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Panic grips Lesotho

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MASERU-THERE was panic in Lesotho after South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday announced a 21-day lockdown that begins at midnight tonight.
Thousands of Basotho were in a stampede to cross into South Africa yesterday to run urgent errands before the lockdown began.
There were long queues at the border.

’Makotelo Mosia* told thepost that she was travelling to Ladybrand to see her doctor before the lockdown began.
“I was supposed to go there next week … but with this lockdown I think I should just go,” Mosia said.
“I don’t even know if I will be able to see the doctor today. It looks like everyone is rushing somewhere and I have been here for almost two hours.”

Mareabetsoe Mantsoe said she was going to Ladybrand to fix her banking issues.
“We don’t know how the lockdown will turn out. It may be longer than the proposed 21 days and in that time I need to be able to transact,” Mantsoe said.
“We are not sure we will be allowed to cross once it starts.”

Puseletso Pheko who has been a street vendor for more than 20 years at the Maseru Bridge said he has never witnessed such traffic without having buyers.
“We think people are panicking because of this virus, they just want to get to wherever they are going,” Pheko said.
“Business is bad, we are also scared but we have to put food on the table,” she said.

In supermarkets such as Pick ‘n Pay food shelves were mostly fully stocked, with empty ones being restocked as consumers continued to shop.
Sam Mphana, Manager of Pick ’n Pay Lesotho, said they had seen an increase in customers buying groceries. He however said everyone was buying what they needed and not stock piling.
“Right now people are buying like it is monthend even though it is not monthend yet,” Mphana said.

The supermarket has put in place hand sanitizers so that every customer can be able to clean their hands before they start shopping.
“We are trying to avoid the spread (of Coronavirus) by having everyone sanitize their hands so that even if you happen to take an item and later choose to leave it behind at least you did so with clean hands,” he said.

In addition staff were sanitizing their hands every morning when they come into the supermarket and throughout the day.
Those working at the tills were also sanitizing their hands after every transaction.
Mphana said at the moment they are still placing orders as normal and are assuming that stock will continue to come from South Africa.

“It is true we heard the President of South Africa announce a lockdown but he also said that significant industries like those of food production will still be open, so we are hoping that we will receive the ordered stock.”
Most shelves were still full in Pick ’n Pay on Tuesday and those that were empty were being restocked.

“The empty shelves are a result of the past weekend, we receive stock on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.”
Pitso Melao, the Regional Manager of Shoprite Lesotho, said they had put in place measures to avoid panic buying.
“We have given a directive as per our policy that no customer should buy more than three items of the same product but if push comes to shove then we will say one item per customer,” Melao said.

Melao also thinks that they will still get orders that they have placed as no supplier has told them that they will not be able to deliver the ordered goods.
Shoprite has introduced marked spots to enable customers to stand a meter apart to avoid the spread of Coronavirus.
However the problem is that some still stand close to each other.
“We are spot on in terms of ensuring hygiene, we have sanitizers for shoppers, trolley cleaners and our till staff also clean their hands before assisting customers,” Melao said.

The president of the Lesotho Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Ntaote Seboka, says the informal, transport and maybe the retail sectors will be badly affected during the 21 day lockdown in South Africa as there will be restricted movement.
“We think that the manufacturing sector will close on Friday due to inadequate supplies and as a precautionary measure to avoid the spread of the virus,” Seboka said.

He said even if Lesotho does not propose a lock down the fact that it is landlocked by South Africa means the country will also be effectively under one. (See story on Page 1)
He said as business they are also trying to prevent the spread of the virus by promoting good hygiene practices.

“We acknowledged that this is a tough period, if you look anywhere in the world the impact of this virus on business is terrible,” he said.
“However, as business and part of society we have to stand firm and actively participate in this fight.”
“If we have to close we will because the lives of Basotho come first, after all we need people working in our businesses.”
* Not her real name

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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BNP wins rescission order against SG

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MASERU – THE Basotho National Party (BNP) this week successfully applied for a rescission of a court order that would have seen the party’s secretary general, Thato Lethobane, being awarded M126 000. Lethobane’s case will now be heard again at the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) on Monday.

The party raised technical legal reasons that prompted the cancellation of the award that ordered the party to pay Lethobane for the time he did not receive his salary since his suspension.

Lethobane was suspended in October last year after he was accused of embezzling party funds and he asked the DDPR to order the party to pay him from October last year to April this year.

The BNP deputy secretary, Moeketsi Hanyane, who is holding forte at the party’s administration, told thepost last night that “Lethobane’s glow was short-lived and was wrong in the first place”.

“The DDPR award against us will not see the light of day because Lethobane got suspended for two years after we discovered that he stole the party’s funds,” Hanyane said.

“A thief is a thief and we cannot allow him to claim monies he is unworthy of,” he said.

“We have opened a case against him at the police and he cannot come around and say we owe him.”

Hanyane said Lethobane was suspended for two years so that after that period, if he still loved wanted to be part of the party, he could come and participate in its affairs again.

“The suspension was not meant to put him aside for a while to allow investigations but it is a punishment for what we found on him,” he said.

Hanyane said Lethobane is not owed anything for that period because he is officially out of office as a result of the punishment he got from the party not because he was suspended pending investigations.

