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The army’s comforter

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MASERU – Captain Molefi Mosiuoa would not hesitate to shoot, and kill if necessary, to protect Lesotho’s sovereignty.
In carrying out his duties Mosiuoa sees no theological contradiction to his role as a “man of God” – a supposed man of peace – and his other role as a committed, disciplined soldier.

The two responsibilities are not mutually exclusive, he argues.
Captain Mosiuoa is the chaplain for the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
God has always fought wars and blessed wars for his people, Mosiuoa says.
“He is a God of war,” he says. “For the nation of Israel, God would always lead his nation into wars and they would come out victorious.”
David, a man whom God loved, was also a man of war, he says.
When the Jews returned to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem after the 70-year exile in Babylon, Captain Mosiuoa says they faced a hostile response from the nations nearby.

Nehemiah had to arm his people, with a sword on one hand, while the other arm did the building work, he says.
After citing story after story of the “Big Book”, Captain Mosiuoa thinks he is on extremely firm footing over his role as “a man of God” and “a man of war”.
He makes no apologies for playing this dual role.
“I see no contradiction with being a deeply religious man and being in the army; we invite God in everything that we do in the army. I have a role to protect the nation.”

But while Captain Mosiuoa is eager to fulfill his twin assignments, he remains fully cognisant that the “army is not a church”.
“You can rebuke them in the morning but in the afternoon they continue to do exactly the same thing you spoke about,” he says, bursting into laughter.
He says his task is not to “convert every soldier to the Lord” but to provide socio-psycho support to army personnel when they are going through personal crises.

“It is every preacher’s expectation to see everyone becoming a Christian but the difference is that when you are in the army, things will not always go your way,” he says. “The army is not a church. People will live their own lives.”

“As a chaplain I deal with a number of issues every day,” he says.
“Others come for counselling, they want me to help resolve their family problems. Others want me to deal with their work-related issues and I take them through the counselling process.”
This is not an easy task. At times he finds himself immersing himself in people’s problems and the emotional burden can be overwhelming.

“Sometimes I find myself trying to take people’s problems and try to sort them out. But I honestly enjoy the work. That is what I was trained to do.”
Captain Mosiuoa says the work can be deeply satisfying especially when people put into practice what he would have told them and they successfully resolve their marital issues.
When that happens, “you feel like a conqueror and that you have saved someone’s life”.

Apart from marital issues or work related issues, Captain Mosiuoa says he is sometimes called upon to officiate at funerals of army personnel.
Death by its very nature can be a deeply traumatic experience. He says they are trained to deal with bereavement so that he can provide the necessary support to bereaved families.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought a new set of unique challenges to his job as a chaplain.
Funerals are big occasions for Basotho. We mourn our dead in special ways. A day before the burial, we collect the body from the morgue for a funeral wake at the home of the deceased.

It is often a big occasion for the clerics who normally deliver powerful eulogies in remembrance of the dead. The speeches from friends and family – which are often repetitive – can last from morning till late afternoon, with sorrowful church hymns often breaking the monotony.
All this was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

People were forced to “rush” through the funeral programmes. They were forced to pick up the body from the morgue the morning of the burial and sometimes take it straight to the cemetery.
There was no fanfare. No big gatherings. And no “after tears”, occasions where we would throw parties to “celebrate” the life of the deceased.
Captain Mosiuoa says the Covid-19 pandemic was highly disruptive on our culture and traditions as Basotho.

“Sometimes we feel that when we don’t do some of these cultural practices we would not have mourned our loved ones properly,” he says. “When we feel our loved ones were not sent away properly, we even believe they might not even rest well.”

“Our services became very short during the Covid pandemic,” he says. “We felt that we were just being rushed through.”
It is a for us to take the bodies from the morgue a day before burial and spend the whole night with the deceased; that celebration is like a farewell to us, he says.
“If such practices are not done, there are people who feel we did not pay enough homage to the deceased and as a result it might even take longer for such people to heal,” he says.
The new Covid-19 restrictions made me feel that there was not enough time for me to comfort the bereaved families, he says.

“Sometimes I was just asked to make a prayer, there was no devotion, and we would leave the place without providing the necessary dignity we needed to give to the deceased.”
He remembers with sadness the state of panic as Covid-19 swept across the country leaving death and grief in its wake.
At one time he had to bury at least six colleagues during one weekend.
“It was really bad,” he says.
But as a chaplain what message does he provide to grieving families?

