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The battle to eat



MASERU-IT has been months since ’Matlhokaboeo Lephoto, a school teacher, last set foot in a classroom.
Soon, she may not have a roof over her head, as the effects of the outbreak of Covid-19 takes a toll on professionals who only a few months ago counted themselves lucky to be employed.

Even before the virus outbreak, unemployment stood at a staggering 45 percent in Lesotho.
“I don’t really know how I am going to survive this pandemic, I really don’t know,” she told thepost.

While the government has continued to pay teachers on its payroll since schools closed in March, teachers who work at private schools, or were paid from money paid by parents at public schools are struggling to make ends meet.

Many of them, such as Lephoto, are at breaking point after income dried up.
Her landlord allowed her to stay until schools reopen and she was hoping it would be this month, only to be further depressed by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s announcement last week that schools will remain closed.
“I don’t know how long she (the landlord) will let us stay now that nobody has any idea when schools will reopen,” said Lephoto, a teacher at Hermitage High School.

Her friends have deserted her and mood swings and frequent arguments involving finances “are now the new norm” in her family.
“When days are dark friends are few. I am depressed and worse it has affected my family,” added Lephoto, who said she last received her salary five months ago is now walled in debt.

Lephoto says she was hopeful that things would get better and they would go back to work.
“But things escalated from bad to worse,” she said.
The family now has to solely rely on the meagre income from her husband’s temporary, odd jobs.
Private schools rely on payment of fees to pay teachers and other expenses. The closure of schools has left them with no income. Some teachers at public schools who are hired by the school and paid out of the school levy paid by parents have also been affected as most parents only paid for the first quarter before Covid-19 struck.

Some of the affected teachers used to work at church or community owned schools.
Getting alternative employment for teachers such as Lephoto has been near impossible as much of the economy remains shut down by Covid-19.
“I have been applying for jobs but to date all my efforts have been in vain.”
She said the government should consider bailing out the affected teachers just like it did with factory workers.

“It could come in very handy… the struggle is real,” said Lephoto, who says he is sometimes forced to beg for food from relatives.
Another private teacher, ’Mamoholane Makhanya, described her situation as “a dilemma” and hopes schools could be reopened with safety measures to prevent them from becoming epicentres of the virus spread.

“I am not coping very well at all. I wish schools could reopen very soon. Schools have to resume as soon as possible following precautionary measures,” Makhanya said.
Makhanya says she appreciates the trouble her school finds itself in, and urged the government to intervene.

“The government should hire us to avoid these inconveniences,” she said.
A Mahlabatheng High School private teacher, Mathibeli Mofolo, said the closure of schools had left him stranded.
“My family depends on me for survival and my friends are not helping,” he said, echoing calls for schools to open following safety procedures.
He said he has been trying to find a job to pay the bills.
“No luck so far,” he lamented.

Others think opening schools now would be too risky.
Juliet Tšiame of Qoaling High School said things have been tough, even though her employer is trying “by all means to see that we are provided for”.

“I wish schools were open but since the positive cases of Covid-19 are increasing it would not be safe for students,” Tšiame said.
She says her employer has been paying staff “half salaries” despite not getting any school fees.

“I thank them for that because I am sure it is not easy. If it wasn’t for that, things could have been worse for me,” she said.
School authorities expressed concern at the welfare of their teachers.
“Even before the lockdown we had teachers moving to greener pastures because we were not able to provide for them. What more now that schools are closed and there is no money?” asked Qoaling Principal, ’Mampiti

Her school has 14 private teachers.
She says “things are getting worse” for private teachers, adding that her school board decided to “meet them half way by giving them half salaries.”
“But this upcoming month, if the schools will still be closed, I don’t think they will get anything as we can’t afford that half,” she said.

Hermitage Acting Principal, ’Masamuel Koko, said the government should assist schools look after private teachers.
“It doesn’t have to be actual salaries but something to help them survive,” Koko said.

She said affected staff included caterers, boarding school matrons, the school van driver, the school office worker and the herdsman who takes care of the school’s livestock.
She said the workers were notified “from the onset” that they would not be paid until schools reopen.

Lesotho Teachers of Association (LAT) spokesman, Letsatsi Ntsibolane, said the organisation has been getting increased reports of private teachers in despair.
“We received reports during the lockdown. Many of them were given notice in April that they won’t be getting any salaries,” Ntsibolane says.
“The negative impact is huge on private teachers hence the dire need to assist them during this crisis,” he said.

The Deputy President of the Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU), Letampu Mafaesa, called on “donors” to help out affected teachers.
“The situation private teachers are in is very difficult considering the stage the country is in. Can there please be sponsors to assist in maintaining the lives of the teachers during this period!” Letampu pleaded.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Majoro last Saturday night emphasised that schools will remain closed.

’Mapule Motsopa

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Lawyer in trouble



A local lawyer, Advocate Molefi Makase, is in soup after he flew into a rage, insulting his wife and smashing her phone at a police station.

