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Taxi owners block Maseru border



’Makhotso Rakotsoane

MASERU – ANGRY Basotho taxi operators blockaded the Maseru Bridge border gate for six hours to protest the beating up a driver and passengers by South African taxi operators.
The taxi operators parked their taxis on the bridge thus blocking the road from 10am to 4pm so that vehicles from Lesotho and those from South Africa could not cross the river.
But what triggered the protest appeared to have been the decision by the South African police to impound a Lesotho taxi and their failure to prevent crime after Ladybrand taxi operators assaulted a Mosotho taxi driver and some passengers.

“It is infuriating that these South African police officers at the Maseru border gate just watched when our driver and passengers were being beaten up by those hooligans across the river,” Makama Monese, the spokesman for the Maseru Region Taxi Operators (MRTO), said.

“The duty of police worldwide is to prevent crime and when it has been committed their duty is to investigate it so that the perpetrators can be prosecuted in the courts of law.”
“We cannot tolerate the behaviour of the South African police and some of the drivers and taxi operators across this river,” Monese said.  When thepost arrived at the border gate several taxis were dropping off passengers on the bridge because there was no way to pass.

The MRTO’s complaint was that the South African police, instead of protecting them so that they could cross without any threat from owners of Ladybrand taxis, blocked the road saying they did not have a right to ferry passengers to South Africa. Monese said the South African police did this despite that all taxis and buses from Lesotho had forms designed and prepared by the South African government that allowed them to take passengers from Lesotho to any destination in South Africa.

He also complained bitterly that last year the two governments met in Matatiele, which borders Qacha’s Nek, where they agreed that taxis from both countries could take passengers to any point across the border. “We don’t understand why the police in that country insist that we are holding documents that are not allowed in their country but the very same documents were designed and prepared by their government,” Monese said.

He said on Sunday they successfully carried passengers to South Africa without any hindrance but to their shock on Monday morning they were prevented from entering South Africa with passengers. “Some of our taxis were seized by the police but now only one of them remains with the police,” he said.

“We have hope that we will pass this because SADC has expressly told Lesotho and South Africa that if they could not provide security for passengers and drivers they will do it themselves,” he said. Monese said South Africa is violating the SADC Protocol on free movement of people and goods between member states. “They are violating the SADC Protocol,” he said. “SADC will solve this problem.”

Another MRTO top official, Lebohang Moea, said it was sad that they were losing business just because one country did not want to observe law.
“The SADC Protocol is binding on all member states,” he said.
The Ministry of Transport Principal Secretary, Majakathata Thakhisi Mokoena, said “what the South African authorities are doing against us is outrageous”.

“I don’t understand them. I don’t know what they want,” Thakhisi Mokoena said.
“The law is clear on this and our agreements are binding on both parties,” he said.
Thakhisi Mokoena said the government was planning to seek redress from the courts in South Africa to release the impounded Lesotho taxi “against the law”.
The taxi operators only removed their vehicles after Thakhisi Mokoena spoke to Free State province top officials at the border gate.

This is not the first time that Basotho taxi operators have resorted to blocking the border gate after their South African counterparts beat and smashed their taxis. During Easter Monday in 2015, at least two Basotho-owned taxis were damaged when Free State taxi operators went on the rampage stoning vehicles.

Free State taxi operators strongly objected to Lesotho taxis ferrying passengers to South Africa instead of offloading them at the border where they could be picked to various destinations in South Africa. This happened barely five days after the then Transport Minister Tšoeu Mokeretla promised to deal with the cross-border taxi violence.

This is the fifth incident in which Lesotho’s taxis have been damaged and in all incidents nobody has been arrested or charged with malicious damage to property.
In two of the incidents two Basotho passengers were injured.

In 2013, taxi men from South Africa burnt two taxis from Lesotho and injured passengers at the Maseru border gate and at Fourisburg in 2012. In all the violent incidents both the Lesotho and South African governments did not seem prepared to tackle the problem while the Free State provincial government turned a blind eye to the problem.

South Africans argue that the SADC protocol that allows free movement of people and goods between member countries is unfair to them because “all countries that surround South Africa are given an opportunity to take passengers to anywhere in the country despite that South Africa itself has taxis to do the job”. They say Lesotho taxis should drop the passengers at the border and South African taxis will take them from there to their different destinations.

In 2014 Lesotho taxis were pelted with stones and passengers injured in Fourisburg, a South African town bordering Lesotho’s Butha-Buthe. In September 2013 taxi men from Lesotho blocked the border gate, saying they were trying to force South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and the then Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to solve their problems but in vain.

Both motorists and pedestrians were unable to cross to either country during the blockages.
Heavily armed police from both countries had to patrol the border to prevent the repeat of earlier incidents in which passengers were injured and taxis damaged when taxi men pelted them with stones.

It has been four years since transport ministers from both countries met to discuss the issue.
The then Lesotho’s Transport Minister, Lebesa Maloi, said negotiations between delegations from the governments of the two countries failed after taxi operators from Free State stormed out of the meeting complaining that their provincial department was not represented.

“We were startled when they stormed out of the meeting,” Maloi said, then.
Lesotho had invited South Africa’s national transport department from the capital, Pretoria.
The erstwhile chairman for RSA-Lesotho Cross-Border Route Corridor Committee, Molapo Mokoena, a South African citizen whose taxis also ferry passengers between Lesotho and South Africa, accused the Free State government of undermining the SACU and SADC protocols on free movement of peoples and goods. He said South African taxi operators, especially those in Ladybrand “always give us problems when we pass here”.

The Free State government took sides with South African taxi operators and revoked the SADC Protocol saying it was not binding on them.
Mokoena’s committee sued in the Free State High Court and obtained an order declaring “the decision made by or on behalf of the MEC for Police, Roads and Transport…unlawful, invalid and of no force and effect.”

The order also interdicted “the members of the Free State Traffic Officials from unlawfully preventing Taxi Operators or Drivers who holds (sic) a valid Cross Border Corridor [Permit] from crossing the border between RSA and Lesotho”.
The case was before Justice C Van Zyl on October 4, 2013.

Preventing Basotho from ferrying passengers to South Africa is in defiance of the court order.
Immediately after the transport ministers’ meeting of the two countries, Maloi issued a warning that Lesotho taxi operators should not ferry passengers to South Africa “because, as you see, it is still dangerous”. “Please exercise patience until this problem has been solved,” Maloi pleaded with them. The solution to the problem has not come even 44 months later.

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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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