“I assure them that the deceased has been taken to heaven since he was faithfully serving as a soldier and that he had made an oath to die for the nation. Everything has its own time, a time to be born and a time to die.”
“Nothing that we do would stop anyone’s time.”
Captain Mosiuoa’s message has huge doses of the doctrine of predestination – that God has already set in motion how each individual’s life will pan out.
So try as you might, you can never change the course God has set for you. Even the date and manner of how you are going to die has been set already by God.

It is a teaching that takes away the role of individual responsibility and the right to self-determination.
But Captain Mosiuoa says at the end of the funerals, he would have done his part to console the bereaved.
Yet even as he consoles others, he too remains a simple man of flesh with emotions.

“It’s not that we don’t feel pain. We do. But our training in the army conditions us to deal with grief.”
Captain Mosiuoa says while Lesotho claims to be a Christian country, the reality on the ground clearly shows that “we are not”.
“We need God’s intervention; if we can have a country that is led by God, we wouldn’t be having some of the things that we have in this country, like the spate of killings that we see here.”

He says Lesotho’s contingent that is currently in Mozambique will need a lot of support when they return home. War is always a traumatic experience and these soldiers who are away on SADC duty will need our support, he says.

“We are already prepared so that as soon as they come back home, they go through a counselling session. Their families will also need support.”
Captain Mosiuoa was born on July 3, 1980 to a father who was a migrant mine worker in South Africa and a mother who was a housewife.
His was not a life of penury when compared to the rest of the community in Mapoteng as his father provided for their material needs in every manner possible.

Where other rural families struggled materially, the Mosiuoas had the basics covered, thanks to their father.
Captain Mosiuoa remembers his father as a jolly, good fellow who was deeply in love with traditional Sesotho music, the mokorotlo music. Mokorotlo, from the word grumbling, is a Basotho war song or a prayer, sung interchangeably between sorrowful times and during moments of triumph.

While growing up the young Mosiuoa would often see members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) immaculately dressed in their uniform in his rural village of Mapoteng. For him, it was a true measure of a man’s masculinity to aspire to be a soldier.
“I always had the desire to be a soldier,” he says. “I played taekwondo and was one of the best players in Lesotho. I was quite young and fit and loved the army.”

So in 2002, Captain Mosiuoa joined the army and went through a gruelling nine-training programme. He later studied theology at the African Christian College in eSwatini in 2010. In 2015, he went to India for an officers’ training course. He was appointed Second Lieutenant in December 2016 and has been serving as chaplain since 2016.

Abel Chapatarongo

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Infighting rocks BNP

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MASERU – THE Basotho National Party (BNP) has become the latest party to be rocked by infighting triggered by its dismal performance in the October election.

As the party grapples to come to terms with its thumping defeat bigwigs have been pelting each other with blame for the poor performance.

So intense is the internal feuding that the party is now said to be on the verge of implosion.

In the tug of war is the party’s secretary general, Moeketsi Hanyane, who this week fired a salvo at party leader Machesetsa Mofomobe.

Hanyane told a press conference on Tuesday that Mofomobe should accept the blame for leading the party to its worst election defeat in history.

He said instead of taking responsibility as a leader, Mofomobe is blaming him for the dismissal performance.

Mofomobe has however fired back, accusing Hanyane of being rebellious.

“It has been a while since I have been shouldering the blame for the general election’s poor results,” Hanyane said, adding that Mofomobe has been instigating his supporters to insult him.

He said the party did not perform well because it didn’t have money to campaign.

He said the BNP did not get its share of the political campaign funding from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) because it failed to account for what it received in the 2015 election.

Out of the M175 000 that the BNP was supposed to get from the IEC, it got only M15 000 as campaign funds, Hanyane said.

He also said those in the past BNP national executive committee, of which Mofomobe was a member, did not account for the campaign funding received in 2017.

“As a result, our party failed to secure M111 000.”

Hanyane said because of the financial problems the party used rentals from its BNP Centre to fund the rallies in Maputsoe, Quthing, Mafeteng and Teya-Teyaneng.

He said this was the first time since 1993 that the party could not afford to print campaign regalia.

Hanyane also said the national executive committee is chaotic under Mofomobe’s leadership.

