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The wicked cult at Fokothi



MASERU – BARBARITY at the Lerotholi Polytechnic raised its ugly head again last Friday when a newly enrolled student was tortured to death.
Welcome to the Lesotho college of rough, bullying and violent students who are known to be members of a notorious gang of thugs.
The police found the dead body of the student lying on the banks of Mohokare River in the morning, after a tiresome night of searching for a group of college hooligans who were torturing newcomers in the river.

Rethabile Joshua Mositi was a 21-year-old student from Ha-Nyenye in Maputsoe, Leribe, who underwent the college’s infamous initiation of the newcomers.
The college rector Dr Tlali Sepiriti says six suspects have been arrested in connection with the murder.
The suspects are college students.

Sepiriti says Mositi was admitted for a diploma in business management programme and had joined the college on July 16.
“This unfortunate incident happened on the last day of the students’ orientation week,” Sepiriti says.
He says preliminary investigations have shown there were 11 first year students in the river with eight perpetrators.
“Six have already been arrested pertaining to this death,” he says.

He also says the initial investigations point to the alleged cause of death to be the result of ill-treatment by fellow students along Mohokare River last Friday.
“I am new in this institution but reports say this is the sixth student who has passed away in this manner,” he says.
He also says over the years the institution has embarked on different measures to deal with the problem “including expelling all students who were involved in such acts”.
Sepiriti also says what makes it difficult to uproot the ill-treatments is the fact that this ritual is a cult.

“When you are not part of it you will not know about what they do unless something like this happens. So it is not that easy to investigate this issue among students,” he says.
Police spokesman Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli says four of the suspects are college old timers aged between 23 and 28 years.
Superintendent Mopeli says it is expected that more suspects will be arrested before the end of this week.

It is not yet known how many newcomers were ill-treated over the weekend but the police believe many more could have been injured on that fateful night.
The school and the police believe that Mositi was forced to ‘drain’ the whole Mohokare River by drinking its waters.
According to insiders, new students are forced to drink the water as part of their initiation into the secret gang.

The newcomers are forced to stand in the river and drink the water “until the river is drained” – which is impossible.
When they tire of the drink, they are ordered to get out.
At the opening of the new academic year, the newcomers are often seen together with the older students singing violence-inspired famo songs called makhele at the college gate.
These songs glorify violence and urge them to defend themselves against attack from anyone.

In most cases, the songs liken the singers to vicious wild animals such as lions, leopards, eagles and falcons.
The songs also promote the love of weapons by associating real men with possession of guns and spears.
They also sing about defying authority.

In the past 10 years at least six newcomers have died at the hands of the thugs.
A third year student who spoke on condition of anonymity says the gang is joined voluntarily by the students who take the oath of secrecy.
One of its important rules is that wherever they will work they will selectively create employment opportunities for their members.
“It is so bad if you have not undergone the treatment because you are likely to spend years without any job after completing school,” he says.

“They will simply tell you that you are a woman, a sissy, because you have not drunk the Mohokare waters, you have not attempted to drain the river,” he says.
Even some government tenders could be channelled to “men who drank the water”.

The man says it is frightening because even some of the college lecturers, the police, soldiers, senior government officials and prominent businessmen are members of the group.
“Even if you report to the police, chances are your case will be handled by a member of the group.”
The gang is said to predate 2009 when the first newcomer was killed during initiation and since then the college management has made frantic efforts to stop the practice but all has been in vain.
The college spokesperson Hlomohang Majara says they hold induction courses for the newcomers every year when the school reopens.

“We want them to avoid things such as this one,” Majara says.
“It is unfortunate that we have lost a first year student,” she says.

She says the message that the old timers had taken the new ones to the river and were assaulting them got to her at around 9pm on Friday.
“The message was delivered by one of the participants who were part of that unfortunate act of forcing the newcomers to drink water in the river,” she says.
“This is not our culture. We should not call it culture because as a Mosotho, culture is not harmful to anyone.”

Majara is worried that the school is unable to afford safe accommodation to the students where they can stay under the watchful eyes of a hired security company.
“However, we are working together with the police to patrol parts of the river where they do these acts,” she says.
The school is also worried that perpetrators of past killings have not been punished although some of them have been charged with murder.

They have been expelled from the college but that has not been enough to deter those who are still clinging to the culture of violent treatment of the newcomers.
Police spokesman Superintendent Mopeli says the cases are before the courts and soon the law will run its course.
“We have reports from previous years since 2009 and cases are in the courts of law,” Superintendent Mopeli says.
“Investigations are going on,” he says.

“As police, we have to talk to the students. We went there on Thursday and made them aware of the incidents that might unfold,” Mopeli adds.
“It is clear that suspects left their homes with the intention to ill-treat the newcomers.”
He says they have to discuss the matter with all the stakeholders.
“We will go and talk to them again.”

Since 2009, harrowing incidents of how newcomers were killed after torture in the river have rocked the college.
In September 2009 the college had to call off its annual graduation ceremony after a student was beaten to death by former students.
The student was found dead in the school campus.

He was found lying behind the class buildings by his lecturer.
It was suspected that he could have been immersed head first in a bathtub full of water by other students.
The school management then said some students said they saw him coming out of the bathroom naked.

