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The journey begins



MASERU-IT’S seven in the morning and the sewing machines at Afri-Export Textile are already singing.
The 500 employees are on their workstations, doing their bit on the production line to meet their target. Today they are making an order for jeans, the factory’s main product.
By the end of the day the two production lines would have spewed 6 000 pairs of jeans.

But their work would still not be complete. From here the jeans will be sent to the laundry where they are likely to spend a few more days before they are brought back for final touches like buttons, zips, size tags and ironing. It will take another few days before the trucks leave the factory for the customer’s warehouse in South Africa.

Afri-Expo might look like any other textile company in Lesotho but there is something different about it. What makes it unique is its ownership.
At the last count Lesotho had just over 60 textile factories, producing for local, regional and international markets. Afri-Expo is the only textile factory wholly owned by locals.
South Africans control a handful but the bulk are owned by Taiwanese who have dominated the textile sector since it started in Lesotho in the late 1980s.

The foreign-owned factories employ nearly 98 percent of the 45 000 workers and dominate Lesotho’s exports to international markets that include the United States and Europe.
Yet the industry remains in decline despite this foreign direct investment.
The sector has been hit by job losses and factory closures in the past decade.
Labour unrest and uncertainty over orders have scared off potential investors who are being lured by handsome incentives to set up shop in other countries.

Rising labour and production costs have steadily eroded Lesotho’s competitive advantage as a textile producer. And with AGOA coming to an end in the next three years, those in the sector fret about the disaster that will happen when the Taiwanese jump ship.
That fear is not overdone because most of the foreign owned factories rely on AGOA and don’t seem to have a fallback strategy if it expires. A few have shifted their focus to the regional and local markets but most don’t seem to have cogent post-AGOA strategies.

This is because most are in Lesotho precisely because of AGOA. Without it, they might as well move to other countries.
All this makes companies like Afri-Expo important to the sector’s future in Lesotho. The factory makes apparels for the regional market, with South African companies being the main buyers.
It is thus not beholden to AGOA.

Teboho Kobeli, Afri-Expo’s managing director, says the future of the textile sector lies in local ownership and the regional market. The problem, he says, is that the government is not doing much to support the sector’s indigenisation drive.

To illustrate this Kobeli talks of how he had spent the last three years pleading with the government to give him a bigger factory to expand his operations.
Afri-Expo’s factory shop in Ha Tikoe Industrial Park is crammed, with no room for storage and more workstations. During busy times the workers have to manoeuvre through the heaps of fabric, off cuts and finished products.

“I am not getting that factory shell despite the fact that there are so many of them that have been vacant for several years,” Kobeli says.
He says the lack of government support is the main reason why Basotho are reluctant to enter the textile sector.
“They know you are on your own if you invest in this industry. While you struggle, foreign investors will be pampered by the government.”
Kobeli says the other problem is that “Basotho have been persistently fed the false narrative that the sector is tough and there are no orders”.

“The truth is that this is a lucrative business. We cannot even meet the demand. Most factories will tell you that they are overwhelmed by orders if they are honest.”
“We should be asking ourselves why the foreign companies remain in the business for decades if it’s not as profitable. That should tell you something.”
“The problem is lack of capacity and some constraints which are beyond our control. These can only be sorted with the government’s help. There is massive potential in this business.”

It is that potential that convinced Sekhametsi Investment Consortium, a locally owned company, to buy a 30 percent stake in Afri-Expo.
“We now know that this business is good if you do it well,” says Palo Kotelo, Sekhametsi’s representative on the Afri-Expo board.
“It is important to understand that this sector will not fully contribute to the economy unless Basotho participate at ownership level.”
Kotelo says they have been impressed by the passion at the company since their M10 million investment in February last year.

“This is a team that is driven from the management and workers,” he says.
That commitment from the workers seems informed by Kobeli’s efforts to imbue a sense of ownership among the employees.
Among those on the factory floor there is a sense that this is “our business”.
Maputso Tekiso, 48, who joined Afri-Expo as a supervisor when it started in 2016, says there is “a different culture at the company”.

“Here we feel we are working for ourselves. We are building something that is our own,” says Tekiso who has worked in textiles for more than two decades.
“Here supervisors have the authority to make important decisions about the allocation of staff on the production line. I didn’t have that freedom when I was a supervisor at another factory.”
Other employees speak glowingly about the fact that they are working at a locally owned factory.

“The work conditions and salaries are much better here,” says Mamello Sekhaleli, a mother of two who has worked at the factory for five years.
The employees also seem to have an intricate knowledge of the business.

Most of those interviewed agree that the lack of space and a laundry are what is stifling the company’s potential. They however say they believe they are part of what promises to be an exciting journey.
l Look out for the stories of their journey with Afri-Expo next week.

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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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