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The lost generation

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…..Ministry to assess Covid carnage in education….

MASERU-THE combination of Covid-19 and a long running teachers’ strike has been deadly on Basotho children, with the impact on the quality of education likely to be felt for years to come.

The strike initially kicked off in 2018 to force the government to address teachers’ long-standing demands for an improvement in the career and salary structure as well as better working conditions.
They only called off the strike two after the government promised to address their grievances.

Just as authorities thought the end of the strike was an opportunity to rebuild the education sector, the Covid-19 crisis emerged and schools were forced to close around March 2020.
According to Basic Education Principal Secretary, Dr Lira Khama, he said they haven’t compiled a report yet to ascertain the depth of the carnage, but “it is obvious that quality was affected”.

He said the strike and the pandemic led to failure to cover content “but that doesn’t mean children should be denied an opportunity to proceed to the next class because they were not assessed”.
“Children ought to be equipped with all that is needed and teachers should ensure that they understand the content. Those struggling should be assisted until they manage so that they will all be given automatic promotion,” he said.

“Promoting them is for their benefit, we don’t want to humiliate them or put them in a state that they won’t be able to learn,” Dr Khama said.
Dr Khama said though research was yet to be conducted, “it is clear that children were left behind”.
“We suspect that’s the case… they didn’t get enough education, there were so many gaps. We plan to assist those admitted in universities with bridging programmes,” he said.

He said they also planned to form a committee in the ministry to help establish the readiness of schools in responding to crises that may unfold from time to time.
“We want to stay alert so that history will not repeat itself,” he said.
Lesotho Association of Teachers (LAT) Secretary General Letsatsi Ntsibolane described the situation as “bad”.

He said though the PSLE no longer has examinations in place, formative assessment was never conducted.
“The quality would be determined by the assessment we make and for us to say a learner deserves to be at a certain level, assessment should be done. If there was no assessment, what do you expect? Nothing like quality,” he said, warning that this could have led to many children dropping out of school when classes resumed.

He said the impact could be felt in the long run, and cannot be measured by the pass rates.
“The pass mark can be reduced (but) once the standard is reduced then it means we are talking about half-baked products.”
He said one major recommendation from his association is for the government to improve salaries and working conditions for teachers to motivate them to work hard at a time their services are needed the most.
He also called for the employment of more temporary/assistant teachers to boost manpower levels.

“We will be spreading children in school hence we need more people to teach those in tents. Quality will never be reached if learners continue to go to school in shifts. We already had problems and if this persists then we shouldn’t expect any improved quality.”
The Deputy President of the Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU), Letampu Mafaesa, said the outbreak of Covid-19 affected plans by teachers to bridge the gap caused by the strike.
“We are still behind in online learning, if we could engage more of it then it would be easier to close the gap,” Mafaesa said.

Bereng High School Deputy Principal, Habasheane Makhate, said the major impact was on content coverage.
“It was worse for externals as they were learning under pressure, getting too much information in a short space of time as we were trying to cover the syllabus before the start of examinations,” she said.
She said the delay still continues because of the shift system.

“It will still be difficult considering that we are dealing with children. We will keep giving them too much information without allowing them time to understand.”
“But we will try to give them assignments to work on though we won’t be able to closely monitor them, which is key. We need help from their caregivers,” she said.

St James High School Principal ‘Masetho Matalasi said the quality of education has been severely affected as the syllabus was not adequately covered during both the strike and Covid-19 pandemic.
She said it could be “very helpful to both children and teachers” to shorten the syllabus.
“It will make a huge difference,” she said.
However, she said asking learners to attend classes for three days a week would still be a challenge.

There are some slow learners who need a lot of time to catch up to learn, she said.
She said the ministry tried to shorten some topics, but parents and caregivers have become vital to ensure that children continue to learn and carry out assignments at home.

“Relying on a teacher only doesn’t help learners anymore. Parents and caregivers should help out on the days children stay at home. Not all parents know how to read but they can encourage and ensure that their children read as it can make a difference,” she said.
Holy Names High School Teacher, Lipalesa Ramarou, said the quality of education has drastically gone down as focus is shifted to just ensuring that children proceed to the next class.
“We teach Grade 8 but they don’t even know how to write their names or read,” she said.

“We are expected to finish the syllabus but instead of teaching our concepts we end up teaching them what they should have learnt in primary school and that is not our job. It is even more difficult to cover the syllabus as focus is shifted. It is a burden,” she said.
She said students attending public schools suffer most compared to those in private schools.
“They returned clueless,” she said.

She urged the government to fulfill its promise to hire teachers to assist during the crisis to help with bridging the gap of the syllabus.
“The question remains, how will we bridge the gap when dealing with people who don’t know how to read and write? If we had assistants, they would identify such students and teach them separately,” she said.
‘Mamoliehi Ramautu, a teacher at Mokoallong Government Primary School, said the issue of slow learners was a big concern.

