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Punching above its weight



MASERU – ACROSS the world, the outbreak of Covid-19 and attendant challenges massively disrupted access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) services, particularly for young people. However, in Lesotho, the 2gether4SRH programme achieved some of its goals despite the outbreak of the pandemic.

According to the Minister of Health, Semano Sekatle, authorities and campaigners used outreach programme campaigns to reach adolescent girls and young women. Gender Based Violence (GBV) was successfully integrated into the health system while the capacity of frontline health workers was enhanced.

Sekatle revealed this at a gathering to amplify lessons learnt from the implementation of the joint programme to strengthen the integration of SRHR/HIV and GBV by 2021.

SRH Manager in the Ministry of Health, Motsoanku ‘Mefane, said the objectives of the meeting were to take stock of the progress made in SRHR/HIV/GBV services in Lesotho, review the contribution to SRHR/HIV/GBV integration of services and indicators between 2018 and 2021, advocate for the scaling up of promising interventions and to explore pathways for sustainability of SRHR/HIV/GBV in the country.

2gether4SRH is a three year programme that was funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) to accelerate actions on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 3 and 5 (health and gender equality).

UNFPA SRHR coordinator, Blandinah Motaung, said the project’s goal was to scale up quality integrated SRHR/HIV and GBV services so that all people, particularly women, adolescent girls, young people and key populations could exercise their SRH rights.

The goal also included reducing the unmet need for family planning and improving access to integrated SRHR/HIV and SGBV services. The programme brought together the collective and combined strengths of the health ministry, through the Family Health Division and four United Nations agencies and entities (UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO).

These participating UN agencies have worked with the government and multiple stakeholders such as Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), youth groups, existing community structures and the private sector to empower adolescents, young people and key populations through strategies that included communication for development (community and social mobilisation) and innovations to generate evidence for the government scale-up.

Sekatle said the advent of Covid-19 resulted in financial resources being diverted to fight the pandemic “ignoring our responsibilities towards other diseases such as HIV and many others. If it wasn’t for this project, one can imagine where we would have been.”

He said evidence showed that the project helped the country “achieve a lot”.

“Because of generosity and efforts, we have achieved many things,” said Sekatle.

He said a recent survey shows that Lesotho is in control of the HIV epidemic after the country achieved UN goals of 90-90-90 and is on course to achieving the 95-95-95 goals.

“Very soon we will be able to achieve them,” said Sekatle.

The 90-90-90 is a concept introduced by the United Nation’s programme on HIV/AIDS IN 2013. The concept said by 2020, 90 percent of people who were HIV infected would be diagnosed, 90 percent of people who were diagnosed would be on antiretroviral treatment and 90 percent of those who received antiretroviral would be virally suppressed.

The 95-95-95 concept is the country’s goal targeted of having 95 percent of HIV positive people knowing their status and to be on treatment and those on treatment should be virally suppressed by 2023.
Sekatle assured the nation that the funding has been put to good use.

“Everyone in the ministry is committed to ensuring that SRH and GBV among adolescent girls and young women have been taken on board to ensure that they are not left behind anymore,” he said.

Director General of the Ministry of Health Dr ’Nyane Letsie said the country has recorded some progress.

“We are very far from our destination (but) we will get there. It is just a matter of time,” said Dr Letsie.

The United Nations Resident Coordinator, Amanda Khozi Mukwashi, said while the progress is worth celebrating, people should bear in mind that Lesotho still has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world.

The country also has the third highest sexual rape rate against girls and women per capita in the world while 44 percent of people in prison are sexual offenders, and in some districts that number rises to almost 70 percent. She said Lesotho ranks top in Africa in terms of homicides per capita.

“When all those statistics are put together, what is left is the context that shows the importance of this project. We have an incredible mountain to climb,” said Mukwashi.

“GBV robs our women, girls and indeed every single one of us of our dignity and our lives.”

She said a 2019/20 Commonwealth study shows that GBV in Lesotho is not just hindering development, but costing the government and Basotho about M1.9 billion annually in healthcare costs, production, education, food security and other issues.

She said Lesotho was one of the five countries selected by SIDA to benefit from the project.

“I am hoping this is just the beginning to try and address these issues collaboratively. I believe the lessons learnt from this project will be used for guidance for the implementation of future programming.”

She commended the SRHR joint project for mainstreaming issues related to GBV, even though targets for integrating GBV into the health system were not achieved to the required level.

“More efforts (should) be directed towards this area as GBV is a challenge in this country. It needs a multi-sectoral approach. Let us jointly continue to address this issue and put an end to GBV,” she said, pledging the continued support of theUN agencies.

World Health Organization SRH Officer, Thato Seutloali, said Lesotho has made significant gains in the provision of SRHR/HIV/SGVBV services through the implementation of the programme.

She said an enabling environment has been created through the multi-sectoral development of strategic documents and guidelines; the new National HIV Policy (2019), the National HIV Operational Plan (2020-23), the District Aids Fast Track Plans (DAP), National Family Planning Guidelines (2021), GBV Training Manual (2021) for standardisation of GBV training programmes, Health Sector Performance Review Guidelines (2021) and the Accelerated Action Plan for Adolescent Health (AA-HA!) Lesotho (2021).

However, on policy framework and guidelines, she recommended “facilities should improve on the utilisation of guidelines and standards that are currently in place. There is also a need for MoH to continue reviewing standards, procedures and policies.”

Maseru District Administrator, Mpane Nthunya, said SRHR, HIV and GBV are matters of public concern.
“I wish to thank the funders of this programme and if possible, I would request funding extension that will enhance the realisation of integrated SRHR/HIV/GBV services by all, including herd boys out there in the mountains.”

’Mapule Motsopa

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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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