It was not possible to establish why Adv Makase was so mad at his wife. He is now expected to appear before the Tšifa-li-Mali Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.

Earlier on Tuesday, he was released from custody on free bail on condition that he attends remands.

Magistrate Mpotla Koaesa granted Advocate Makase bail after his lawyer, Advocate Kefuoe Machaile, pleaded that he had to appear for his clients in the Court of Appeal.

Advocate Makase is facing two charges of breaching peace and malicious damage to property.

According to the charge sheet, on October 5, 2023, within the precincts of the Leribe Police Station, Advocate Makase allegedly used obscene, threatening, or insulting language or behaviour, or acted with an intent to incite a breach of the peace.

The prosecution alleges that the lawyer shouted at his wife, ’Mamahao Makase, and damaged her Huawei Y5P cell phone “with an intention to cause harm” right at police station.

During his initial appearance before Magistrate Koaesa, Advocate Makase expressed remorse for his actions and sought the court’s leniency, pleading for bail due to an impending appearance in the Court of Appeal.

His lawyer, Advocate Machaile, informed the court that an arrangement had been made with the police to secure his release the following day, as he had spent a night in detention.

Advocate Machaile recounted his efforts to persuade the police to release him on the day of his arrest.

He noted that the police had assured them of his release the following day, which indeed came to fruition.

Following his release, he was instructed to present himself before the court, which he dutifully complied with.

Advocate Machaile underscored Advocate Makase’s standing as a recognised legal practitioner in the court.

Notably, he was scheduled to appear in the Court of Appeal but had to reschedule his commitment later in the day to accommodate his court appearance.

Advocate Machaile asserted that Advocate Makase presented no flight risk, as he resides in Hlotse with his family and has no motive to evade his legal obligations.

He respectfully petitioned the court for his release on bail, emphasising that he had demonstrated his ability to adhere to the court’s conditions.

The Crown Counsel, Advocate Taelo Sello, expressed no objection to the bail application, acknowledging that the accused had a forthcoming matter in the Court of Appeal.

Consequently, the court granted Advocate Makase bail without any financial conditions, with the stipulation that he must not tamper with state witnesses and must fully participate in the trial process until its conclusion.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Trio in court for killing ‘witches’



THREE elderly women were all stabbed to death with a spear during a deadly night after they were accused of being witches.

Three suspects, all from Ha-Kholoko village in Roma, appeared in the High Court this week facing a charge of murder.
They are Jakobo Mofolo, Oele Poto, and Pakiso Lehoko.

They accused the elderly women of bewitching one of Poto’s relative who had died.

The stunning details of the murder was unravelled in court this week, thanks to Tlhaba Bochabela, 32, who is the crown witness.

Bochabela told High Court judge, Justice ’Mabatšoeneng Hlaele, last week that he had been invited to become part of the murder group but chickened out at the last minute.

Bochabela said in March 2020, he was invited by Rethabile Poto to come to his house in the evening.

He said when he went there, he found Mofolo, Poto, and Lehoko already at the house. There were two other men who he did not identify.

“I was told that the very same night we were going to do some task, we were going to kill some people,” Bochabela told Justice Hlaele.

He said he asked which people were going to be killed and was told that they were ’Malekhooa Maeka, ’Mathlokomelo Poto, ’Mampolokeng Masasa.

They said the three women had successfully bewitched Rethabile Poto’s uncle leading to his death.

Bochabela said after he was told of this plot, he agreed to implement it but requested that he be allowed to go to his house to fetch his weapon.

He said Lehoko was however suspicious that he was withdrawing from the plot and mockingly said “let this woman go and sleep, we can see that he is afraid and is running away”.

Bochabela said the only person he told the truth to, that he was indeed going to his home to sleep instead of going to murder the three elderly women was Mofolo who also told him that he was leaving too.

He said he told Mofolo that he felt uncomfortable with the murder plan.

Bochabela said he left and when he arrived at his place he told his wife all about the meeting and the plot to kill the women.

He said his wife commended him for his decision to pull out.

“I told my wife to lock the door and not respond to anyone that would come knocking looking for me,” Bochabela said.

He said later in the night, Rethabile Poto arrived at his place and called him out but they did not respond until he left.

Bochabela said in the morning they discovered that indeed the men had carried out their mission.

The village chief of Ha-Kholoko, Chief Thabang Lehoko, told Justice Hlaele that it was between 11 pm and 12 midnight when he received a phone call from one Pakiso Maseka who is a neighbour to one of the murdered women.

Chief Lehoko said Maseka told him to rush to ’Mampolokeng Masasa’s place to see what evil had been done to her.

“I rushed to Masasa’s place and on arrival I found Pakiso in the company of Moitheri Masasa,” Chief Lehoko said.

He said he found the old lady on the bed, naked with her legs spread wide.

“I was embarrassed by the sight of the old lady in that state, naked and covered in blood,” the chief said.