“They can neither read nor write on their own though they would have proceeded to the next class. They will be so confused that we end up taking longer than the expected time on a topic.”
She said lack of adequate classrooms is another huge challenge.
Teacher ‘Maferete Sebatli of Mohale’s Hoek LECSA Primary School said reduction in school attendance time has taken a toll on learners.

She said current grade 8 students are almost at the same level as standard 4 learners as their education has been affected since 2018 when teachers went on strike.
“We need teachers and it is a major problem,” she said stating that at her school, only 21 teachers are in charge of about 1 000 pupils. Some teachers have class sizes of up to 90 students.
“They are burdened,” she said.

’Mapule Motsopa

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A night of horror

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THE police arrived in Ha-Rammeleke, a Mokhotlong village, in the middle of the night.
They stormed one house and found a couple sleeping.

They then dragged the man out and ordered him to follow their instructions if he didn’t want to be killed. Their order was that he should scream while announcing to his neighbours that his wife was gravely ill. The villagers who responded to the man’s plea for help didn’t know that they were walking into a trap.

The police rounded them up as they arrived at the man’s house.

Their night of horror has just begun.

Dozens of men and women were frog-marched to the edge of the village.

The police assaulted the men with sticks and whips. They kicked others.

In the crowd was Tebalo Lesita, a 48-year-old Rastafarian with dreadlocks.

He was called to the front and ordered to act like a Rastafarian.

First, they said he should sing Reggae while shaking his head so that his dreadlocks would wave from side to side. He did and they laughed.

“They also ordered me to mimic Lucky Dube.”

Lesita says he only shouted like he was singing because, due to fear, all Lucky Dube’s songs he knew had slipped out of his mind.

“I just mumbled some words as if I was singing. I have never experienced such torment before.”

“I only kept saying ‘Ye ye ye!’”, he says.

They laughed again.

Meanwhile, the police were hurling insults at him.

“I was told that I was smelling rubbish in the mouth.”

Lesita says the police then instructed him to act as if he was having sex.

And when he said he was tired of the act the police ordered him to act as if he was ejaculating.

He did and his tormentors roared with laughter.

The police, Lesita says, wanted him and other villagers to confess that they knew men who had shot and killed a man earlier in the village.

Lesita says after the ordeal that lasted nearly an hour the police ordered him to pray. He claims his body is full of bruises, especially on the buttocks.

“My body is aching all over.”

Lesita says he wants to sue the police but doesn’t know where to start.

“I understand that my human rights have been grossly violated but I do not know which legal steps to follow,” he says.

A week after the assault, he still hasn’t sought medical help.

Nor has he opened a case against the police.

“I find it impossible to open the case against them. I will have to go to the police station to open a case,” he says.

“How can I open the case against the police at the police station?”

As a sheep farmer, Lesita says he cannot afford the taxi fare to travel to Mapholaneng to report a case at Tlokoeng Police Station.

Lesita says he cut his dreadlocks a day after the incident “because they have put me into serious problems”.

“I rue the day that I started growing those dreadlocks,” he says.

Police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Kabelo Halahala, confirmed that there was a police operation in Mokhotlong but said he didn’t know how it unfolded.

Incidents of the police terrorising villagers under the guise of fighting or investigating crimes are common in Lesotho.

It is rare for police officers involved in such incidents to be arrested or prosecuted.

Majara Molupe

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Anger over Chinese businesses

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FORMER Mining Minister, Lebohang Thotanyana, says Lesotho is shooting itself in the foot by allowing Chinese companies that win major construction tenders to import everything from China.

Thotanyana was speaking at the Basotho Business Empowerment Forum on Tuesday.

The forum was organised by the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Association.

Thotanyana told the forum that of all the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) countries, Lesotho is the one benefitting the least from hiring Chinese-owned companies for major infrastructure projects. 

 

Thotanyana said Chinese companies tend to “import everything save menial labour” in every government job they win.

 

“We only benefit minimally with the labour force,” Thotanyana said, adding that “more money goes back to the countries that have brought their own machinery”.

 

“This is exactly what is happening at the Polihali Dam which is under construction.” 

 

“There should be a value chain so that the economy grows.”

 

Tempers flared at the forum as local business owners accused the government of failing to protect them against Chinese businesses. 

 

The forum revealed the growing frustration among local business owners who feel the government is not doing enough to protect them against Chinese business muscling them out of sectors reserved for them. 

 

The local business owners criticised the government for failing to implement the Business Licensing and Registration Act 2019 that reserves certain businesses for indigenous Basotho. 

 

They told the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Trade, Thabo Moleko, together with a handful of MPs in attendance, that their patience had worn out.

 

“We want our business from the Chinese and Indians,” Thobei Motlere, the president of the MSME Association said.

 

“We are not afraid of these Chinese,” he added, adding that they could approach them head-on.

 

“We want to see the Act implemented now, not tomorrow or any other time. We want to push them out of the business peacefully. We want peace.”

 

Motlere said they have been pushed out of business by the Chinese yet there is a law to protect them “against unfair competition”.

