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The dignity of tilling the land



No sooner had Sam Matekane been sworn-in as Prime Minister last October did disgruntled hawks within the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party begin plotting to oust him and his government.
Their reason, according to Isaac Malebaleba Joseph, the MP for Thaba-Bosiu constituency, was because Matekane had overlooked them for ministerial positions in the new government.
Joseph is adamant that what was driving the hawks was nothing but a naked, unadulterated ambition to secure plum positions under the new administration that position them to have a strike at the best opportunities.

Cabinet positions would also ensure the ministers would be closer to the seat of power and thereby enable them to have access to state resources.
Joseph says all they were seeking was a “front seat” in the quest to gain access to resources.

This, Joseph says, accounts for why the RFP has been experiencing political turbulence in the last few months.
They want to overthrow this government, Joseph says.

“The MPs fell out with the government as soon as the Cabinet ministers were announced,” he says.

Joseph says the problem for the RFP is that it is working with individuals whose agenda is at cross-purposes with that of the leadership.

While the leadership’s key mandate is to engineer a radical economic transformation in Lesotho, these individuals are determined to line up their own pockets even if that means sacrificing the national interests, Joseph says.

Joseph, however, refused to name and shame such individuals.

He however blames the individuals who joined the RFP from other political parties for fanning factionalism and pushing a narrow, self-serving agenda.
These individuals have scores to settle, he says.

Despite the challenges, Joseph argues the RFP government will survive the turbulence in the cockpit.

“People just want to have power and do not care about the rest of the country,” Joseph says.

They have no real interests to improve the welfare of the masses, he says.

The rebels have been fighting the party’s National Executive Committee demanding that Matekane should call a national elective conference to elect new office bearers.
Matekane has however rebuffed such a call saying the interim NEC will run for the next five years to allow the party to focus on governance and economic transformation.

The matter is now in the courts of law.

Away from the party conflicts, Joseph says he wants to see Lesotho throwing everything into agriculture to ensure that the nation is food self-sufficient.
Lesotho, which is entirely surrounded by South Africa, imports the bulk of its food from its only neighbour.

That is unsustainable, Joseph says.

“Money has to circulate in this country and we should spend less on importing (goods and services),” he says.

Despite the current challenges, Joseph says Lesotho will one day be food self-sufficient so that it stops relying on South Africa.

He says their goal as the government is to fight hunger. To achieve that goal, Joseph says the new government has already put in place mechanisms to go into crop production at the constituency level.

He believes that if people can keep hunger at bay, they can win any battles that may come their way.
“The rate of crimes could also drop,” Joseph says.

Joseph says he never liked politics in the past since he was 100 percent focused on running his businesses.

He says it was through his business connections in Thaba-Bosiu that the people there asked him to represent them following the formation of the RFP last year.
His company had won a tender to supply sand for the building of a pipe that was distributing water to Maseru.

“I had a good relationship with the people in Thaba-Bosiu,” Joseph says.

He also engaged foreign investors who wanted to set up a cannabis project which has since employed over 50 people.

He says he is also helping feed hungry children at a primary school in Thaba-Bosiu.

And so every Friday, he supplies meals for these children.
“I supply food for about 75 children here,” he says.

It was on the basis of what he was already doing for the community that the people of Thaba-Bosiu asked him to stand in the elections under the banner of the RFP party last year.

Having worked closely with the people for some time, Joseph found it difficult to say no to their request.

He says the main reason why he agreed to throw his weight behind the RFP was Matekane himself.

“I know Matekane is a man of his own words. I knew that he would deliver,” Joseph says, adding that he knew that Matekane was a hard worker and a businessman who had excelled in all his ventures.

It would therefore be easy for him to bring the same business acumen to national politics, he says.

Joseph says Matekane specifically asked him to drive food production in Lesotho. He says he is working closely with Agriculture Minister Thabo Mofosi in that endevour.
“I have forked out M3 million from my own pocket to do this massive crop production in this constituency,” Joseph says.

Joseph is currently engaged in a share-cropping scheme with some local farmers where he takes 80 percent of the produce with the local farmers, who would have provided the land, taking the balance.

It is a lucrative venture that has immensely helped local farmers, he says.

He says he does the whole process from tilling the land to harvesting of the crops.

“The farmer only comes to take his share,” he says.

“The people are happy with the arrangement.”

When Joseph first introduced the scheme, he says there was a lot of criticism particularly from opposition parties about how the arrangement would work.
The opposition parties were telling the people that they would be cheated as they would only receive two bags of maize.

He says his critics have been proved wrong with most locals walking away with a minimum of 10 bags per individual farmer under the share cropping scheme.
Joseph says he has even offered to grind the maize for the locals for free since most of them cannot afford to pay at his mills.

He has planted a total of 116 fields in Thaba-Bosiu as part of the government’s drive to fight hunger and poverty.

The share cropping scheme has proven to be a win-win situation for him and the local farmers.

Joseph says there has been discussions within the RFP on how they could replicate this success story countrywide.

He argues that it is unacceptable to have the shocking levels of poverty that we see in Lesotho given the vast resources we have in the country and the favourable climate.

Joseph says Lesotho also possesses vast diamond resources which have remained untapped. If properly managed, such mineral resources should enable the government to haul the people from the jaws of poverty.

He also wants to see Lesotho getting the best out of its water resources.

He says Lesotho’s water should be exported to the SADC market and even abroad so that the country gets foreign currency.
“We will get to where we want to take this country to,” Joseph says.

Joseph was born in Tlokoeng in Mokhotlong district 64 years ago. He says his family ran a small grocery shop and kept a large head of cattle.

Majara Molupe

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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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