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Stolen youth, stolen dreams

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BEREA – At 17, Moleboheng Lekhapetla* fell pregnant during a year she was writing her Form C examinations. She subsequently failed the examinations, dropped out of school and began life in uncharted territory.
Her dreams in tatters, the world had collapsed for Lekhapetla.
“We had neglected using a condom before and I didn’t fall pregnant. This time around when we decided not to use it. I fell pregnant,” Lekhapetla says.
Her boyfriend, a classmate, continued with his education.

But for Lekhapetla, this was the beginning of trying times.
“I was too afraid to tell my mother. She discovered that I was getting fat, always tired and very sick often times. She then decided we should go to the clinic and get tested for pregnancy,” she says.
She was six months pregnant.

Lekhapetla’s case is one of many involving teenage girls forced to abandon their education due to pregnancy, a trend one study described as having become “a social virus at the basic education level, particularly at the senior phase”.
“In most cases girls’ academic careers stop with their pregnancies,” says a 2014 study by a group of researchers led by Cecilia ‘Mamojela Molapo.
“Others who are fortunate enough to continue with school are faced with numerous problems. For example, on return to school most of them are rejected and ridiculed by their teachers among others,” the study says.

A 1993 study by Preston-Whyte et al says “in Lesotho most girls engage themselves in sexual activities to avoid being called mafetoa (unmarried women)”. Preston-Whyte and Zondi in a 1998 study says early marriage as a norm in different cultures contributes to the increase of early child-bearing because some of the girls engage in sex and fall pregnant in the hope that the fathers of their children would marry them.

“Rational choice to be pregnant by some teenagers is worsened by the fact that boys are no longer afraid of impregnating girls because they no longer pay compensation of six heads of cattle, unlike their parents who used to pay for impregnating unmarried girls,” states a 2002 study by Tiisetso Makatjane.

“The aftermath of teenage pregnancy and early mothering is dropping out to school.”
However, for Lekhapetla, now 19, another opportunity has beckoned.
The young mother is one of dozens receiving vocational training at the Good Shepherd Centre for Young Mothers atop Berea Plateau in Ha-Senekale.
The centre offers help to pregnant and teenage mothers from poor families.

Some of the young mothers trained at the centre are from abusive families where parents make it difficult for them to enjoy their youth.
Others have been impregnated by close relatives such as fathers, brothers and uncles and they find it difficult to live with the perpetrators under the same roof.

The centre provides young mothers who are battling poverty and illness with a safe and supportive place to live while they learn to care for themselves and their children. The Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec, Canada, established its first convent in Lesotho in 1935. Initially, the Basotho congregation focused on providing religious instruction, education and other social services.

In the 1990s, the HIV/Aids epidemic – coupled with a struggling economy and high rates of youth unemployment – disrupted traditional family structures, increasing the prevalence of orphans and vulnerable children.

In response to these growing social needs, the Good Shepherd Centre for Teenage Mothers – situated on the Berea Plateau, some 20 km from Maseru City – was founded in 1995. Over 500 young mothers together with their children have been trained and looked after at the centre since its establishment.

The growth of the centre has immensely contributed to the development of teenagers whose futures were uncertain.
One of the proud recipients of help from the Centre is ’Mantoetse*, whose experience was published by WordPress.com.
’Mantoetse was interviewed during her internship at Avani Lesotho Hotel and Casino with three other mothers from the Good Shepherd Centre.
Their internship was focusing on banqueting, catering and event management.

“We have gained critical insights on the how to treat customers and serving people in the best way,” ’Mantoetse says.
“We have learnt the importance of time management, proper dress-code, and setting up and clearing the tables. We have learned the philosophy that the customer is always right,” she says.

’Mantoetse knew about the centre through her mother, who had heard about it from a friend.
Like Lekhapetla, ’Mantoetse was 17 when she fell pregnant.
She recalls the turbulent times.

“It was June 2009 and I was attending winter classes. I was in the same school as my boyfriend. It happened on a weekend, when he asked me to visit him at his mom’s place. His mom was away at a funeral so we had the house to ourselves,” she says.
“That was the day I fell pregnant. It changed everything,” she says.

Her boyfriend’s mother would have none of it, insisting her son was too young to be a father.
“My boyfriend also told my mom that I was pregnant. This is very unusual in our culture. My mom was hurt and disappointed,” she says.
“Adding to the stress, I had to give up my studies for one year. However, I enrolled again after that time in order to complete my studies here at the Teenage Mothers Centre. The centre took me in and housed me, despite the fact I had no funds. They also provided me with clothing, sanitary items, and food,” she says with an air of optimism.

The centre’s deputy director, Sister Philippina Hlobotsi, says the centre supports the young mothers “to become physically, emotionally and spiritually self-reliant by providing them with two years of skills training”.
Currently the centre looks after 32 young mothers. The youngest is 15 years old.
The Avani Lesotho Hotel and Casino’s Learning and Development Manager, Lineo Thaanyane, remembers a meeting with two Catholic nuns that ultimately changed lives.