 

“We have elected you as MPs but you are doing nothing to save us from the competition yet there is a law in place,” Motlere said.

 

The MPs tried to respond to some of the issues people but they were booed and heckled. 

 

“This is not the right place to answer. You should address this in parliament, not here,” said one woman in the crowd. 

 

Some MPs walked out of the forum in protest but were eventually coaxed to return to their chairs. 

 

’Maremi ’Mabathoana, a street vendor, said the Chinese sell almost every item.

 

“We buy from their shops so that we can sell small items. But the Chinese also sell small items,” ’Mabathoana said.

 

“When we sell a sweet for M1, they sell it for 50c,” she yelled.

 

“When we sell apples for M4, the Chinese sell them for M2. This is unfair.”

 

Moeketsi Motšoane, the Mafeteng MP who is the chairman of the parliament’s Natural Resources committee, said he is also facing similar challenges in his home district.

 

Trying to calm the irked traders, Motšoane said he could bet that some people were being used by the Chinese to kick Basotho out of business.

 

“There are such people amongst you who are being used by the Chinese to knock Basotho out of business,” Motšoane said.

 

He told the Ministry of Trade to move swiftly to implement the Act.

 

“If you do not implement the Act, we will drag you before the committee to account,” he said.

 

 Moleko, the principal secretary of Trade,  promised to implement the law. 

Majara Molupe

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Labour unions in nasty fight

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TWO trade unions representing workers at Polihali Dam construction site have turned on each other.
Instead of fighting for better pay and conditions for members, the Construction, Mining, Quarrying and Allied Workers (CMQ) and the Lesotho Workers Association (LEWA) are locked in a nasty battle that could be linked to a fight over membership.

CMQ alleges that LEWA officials intimidated its members who wanted to vote for a proposed strike against companies working at Polihali Dam.

CMQ also accuses LEWA’s secretary general, Hlalefang Seoaholimo, of conflict of interest which it says renders him unable to effectively represent workers in their battles against employers in Polihali.

CMQ says Seoaholimo is working as a union leader and an employer at the same time. This, CMQ says, is because Seoaholimo’s company, Domino Blasting (Pty) Ltd, has been subcontracted by some companies working at Polihali Dam.

The allegations of intimidation and conflict of interest are part of the letter that CMQ’s secretary general, Robert Mokhahlane, has written to the Registrar of Trade Unions.

In that letter, seen by thepost, Mokhahlane pleads with the Registrar of Trade Unions to deregister LEWA over the alleged intimidation and Seoaholimo’s conflict of interest.

Mokhahlane tells the registrar that because of Seoaholimo’s shareholding in Domino Blasting, LEWA has “characteristics of a company, not a trade union”.

“At Polihali Dam construction, there (were) workers who were employed by Domino Blasting Services at various projects,” Mokhahlane alleges.

“They (Domino Blasting) have a long list of projects that have references and include some companies involved in the construction of Polihali Dam.”

Seoaholimo is one of Domino Blasting’s four directors and holds 300 of the 1000 shares in the company.

Mokhahlane tells the registrar that Seoaholimo cannot claim to be independently fighting for workers’ rights when his company is working with the same companies accused of unfair labour practices in Polihali.

He also accuses Domino Blasting’s human resource officer, Mpho Kanono, of being conflicted because she is also an official of the United Textile Employees (UNITE).

“Both the two officials (Seoaholimo and Kanono) are workers’ representatives within the Wages Advisory Board whereby Hlalefang Seoaholimo is the spokesperson of the workers,” Mokhahlane says.

Mokhahlane also accuses Seoaholimo of “intimidating workers who will be balloting for a strike action by encouraging LEWA members to observe and identify workers” who would participate.

He claims that Seoaholimo mocked a CMQ official who was mobilising workers for the strike at the construction site.

The Labour Code, which the registrar has been asked to invoke, says a union or employers’ organisation may be cancelled by the Labour Court on the registrar’s application.

Seoaholimo has however vehemently refuted allegations that his company is working at Polihali Dam. He told thepost that CMQ is in a campaign to tarnish his name and that of LEWA because “they are aware that workers do not want to join their union”.

He admits that he is a shareholder in Domino Blasting but insists that “as we speak now Domino Blasting does not have a job anywhere in Lesotho”.

“CMQ has to provide evidence that a company called Domino Blasting (Pty) Ltd is working and has any employees in Polihali,” Seoaholimo said.

“Domino Blasting does not even have an office anywhere in the country because it is not working anymore.”

“They should identify the people hired by Domino Blasting (Pty) Ltd among workers in Polihali.”

He said the company has not operated in Lesotho since 2016 when it completed a project. Seoaholimo, however, says he is aware of a South African company with a similar name working in Polihali.

“I as a person have nothing to do with that company,” Seoaholimo said.

He said it is true that Mpho Kanono used to work for Domino Blasting back in 2016 when it still had contracts but she has since left because “the company stopped working”.

“Mpho Kanono is an official of UNITE and has nothing to do with Domino Blasting at present moment.”

Staff Reporter

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