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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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Suspension was malicious, says Nko

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MASERU – A gunshot wound and an attempted murder charge have not stopped Dr Retšelisitsoe Nko from starting a new fight.

The suspended Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) boss is rolling up his sleeves for what promises to be an epic legal battle to be reinstated.

In an application filed in the High Court this week, Dr Nko argues that the LTDC’s decision to suspend him had a “glaring element of bad faith and malice”.

He says the suspension was procedurally flawed because there was no complainant to instigate it and he was not granted a hearing.

Dr Nko was suspended after he was involved in a shooting incident with guests at an event at a Hillsview guest house on December 27.

He is alleged to have rushed home to take his gun after an argument with some of the guests. Dr Nko and a guest sustained gunshot wounds in the scuffle that ensued.

Reports say the guests were trying to wrestle the gun from Dr Nko when the shots were fired.

The LTDC’s board suspended him two days later, alleging that he had failed to attend an extraordinary meeting called to discuss the incident.

The suspension letter was written by Nonkululeko Zaly who was the chairperson of the LTDC board by virtue of being the principal secretary in the Ministry of Trade.

Zaly, who has since been fired following corruption investigations, also approached the court to force the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences to return the assets confiscated during a raid at her house.

Dr Nko, in his court papers, accuses Zaly of usurping the board’s powers to suspend him. He says there was never a board resolution to suspend him.

The extraordinary meeting, he alleges, was a “prearranged dishonest scheme between certain members of the board and social media personnel which were part of the ruse deliberately designed to compromise” his interests.

Dr Nko says the board called him to the 29 December meeting when he was on sick leave and then suspended him without hearing his reasons for failing to attend.

He complains that Zaly wrote his suspension letter on the basis of mere allegations even though she had remained principal secretary and chairperson of the board when the corruption investigations against her were in full swing.

He queries why he was being suspended when Zaly was allowed to hold on to her job.

Zaly appears to have been belligerent when Dr Nko’s lawyers contacted her to query the suspension.

She told the lawyers, in a letter, that their queries were based on misinformation. She also dismissed the lawyer’s request for a record of the board meeting that decided to suspend Dr Nko.

“We are therefore not going to honour any of your demands and if your client is not satisfied, he is free to approach any appropriate forums to pursue these baseless issues,” Zaly said in her letter.

The lawyers say that response shows that Zaly was hell-bent on suspending their client.

Dr Nko wants the High Court to order the LTDC board to reverse the suspension, stop his imminent disciplinary proceedings and release the records of its December 29 meeting.

He also says the board is already conducting investigations on the incident to use as evidence against him in the disciplinary hearing.

Staff Reporter

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thepost columnist wins award

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Maseru – Two scholars associated with the National University of Lesotho have been awarded the 2022 Thomas Pringle prize for the best literary article published the previous year.

Chris Dunton, who is a columnist for thepost, and Lerato Masiea have won the prize, which is awarded by the English Academy of Southern Africa, for their article “Between rocks and hard places: the controversial career of A.S. Mopeli-Paulus,” which was published by thepost.

Dunton was previously Professor and Dean of Humanities at the NUL and for some years cwrote a column for this newspaper titled “Left Side Story.” Masiea is a lecturer in the NUL’s Department of English and is currently pursuing his doctorate at the University of the Free State.

Their prize-winning article was published in the journal English in Africa (vol.48 no.3, 2021, pp47-64). In it the authors explore the writings and life of the South African Mosotho author Mopeli-Paulus.

As their title indicates, their subject was a controversial figure, who degenerated from being an opponent of the apartheid regime (he was, notably, one of the leaders of the Witzieshoek Cattle Rebellion, for which role he was incarcerated in the Pretoria Central Prison) to being a high-ranking accomplice in the Bantustan system.

He was a prolific writer in both English and Sesotho (at one point he referred to the compulsive desire to write as a kind of madness!), his best-known works being the poetry-collection Ho tsamaea ke he bona (from time to time a set-text in Lesotho schools), the novel Blanket Boy’s Moon and the autobiography The World and the Cattle.

Dunton and Masiea’s article covers all his writing, published and unpublished (his papers are freely accessible at the William Cullen Library, Wits University) and is especially concerned with the question of cross-border identity.

Mopeli-Paulus was born in Monontsa, South Africa, in the lost territories—much in the news recently—and remained a South African citizen all his life. The dust-jacket for his first novel, Blanket

Boy’s Moon — which was an international best-seller — carries his name with the tag “Chieftain of Basutoland”, but this was a mistake.

Nonetheless, Mopeli-Paulus identified very strongly with Lesotho and has much to say — some of it fanciful, even spurious — on concepts of Sotho identity.

Dunton and Masiea explore this issue in detail, as it remains a topic of crucial importance even today.

Staff Reporter

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Matekane to boot out PS

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MASERU – THE Sam Matekane government is getting ready to get rid of Principal Secretaries appointed by the previous administration.

First to be axed is Nonkululeko Zaly who Matekane fired as a PS for the Ministry of Trade on January 11.

Zaly, who is challenging the decision, suffered a blow yesterday when the High Court refused to hear her case on an urgent basis.

Her case will now have to join the long queue of hundreds of others pending in the High Court.

Lefu Manyokole has been replaced as the PS of the local government ministry.

The axe is also likely to fall on government secretary, Lerotholi Pheko, and Foreign Affairs principal secretary Thabo Motoko.

The four have been the subject of a graft investigation by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO).

Their homes and offices have been raided and properties seized as the anti-corruption unit investigates allegations that they received millions in bribes from contractors. The four are likely to be the first to be shown the door.

Indications are however that Matekane could be readying to purge the government of principal secretaries inherited from the previous government. Matekane hints at that impending clean up in his dismissal letter to Zaly.

“You will agree with me that as a Principal Secretary, yours was a political appointment,” Matekane said in the letter that Zaly claimed not to have received in her court papers.

“It follows therefore that the working relationship between yourself and the person appointing you, the Prime Minister in this case, is mainly based on utmost trust and confidence.”

“The trust and confidence components become even more important under the obtaining circumstances where the new government, of which I am the head, has just been installed.”

Matekane told Zaly that his government came with new ideas and policies at the top of which is to fight corruption.

He said he was aware that the DCEO had seized certain documents in Zaly’s possession “evidencing a commission of crime and that you failed to give a satisfactory explanation for your possession of those documents”.

“This has eroded all the trust and confidence I had in you as the Principal Secretary and there is no way I can continue with you at the helm of any government ministry,” Matekane said.

Highly placed sources in the government have told thepost that Zaly’s exit is just the beginning of a shake-up that will continue for the next three months as Matekane seeks to bring in new people he trusts and share his vision with.

Meanwhile, Moahloli Mphaka, the government’s special adviser in the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission this week told the High Court that there is a plan to fire him and two other senior officials.

Mphaka made the allegations in an urgent application to force the commission to pay his salary and that of Thabang Thite, and Bahlakoana Manyanye who are also part of the lawsuit. Thite and Manyanye are assistant advisers in the commission.

Mphaka told the court in an affidavit that on December 22 last year, the Natural Resources Minister Mohlomi Moleko told them that his superiors had instructed him to terminate their contracts.

The reason, Mphaka said, is the fact that they are the All Basotho Convention (ABC) members hired by former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. He said the government’s delay to pay their December salary was meant to frustrate them into resigning.

Nkheli Liphoto

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