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Sex work goes high-tech

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MASERU – Lesotho’s “ladies of the night” are going high-tech.
By simply logging onto Facebook, one can arrange to meet discreetly for a night of “unbridled pleasure”.
With the cold nights and Covid-19 restrictions, the sex workers have had to be innovative to survive the harsh times.
Ha re ktneng.

This is the shocking name of a Facebook group of people who have turned sexual relationships with multiple concurrent partners into a game.
The Facebook group’s members are mostly sex workers whose agents tout for customers online and facilitate meet-ups.
This name, translated in English, means “Let’s have sex”.
We have deliberately misspelled it here because written in Sesotho it might be offensive to some readers.

It is through this platform that many sex workers are getting a steady flow of customers and they do not have to parade on the streets with sexy pants to lure customers during the bitingly cold nights.
It is also a safer place, some of them told thepost. They do not have to clash with the police, whom they used to accuse of raping them under the pretext of arresting them for milling about.
Matšeliso*, 29, said she decided to become a sex worker to complement her textile factory income.

She said the pay from the textile factory in Maputsoe, Leribe, was so little that she could not afford to take care of her extended family.
“I am looking after my grandmother and my two children back home in Kolonyama. I am earning less than M2 000 per month and of that amount I use over M500 for transport. My grandmother does not have land to grow food, which means she is dependent on me for everything,” she said.

Each of her children has a different father and they are both deadbeat dads with no sense of responsibility, she said.
Most of her customers are truck drivers who deliver goods to and from the factories.
“They park there and start wandering around. I take the chance to talk to them and lure them,” she said.
The Facebook page has become handy these days as she meets her clients online.

Asked how much she charges for her services, she said “just a peck on the mouth is M20, a French kiss is M30, and fingering is M50 while penetration is still M50 for a round”.
“I do not agree to unprotected sex because I don’t want to die of AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases.”
However, she said despite being careful “some customers raped me without using condoms, threw money on my face and disappeared while others even refused to pay me”.

She said she used to report such cases to the Maputsoe police “but I never got any real help although the police were polite to me and showed compassion”.
Matšeliso said a friend, who is also a hooker, introduced her to the Facebook group.
“She convinced me that it was the best platform to get customers we can take home instead of the rascals we get in the streets,” said Matšeliso.
The two decided to rent a room and share the costs. Business has become so lucrative that her friend has since resigned from the factory to focus on selling sex.

The friend refused to talk to thepost.
Another sex worker, a 25-year-old Lorraine, waits for truck drivers at the Maseru border gate but on the South African side.
“My original home is in Lekokoaneng,” she said.
“Police in South Africa are also my customers and in most cases I have their protection from other customers who want to have sex with me for free,” Lorraine said.

Lorraine has a university education, having graduated from the National University of Lesotho (NUL) last year and is looking for a job.
“I started sex work when I was a student at the university. The government would delay to pay us stipends and we would go down to Maseru to sell sex in the streets, along Kingsway,” she said.
Her friend in the industry introduced her to truck drivers across the border and ever since she never stopped the trade even when the government paid stipends timeously.

Even during last year’s Covid-19 lockdown Lorraine used to cross with ease to sell her services to drivers who were bringing essential goods to Maseru.
“I feel safe in South Africa than in Lesotho. Police there understand.”
Lorraine said she is “not very desperate for cash” because her parents are still able to look after her “but I became friends with prostitutes (her own words) at school and I became one”.

Lorraine said she has a friend who has a house in Ladybrand, “our hideout, where things happen”.
They are both members of the Facebook group.
Her friend, who refused to talk to thepost, is also a university graduate and is working for a well-known company in the Free State Province.
Thabang, one of the group members, said he has met many sex workers through the Facebook group.
“I am a divorcee and I think one day I will marry a sex worker,” Thabang said.

Two other group members just sent thepost pictures showing the middle finger as a way of objecting to the request for an interview.
The group has active members in Maseru, Ladybrand, Botshabelo, Bloemfontein, Qwa-Qwa, Welkom, Sebokeng, Pretoria and other Sesotho speaking towns in South Africa.

Sex work is illegal under the Lesotho Penal Code Act.
On many occasions police raid sex workers but the cases rarely reach the courts, although except once when a magistrate ruled that women should not be arrested for “wandering aimlessly” as this was not a crime.
To secure a conviction, the police and prosecutors need evidence that one has been soliciting for sex or exposing oneself in public.
Sex work has also been blamed for increased HIV prevalence in the country. Lesotho has the third highest number of HIV infections in the world.

Although data is limited, HIV prevalence among female sex workers in Lesotho is thought to be extremely high, estimated at 71.9 percent in 2017, according to Avert.com.
The online publication, in an article on Global Information and Education on HIV and AIDS, says many female sex workers report experiences of sexual violence and harassment including rape and physical aggression in Lesotho.

“Many had also experienced police harassment and are too afraid to access health services,” it says.
A 2014 Ministry of Health study conducted in Maseru and Maputsoe found that 55 percent of female sex workers in Maseru and 68 percent in Maputsoe had tested for HIV at least once.
Condom use is estimated at 64.9 percent.

Caswell Tlali

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Mahao, PS in big fight

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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

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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

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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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