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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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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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