The management said they also learnt that first-year students are stripped naked, forced to stand in a cold shower and to gulp five litres of water.
The management also said some lecturers could be part of the group of tormentors.

Names of the lecturers were given to the management by some students and investigations ensued but until today no lecturer has been fired from the college or brought before any court.
In February 2012 two students were killed and seven suspects were called for questioning and some of them later charged with murder and are awaiting trial out of custody.
Majara says they always make follow ups to the courts of laws about the past incidents.

“All of the cases are pending in the courts of law but as a school it is our wish that perpetrators get their punishment,” she says.
She also says they are going to ask the Ministry of Law to come to their rescue by making sure that such cases are dispensed with quickly to deter other students who may want to continue with this wicked cult.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Mahao, PS in big fight



PRIME Minister Sam Matekane this week summoned the Basotho Action Party (BAP) executive committee in a bid to defuse simmering tensions within the party.
This comes amid fears that Professor Nqosa Mahao’s fallout with his principal secretary at the Ministry of Energy, Tankiso Phapano, could threaten the unity in the BAP and the government’s stability.

thepost can reveal that Mahao has hinted that he would resign if Matekane doesn’t fire or reassign Phapano.

But there are strong indications that Mahao doesn’t enjoy the backing of his executive committee and MPs in his fight with Phapano.

Inside sources this week told thepost that some members of the BAP’s executive committee and MPs are openly siding with Phapano and have been secretly lobbying Matekane to reshuffle Mahao from the Ministry of Energy to Sports.

A source said Mahao is aware of these manoeuvres, including a clandestine meeting in Maputsoe, and has said he would rather resign than be the subject of a humiliating reshuffle instigated by people he leads.

The source of the bad blood between Mahao and Phapano is not clear but it is understood that they have disagreed over tenders and the ministry’s direction.

The source said Matekane was first briefed of the running battles at the ministry some three weeks ago just as matters were coming to a head.

It is the second briefing which revealed a complete breakdown in the relationship that triggered Matekane’s meeting with the BAP’s executive committee and MPs on Monday.

Three people who were in that meeting said Matekane told the BAP officials to deal with the crisis before it affected the ministry and threatened the coalition government’s stability.

The BAP’s executive committee, including MPs and Mahao, then had a marathon meeting to discuss ways to make peace between Mahao and Phapano.

A source who was in that meeting said “it was clear to Mahao that the majority of the committee and the MPs were on Phapano’s side”.

“Mahao quickly realised that he did not have the backing of the majority and took a conciliatory approach. It was clear that the committee would rather have him resign than get Phapano removed from the ministry,” the source said.

“In the past Mahao had flatly refused to reconcile with Phapano because of seniority. But this time he appeared to be open to a meeting to discuss reconciliation.”

Both Mahao and Phapano told thepost last night that their relationship was still cordial. ‘“We are still in good books with Phapano until further notice,” Mahao said.

“However, we cannot predict the future.”

Mahao denied ever discussing Phapano’s dismissal or transfer with Matekane.

Phapano also insisted that he was working well with Mahao.

“We are still on good terms,” Phapano said, adding that the allegation that they were fighting was “baseless”.

The fallout between Mahao and Phapano has been quick and spectacular.

The two had been almost inseparable months before Mahao agreed to join the coalition government.

Phapano would use his car to drive Mahao around. They would attend party meetings together. Some party insiders saw Phapano as Mahao’s right-hand man and adviser.

Mahao allegedly strongly pushed for Phapano to be appointed as his principal secretary when he became energy minister.

But sources said Mahao started having second thoughts days after recommending Phapano and tried to get his appointment reversed but it was too late.

A source says within weeks Mahao was telling cabinet colleagues that Phapano had captured the ministry and he was unable to function as the minister.

“He started pushing to oust Phapano within days because they were already clashing. It’s been war from the first days,” said the source.

Staff Reporter

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How chicken import ban hit vendors



MALESHOANE Pakela used to work at small backyard chicken farms where she was paid with chicken heads, necks, legs, and offals that she would roast and sell to factory workers at the Thetsane Industrial Area.

Her job was to clean and pack chicken.
The profit wasn’t much but just enough for the 37-year-old widow to feed and keep her four children in school.

“It also covered her monthly rental of M150 for a room in Ha-Tsolo Sekoting.

Her life was however shattered last October when the government imposed a ban on chicken imports from South Africa following an outbreak of bird flu.
Without day-old chicks the farms quickly shut down, cutting Pakela’s supply of heads, necks, legs, and offals.
Within a few days, her family was starving.

Pakela had been struggling even for months before the ban. The closure of the factories and retrenchments of thousands of workers has severely hit her sales. She was behind on her rent and could barely feed her children.

The partial lifting of the chicken ban has not helped Pakela because her former employers still cannot import day-old chicks or live birds.
Pakela and a family were kicked out of their rented room in November when their arrears were about M1 000.
She has found another room nearby.

A ‘Good Samaritan’ has allowed her to use a room for free until she can afford the rent. But Pakela says she still feels obliged to pay something because she understands that things are hard for everyone.

