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The battle over damaged houses

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MASERU – Villagers in Ha-Seshote in Thaba-Tseka are up in arms against construction companies they accuse of damaging their houses when blasting rocks during the building of a road to the Polihali Dam.

Two construction companies – HSPY and Rumdel/AC Joint-Venture – are building the road, one on the west side of Ha-Seshote Mountain and another on the east. Other villagers from Liseleng, Ha-Salemone and Ha-Lekiba in the same area have also complained about the damage to their houses.

The community accuses the two companies of damaging their houses as they carved open a mountain to make way for a road. The road is part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHDA)’s many projects heralding the actual construction of the Polihali Dam, a joint project between Lesotho and South Africa.

What infuriated the villagers was the two companies’ contemptuous approach when carrying out their work. They never bothered to inform them when they were about to do the blasting, they said. The blasting would frighten their livestock, they said.

Chief Kose Sekonyela of the area said the contractor does not communicate with them on critical issues including when the blasting process would be done.

“Failure to do this leads to devastating consequences on the part of the people in the area,” Chief Sekonyela said.

Previously, the chief said, the contractor would delegate two people to inform the community that the blasting would be done on a particular day.

“But now that no longer happens,” the chief said.

“When the blasting occurs our livestock skip kraals and run around in the village.”

He said when they are informed in time they are able to prepare for the situation. He said the sound caused by the blasting is just unbearable for them.

“We have to make ourselves ready for that thunderous sound,” he said.

Chief Sekonyela said the blasting had caused cracks on their homes which the contractor has left unfixed. He said he believes the poor communication happened after the contractor cut off electricity to their homes during the operation. So when they complained about that, they were beaten up by the police.

“I think this is what has caused the tiff between us,” Chief Sekonyela said.

The LHDA’s Public Relations Manager, Masilo Phakoe, said they are aware of the Liseleng Ha Salemone and Ha Lekiba communities’ grievances. Phakoe said these grievances were raised during engagements with the LHDA including two public gatherings in May.

He said some of the concerns such as the contractors’ poor communication regarding blasting notifications to communities were raised for the first time to the LHDA.

“We immediately started with investigations and the processes to address them,” Phakoe said.

Some complaints which include damage to properties as a result of blasting incidents, he said, were recorded through the Complaints Management Procedures, which is a tool that communities are encouraged to use to report complaints.

“The LHDA continues to closely monitor the situation and can confirm that repair works are in progress,” Phakoe said.

He said as part of its efforts to continue to foster better working relationships with the communities, the LHDA held another gathering in June. A consultant and the contractor presented a roadmap at the gathering, with timelines on when community complaints would be addressed.

He said the community leaders including Chief Sekonyela were present at the meeting and acknowledged the contractor’s commitment to make amends.

He said they are doing their best to restore relationships, use existing community structures and project tools to communicate and comply with the LHWP Phase II implementation guidelines and protocols.

The guidelines include blasting notifications and evacuation procedures. Thabo Thelingoane, the president of the Blasters Society, said blasting like all other fields need a person who is knowledgeable and skilled.

“Extra caution has to be exercised when blasting is done,” Thelingoane said.

Failing to uphold a high level of caution could have dire consequences on the community and the environment itself. The problems could be thick and fast.

He said he could not disclose all the information regarding blasting because he is in the business and his competitors could emulate his concepts. Before blasting could start, Thelingoane said a blaster has to visit a site to assess any damage that could be caused.

He said in some places, they have to tell the affected people that they have to be resettled because the damage caused by the blasting to their homes could be massive. Such people have to be relocated.

“There are some places where we do not have an option but to tell the people that their environment is irreparable,” Thelingoane said.

Thelingoane said when blasting is done around homes, definitely there would be damage such as cracks on the homes. Then they would be able to fix those cracks. Also, the animals, both domestic and wild would run away because of the heavy sound.

But because they are in business, this has to be controlled and managed. To accomplish their task, Thelingoane said they sometimes have to go as far as South Africa to hire sophisticated machinery.

“The machines could cost as much M18 000 per hour,” he said.

He said the time of blasting tools cost depends on the area they are going to work on. He said every blaster should know what to do when they got to the field. Thelingoane said the blaster has to visit the place first, assess it and see how they could charge it.

He says the blasting should not be bungled. The Commissioner of Mines, Pheello Tjatja, said explosives in Lesotho are regulated through the Explosives Proclamation of 1958 and Explosives Regulations of 1959 as amended.

He said the Act regulates how explosives can be used in the country. The Act says the explosives are administered by the Commissioner of Mines and Police with powers bestowed on both of them.

It provides for the registration of the manufacture, storage, sale, transport, importation, possession, and use of explosives. Efforts by thepost to get comment from HSPY and Rumdel/AC Joint-Venture were not successful last night.

Majara Molupe

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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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