He said the BNP did not defend itself at the DDPR and the arbitrator ruled in favour of Lethobane in default.

“We did not go to the DDPR on technical issues and we have since applied for and acquired a rescission of the award,” he said.

Lethobane declined to get into the details of his case with the BNP but only confirmed that he had won an award at the DDPR.

“After I realised how much they owed me I decided to go to labour and successfully claimed my payment,” he said.

“The case judgment was done in my favor, even though I will not discuss that issue much.”

The party pays its secretary general M18 000 per month.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Killer police investigated

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MASERU – PRIME Minister Moeketsi Majoro has set up a special team to investigate police officers who killed a student during a protest at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) last week. Majoro’s decision comes as pressure mounts on the government and the police to identify the officers who pulled the trigger and bring them to justice.

The police killed Kopano Makutoane and seriously injured six more students on Thursday last week during a strike over their stipends that were not paid in full. Makutoane was shot with multiple live bullets in the face.

Police Minister Lepota Sekola, Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli and Development Planning Minister, Selibe Mochoboroane, confirmed that a team has been set up but were reluctant to give further details. thepost has been told that the police have zeroed in on 12 police officers who were part of the team that responded to the protest.

The police management is said to be close to suspending some of the officers and opening a murder case against them. Their names cannot, however, be revealed because they have not been officially identified and charged.

Majoro visited the Makutoane family last week and promised justice for their slain son. The strike was triggered by the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS)’s delay to pay students their monthly stipends.

Those who received the allowances only got M450 instead of their usual monthly stipend of M1 100. Several eyewitnesses and victims told thepost that the police conducted raids targeting NUL students even after the protesters had dispersed. Sello Khechane, a second-year student, said the police fired live ammunition at the protesters.

“We started fleeing the place and did not even realise that one of us was shot near the gate,” Khechane said.

One of the injured students said about 20 police officers knocked at her rented room when she was sleeping, dragged her out and beat her with sticks and truncheons.

“I was still wearing my gown and was not even part of the protest,” she said.

Another girl who had visited her brother was caught in the crossfire as police went on the rampage.

“I was watching a movie when I saw a mob of police approaching the door and asking all of us in the house to come out,” she said.

She said the police used sticks and kicked her.

“I tried to convince them that I am not a student there, but they refused to listen,” she said.

The Social Development Minister, Selibe Mochoboroane, said he immediately intervened when he was informed of the disagreement between the Students’ Representative Council and the NMDS management over the stipends.

“The school told us that there was a problem as students walked out of examination rooms.”

He also said the NMDS told him that there is a law that says students should not get full amounts when their school days are cut short during a month.

“We made a decision that students should get full amounts,” he said.

He said the students were notified that they would get full amounts but continued with the strike.

“I am sorry that one student lost his life.” The incident has sparked an outcry from different political parties.

The Basotho Action Party (BAP) leader and former Vice-Chancellor of the NUL, Professor Nqosa Mahao, condemned the killing saying it was the third time police have used force during protests and ended up taking lives.

“We are very saddened and embarrassed by this act,” Professor Mahao said.

He said they condemn the police actions that led to the death of the student, saying the behaviour by police shows that Basotho’s lives are not safe. He recalled that in 2009 the police shot a student during protests.

“They shot Tumelo Mohlomi in 2017, she was also shot by the police,” Professor Mahao said, adding that the police officers involved in the incident were not charged.

He blamed the conflicts on the NMDS management “that does not do its job correctly”. The Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) leader, Sam Matekane, met NUL students near the campus on Tuesday.

“We condemn that behaviour, it was uncalled for, it was not necessary,” Matekane said.

He said the police’s job is to protect and save people, not to kill people as they did or do.

“When promised sponsorship, we are expecting you to get them as promised,” he said.

“It does not make sense that someone can carry a gun and shoot an unarmed student.”

He also pledged to provide the students with transport to Quthing where Makutoane will be laid to rest.

“We will make sure that those who were affected get the necessary counselling and also help them,” he said.

The NUL management also condemned the killing and injuring of other students. In a statement, the university said it was aggrieved by “the plan by the NMDS to prorate the student’s allowance for June 2022”. The university pleaded with the students to remain calm, adding that it has started visiting all the affected families.

Staff Reporter

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Mafeteng magistrates’ court records burnt

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MASERU – A fire gutted the records section of the Mafeteng Magistrate’s Court last week. The police suspect it was an act of arson. Thousands of crucial case records were destroyed.

This could affect hundreds of cases that were pending in the court. Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli confirmed the incident, saying investigations have started but no arrests have been made.

“But our preliminary investigations show that the court was intentionally set on fire,” S/Supt Mopeli said.

“Important court documents have been set alight together with some chairs and a table.”

A source close to the case told thepost that a container of petrol was found outside a broken window. The guard was not at work when the incident happened.

In 2010 computers containing information on cars registered in Maseru and Leribe were burnt in a fire that police suspected was deliberately started to destroy records and cover up corruption.

The Integrated Financial Management System computers, National Transport Information System server, computers, and a printer were destroyed.

The incident happened as the police were investigating a syndicate that was illegally registering stolen cars.

In 2019 a fire at the Ministry of Health’s head office destroyed computers and records.

Although ministry officials said the fire could have been caused by an electrical fault, suspicions of foul play lingered on.

Majara Molupe

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