Connect with us


Potsane: the ‘dagga president’



MASERU – KOTSOANA Potsane, the man who fought valiantly to legalise the growing and sale of dagga in Lesotho, died a disappointed man. Potsane, who called himself Mopresidente oa Matekoane (President of ), died two weeks ago after a long illness. He was buried in his village of Masaleng in Berea last Saturday.

Potsane came into the national spotlight after he openly told a government minister that he was growing dagga and wanted a license to trade legally. It is illegal to grow in Lesotho without a licence.

When he died two weeks ago, Potsane had still not received his license to allow him to trade dagga legally.  His relative Kamohelo Potsane told mourners at the funeral that the late Potsane had been reluctant to visit doctors before he died.

Potsane left behind two adult daughters. His wife died a long time ago. Potsane used to publicly announce on a local radio stations almost every day that he eked out a living by illegally growing and selling dagga.

Prior to the re-ushering of democracy in Lesotho in 1993, Potsane was among thousands of Basotho who heard the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP), leader Ntsu Mokhehle promise that his government would legalise the growing of dagga.

The BCP won all constituencies and ruled without opposition from 1993 to 1997 but did not legalise the growing of dagga. Its ea khutla naha le matekoane a eona (our land will return to us together with its dagga) proved to be a mere slogan meant to hoodwink voters.

Its splinter party and successor in government, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) led by Pakalitha Mosisili skirted the dagga issue for years. In the meantime, Potsane continued growing dagga in his fields and smuggling it to South Africa, hoping that one day the government would fulfil its promise to legalise the drug.

When Thomas Thabane broke away from the LCD in 2006 to found the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Potsane became one of the party’s staunchest supporters. His hope that one day would be legalised did not diminish.

His life of smuggling and bribing the police at the border to smoothen entry into South Africa continued throughout the ABC’s status as the opposition. Finally, when the ABC became government in 2012 his hope was that his dream of farming and selling it without fear of being arrested would become a reality.

Still, the was not legalised and Potsane’s smuggling continued. It was not until 2017 when the Thabane-led government legalised the growing of , becoming the first country in Africa to do so.

But for Potsane and his fellow poor Basotho, that did not bring any relief. Instead, Potsane saw a lot of rich companies owned by whites from the west establishing farms in different parts of the country.

The Ministry of Health licensed a South African firm to grow cannabis in Lesotho for medical and scientific purposes, the first such authorised establishment in Africa. By 2018 the government had licensed five companies to produce medical .

Some of these companies have been partially or entirely acquired by established licensed Canadian producers. The first is Verve Dynamics in which a Canadian company, Aphria, owns about 30 percent shareholding.

Another one is MediGrow Lesotho, partly owned by Supreme Cannabis of Canada. There is also Daddy-Cann which is 100 percent owned by Canopy Growth of Canada. Another company is Medi-Kingdom, wholly owned by Medi-Kingdom of the United Kingdom.

Also there is the Pharmaceuticals Development Corp (PDC), which is wholly owned by Corix of the United States of America. Another company is Bophelo Bioscience and Wellness (Pty) and 20 percent of its shares are held by Halo Labs Inc of Canada.

At the time, Health Minister Nkaku Kabi had issued a directive that in order to obtain a trading licence for cannabis, one had to pay M500 000 and have not less than M40 million in the bank.
Kabi later told thepost that Basotho’s outcry is that the conditions and funds required to start the medicinal cannabis business shut out poor locals.

He however said it is with good intentions that the conditions are stringent – to save the industry from collapsing even before it starts. Kabi said the other reason for most Basotho not being able to trade in is that the seed that is used is from outside the country. He said Lesotho does not have such suitable cannabis seeds.

The one Lesotho has, which Potsane and many other smugglers plant, has not been found suitable as yet and Kabi said it was not known if the seeds would qualify in the long run.

Potsane, who already at the time had started a massive media campaign for licensing the indigenous , said he would not dance to the music of the government if the tune did not suit him.

“If the government says we have to have this lot of money to trade that means they do not care about Basotho because we will not be able to raise that kind of money,” Kotsoana told thepost then.

“Only the ministers and MPs will be able to trade. This means the government is not considering us because as poor as we are we will not afford it,” he said. “We do not want the foreign companies to come here and plant , we will plant it and they will have to buy it from us.”

Potsane argued that although Lesotho was making strides in the business, there were still huge impediments for locals who wanted to join the industry. It was during this time that the disappointed and dismayed Potsane took a 100-kilometre trip from his Masaleng village in Berea district to Kabi’s office in Maseru.

Kabi told mourners at the funeral that Potsane confessed to him that he was illegally trading in and he was asking the minister to issue him a licence. Kabi said he tried telling Potsane about the licence conditions and hefty prices but he would not listen – all he wanted was a licence so that he could trade legally.

Kabi said Potsane told him that although his cannabis was reaching the targeted market in South Africa, the problem was that he had to grease too many hands to cross the border. Kabi said Potsane told him that at each road block he would leave no less than M3 000 as a bribe to pass and, depending on the number of road blocks he would come across, he ended up taking home very little money. Potsane, he said, would make around M30 000 after harvest.

Wanting to help Potsane to trade legally, Kabi said he quickly told Prime Minister Thabane about Potsane’s request and they decided to assist him find an investor in the United States.

He said they found one in Texas but because of Covid-19 that struck the world in 2020 that saw all flights being grounded while cross-border travel stopped, the investor never came to Lesotho.

Potsane had, at the invitation of Kabi, been part of the government delegation that went to the US on a fact finding mission about the potential opportunities of Lesotho’s cannabis. The Pelgrave Handbook of International Development says cannabis is widely produced in the country, being the nation’s most significant cash-crop.

Other researchers have found that in the 2000s it was estimated that 70 percent of the cannabis in South Africa came from Lesotho. In the Journal of Political Ecology, Julian Bloomer of Trinity College of Dublin, Ireland, found that the illegal cultivation of cannabis in Lesotho has emerged as a key livelihood strategy that enables smallholder farmers to generate an income from their limited agricultural resources.

Bloomer found that cannabis was estimated in the late 1990s to be one of the three principal sources of foreign revenue for the country, the others being international aid and remittances from South Africa.

Bloomer said faced with declining employment opportunities, “cannabis has provided a means to achieve diversification and provide a subsistence living”. She found that “cannabis cultivation in rural Lesotho should be viewed as a coping strategy, as opposed to it being seen as criminal opportunism”.

Cannabis producing households were generally only meeting their subsistence needs, if even that, with the income they received from cannabis, she said.

“Any policies that attempt to reduce cannabis production in Lesotho will have a large and serious impact on a crucial coping strategy for marginalised rural households.”

As for Potsane who died without seeing the licence he so seriously pushed for, he was given dagga that was still fresh and in its stalks as a farewell gift as his coffin was lowered in the grave.

Zealots among the mourners took the coffin and ran in zigzags on the way to the graveyard, holding stalks and putting them on the coffin in the midst of a loud song. What a send-off to a man who fought so hard for the legalisation of dagga!

Caswell Tlali

Continue Reading


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

Continue Reading


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

Continue Reading


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

Continue Reading