“They accuse other members of sabotage, which shows a lack of cooperation in the party.”

Mofomobe, Hanyane added, spent more time mocking other party leaders instead of advancing the BNP’s values and policies.

He said instead of pleading with members of other parties to vote for the BNP, Mofomobe called them “idiots beyond redemption”.

No wonder, Hanyane said, people turned against the party.

He said Mofomobe was not ashamed to use valuable campaign time to mock leaders who own aeroplanes.

“He said their aeroplanes were made of cardboxes, and that was his campaign message,” he said.

 

He also said the BNP supporters were put off by Mofomobe’s close relations with

Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu.

“That issue did not sit well with some party supporters and followers in constituencies,” Hanyane said.

He said Mofomobe angered the chiefs and the church, the party’s traditional pillars.

“The chiefs regarded our party as one of the parties that were fighting them and the church too, those are the pillars of the party.”

He said Mofomobe should “go back and apologise to the chiefs and the church for hurting them”.

“The leadership should also apologise to the members where they did wrong.”

Mofomobe however said Hanyane will face the music for organising a press conference without the national executive committee’s approval.

“The party will meet as soon as possible to take internal measures against the secretary general for doing what he did,” Mofomobe said.

He accused Hanyane of ignoring his orders.

“I told him to go on radio to campaign for the Stadium Area elections but he refused and I ended up going there myself,” Mofomobe said.

He said he will not hate Mokhothu without a valid reason.

“I will not hate him just because people want me to hate him,” he said.

He also stated that although they work well with Mokhothu he has his own reservations that include the DC’s support for Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli who has been wallowing in remand prison for the past five years as he goes through trial for murder, attempted murders and treason charges.

The DC is on record pushing for the withdrawal of charges against Lt Gen Kamoli.

Mofomobe said he is not the first BNP leader to work with congress parties as Leabua Jonathan, the party founder, once worked with Basutoland Congress Party (BCP)’s Pokane Ramoreboli who he made justice minister.

Nkheli Liphoto 

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The high cost of school drop-outs

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MASERU – ’MATŠEPANG Sello has gone for 14 months without a salary and life is spiraling into a struggle since she lost her job at one of Lesotho’s biggest textile factories last year.

The firm, C&Y Garments, shut shop due to a Covid-19 induced economic downturn, sending home hundreds of workers because it could no longer afford to pay them. To survive, Sello does piece jobs.

“But that is hardly enough to take care of my three children,” said Sello.

Sello’s daughter dropped out of Lesia High School in Grade Eight because she couldn’t afford to pay fees for two children. Her other child is in Grade 12.

“I couldn’t afford to pay for both of them. It broke my heart to withdraw my child from school because of my financial struggles. I failed her and this broke her too as she badly wanted to go to school,” Sello said.

“It gets tough every day and she wants to go back to school next year and by the look of things, I am not sure if she will return because I am still unemployed but I am already worried about their Christmas clothes.”

As the country battles to recover from the devastation of Covid-19, many children who dropped out of school are still in dire straits, with little hope that they will return to class anytime soon. Reasons for dropping out school vary, ranging from the effects of Covid-19 to fascination with initiation schools.

’Matebello Mphoto, 67, is another heartbroken person. Her 17-year-old grandson abandoned his Grade Eight studied at Masianokeng High School in July to join initiation school.

“We fetched him twice and for the third time, he said he would go very far to ensure that we don’t reach him,” ’Matebello said.

“What he did to us was very painful as he was sponsored by Social Welfare. He ruined his chances. Hele! haeba ha ke a shoa ke high-blood (I almost died of high blood pressure),” she said.

She said her grandson succumbed to peer pressure as his friends were already out of school. Other children simply lost interest in school, leaving their parents and guardians baffled.

Motlalepula Mokhele is one such disappointed guardian. His three nephews dropped out of school saying they “don’t want school anymore”.

Mokhele said Covid-19 forced the 11, 13 and 16-year-olds to spend time on the streets following school closures in 2020.

“They said they are used to making money and that they would not waste their time with school. We tried to get them back in schools multiple times but failed as we were informed that they bunked classes,” Mokhele said.

Masianokeng High School Principal, ’Mapesha Lehohla, said the school lost close to 100 students in 2019 due to a teachers’ strike. Some dropped out because of lack of school fees while others were pregnant.

