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The making of the future



MASERU-THE prevailing wisdom in Lesotho’s textile sector is that you cannot start a factory without expatriates from Taiwan, China, and Sri Lanka.
That explains why nearly all textile factories have huge contingents of expatriates specialising in sewing machine mechanics, pattern designers, fabric experts, sewing machine operators, production managers, supervisors. Sometimes factories hire expatriates for mundane clerical work like processing orders, exports, imports and basic accounting.

That is why, to a larger extent, the transfer of crucial skills to locals has been slow.
It doesn’t help that graduates in Lesotho look down on careers in the textile sector despite the fact that the factories offer decent wages and have a dire shortage of skilled labour.

Afri-Expo Textiles, a locally-owned factory, is trying to buck that trend.
For the past five years the company has been training employees in all areas of its operations.
The result is that locals are moving up the corporate ladder while others are acquiring specialised skills that the factory would have had to import.
Leading the factory’s efforts to make its ‘own timber’ is Lin Chiyi, a 34-year-old veteran of the textile industry.

Lin, who is the factory manager, previously worked in textiles in China and Cambodia.
Having started at the very bottom on the factory floor, Lin knows every job on the production line.
For the past five years he has been training machine operators, designers, quality controllers, supervisors and managers at Afri-Expo.

Every Sunday senior and mid-ranking managers at the factory spend hours in workshops he conducts.
“Lesotho should train its own specialists if it wants to grow the sector,” Lin says.
“No country has ever developed an industry in which its own citizens are just providing basic labour. You need the locals to have the skills to drive the sector.”

One who has benefited from Lin’s training and mentorship is Ikaneng Kobeli, 35, a trainee factory manager. With a Master’s Degree in Governance and Regional Integration, Kobeli should ideally be holding an office job in a bank, NGO or government.
Yet she chose to be in textiles, a sector many of her peers consider beneath them.

“I chose to look at the bigger picture. The future of our economy is in manufacturing.”
Kobeli is confident that in a few years she will be ready to fill Lin’s shoes.
“I have the passion to learn everything about this job and sector.”
Lin is also optimistic that Kobeli and other employees are on the right track.
That progress has inspired him to introduce new production methods at the factory.

For the past year he has been experimenting with the “piece ready” concept, where an employee is paid for every completed task on a garment.
The system has been found to increase production, efficiency and the employees’ earnings.
“So, an employee is no longer earning a basic salary but according to how many pieces they complete,” says Lin, adding that the system has been piloted in other areas of the production line.

In other countries the system has helped employees earn substantially more than their basic salaries and the minimum wage.
He is however quick to point out that the system works well if the factory is able to capture more orders.
“That is why we are pushing to have more factory space and our own laundry so that we can get more orders.”
With a bigger factory and a laundry, Afri-Expo can move from the Cut, Trim and Make to manufacture its own products.

“This will significantly increase the margins and give us competitive advantage because it shifts the bargaining power from the buyers to us,” Lin explains.
“Once we can make our own products, we will have control on the production and margins”.
Tholoan Tšiame, 30, has been an accountant at the factory since 2018. She too has benefited from Lin’s tutorship. She joined the factory after two years in clothing retail.

“The experience and work ethic here are different. Here the deadlines are extremely tight and if you miss them you affect the whole production line. There is no room for errors,” Tšiame says.
Now training to be a chartered accountant, Tšiame sees herself rising through the ranks at the factory.
“I consider myself a seed that has been planted. I am one of the pioneers and will one day be one of the driving forces in this sector.”
Like Lin, she believes the lack of a laundry and space is stifling Afri-Expo’s potential.

“There is massive room for growth, if only we can sort out the space and laundry issues.”
Afri-Expo’s impact on its employees is apparent on the factory floor.
For many of the 600 employees of the factory’s two production lines, the job at Afri-Expo is their first in life. Take, for instance, Mamello Chopho, a-27-year-old mother of one.

Chopho was only 20 when she got pregnant. The boyfriend disappeared soon, leaving her to fend for the child and herself. With no tertiary education or trade training she spent three years doing odd jobs in Matsieng.
“Life was unbearable. Feeding my child was a struggle,” Chopho says.
Her fortunes however changed in 2016 when she enrolled at the Good Shepard Centre for Teenage Mothers where she took courses in catering, animal husbandry, agriculture, child care, business management and sewing.

Chopho says she was excited to acquire those skills but knew her battle was far from over. Although the courses gave her a leg up in the labour market, she could have ended up joining thousands of other young people struggling to get a job.
Luckily Chopho avoided that struggle when she got an attachment at Afri-Expo.
“I worked hard because I knew this was my best chance to get a job,” she says.

Things worked out fine for Chopho because she was hired soon after her attachment. Her job on the production line is to cut belt loops. She has also perfected her sewing skills.
The plan, she says, is to work a few years at the factory before trying to start her own business.
“The job here has given me a chance to get something to feed and clothe my children.” “Now I can think of starting a small business for myself. But I know that will take years of saving and help from other people but I am determined to make it happen.”

Chopho’s story is similar to that of many other employees at the factory. Mamello Sekaleli, 28, a mother of two, was a maid before joining Afri-Expo’s ironing team five years ago.
“When I arrived here, I was at my lowest but now things are looking up. I can feed my children,” says Sekaleli, who has also trained as a sewing machine operator.
“I see myself as a supervisor soon. There is that chance, so I keep training.”

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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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