Connect with us


The stinky coffin battle



MASERU-FOR families losing their loved ones to Covid-19, it’s a double tragedy. Apart from mourning, they have to scrounge around for money to buy coffins and meet funeral expenses all at a time the economy has nosedived due to the pandemic.
For local coffin makers, the increase in Covid-19 related deaths should have come as a boon. Yet, many say they are struggling due to what they say is a scheme by some funeral palours to ensure that bereaving families buy imported coffins.

Nthabiseng Sello received a call from Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital early in the morning breaking the sad news of the death of her mother.
After wiping her tears, Sello woke her uncle and together they took the long trip from Thaba-Tseka to Maseru to collect the body.
Sello says the family did not have funds to buy a coffin, let alone pay for the traditional funeral ceremony.
“One of my uncles is a carpenter and had offered to make a coffin for us but we had to stop him after we were made to buy the coffin sold by the mortuary,” Sello said.

“We were plainly told that the prices for keeping the body would increase if we did not buy the coffin from them,” she said.
While funeral parlours make it in the coffin industry, business for local coffin makers has gone south, not because demand has slowed but because funeral parlours have created a system that favours imported coffins.
This system has been jacked up by an unofficial policy by hospitals that requires bereaved families to take bodies of their loved ones to private mortuaries.

Once the body is at the private mortuary, the family is bound to buy a coffin from among a selection provided by the parlour or pay massive fees for mortuary services if they decide to get the casket elsewhere. The parlours charge low mortuary fees, sometimes as small as M10 a day, for people who opt to buy coffins from them.
The cheapest coffins range between M1 700 and M2 000.
Some families, especially poor ones, are left with no option but to buy from the funeral parlours even if they could assemble the coffin themselves or buy cheaper locally made ones.

The funeral parlours stock coffins from South Africa where they are produced in large quantities and sold at low prices to the local parlours.
This has seen many funeral parlours turning coffin making into a core business in direct competition with local coffin manufacturers.
Tšeliso Mafatla, a well-known local coffin maker, told thepost that just six years ago his business was booming but after the ushering in of the policy not to keep dead bodies at hospital mortuaries for long his shop went under.

Mafatla, who has been in this industry for more than 15 years, said the business “has not only gone bad but it has totally collapsed”.
He said every carpenter who is well equipped with the skills of working with wood can make a coffin since it is the easiest product to make.
“It is not even time consuming as I used to spend less than two hours to complete it,’’ he said.
He added that it is possible to make more coffins in a day, boosting profits.
Mafatla said the practice by funeral parlours is driving people like him out of business.
He said in a normal month he would manufacture and sell more than 10 coffins.

Mafatla said they would sell each coffin for between M800 to M2 500 for adults depending on the quality and size while those for children ranged from M400 to M800.
However, due to competition from funeral parlours, some are now making items such as tables instead of coffins, he said.
“Some are no longer manufacturing even one coffin because people are being forced to buy from funeral parlours,” said Mafatla, whose workshop is less than two kilometres from the now defunct Queen Elizabeth II Hospital. He said families used to collect coffins from his site before proceeding to the hospital mortuary to collect bodies.
“During those years it was allowed for families to keep bodies in the hospital morgue for weeks, sometimes months, until they raised money for a funeral,” said Mafatla.

Nowadays hospitals countrywide, irrespective of whether they are owned by the government, churches or by private individuals are demanding that relatives quickly take bodies to private mortuaries.
Mafatla said before Covid-19, coffin makers used to get customers from rural areas where some people did not take their corpses to mortuaries.
“But now the mortuaries are everywhere and the fees are affordable,” he said.

“There is no business at all,’’ said Mafatla.
Ramakhula Ramakhula, who has been in the carpentry business from 2006, said they used to make and sell coffins to people who were using the Queen II mortuary.
“Ever since the Queen II mortuary collapsed, there has been no business at all,” Ramakhula said.
“We would not wait for customers to place orders because we knew that people are being buried each and every week,” he said, adding that he would make up to 10 coffins a day when business was at its peak.
“Right now, I do not even remember the last time I made a coffin. It was a long time ago. This has not only affected a certain group of people in the town of Maseru but every coffin business has been affected countrywide,” he said.

The owner of Lebza Coffin and Casket, ’Mannabi Ngoanamatsumi-Phakisi, said she registered the company around 2017 with the aim to sell coffins to uninsured people and those who wanted to bury their loved one quickly.
Phakisi said she was buying the coffins from Bloemfontein in South Africa.
However, she ran into losses until she decided to close the business in December 2019.
Phakisi said she tried to negotiate with customers “but nothing has worked out”.
She said she even approached mortuaries for partnerships but the negotiations also failed.

Phakisi said she then decided to study how to make coffins so that she could supply funeral parlours with quality products but the business could not generate enough profits to remain sustainable.
“I would sometimes go for six months without getting any customers. Business was really bad,” said Phakisi.
The Senior Manager of Sentebale Funeral Services, Nyeoe Leroma, said they source coffins from local suppliers.
He said the supplier should be legally operating and tax compliant.
Leroma however said they also buy from different suppliers internationally.

He said the decision on which supplier to contract is based on the quality and quantity required and the reliability of the supplier.
“For example, circumstances may at times force us to source large quantities,’’ Leroma said.
Leroma said they consider the type of material used, the quality of work itself, the designs, the painting and the finishing.

“Even a coffin should be good looking, something that does not break easily,’’ he said.
Leroma said they don’t have a problem working with local suppliers but there are challenges which hinder them from fully relying on local suppliers.
He mentioned legal issues, capacity problems and reliability as major challenges.

Refiloe Mpobole

Continue Reading


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

Continue Reading


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

Continue Reading


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

Continue Reading