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The river of death



THEY live in remote villages perched up in the mountains. And so when they require services they have to come down the mountains and cross the mighty Senqu River.

For years, these villagers in the Tebellong area in Qacha’s Nek have relied on government-provided boats to cross the river for a nominal M20 fee.

But when the civil servants who run the boats are not around after knocking off, the villagers have to fork out M100 to cross the river, a fee they say is too steep.

The villagers pay M100 per person to board a boat and an additional M100 if the passenger has pieces of luggage after the private sector leveraged on the prevailing desperation and brought in boats for hire.

“We don’t have much problems during the day because the government-owned boats will be available; the challenge is early in the morning before government employees go to work and in the evening after they knock off,” said a resident.

Between 8am and 4pm, residents know that they either cross freely or pay less than M20 per person on the government boats.

The problem is in the morning when school children have to arrive at schools before 8am and when they knock off after 4pm when government employees are not at work and cheaper ferries are unavailable.

Also, there are many residents who work on both sides of the river and have to cross the Senqu River daily, while others have to go to Qacha’s Nek town early in the morning for various chores and return in the evening.

Residents say the government workers operating the boats used to start work before eight, sometimes at six, and knocked off at dusk.

However, that changed late last year when the privately-owned boats arrived and the state-owned boat operators “started behaving like all civil servants”, starting work at 8am and knocking off at 4pm.

This has left residents at the mercy of private operators.

The Area Chief for Tebellong, Makhaola Makhaola, told thepost that his area has a hospital, seven primary schools and a high school that serve people from across the river.

Chief Makhaola said people under his jurisdiction have raised complaints about the situation, adding that the main grievance is the hefty fee charged by the private boat operators.
“People have a right to travel,” Chief Makhaola said.

Residents, especially the sick, sometimes get free or cheap rides on a boat owned by Tebellong Hospital or on those owned by the government.

“But most of the time these are not available so people have to use the ones owned by private players that are expensive,” the chief said.

Chief Makhaola said he talked to the Qacha’s Nek District Administrator who promised to intervene but he had not done so to date.

He said he also invited the Ministry of Transport to come and solve the problem.
“All I got was a promise that they will visit the area,” he said.

Chief Makhaola said he is working with the councillor of Tebellong, “but we have since realised that this issue is putting our lives in danger”.

“I am saying this because the councillor tried to intervene and some people got angry with him,” Chief Makhaola said.

Chief Makhaola said it is high time the government builds a bridge to ease the problem.
“All the deaths caused by this river, the poverty and poor service delivery would have been gone years ago if we had a bridge,” lamented Chief Makhaola.

Chief Makhaola said the hospital decided to station its boat on the river banks to transport people after some residents were washed away while seeking medical help.

Hospital workers, he said, used to go to the river to help pregnant women.

“Many pregnant women used to give birth on the other side of the river, on the river banks, because they could not cross hence the hospital decided to buy the boat,” he said.

He said later the government chipped in with another boat after it realised the magnitude of the problem.

“Many people have died trying to cross this river. Without a bridge our lives will always be like this and we are getting poorer every time,” he said.

The councillor for Tebellong, Tšokolo Phaloane, expressed concern at the situation.
“The private sector is taking advantage of people’s problems, prioritising their business profits over people’s lives. It is sad that people have to pay M100 or M200 or more if they have luggage,” Phaloane said.

“This is not good because some people are coming to Tebellong for hospital services and some fail to cross because they cannot afford to pay that much for crossing,” he said.
Phaloane said authorities promised to construct a bridge “years ago” but no action has followed the pledge.

“So this is the result of not having a bridge. This issue has taken another angle as I have noticed that people working at the river are not happy because I tried to talk to them about their prices,” he said.

Phaloane vowed to continue fighting for the community despite threats on his life.
“Our life in Tebellong is becoming more and more difficult each day,” he said.

He said those who build houses in Tebellong buy materials in Qacha’s Nek town and have to cross the river “and the cost of crossing surpasses that of transporting the building material from the town”.

“The building materials are loaded onto the boat and crossed one by one and the owner has to pay for each trip,” Phaloane said.

One of the residents, ’Makatleho Sekilo, who is a small business owner, said the situation has negatively affected her business.

Sekilo said she has suspended her business because she cannot afford the boat fees.
“I will have to wait for the river to subside. I cannot afford to spend all my profits on crossing the river. I had to stop business for a while,” she said, adding desperately: “When will the government intervene and help us?”

Another villager, Reaoboka Phatela, said “life has been turned up-side-down for the people of Tebellong”.

“This money we are paying for crossing the river would have been better used to buy food for our children,” Phatela said.

“It is as if we are living in another part of the world yet we are here at home, this is not good,” he said.

The Qacha’s Nek District Administrator, Mantsi Tšeane, said he heard about that matter of Tebellong villagers who are complaining about high prices they are paying when crossing the Senqu River.

Tšeane said he tried to get between those two parties although he did not succeeded.
“I tried to talk to PS Transport about the matter, but till now he did not respond to my issue,” Tšeane said.

Tšeane said it can be a good idea if the prices of crossing the river can be handled by the Ministry of Transport as it does with taxis, buses and other means of transportation.
He said he was trying to talk to the Principal Secretary so that this problem can be corrected that by the ministry itself.

“I can go to those boat operators myself but I don’t think they will stop what they are doing,” he said.

“I think they can stop that only if they get orders from the ministry.”
The Transport Ministry’s Deputy Principal Secretary, Katiso Ntoane, said the plight of people in Tebellong reached his office and they pondered on it.

Ntoane however said at present there is no regulation of prices on boats because it was decided that decentralisation should come first so that local government councils take full responsibilities of running the show everywhere boats are used.

“At present we do not regulate that kind of transport,” Ntoane said.

“However, we have provided boats where we saw the need but without regulating business there,” he said.

Ntoane said the government-owned boats are boarded for free and “we do not expect the people to pay anything as the boats are manned by government employees paid by the government”.

He also said there is an ongoing study on how transport as a whole, including boats, should be handled and once it is completed there will be suggestions as to how the issue of boats should be approached.

Until then, the private operators will still make business as they see fit.

Thooe Ramolibeli


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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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