He said he went out and asked Maseka what had happened but Maseka referred him to Moitheri Masasa.

Chief Lehoko said Masasa told him that there were people with spears who had threatened to kill him if he came out of the house.

He said Maseka said he knew that Masasa’s neighbour, ’Malekhooa Maeka, was a light sleeper and she could have heard something.

The chief then sent one Patrick Lehoko to Maeka’s house to check if she had heard anything but Patrick came back saying Maeka was not at her house.

“I immediately stood up and went to ’Malekhooa’s place,” Chief Lehoko said.

He said when he arrived, he knocked at her door but there was no response so he kicked the door open, went in and called out ’Malekhooa Maeka by name.

Chief Lehoko said he then lit his phone and saw her lying in bed covered in blankets.

He said he then went closer to her and shook her but she was heavy.

Chief Lehoko said he tried to shake her again one last time while still calling her out but he touched blood.

He said he immediately left and went back to tell others that Maeka seemed to be dead too.

“I decided to go and buy airtime from the nearest shop which I had passed through near ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s home.”

He said on his way he met one Sebata Poto who asked him who he was.

Chief Lehoko said he only replied by telling him that the two women, Masasa and Maeka, had been murdered.

He said Sebata Poto told him that “’Matlhokomelo has been stabbed with a spear too”.

Chief Lehoko said he rushed to ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s house where he found her seated in the middle of the house supported by her children with blood oozing from her chest, gasping for air.

“I stepped out and went to get airtime, but I found her dead when I returned from the shop,” the chief said.

The case continues.

Tholoana Lesenya

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Opposition fights back



THE opposition is launching a nasty fightback after Prime Minister Sam Matekane defanged their no-confidence motion by roping in new partners to firm up his government.

Matekane’s surprise deal with the Basotho Action Party (BAP) has trimmed the opposition’s support in parliament and thrown their motion into doubt.

But the opposition has now filed another motion that seeks to get Matekane and his MPs disqualified from parliament on account that they were elected when they had business interests with the government.

The motion is based on section 59 of the constitution which disqualifies a person from being sworn-in as an MP if they have “any such interest in any such government contract as may be so prescribed”.

Section 59 (6) describes a government contract as “any contract made with the Government of Lesotho or with a department of that Government or with an officer of that Government contracting as such”.

Prime Minister Matekane’s Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) has a history of winning road construction tenders. Other Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MPs, most of whom were in business, had had business dealings with the government.

It is however not clear if the MPs were still doing business with the government at the time of their swearing-in.
Matekane’s MGC Park is housing the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which is a government institution established by the constitution, getting its funds from the consolidated funds.

The motion was brought by the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Lekhetho Rakuoane who is a key figure in the opposition’s bid to topple Matekane.

The motion appears to be a long shot but should be taken in the context of a political game that has become nasty.
Advocate Rakuoane said the IEC’s tenancy at the MGC is one of their targets.

“The IEC is one of the government departments,” Rakuoane said.

“It is currently unethical that it has hired the prime minister’s building.”

“But after the motion, he will have to cut ties with the IEC or he will be kicked out of parliament.”

The Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said although the IEC is an independent body, it can still be regarded as part of the government because it gets its funding from the consolidated fund.

The Basotho Covenant Movement (BCM)’s Reverend Tšepo Lipholo, who seconded the motion, said the Matekane-led government “is dominated by tenderpreneurs who have been doing business with the government since a long time ago”.

“Now they have joined politics, they must not do business with the government,” Lipholo said.

He said some of the MPs in the ruling parties are still doing business with the government despite their promises before the election to stop doing that.

“Those who will not abide by the law should be disqualified as MPs,” Lipholo said.

“Basotho’s small businesses are collapsing day-by-day, yet people who are in power continue to take tenders for themselves.”

He applauded the Abia constituency MP Thuso Makhalanyane, who was recently expelled from Matekane’s RFP for rebellion because he withdrew his car from government engagement after he was sworn in as an MP.

“He set a good example by withdrawing his vehicle where it was hired by the government,” Lipholo said.

Rakuoane said during the past 30 years after Lesotho’s return to democratic rule, section 59 of the constitution has not been attended to even when it was clear that some MPs had business dealings with the government.

“This section stops you from entering parliament when doing business with the government. Those who are already members will have to leave,” he said.

Rakuoane said they are waiting for Speaker Tlohang Sekhamane to sign the motion so that the parliament business committee can set a date for its debate.

“The law will also serve to assist ordinary Basotho businesses as they will not compete with the executive,” he said.

“There are many Basotho businesses in business these MPs are in. They must get those tenders instead.”

The new motion comes barely a week after a court application aimed at disqualifying Mokhothu.

The government-sponsored application sought the Constitutional Court to declare Mokhothu unfit to be prime minister because he was convicted of fraud in 2007.

Mokhothu has been suggested as Matekane’s replacement should the motion of no confidence pass in parliament.

Nkheli Liphoto

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