The nuns approached her office regarding internship opportunities for their students.
“Unfortunately at that time the internship programme was not taking more students. We had to decline the request,” Thaanyane told WordPress.com.
“However, we inquired further and heard the amazing story behind the centre, and learnt about the good work being done,” she says.
“We knew instantly that we had to do something. Through our Learning and Development office, we arranged to meet with some of the young mothers face to face,” she says.

“We were impressed by how humble and passionate the young moms were. They politely requested two-month internship and we agreed. We are honoured to have such outstanding young women at Avani Lesotho Hotel and Casino.”
Social Development Minister ’Matebatso Doti visited the Good Shepherd Centre last week.

During the visit, Sister Hlobotsi requested that the government offers the centre at least two teacher grants.
“These children need assistance in their school work because sometimes we cannot do that,” Hlobotsi says.
“We want what is best for these children and doing well at school is the most important agenda, especially for those who are writing their exams,” she says.

However, more challenges await the young mothers after completing their training.
“Some of the girls we receive here were sexually molested by one of their family members or were forced into marriage and do not want to return to such a home,” Hlobotsi says.

Hlobotsi says the centre is not a home and this makes it even more difficult to accommodate those that do not have a place to go after training.
“It is disappointing to know that you have trained a young mother and she has become the best there is in decorations and catering but do not have capital to start a business,” Hlobotsi says.

“Those that did well in tailoring don’t have machines to start work. This talent and skills that we took two years to transfer to them goes to waste when it is not used to improve the lives of the girls,” she says. “The challenge then is, where does she go after the training because some come to the home and leave the home still under-age?”

* Names have been changed

Rose Moremoholo

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Dead on arrival

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My sister delivered a stillborn baby when she was on her way to the clinic,” ’Matemoho Letšela, 23, barely holding back tears.

Letšela says her sister, whose name she withheld, suffered birth-pangs when she was alone at home in Khonofaneng village in Mokhotlong.

She was then rushed down the slopes of a mountain by some passers-by on foot, striding on the slopes of a rocky mountain, crossing deep gorges as she sought to get to the Molika-Liko Health Centre some eight kilometres away.

When she arrived at the clinic, the baby was declared dead on arrival.

Welcome to Mokhotlong, Lesotho’s mountainous region known worldwide for its big and clean diamonds where the people do not have basic services.

Letšela said her sister collapsed when she was on her way to the clinic and was only seen by some passers-by.

By the time passers-by saw her, it was already too late for her and her baby.

She was eight months pregnant. 

“She was still far from the clinic and away from the villages,” Letšela says.

“She had no one to help her until she lost her baby. She was helpless the whole day until it was too late for her to survive,” she says.

 “She had already lost a lot of blood and could not make it to the hospital.”

Letšela shared her sister’s story with thepost during a tour conducted by the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to assess the impact of their assistance in Mokhotlong and Quthing districts a fortnight ago.

Letsela pleaded with the government to provide services in Mokhotlong’s hard-to-reach areas to avoid unnecessary deaths like her sister’s.

“My sister was eight months pregnant so the long walking distance might have been the cause of her early delivery and ultimate death,” she says.

She says there are still some villages in her area that are way far from where she stays, villages like Lichecheng where a patient must travel early in the morning, sleep on the way and reach the clinic the following day.

Cars cannot reach those remote areas, she says.

At Letšela’s area, they only have one bus that travels from home to town at 9am and will be back late at 8pm.

Even though they would love to always catch a ride whenever they are going to the clinic, sometimes they just do not have the money.

Letšela is three months pregnant now and says she cannot wait to reach 37 weeks so she can go and stay at the accommodation facilities provided by the clinic.

 “That is the advice from our midwives and I am willing to take that offer,” she says.

“I don’t want what happened to my sister to happen to me.”

When thepost met Letšela at the clinic last week, she had left her place at around 4am walking alone to the clinic and arrived after 10am.

Relebohile Tšepe

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Doctor tampers with corpse

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THE Mokhotlong Government Hospital has agreed to pay M200 000 as compensation to the husband of a deceased patient after a doctor unlawfully tampered with the corpse.

There is a deed of settlement between the hospital and Jacob Palime, the deceased woman’s husband.

Jacob Palime rushed to the High Court in Tšifa-li-Mali last year after the hospital failed to explain why the doctor had tampered with his wife’s corpse at a private mortuary behind his back.

His wife’s body had been taken to the Lesotho Funeral Services.
Palime lives in Phahameng in Mokhotlong.

In his court papers, Palime was demanding M500 000 in compensation from the hospital “for unlawful invasion, intrusion and interference with” his rituals and rights over his dead wife.

He informed the court that his wife died in September 2020 at Mokhotlong Hospital.

