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Power to the people!



MASERU-THE days when Lesotho used to rely on electricity imports for its needs could soon be over after Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro launched the Ha-Ramarothole Solar Power project two weeks ago.

On its completion, the project is expected to generate 70 megawatts, the same amount of power produced by ’Muela Hydro Power station.
The country is reliant on electricity generated at ’Muela as well as imports from South Africa’s Eskom and Mozambique’s Electricidade de Moçambique.

The ’Muela Hydro Power Station produces about 50 percent of Lesotho’s energy needs, while the other half is imported from South Africa and Mozambique.
This means the Ha-Ramarothole Solar Power project, if successfully implemented, could result in an end to power imports.
The Ha-Ramarothole solar power plant will be erected on a spacious area with plenty of access to sunlight.

At the launch of the project, Dr Majoro said Lesotho is partnering with China to implement the initiative.
A contractor, Tbea-Sinoma Consortium, is already on site to do the job, he said.

“There are a myriad of challenges when electricity is distributed in the country because the demand is higher than what we can offer as a country,” Dr Majoro said, adding that the country would save crucial foreign currency by meeting its own electricity demands.
“Solar energy is also known for being environmentally friendly,” he said.
The first phase of the project, the Prime Minister said, will generate 30 megawatts while the second will generate 40 megawatts.

Dr Majoro said the project will ease unemployment challenges in the area as locals will be recruited during the construction phase.
He said people who lost their land to make way for the project will receive compensation on an annual basis for at least 25 years.
Lesotho has struggled with electricity deficits which have negatively impacted economic growth.

A study by some National University of Lesotho (NUL) lecturers published in 2017 noted that “economic growth, financial development, and industrialisation are positively related to electricity consumption in the long-run”.
The study found that Lesotho had been importing almost all of its electricity from Eskom in South Africa since 1969 until the establishment of the ’Muela Hydropower Plant (MHP) in 1998.

However, due to a rise in demand driven by increased electrification of the country, the country was forced to continue importing extra electricity from Eskom and later from Eletricidade de Mozambique following the 2008 electricity crisis.
The study found that in recent years, the country’s peak electricity demand has been rising in tandem with the electrification level, reaching 143 megawatts in 2014.

This led to a peak power deficit of about 50 percent that had to be met through imports.
“Industrial growth demands more energy… thus, energy policymakers in Lesotho should ensure the availability of electricity by promoting efficient energy use and exploring other sources of energy. This could also reduce dependence from relatively costly electricity imports,” according to the study.

Some NUL lecturers led by Molibeli Taele in an article titled ‘Solar energy resources potential and sustainable production of biomass’, said the majority of Lesotho’s population primarily living in rural areas lack a number of facilities because of insufficient access to energy.

The lecturers found that heavy reliance on traditional biomass sources and imported fossil fuels, coupled with the growing demand for electricity, electricity tariff hikes, escalating petrochemical fuel prices and declining wood fuel supplies, call for an urgent emphasis on improving the energy production resource mix through increased use of renewable energy sources, promoting energy efficiency and conservation practices.

“Lesotho has a comparative advantage of renewable energy sources like sun, wind, biomass and hydro, and needs systematic evaluation of these resources and organised planning for using these resources to attain stability in the energy sector,” the lecturers said.

The article also revealed that several indicators point to an energy crisis in Lesotho, which include accelerated deforestation, a biomass energy deficit and deterioration in electricity generation and distribution systems.
“Renewable energy is the solution to Lesotho’s growing energy challenge,” he said.
Another separate study found that solar radiation levels in Lesotho are amongst the highest in the world.

Except on a few days in the rainy season, the sun appears for up to 13 hours a day and most parts of the country get 300 days of sunshine a year.
Despite the great potential, solar energy currently contributes less than one percent to the country’s primary energy and even less to the consumption of commercial energy.

The main obstacle holding back the wide-spread deployment of solar PV is its prohibitive costs in comparison to competing fuels like wood, paraffin, gas and electricity generated from conventional power sources, the study noted.

Currently, the cost of a Solar Home System (SHS) of 20-150 watts is typically between US$22 (about M322) to US$30 (about M440) per peak watt without subsidies, and in the vicinity of US$ 15 (about M220) to US$20 (about M293) per watt for large-scale applications (water pumping, clinics and schools’ electrification, and other productive uses).

This is taking into account that batteries will need to be replaced every two to three years and the charge controller every five years, noted the study.
With recent advancements in solar technology, manufacturing innovations and economies of scale in production, analysts forecast that market conditions in the PV sector will continue to exert strong downward pressure on pricing.

“The trend indicates that solar power may be able to cost-effectively compete with conventional power sources in the immediate future. However, it is not obvious that the BOS costs can be expected to fall dramatically in future, since the processes involved are relatively simple and not likely to undergo rapid technical advance similar to that being made in cell production.”

Despite the apparent advantages of solar power, the community in Ha-Ramorothole is not entirely happy.
Majake Mabele, a villager there, said locals want the government to compensate them for the land which they used for farming but which has now been taken up by the solar projects.

He said many villagers regard the land as their only source of income and food, claiming that only a few people had received some money.
“And that money was not compensation per se but just an appreciation gesture that the people had agreed to part with their fields for the project,” said Mabele.

Mabele said people in the area hope the project will result in job creation as well as a market for small scale businesses “but what people want the most is compensation.”
About five villages under the jurisdiction of the Principal Chief of Likhoele, Chief Lerotholi Seeiso, have been affected by the project.
Mabele said the government had since asked locals to open bank accounts so that they could easily access compensation monies when it becomes ready.

At the beginning of the talks with the government, Mabele said, people were promised that water would be installed for them in return for supporting the project.
“The compensation should be fast-tracked so that we do not cry foul like other communities where the government has never compensated people after appropriating their land,” said Mabele.

The councillor for the area, Sebofi Moeketsi, expressed similar sentiments, saying villagers hoped the government will honour its promise to start processing the compensation in January.

Majara Molupe

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Mahao, PS in big fight



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



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



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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