“Here the rent is still M150 but the landlord accepts every amount that I give her,” Pakela says.
There are days when her children go to bed hungry.

“I have told them (children) that if I have nothing they should accept (the status).”

She now survives on handouts from neighbours and other well-wishers. Pakela’s poverty is apparent.

Barefoot and holding her small child in a seshoeshoe dress, Pakela says her two children usually go to school without eating.
The other child has dropped out of school because she doesn’t have shoes.

’Mako Lepolesa, 44, who has been running a chesanyama (meat grill) at the Maseru West Industrial Estate since 2018. The father of three says his clients are mainly taxi drivers and factory workers.

Chicken was her main product until last October when the ban was imposed. It wasn’t long before his business started wobbling.

“I thought it would be just a short-lived problem (chicken import ban) but it passed on this year,” he says, adding that it might take months for his business to recover.
Moshe Ramashamole, 42, who also owns a chesanyama in the Maseru West Industrial Estate, tried to remain in business by sourcing chicken from local farmers.

It was a stopgap measure that however lasted a few weeks because the farmers also ran out of stock. He resorted to bad chicken but they were double the price of a full chicken before the ban.
Yet Ramashamole thought he could make it work by increasing the price of his plate from M35 to M55. The customers however resisted the new price and Ramashamole had to take the losses.

The poultry ban did not affect street vendors like Pakela alone.
Former Minister of Communications, Khotso Letsatsi, is one of those poultry farmers struggling following the chicken ban.

He ventured into poultry in January last year. It was an audacious venture that included a M100 000 investment in a shelter and other equipment.
He started with a batch of 300 chicks and had reached 1 000 by the time the ban was imposed.

“The business was lucrative,” Letsatsi says.

“I had to employ two people permanently to assist me on a full-time basis,” he says.

When it was time to slaughter the chickens, Letsatsi says he had to employ seven casual labourers.
Since the ban was imposed he had released all his workers.

“I do not know where they are now. Maybe they are starving,” he says of the workers he released.

Letsatsi doesn’t know how he will revive his business.
The Director of Marketing in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS), Lekhooe Makhate, says the ban has been devastating to farmers and businesses.

“Some big businesses are going to declare less tax to the government because there was no business,” Makhate says.

He says Lesotho spends M2.1 billion on the importation of chicken and its products from South Africa every year.
But that amount usually soars to M4 billion depending on the market forces of demand and supply.

Makhate says the M2.1 billion goes to South Africa where the chicken and its products are imported.

At the height of the scarcity of chickens in the country, Makhate says people were supposed to make initiatives to travel to villages to search for chickens.

“There is not enough production of chickens in the country,” he says.
“Economically speaking we rely on South Africa. We have to be self-reliant.”

Majara Molupe

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Letseng fends off threat to sue



LETŠENG Diamond says it is under no obligation to advertise jobs for Basotho to provide certain services “where it has the capacity to undertake the same services”.
Letšeng Diamond boss, Motooane Thinyane, was responding to a threat to sue by a little-known political party called Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES).

Matekane’s company, the Matekane Mining Investment Company (MMIC), had been providing blasting, haulage and drilling services at Letšeng mine since 2005.
The deal with the MMIC was terminated in December last year with the mining company saying it was improper because Matekane had now become a politician.

Letšeng Diamonds announced that it had reached an agreement with the MMIC to acquire its mining equipment at the mine and offered employment to its current employees in line with operational requirements.

“This will enable Letšeng to continue with its mining activities,” the company said in its statement.

This infuriated opposition parties that argued that the mine should have called interested Basotho companies to bid for the contract, saying it is provided for in the Minerals Act of 2005.

The leader of Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES), Molefi Ntšonyana, wrote the mine last week threatening to sue for allegedly failing to follow section 11 of the Act.
Ntšonyana argued that the Act “does not grant the Letšeng Diamond 100 percent to mine with its good own equipment” but it should engage Basotho companies like it did with the MMIC.

Ntšonyana said Letšeng Diamond and the MMIC made the agreement to acquire the MMIC equipment so that the mine could continue with its mining activities “without any advertisement to seek qualified Basotho to provide such services”.

Ntšonyana said the agreement unilaterally denied Basotho a chance to tender for such services and ignored the fact that the government of Lesotho on behalf of Basotho own 30 percent in the Letšeng Diamond.

“It is advisable to reconsider your decision,” Ntšonyana said, adding that they would also write to the mining board requesting the resolution they made regarding this matter of insourcing mining activities.

He said the company should adhere to section 11 of the Mines and Minerals Act of 2005 and within 14 working days the matter should be reconsidered, “failing which we will have no choice but to drag the company to the courts of law”.

In his response, Thinyane said Ntšonyana must “revisit the section in question in full for its correct interpretation”.

“Letšeng Diamond is under no obligation to advertise to seek qualified Basotho to provide services where it is willing and has the capacity to undertake the same services,” Thinyane said.

He said the decision relating to the agreement referred to has been through the necessary governance structures and is therefore procedural.
Thinyane said Letšeng is a corporate citizen that is fully compliant with the laws of Lesotho.

Majara Molupe

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