MOHALE’S HOEK – ’MAMOHLOMI* was just 13-years-old when she fell pregnant. She was in Form B. Young and inexperienced, she felt overwhelmed by fear of pregnancy and her peers laughing at her.
“But my grandmother was very supportive and that’s when I started accepting my situation,” ’Mamohlomi said.
“And I was afraid of aborting thinking it’s unsafe,” she said.
’Mamohlomi told thepost that she had lost her parents at a very young age. Now 22-years old, she is heavily pregnant with her fourth child. She said she was not using any contraception as she was not “clever for such things”. She said her boyfriend at that time was not supportive. When she first learnt of her pregnancy, she said she thought she was sick as she vomited and lacked appetite for certain foods.
“My grandmother advised me to visit the clinic,” she said, adding that “I didn’t accept my pregnancy immediately as I was still a student”.
“I only started my antenatal care after three months when my bump was growing.”
“After my bump started showing, it was pointless to hide it. All I had to do was accept and start attending the clinic.”
‘Mamohlomi said she then dropped out of school without completing her Grade Nine. When her baby was a year and six months old, she said her grandmother advised her to choose between knitting and catering in vocational school as she had lost interest in formal school.
“I decided to do knitting in 2015,” she said.
She said she is still unmarried but the father of her fourth child is “supportive unlike the first one”.
“He supports me in everything but I am not sure yet if I want to get married but if he suggests it then I will go try and see where it leads me.”
She encouraged her peers to use contraceptives to avoid ending in a situation similar to hers. Another teenager, Mpho, who is six months pregnant, said she was hurt after finding out she was pregnant.
“I wasn’t intending to have a baby now. At first, I was afraid to go to school pregnant but now I have made peace with it,” she said, adding that her parents are “very supportive of her as their only child.”
She said she didn’t even use protection and “I realised when we were done that what we did was wrong.” Unlike ’Mamohlomi, Mpho still goes to school doing her Grade 11 and her boyfriend promised to support her and the baby.
She said she knew about contraceptives but “I didn’t think I would be pregnant because I was still a virgin. Unfortunately, on my first attempt, I conceived…it is very painful.” She too called on her age mates to use contraceptives.
“I wish I had listened to my mother when she said I should use them. I wasn’t intending to sleep with anyone before completing my high school…little did I know that my boyfriend would convince me otherwise and end up impregnating me.”
“I don’t really know what happened because it isn’t what I wanted but again he didn’t rape me…I wasn’t ready.”
The Mohale’s Hoek’s Mpharane Health Centre Nursing Officer, Mookho Kotelo, said Early and Unintended Pregnancies (EUP) among adolescents are rife in the villages served by the health centre.
“Teenage pregnancy is very prevalent here and in a month, we see 10 adolescents and most of them are between 15 and 17 years old,” Kotelo said.
She said the main cause is that many people in the area still associate family planning methods with old people.
“They don’t understand even though we educate them about it. Most of the time when we talk about it, they get surprised saying it’s difficult for them to tell their children to use family planning methods,” she said. “This results in high unintended pregnancies among adolescents.”
Selometsi Motikoe, the Mpharane Village Health Workers’ Coordinator, said herdboys, their peers and even older men are responsible for the high rate of EUP.
“All the girls need is money to fight poverty,” Motikoe said.
She said although village health workers encourage the use of contraceptives, parents and some peers discourage it. She said before the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, the clinic used to have a club for adolescents and cases of early pregnancies were not as high as they are now.
“Every Friday after school they attended the club and they did use contraception but following Covid-19 and the lockdowns that affected the club’s operations, that’s when we started experiencing the problem of early pregnancies,” she said.
Motikoe said they will relaunch the club when schools reopen. The District Health Management Team (DHMT) Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) Mentor, ‘Manthabeleng Motumi, said Nkau, Nohana and Mpharane clinics were among the health centres that were handling the highest number of teenage pregnancies in the district.
She said findings reveal that child marriages, including those involving children as young as 14-years-old, “are not seen as a problem” in the area. She said many children are becoming young mothers, adding that they face health problems as a result.
