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Violent hijackings on the rise

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Rajagopalan Pullanikkatil, an Indian national who has been living in Lesotho since 1988, was driving from Avani Lesotho Hotel to his home in Lower Thetsane at around 7:30pm when he realised that he was being trailed.

As he increased speed, the weapon-wielding criminal also increased speed in an effort to overtake and block his car.
“I managed to drive fast not permitting the criminal to block me on the road,” Pullanikkatil says.

However, he says he did not report the incident to the police because of a previous incident when nothing came out of his attempt to report a case.
Pullanikkatil says 35 years ago, Lesotho was a haven of peace.

“Security was not a serious problem in Lesotho in those days,” he says.

He says there were minor crimes then and they were not of great concern.
But now things have changed with violent crimes such as armed robberies and car hijackings on the rise.

A deteriorating economic situation has meant that armed robbers are more willing to use violence to get their way.
He says he has been a victim of violent crime three times over the years.
In May 2003, five young men jumped over the compound wall after cutting the razor wires on top of the two-metre high wall and stormed into his house through the unlocked kitchen door pointing pistols at members of his family.

“No one had covered their faces. They looked in their 20s,” he says.

“They forced us to sit on the sofas and searched each one of us for any weapon and other valuables. One of them tied our hands together with tape,” he says.

“They ransacked the house, cut the telephone wire, took the key for the car, loaded valuables from the house in the car and sped off at about 8pm.”

Pullanikkatil says he called the police but until today his car and valuables were never recovered.
At the time he was living at Letsie Flats, along Constitution Road, just less than a kilometre from the Maseru Central police station.
In 2013 he moved to New Europa where his house was also attacked three times.

The first robbery involved five armed robbers who barged into the house in the night and remained inside the house for five hours threatening to kill him after ransacking the whole house, terrifying his three grandchildren who were below the age of 10.

They had stolen household items including cell phones, computers, a television, wrist watches, a wallet with cash and electronic cards.
They had packed the stolen items into his car parked in the premises and drove away.
The police recovered the abandoned car and a bunch of keys the next day but did not identify the criminals.

The robbers had used debit cards of his son and daughter-in-law twice, before midnight and the second encashment after midnight.
He installed a security alarm system and contracted a security company to secure the premises.
The second break in happened in April 2015 between 2 and 2:30pm when there was nobody at home.

“I and my wife returned home from the South African High Commission and found the front door partially broken up by intruders who had escaped after sensing our return home,” he says.

The matter was reported to the police who questioned a suspect but no arrest or further action was made.
The third robbery involving five armed robbers took place in June 2016.

Armed robbers barged into the house while he and his wife were returning home at 6:45 pm.
His two grand-children and daughter-in-law were inside the house.

“One of the robbers hit me with a weapon on my head which caused my scalp to bleed,” he says.

Another robber destroyed the alarm system using a weapon he was carrying while others rapidly ransacked the house and took a wallet with cash, bank cards, driver’s licence and his national ID card.

“The police were able to recover the stolen wallet the next day without the cash in it at Maseru Mall but never took further action,” he says.

’Mankau Jeremiah from Lithabaneng in the southern outskirts of Maseru says when she separated with her husband earlier this year she had to sell her car because she felt unsafe.
Jeremiah, 35, says her husband was once injured when armed criminals attempted to steal their Mazda Demio car at their rented home late last year.

In June this year she was travelling in the same car from Thaba-Bosiu when she spotted a white Honda Fit tailing her until she got to her house.
She had phoned her police friends and told them of the suspicious car and they found them already waiting at the gate.

“The Honda Fit made a sharp U-turn and sped away,” Jeremiah says.

“The police gave chase but they never caught it,” she says.

“Fearful that one day I would be killed during armed robbery, I decided to sell the car.”

Just last Wednesday there were reports of three instances of violent crimes in Maseru – a hijacking in Hillsview, an attempted hijacking on Kofi Anan Road, a break-in at a house near Browns Cash and Carry involving a Filipino family.
Locals have not been spared in the carjacking spree.
Polelo Moraka, a taxi driver in Maseru, says his Honda Fit was saved in Naleli by people who noticed that he was under attack over the weekend.

Moraka says he had just dropped off the last of his passengers near Maria ’Mabasotho Cathedral on Sunday night when another Honda Fit blocked the road.
He says two men alighted from it while its driver was left behind, one of them pulled out a gun and demanded that he hands over the car keys.
The passenger who had walked a few paces from the car, he says, raised alarm and a group of men who were a few metres away came running.
The attackers ran back to their car and sped away, he says.

“I want to thank this mother for raising alarm when I was attacked,” Moraka says.

“The attackers, it seems, did not want to injure anyone but to seize my car at gunpoint. Otherwise they could have shot and killed me or anyone who came to help me,” he says.

The above incidents are a clear indication of the rise in violent crime in Lesotho.
The Emergency Response Group Lesotho, a WhatsApp group formed last week with the aim to alert the police immediately when one sees crime happening, has raised serious concerns about the decreasing levels of security in Maseru.

A worried businessman in the Emergency Response Group Lesotho says some scrapyards could be driving the hijackings in Lesotho.
The businessman says “some of the scrap yards” could be selling parts ripped off stolen cars.
Senior Inspector Sekhonyana of the Vehicle Theft Detection and Robbery Crime Unit says 76 cars have been stolen in Maseru city alone this year.
S/Insp Sekhonyana says they have only recovered 25 of these cars.

“Maseru and its environs have an extremely high rate of auto theft,” S/Insp Sekhonyana says.

“Only last week,” he says, “we had a few cases of car theft from Maseru West.”

He says criminals are mostly targeting Muslims of Asian descent when they are going for their afternoon prayers.
S/Insp Sekhonyana says “of all the car models, the Honda Fit appears to be the most targeted”.
He says the carjacking hotspots are Maseru West, Thetsane, Mabote, and other nearby places.

Once stolen, he says, it is difficult to locate the vehicles in the country because they are often taken to South Africa where they are rebirthed and sold.
Car rebirthing means altering the identification of a stolen vehicle or parts so that a potential buyer or the police won’t easily notice that it has been stolen.
Some of the vehicle parts are used to fix write-offs.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNOCD) shows that at least 437 cars were stolen in Lesotho in 2009. The stats were collected in 2018.
It could not be said, in light of the statistics S/Insp Sekhonyana provides, that the crime rate is reducing because the UNOCD’s numbers show the countrywide picture.
S/Insp Sekhonyana’s statistics is of the Maseru city alone.
The UNOCD does not have data of up to 2023.

The World Atlas, an international survey magazine, says in Lesotho the private car theft rate for 2003 – 2022 stands at 21.8 cases per 100 000 population.
Private cars means motor vehicles, excluding motorcycles, commercial vehicles, buses, lorries, construction and agricultural vehicles.
Tumelo Kepa, the LING-Hollard General Manager, says the insurance company registered only seven Lesotho cars that were stolen in South Africa for the past three years.
Kepa says only one has been recovered.

“Perhaps this is because some of the stolen cars whose news we always hear about on radio stations were not insured with us,” Kepa says.

The Africa Organised Crime Index says criminal networks in Lesotho commonly engages in illicit activities such as vehicle theft and smuggling, diamond smuggling, human trafficking, livestock theft and drug trafficking.

“A moderate level of violence is associated with these activities, particularly in the case of vehicle hijackings,” the Index says.

Caswell Tlali

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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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