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Morgues battle Covid deaths



MASERU-MKM Burial Society chief executive officer, Simon Thebe-ea-Khale, is an extremely concerned man.
He has every reason to be worried.

Over the last few weeks, Thebe-ea-Khale has seen a frightening surge in Covid-19 deaths in Lesotho.
In the early 1990s, Thebe-ea-Khale saw HIV/AIDS mow down Basotho when the disease was at its peak.
But he says Covid-19 could be the worst.

Of course, Thebe-ea-Khale does not make this statement lightly. He was there in the 1990s and has been around in the last few weeks as Covid-19 spread furiously across the country.
The results are evident all over – in packed mortuaries.
Thebe-ea-Khale says it is an undeniable fact that there has been a surge in the number of Covid-19-related deaths in Lesotho.
The deaths are putting a strain on mortuaries but they have not thrown in the towel yet.

He says in some cases they have had to take to their mortuaries a man and a woman from the same household.
“In some cases, it is a woman and her child,” Thebe-ea-Khale says.
If Basotho do not observe the World Health Organisation-recommended Covid-19 protocols, we can expect carnage in Lesotho, he warns.

Thebe-ea-Khale says Basotho must do away with the culture of coming to the mortuaries in large crowds to collect bodies because such practices only help to fuel the spread of the virus.
It is the norm in Lesotho for families to converge at funeral parlours to pick up loved ones for burials on Friday and then make elaborate convoys to the home of the deceased for the funeral wake.
Thebe-ea-Khale says he has been able to keep all the bodies that were brought to his funeral parlour.

What has kept them afloat during this pandemic is that they have people who were specifically trained to handle Covid-19 bodies.
He says their training is a continuous programme.
He says they have PPE for people who fetch bodies from homes.
At Sentebale Gap Funeral Services, Chief Executive Officer Aliciah Motšoane has a problem: motivating staff at a time bodies are mounting and demand for mortuary space is increasing.

Motšoane says they still cater for their ordinary clients at the mortuary but the Covid-19 bodies are taking the front seat.
“This is a crisis. The death toll has spiked due to Covid,” Motšoane says.
But she declined to disclose the number of bodies they receive in a day as “this is business and involves our clients”.

“We are afraid as Sentebale. We do not know about other mortuaries,” Motšoane says.
Under normal circumstances, two people are dispatched to help families bury their dead but because of Covid-19, today four are dispatched.
Staff at the company’s five parlours across the country is depressed, she says but at the same time they need to be available for the increasing workload.

Most of the bodies coming to the funeral parlour are linked to Covid-19 deaths.
Under normal circumstances, the funeral parlour which is headquartered in Mafeteng district receives three to four bodies at each office, but figures have spiked in recent weeks.

“We are seeing people dying, we are not being told that people are dying,” Motšoane says.
For professional reasons, Motšoane refused to divulge the number of bodies the parlour is receiving daily due to Covid-19, but said staff members are spooked.

“We are afraid as Sentebale. My staff here are depressed but they are still working. Their fear is that they might also be infected,” Motšoane said, adding: “But they are still working. We do not know about other mortuaries.”
Luckily, her parlour still has some space.

Lesotho Funeral Service Chief Operations Manager, Jonase Molapo, said bodies began piling up in December towards the festive season as many Basotho crossed into the country from their workplaces in South Africa, which is the worst-hit country in Africa.
“This second wave has hit us badly. Numbers have been increasing dramatically,” Molapo says.

He however also declined to reveal how many bodies they are collecting every day except saying “the numbers are harrowing”.
While focus has been on the strain faced by hospitals, where beds and other essentials such as oxygen sometimes run out and staff is often demoralised, few have given thought to those who handle the bodies at mortuaries and help to ensure burials are compliant with World Health Organisation protocols.

Because Basotho have a culture of burying their dead on Saturdays, bodies are at times held at funeral parlours for weeks – a situation that is untenable in Covid-19 times.
Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro has encouraged people to break away with tradition and bury people three days after their deaths.
Dr Majoro pleaded with the public to cut the numbers of people attending funerals because they have proved to be super spreaders.

Funeral parlours say despite the overwhelming numbers, they have been able to handle the situation so far.
“Covid-19 bodies are handled in a special way. Our people have to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which has become fairly expensive of late,” says Motšoane of Sentebale Gap Funeral Services.

She says a disposable PPE suit now costs M250, up from M80. The prices of fumigation substances have also gone up, she says.
Under normal circumstances, two workers are dispatched to help families bury their dead but because of Covid-19, funeral parlours have increased that number to four.

Molapo, of Lesotho Funeral Service, says the Ministry of Health gave them “unwavering support” on how to handle the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We were trained on how to handle the Covid-19 bodies. Remember we were the first ones to receive a Covid-19 body,” he says, adding that the training helped them to be vigilant.
“These days we treat each body that comes to the mortuary as if it’s a Covid-19 case,” he says.

The work is not easy, especially when relatives deny that their loved ones died of Covid-19 and insist on carrying out usual traditions.
There is still a stigma associated with Covid deaths in Lesotho.
“This is a big problem,” he says.
Despite the deaths and rising number of infections, many Basotho still neglect to take preventive measures such as washing hands with soap under running water, maintaining social distancing and wearing face masks.

It is such complacent attitudes that alarm funeral parlour operators such as Motšoane.
“People should follow World Health Organisation (WHO) protocols to the core… We are seeing people dying,” Motšoane says.
In terms of business, the high number of deaths does not necessarily translate into more money for funeral parlours as believed by some, the operators said.

“We feel bad when people die in large numbers. We become happy when people are alive because they pay for their policies,” says Thebe-ea-Khale, “So if they die, it means we are going to lose business.”
The National Covid-19 Secretariat says 101 people have died of Covid since the disease broke out in December 2019, a figure health workers have disputed saying it is a gross understatement.

As Covid deaths mount, fear is gripping the people as they see their family members succumb to the disease right in front of their eyes.
Hospital beds are full.
Others are now forced to take their medication at home while others die waiting for their Covid-19 test results.

Another mortuary boss who declined to be named told thepost that they have also seen a spike in the number of bodies being brought to the mortuaries.
“We are trying to handle the bodies with great care here,” the official said.
He said they had now struck a deal with their clients that the bodies should be kept for just two days before they are taken out for burial.

He said while their staff members were willing to work with Covid-19 bodies they too were afraid that they might get infected.
Other mortuaries flatly refused to speak to thepost about the issue.

Majara Molupe

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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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