She said being pregnant at such a young age can cause a lot of bleeding during pregnancy (hemorrhage related to high blood pressure). She also said the girls are supposed to give birth at the clinics but when they have complications, they get referred to either Qacha’s Nek or Mohale’s Hoek hospital.
“It causes chaos. It’s about three hours to get to such places and its worse during heavy rains,” she said, recalling a girl who lost a child in Ha-Mootsinyane because the river was overflowing and there was no communication due to bad weather.
“We see it as an emergency but one still has to take three hours to get to the hospital.”
Their experiences are just some of many in a country where six out of 10 girls aged between 15 and 19-years-old are mothers or are pregnant with their first child, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)’s 2021 report.
Only Namibia (seven out of 10 girls) has worse figures than Lesotho among East and Southern African countries. The UNFPA Supplies Coordinator, Tšeliso Masilo, said the UNFPA supports the Ministry of Health with several strategies to address issues of sexual and reproductive health.
“We are aligned to the government’s policy relating to SRH issues,” Masilo said.
He said the agency has been assisting the government to buy family planning commodities and ensuring their availability in all government facilities and accessibility to reduce abortions.
“Young women and adolescents should have access to contraception,” he said.
“We work hard to bring services closer to them by introducing user-friendly contraceptives to them such as self-injection depo,” Masilo said.
He said they also promote long term methods of family planning considering Lesotho’s topography.
“Sometimes it takes long for people to go to facilities and long term contraception reduces costs,” said Masilo.
He said the UN agency is promoting user-friendly services to young people through the Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE) programme in collaboration with the Ministry of Education to avoid teenage pregnancies.
During the launch of the World Population 2022 Report two months ago, Seipati Motšei, the programme manager of the Ministry of Health’s Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission (PMTCT) wing, said the challenge is to get the message about early pregnancies and contraceptives to young women.
“Although programmes are introduced, some adolescents still face the trap of early unintended pregnancies. Some community-based distributors are dysfunctional and need to be revived,” Motšei said.
She says teenagers are not actively involved in awareness campaigns but “we plan to extend the service to them if the budget permits”. The UNFPA Representative, Dr Marc Derveeuw, says unintended pregnancies are turning into a crisis in Lesotho as one in three women start childbearing in adolescence.
Dr Derveeuw says nearly half of them are children and unintended pregnancies destroy their lives. Dr Derveeuw says unplanned pregnancies can lead to school dropouts, high risk of post-partum depression and unsafe abortion leading to maternal death and morbidity amongst others. He says Lesotho has to prioritise prevention as unintended pregnancies are preventable.
“We need to empower women to make affirmative decisions about sexuality and motherhood,” he said, highlighting the importance of educating young people about sexuality and reproduction as well as access to contraceptives.
The adolescent birth rate in Lesotho is reported to be high at 94 per 1 000 girls aged between 15 and 19-years, according to the 2003-2018 statistics. The Lesotho Demographic Health Survey (LDHS) 2014, states that teenage pregnancies are highest among girls from rural areas and families in the lowest wealth quintile.
Data from School Report Cards collected from schools participating in the School Improvement Project (SIP) indicates that pregnancy and early marriage are the number one reason for girls dropping out of secondary school.
Meanwhile, the UNFPA says it is working to achieve four transformative results.
These are ending preventable maternal deaths, ending gender based violence and harmful practices like child marriage, ending HIV and other transmissible diseases and ending unmet need for family planning. This will be achieved “by ensuring that more women of reproductive age use long-term contraception methods on family planning in Lesotho by 2023.”
This was revealed during commemorations of World Population Day on Monday. The UNFPA said it is important to keep counting, “but to also look beyond the numbers.”
“The solution is not more or fewer people, but more and equal access to opportunities for the people.”
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem said World Population Day offers a moment to celebrate human progress.
“Our world, despite its challenges, is one where higher shares of people are educated and live healthier lives than at any previous point in history,” Dr Kanem said.
“Societies that invest in their people, in their rights and choices, have proven time and again that this is the road to the prosperity and peace that everyone wants — and deserves,” she said.
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.
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.
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.
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