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To hell and back

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…..Kholumo’s lone battle against Covid-19….

BUTHA-BUTHE-FOR many fear-struck Basotho, contracting Covid-19 signals a step closer to the grave.
Not for Thabang Kholumo, the Qalo MP, who just spent three weeks in quarantine after testing positive for the dreaded virus.

While others who have tested positive have experienced relatively mild or no symptoms at all, the 56-year old politician said the infection hit him hard.

Stuck in his bedroom, he refused to let negative thoughts take over as he plotted his recovery by taking vitamin C and multi vitamin tablets, paracetamol, fruits (oranges mostly) and vegetables and a traditional herb called lengana.

At first he had flu-like symptoms and he took it lightly as he still felt fit. He even continued doing chores such as going to the field.
However, he said he suspected he was infected when his body started aching, while diarrhoea, a dry throat, severe headaches, suffocation in his sleep, loss of taste and smell soon took over.

“Those symptoms were enough for me to suspect I had the virus. My wife, a qualified nurse, advised me to get tested.
“I honestly don’t know where, when and who infected me but it was proven that I had it,” he said.

Getting tested was not a straight forward affair.
He said he went for testing on July 10th but the nurses were reluctant to test him as he didn’t have any travel history to the affected countries and he didn’t know who may have infected him.

“I had to persuade them until I was tested,” he said.
Afterwards, he said he was told to be prepared to go to any of the quarantine facilities should the test bring a positive result.
“I was very ill that I had to see a doctor after testing,” he said.
He said the doctor tested his oxygen saturation and temperature which turned out to be fine.

“I was given flu medication inclusive of Panado to relieve pain as my whole body was aching,” he said.
He said he went back home to prepare his luggage for the quarantine centre.

When he arrived home, his wife quarantined him while awaiting results, which came positive 27 days later.
He said he was told the results would not have been released should he have died before they came out.

“I was told they were not going to come,” he said, adding: “This shows that the available statistics are inaccurate as I recovered on my own and many people out there without a travel history are not being tested.”
He said the delays in releasing results could lead to faster spread of the virus as some don’t quarantine while awaiting their results.

“Results should be released on time to avoid infections that could have been stopped. The question remains, how many died without knowing their results?”
He said his wife had to take time off work to nurse him and, although she always wore a mask, she developed some signs as well forcing her to go for a test.

“It was difficult for her to test as I still hadn’t got my results but since they were her colleagues they tested her. To date, we are still waiting for her results,” he said.

He said as his state worsened, it became difficult for him to swallow food and he had to force himself to eat a slice of bread and eggs.
He said he had to buy vitamin C and multi vitamin tablets.
“I ate fruits (oranges mostly) and vegetables (meroho),” he said, adding that he also drank a mixture of traditional herbs three times a day.

“It was my new drink and I found it helpful,” he said.
Kholumo said he also used a mixture of traditional herbs such as Artesia afra, peppermint tree, helighrysum, bluegum, pine, alipedia (lengana, peperebomo, phate ea ngaka, boleikomo, phaena, lesoko) to steam three times a day.

He said his throat was very painful when he inhaled cold air as he would cough non-stop.
“I felt like I had to drink something oily to soften the dryness.”
However, he said he opted for his favourite Borstol remedy cough but it was not of much help.

“It felt different when it passed through my throat but after a few minutes I was back to square one,” he said.
Messages from his wife helped too, he chuckled.
“It was very helpful.”
He said as he got better he would venture out into the sun for an hour daily.
“My wife would clean the locks, toilet and passage I used with Domestos daily.

Still, there were times he feared for the worst.
“Sometimes it was difficult for me to sleep as I would be afraid, wondering what if this is my last sleep, let alone I was alone in that room,” he said.
He said even though it wasn’t easy for him not to see his children, “I accepted it for their sake, and mine. I wouldn’t want them to experience what I was going through”.

He recalled one night when “I felt like my soul was leaving my body”.
He said his wife used to check on him every 30 minutes but on that night she did not sleep.
“I had so many suffocation attacks which lasted some seconds and through our WhatsApp group we prayed with my family,” he said. “It was very painful when it stopped,” he said.

He said his family has been supportive “through it all” and the children understood that they had to distance themselves from him for a while.
“I wonder whether I could have made it should I have known my results earlier and be taken to an isolation centre.”

Kholumo said it has been very hard for him as each day felt different.
He said the government was failing in its handling of the virus outbreak.
“We are only protected by God,” he said.
He said it was the ministry’s fault that we still have some Basotho who do not believe the virus exists.

Kholumo said sidelining Parliament, especially the social cluster, when dealing with the virus was a big mistake.
“The ministry works with Nacosec only. Should the parliamentary committee be involved, ho kabo mathoa mpetleke and if things continue like this, it will lead to where HIV led us,” he warned.

Stigma is another issue which is coming up as a direct result of a lack of adequate awareness programmes, as many people shun people who were once infected by the virus.
“It hurts,” said Kholumo, noting that he tries to take remarks about his infection lightly.

He said some people still don’t believe that people do recover fully.
“I am now treated differently. When I approach other people, they would say hana joale oena o motho oa li corona butle re kenye li mask tsa rona be re tsamaelle thokoana.” (Oh, i remember that you have corona, let me put on my mask and keep my distance)
“I wonder how others cope with that.”

He called on Basotho to accept the existence of the virus and take care of themselves despite lack of adequate government support.
“Don’t expose yourselves to the risk basing yourself on what the government does,” he said.

’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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