This year, 44 of the school’s 355 students did not return to school after winter recess because they could not raise the required school fees.

“Since 2019 some children lost interest in education and parents are too busy or stressed to check their children’s school progress,” Lehohla said.

She said many parents said they do not have money to pay school fees and “we end up negotiating ways of payment”.

She said fees paid by the Social Development Ministry do not cover the children’s daily educational needs.

The Principal of St James High School in Mokhotlong, ’Masetho Matalasi, said the Covid-19 outbreak had a devastating impact on children’s education.

“Many children dropped out of school, some went to Durban to seek jobs…they have lost interest in education,” said Matalasi, adding that initiation schools are also a cause of many dropouts.

“It was getting better before initiation. Yearly, we lose children to initiation school and luckily some still come back after initiation,” Matalasi said.

She said lack of school fees is another contributing factor causing students to drop out “but we try as much as we can to keep them at school”.

“We still have students who owe first quarter fees because their parents are unemployed and some even wrote their exams without paying even a cent,” she said.

“We keep them as long as they are able to pay the exam fees. We really don’t expel them,” she said, adding that “it is evident that some parents and caregivers are struggling to make ends meet”.

She said children along with their parents have to be constantly reminded about the importance of education.

However, she said delays by parents to pay fees adversely affects the operations of the school, particularly the school feeding programme.

Lesia High School Principal, Mathafeng Moteuli, who is also the Lesotho Principals Association’s president, said dropouts are a common phenomenon in schools due to lack of finances because many parents have lost their jobs.

He said many parents left their children behind while they went out of the country to seek jobs.

“This year we lost even those who were supposed to write their final examinations,” Moteuli said.

“Initiation schools made things worse for us as some of the pupils wrote just one subject and left for initiation. I really don’t understand how they make such decisions,” he said.

Moteuli said some children have lost interest in education, revealing that they had three cases of children whose parents paid exam fees but the children refused to write.

He said to retain students in schools, authorities are planning to talk to parents through counselling because “parents are going through a lot as it is”.

“We want to identify their problems and ways in which we can overcome them.”

He said they are also planning to have an exchange programme with the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) to raise awareness about children who end up in juvenile training centres.

St James High School (Maseru) Principal, Thato Koeete, said although the money issue is not publicly discussed, “it is a major cause to why we lose children”.

“I am wondering whether our students will return back next year now that some factories are shutting down. Parents are struggling and children are suffering,” Koeete said.

She said parents should be capacitated to start small businesses, adding that the school loses about 20 students every year.

“Most fail to return to school in the second quarter,” said Koeete.

Basic Education Principal Secretary, Dr Lira Khama, said the ministry has several strategies in place to reduce high costs of education at secondary school level.

He said the government meets parents’ half-way to provide books through the book centre scheme.

He also said vulnerable pupils receive sponsorship.

“Ours is inclusive education. Paying at secondary level affects a lot of children negatively and it is evident that our operation on its own is wrong,” Dr Khama said.

He said there are over 1 400 primary schools countrywide and only 300 secondary schools.

“It shows that there are many children who never proceed to secondary school after completing their primary,” he said.

“The question is where do they go because primary education is not enough to empower them with enough information to survive? Besides that, they are still too young and have to be enrolled in school until they finish at least secondary level,” said Dr Khama.

He said the ministry released a circular after realising that some children were expelled from school due to hyphenate of fees. The circular is to make principals and parents aware that “it is not in the best interest of a child to drop out of school because of school fees”.

He urged parents to prioritise their responsibilities, while schools should collaborate with parents to find other ways to help affected children.

“A child shouldn’t be expelled because of unpaid fees. School fees isn’t a child’s responsibility but a parent’s,” he said.

The Social Development’s Director of Planning, ’Mankhatho Linko, said the department will jointly embark on a basic education strengthening project with the Education Ministry by offering top-up grants worth M1 500.

The grants will be paid twice a year – M1 000 at the beginning of the year and M500 in the middle of the year for 9 000 students.

The grants are for orphaned and vulnerable beneficiaries in Grade Eight and Nine and will start next year.

She said the World Bank is funding the three components at a cost of US$7.5 million (approximately M129 million). These are helping children to return back to school, training teachers in schools where children underperform in Maths and science, and the formation of youth clubs.

