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The triple troubles of Ribaneng



POVERTY, neglect, and famo gangs are the unholy trinity that has beset children in Ribaneng High School and surrounding villages.
The high school, serving at least 10 villages, has only 100 students because other children have either not enrolled or dropped out.
Those who still attend school have grades lower than their peers in other schools in the districts and nationally.

Teachers say children in Ribaneng leave school to look for jobs because many of them have taken the role of parents who are either dead or have left for South Africa.
Abject poverty has beleaguered many families in the area, mostly because young people who can work are either dead or have left to search for jobs in town or South Africa.

Many of those who have left no longer come back and have abandoned their children, leaving them in the care of elderly grandparents.
When the families are not battling to fend for themselves they are dealing with famo music gangs that routinely unleash violence on them or lure their children to join their ranks.

Puleng Nkaleche, the Ribaneng High School principal, says students still attending classes do not pay school fees. She says when she presses the parents for payment they only manage to pay up to M100.

The set annual fee for the school is M1 500, an amount Nkaleche says most of the parents cannot afford. Nkaleche says she ends up allowing the children to continue coming to school “or else the school will have to close”.

“Many of the children I have in this school are orphans and are raised by grandparents or other relatives,” Nkaleche says.

“I doubt that they have breakfast when they leave their homes because at lunchtime we send them back home to eat as we no longer serve meals at school.”

“Even when we send them home we have no guarantee that the children have anything to eat there. This pains my heart. It is beyond me as a person.”

Nkaleche, with a quavering voice, says in the past the school used to provide meals but they have since stopped because parents do not pay.
She says she finds it hard to exclude children for tuition arrears.

“It goes against the person I am inside,” she says, adding: “I look at the child and see the helplessness right in their eyes.”
“Sometimes I lock myself in the office and cry, alone.”

She says what disheartens her the most is that some of the fathers of children who are not paying fees come from South African mines, illegal and legal, every December to show off by throwing parties and drinking alcohol.

She says such fathers wear expensive clothes and drive cars but do not take care of their children.
She says many boys from her school have dropped out in the past five years and joined the illegal mining in South Africa, coming back to boast of their attained riches.
“This has sowed the wrong seed in the minds of many boys here, they no longer see why they should continue with school when there is evidence that they can make it in life without education.”

Nkaleche says this year alone five children have dropped out of school while many others have been dispirited to the extent that they often dodge classes for petty reasons.

“There are no parents at home to coach them for many of them come from child-headed families”.

Going around in the village on a rainy Thursday last week, thepost met three young boys who were not at school.
Clad in blankets, gumboots and balaclavas, the children could not explain why they were not in school.
Nkaleche talks about a 15-year-old girl whose mother left her with a two-year-old sickly sibling.

“The girl ended up dropping out of school for good.”
Nkaleche says she tried asking for help from the police, who said she should tell the girl’s mother to go to their station.
“Where should I get that parent? If I had access to her I would go straight to her instead of going to the police. I went there only because she had abandoned the children.”

Nkaleche says her staff often contribute money from their own pockets to buy school uniforms for some students.
The science teacher at the school, Tokelo Motsomi, says they are alarmed by the level to which famo gangs influence their students and the youths in the area.
Motsomi, born and raised in Ribaneng, says gang wars associated with famo and illegal gold mining in South Africa have left deep wounds on the children.
He recalls when two young girls from a nearby Ribaneng Primary School fought during the school educational project when their teacher had put them in the same group for discussion.

The children, Motsomi says, fought because a relative of one had allegedly shot and killed the other’s father.

“You can imagine how boys behave because of gang wars if it affects even girls to this level,” he says.
“Our boys’ dream here is not to go to school to get enough education to make a living but rather to grow up so that they join famo gangs and take revenge for their slain relatives,” he says.

Ribaneng village, sitting on the foot of Thaba-Bobe Mountain, flanked by Mount Lekhache in the west and Mount Mahlatsa in the east, is home to three vicious famo gangs fighting for power.

The villages, some 105 kilometres south of Maseru deep in the rural areas of Mafeteng district, have rich loam soils and an abundance of ground water but there is no one to still the land. Most families in this area cannot afford seed and fertiliser. And even if they put something on the ground there is no one to work the land because those who head families are either the elderly or too young.

Ribaneng High School itself has over 10 acres of land in which it grows food for the children but due to weather inconsistency caused by climate change the harvest has been poor for the past two years.

“We are unable to feed these children despite that we have land and water,” Nkaleche says.
She is calling on people of goodwill to help the school, especially with counselling services for boys who are lured into gangsterism once they drop out and join traditional initiation schools.

She also calls for help to support income-generating projects that can show boys that they can make it in life without joining illegal miners in South Africa.
The school, she says, has enough land for such projects.

Caswell Tlali

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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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