“All requisite documentation pertaining to her release to Lesotho Funeral Services were effected and ultimately the deceased was accordingly transferred to the mortuary,” Palime said.

The court heard that Palime’s family was subsequently informed about the wife’s death.

The family however learnt that one doctor, acting in his professional capacity, went to the mortuary the next day and tampered with the corpse.

The doctor subsequently conducted certain tests on the corpse without the knowledge of family members.

Palime said their attempts to get an explanation from the hospital as to the purpose of the tests and the name of the doctor had failed to yield results.

“It remained questionable and therefore incomprehensible as to what actually was the purpose or rationale behind conducting such anonymous and secret tests,” he said.

Palime told the court that the whole thing left him “in an unsettled state of mind for a long time”.

He said his family, which has its traditions and culture rooted in the respect for their departed loved ones, regards and considers Mokhotlong Hospital’s conduct as an unlawful invasion, intrusion and interference with his rituals and rights over his deceased spouse.

“This is more-so because the hospital had all the opportunity to have conducted any or such alleged tests immediately upon demise of the deceased while still within its area of jurisdiction and not after her release to the mortuary,” he said.

Palime said despite incessant demands, the hospital has failed, refused, ignored and neglected to cooperate with him “to amicably solve this unwarranted state of affairs”.

Palime told the court that there were no claims against the Lesotho Funeral Service as they had cooperated and compensated him for wrongly allowing the doctor to perform tests on the corpse without knowledge or presence of one of the family members.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Villagers whipped as police seize guns

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Dozens of villagers in Ha-Rammeleke in Khubelu, Mokhotlong, were on Monday night rounded up and beaten with sticks and whips by the police during an operation to seize illegal guns.

The villagers told thepost that they heard one man crying out for help saying his wife was sick. And when they rushed to his house, they found the police waiting for them.

The police had stormed the man’s house and ordered him to “cry for help” to lure men from the village.

The men and women were then frog-marched outside the village where the police assaulted the men with sticks, whips, and kicked them.

One man said when he arrived at the house, he found other villagers who were now surrounded by armed police.

“At first I thought they were soldiers but later picked up that they were SOU (Special Operations Unit) members,” he said.

He said they were subjected to severe torture.

“They beat us with sticks at the same time demanding guns from us,” he said.

The police and soldiers also raided other nearby villages in Khubelu area but in Ha-Rammeleke villagers say they identified only police from the Special Operations Unit (SOU).

Several villagers who spoke to thepost asked for anonymity for fear of retribution.

This was the second time within a month that the security forces have raided the villages in search of illegal guns after a spate of gory murders in the areas.

The murders are perpetrated by famo music gangs who are fighting over illegal gold mining in South Africa.

The first raid was on Wednesday preceding Good Friday.

Villagers say a group of armed soldiers stormed the place in the wee hours collecting almost every one to the chief’s place.

“We were woken-up by young soldiers who drove us to the chief’s place,” one resident of Ha-Rammeleke said.

When they arrived at the chief’s home all hell broke loose.

A woman told thepost that they were split into two groups of women and men.

Later, women were further split into two groups of the elderly and younger ones.

She said the security officers assaulted the men while ordering the elderly women to ululate.

Young women were ordered to run around the place like they were exercising.

She said the men were pushed into a small hut where they were subjected to further torture.

A man who was among the victims said the army said they should produce the guns and help them identify the illegal miners.

He said this happened after one man in their village was fatally shot by five unknown men in broad daylight.

He said the men who killed the fellow villager had their faces covered with balaclavas and they could not see who they were.

 

The villagers chased them but they could not get close to them because they were armed with guns.

“We were armed with stones while those men were armed with guns,” he said.

“They fired a volley of bullets at us and we retreated,” he said.

The murdered man was later collected by the police.

The army spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola, confirmed that soldiers stormed Khubelu area in response to the rampant lawlessness of unlicensed guns.

Lt Col Lekola said their presence in the area followed two incidents of shootings where one man was fatally shot and a child sustained serious gunshot wounds.

“There were reports everywhere, even on the radios, that things were out of hand in Khubelu,” he said.

He said in just a day they managed to collect six guns that were in wrong hands together with more than 100 rounds (bullets) in an operation dubbed Deuteronomy 17.

These bullets included 23 rounds of Galil rifle.

Lt Col Lekola maintained that their operation was successful because they managed to collect guns from wrong hands.

He said they are doing this in line with the African Union principle of ‘silencing the guns’.

He said it is an undeniable fact that statistics of people killed with guns is disturbing.

“We appeal to these people to produce these unlicensed guns,” Lt Col Lekola said.

Lt Col Lekola said they could not just watch Basotho helplessly as they suffered.

He said some people are seen just flaunting their guns.

“They fear no one,” he said.

Police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Kabelo Halahala, said he was aware of the operation in Mokhotlong but did not have further details.

Majara Molupe

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