“The majority of such children are from the mountainous regions, which indicates that they are children from poor families, who are already being helped by the ministry with Child Grants Programme.”
Social Development Principal Secretary, ’Mantšenki Mphalane, said although poverty seems to be the main factor behind school drop-outs, there are other issues causing the lack of enthusiasm for school.

“The main issue seems to be the need for work for parents, low income for parents to send children to school, child labour, and other customs and practices such as initiation schools,” Mphalane said.

Meanwhile, the 10th Parliament dissolved before the proposed Initiation Bill could be enacted into law.

During public consultations in June 2022, the MP for Teele constituency, Mothepu Mahapa, said the proposed Bill on initiation prescribes 18 years as the minimum age for initiation for both males and females.

“This is to ensure that children do not drop out of formal schools and go for initiation like what has happened in the past,” he said.

“Children should stay in schools and access quality education as stated in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4,” Mahapa, former deputy education minister, said.

’Mapule Motsopa

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Basotho migrant workers deported

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MASERU – Limpho Kanetsi was working at a factory in Newcastle, South Africa, when she heard that the police had started a special operation to arrest illegal migrant workers. She immediately went into hiding.

She said she had to sleep in an open space for days after running away from the police, afraid that even the house she rented would be raided.

“We did not have food or clean water,” she said.

The police eventually caught up with her and she left everything she had in her rented house in Newcastle.

Kanetsi was among the more than 500 Basotho who were arrested by the South African police in a crackdown against illegal migrant workers last week.

She says she cannot go back to fetch her belongings because she has now been banned from the country for five years.

“I do not even have my phone with me. I only have a few clothes,” she said.

She said her employer did not pay them the money they had worked for.

The South African authorities raided factories in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, purging illegal immigrants working there including hundreds of Basotho.

Prime Minister Sam Matekane dispatched seven buses to go to Newcastle and fetch Basotho home.

They arrived on Monday, with the government spokesperson Communications Minister Nthati Moorosi promising that the buses were going back to collect those who stayed behind.

Of the 500 brought back home, 27 were rearrested at the border and taken to Ladybrand for crimes that were not yet clear.

The deportees told thepost that, as it often happens when employers avoid paying workers without proper work permits, they were arrested at a time when they were supposed to get paid.

Keketso Setipa said she left Lesotho on January 22 and went to work in Newcastle at a garments factory.

Setipa said she had been working there until last week on Tuesday when some people tipped them that the police were coming for them.

She said she tried to flee to the township where she stayed but found police cars already there looking for her and others.

“We fled and tried to hide at a place owned by one Afrikaner but they chased us away and called the police on us,” Setipa said.

She says they then decided to hide in the nearest bush without food and water.

“We were living under the rains and the sun for those days,” she said.

She complained that they slept in the open space for more than five days.

“It hurts because I did not go to South Africa to steal. I went there in search of a job for my children,” she said.

She added that she has left her belongings behind.

“I only have this small bag.”

She worries that once she goes back to South Africa to collect her important things she would be arrested again. She worked in South Africa without a work permit.

She said herdboys who found them wandering in the veldt offered them milk and “we survived on that milk”.

“We used to drink any water we found. When we found a pond of dirty water we knelt down and drank,” she said.

Another victim who declined to be named said her employer managed to hide them “but the employer forced us to work saying if we did not work we should walk out of the gates so that we could be arrested”.

“For the sake of our safety we had to work even at night,” she said.

“We left Lesotho to work not to commit crimes, but the (political) leadership in that country does not welcome us. It makes one cry.”

Lisebo Mahamo, another deportee, said the employer only paid them M150 each saying they would get their full salaries the following day.

“On the following day, we did not get our money. Instead the police arrived.”

Some of the illegal workers, she said, are still in Newcastle as they are afraid to go out of their hiding places.

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Limpho Tau, said the government is in talks with South Africa so that those who were arrested are brought back home.

“Where there were challenges, please forgive us, our plan was always to ensure that you arrive here at home safely,” Tau said.

“We are working on bringing back all those who are still in hiding in Newcastle,” he said.

He added that “there is no other neighbour except South Africa”.

“The free movements documents were signed, but they were never implemented.”

He said Matekane will meet Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss the matter and “the terms and conditions must be made flexible for both countries”.

He said the government is working hard to ensure that enough jobs are created in Lesotho so that Basotho are not forced to seek jobs in other countries.

Nkheli Liphoto

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