable, he added.
“It is common that when the crowds are small a party takes pictures from some angles to give an impression that the rally was well-attended. But now the crowds at the LCD’s rallies are so small that they cannot even play those tricks with pictures.”

“So you have a party that is declining and a leadership that blocks anyone who wants to suggest ways to grow it. I am done with such a party.”
Mahlala’s defection to the DC could not have come at a more gloomy time for Metsing.

Over the past few weeks relations between the LCD and the CD have soured because of tensions between Metsing and Mothibeli Mokhothu.

Metsing sees Mokhothu as a jumped up novice who should not have replaced former DC leader Pakalitha Mosisili. Mokhothu worries that Metsing is encroaching into his turf because his party is flagging.

He also accuses Metsing of peddling himself as a leader of the entire congress movement when his party doesn’t have the numbers.

The sting in Mahlala’s decision to join the DC is quite obvious. The LCD is losing its biggest moneyman to the DC. (See the two boxes for what some LCD are saying about Mahlala’s exit)

Staff Reporter

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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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