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The wounds that have refused to heal

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MASERU – WIDOW ’Maitumeleng Montje looks healthy and jovial but inside she is bleeding.
For her, 2018 is a year to forget, but the experiences she went through are just too harrowing to fade away.
In March last year, she lost her son and barely four months later, her beloved daughter-in-law also died.

Montje received a message that her son, Lerato, had been waylaid and murdered as he walked home from work in South Africa, where he was a mine worker.
In July, her daughter-in-law ’Matšepiso was attacked at home and shot dead. That was even before the Sesotho traditional eight months period for women to mourn their husbands had ended.
In public, the 74-year-old tries to hide her sorrow but inside she is still weeping, having never recovered from the heartbreak.
She was proud of the couple.

Her son was one of the few young men in her rural home of Ha-Mokauli in Rothe constituency who was beginning to turn around his life.
To her, Lerato was a star signalling the future success of the Montje family – a ray of hope that in the near future the family would win the war against the poverty that engulfed it.
Montje used to beam with a smile whenever she looked at the stone house her son had built and the chicken business his wife, ’Matšepiso, was running at home.
Now, all that hope has gone up in smoke and the impoverished Montje is left to care for her grandchildren aged 14 and six.

“After their mother’s death, I did register them with the Ministry of Social Development through the social welfare department and I am depending on it for assistance,” she says.
“If the help doesn’t come then I am afraid they will not be able to further their studies,” she says.
The grandchildren were traumatised so she took them to Maseru for counselling while locking her own sorrows deep in her chest.

“I didn’t want them to see my hopelessness,” she says, adding this is one of the reasons she tries to look jovial, tough as it may be.
Daily, she wakes up to feed the chickens, call out house chores to the grandchildren, talk to people, smile and tell everyone that she is doing fine.
When thepost visited her on Monday, she had gone to an area called Tšoeneng – some 12 kilometres away – to visit her daughter and discuss the future of her 14-year-old grandson whose school fees she is grappling with.

She waited for the news crew on the road side for a ride home where the interview was to take place.
On the way, she revealed that the daughter residing in Tšoeneng was sickly and therefore could not readily help with paying the school fees.
As for the six-year-old, he will go to the local primary school for free as per government policy.

Montje says the M700 old-age pension she receives is not enough to even pay school fees for the 14-year-old grandson, who is about to enrol in Form A.
She is both desperate and anxious for the government support.
“I am hopeful that I will be helped since school re-opening is around the corner,” she tells thepost.

Many other families in the area share similar experiences after last year’s series of merciless killings.
’Matšepiso was among six women who were massacred execution-style in July.
The unidentified gunmen moved from house-to-house, mowing down all they met under the cover of darkness on that fateful Monday night.
By the following morning, at least five women had been shot dead, with another woman sustaining serious injuries.

The police then said they had launched a search for the attackers, who were suspected to have crossed the nearby Mohokare River into South Africa.
There was unrest and lots of family feuds in the area, leading to loss of lives, according to the police.
Police spokesperson, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli says investigations showed that big and small guns were used in the shootings.
Pump action shot guns, 9mm and 7.65mm pistols were used, says Mopeli.

The MP for Rothe, Mohapinyane Mohapi, said the conflicts in the area date as far back as 2000 with the advent of famo music gang fights that wreak havoc both in Lesotho and South Africa.
While most of the famo gangs originate from Mafeteng district, they appear to have spread across the country.
Mohapi says the police often frequent the area to hold talks between the gangs to build peace. Rothe is currently under constant army patrol.
But that is hardly a consolation for Montje and other villagers.

They constantly fear that the attackers might return and finish what is left of their families once the soldiers leave the area.
“Wherever they are, they shouldn’t be allowed to live as they are murderers,” says Montje forcefully.
“They should get what they deserve – death.”

She adds: “Arresting them is pointless because they will be granted bail or even worse, serve a few years and still walk around like nothing happened.”
Sipho Tsemase, a 25-year-old resident of the same village shares similar fears.
His parents Makhaola, and ’Matankiso were also shot dead last year and he is now fending for his two younger brothers.
Tsemase does not have a permanent job and says looking after his brothers is proving a tough call.

Makhaola, his father, had just retired from the mines in South Africa and when he came home he bought sheep for rearing.
Tsemase says some people came and killed him accusing him of stealing the sheep.
“It pains me because that was the sheep he bought in 2009 after leaving the mines,” he says.
Makhaola was killed in February last year.

Then during the July killings, ’Matankiso was shot dead.
“It is pointless to arrest them (murderers) as they will not even spend a long time in jail,” Tsemase says.
The suspects were his neighbouring relatives who are not full time residents of Ha-Mokauli and now have all left with their children.
“We never thought they would do this to us,” he says.

Chief of Ha-Mokauli, Sekhonyana Sekhonyana, says over 10 of his residents were shot dead last year and none of the suspects has been arrested.
“I was told that investigations are still on-going,” he says.

“We are only staying here because we do not have any other option and other residents have already deserted the village fearing for their lives.”
The chief says the presence of soldiers in the village has brought a positive difference.
“I have not received any reports about people being shot since their arrival,” he says.

“We had the best Christmas after many years,” he says.
But for Montje and others who have lost their loved ones, their best days are long gone. Only painful memories remain.

’Mapule Motsopa

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Mahao, PS in big fight

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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

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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

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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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