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‘We’re left out of Covid fight’



THABA-TSEKA – Confusion, lack of information, mistrust and poverty. These are some of the reasons why many Christians in Lesotho are avoiding the jab, at least according to their clerics.
Church leaders say the National Covid-19 Secretariat (Nacosec)’s delay in engaging them in the fight against the pandemic has left them unable to answer congregants’ questions on vaccines.

The clergy said this at a World Health Organisation (WHO) Vax Up, Mask Up, Wash Up Campaign (VMWC) in Thaba-Tseka and Qacha’s Nek last week.
They said they have been in a state of confusion in the past 18 months as they did not fully understand Covid-19 or vaccines to give satisfying answers to inquisitive congregants.
The people, the clerics said, have myths about the killer disease and the vaccination which they associate with devil worship.

“We do not know how to respond without guidance from health experts. The majority of our people say they haven’t been vaccinated because of the confusion,” said one cleric.
They said the authorities should have first conducted training sessions for them because churches have a large following in Lesotho.
Lesotho Evangelical Church in Southern Africa (LECSA) cleric, Reverend Nyaluoe Thamahane, decried that “being prioritised later shows that we are not considered as important and are taken for granted”.

“We are at risk as we are called every time when there is a problem but we are the last to be remembered when it comes to fighting Covid-19,” Rev Thamahane said, adding that the importance of vaccinations was also not discussed with them so that they pass the information to the congregants.
“If we were capacitated, I believe our congregants and loved ones wouldn’t have succumbed to the virus. We are victims now,” he said.
He accused officials of doing a half-hearted job.
“All they want is to report to their donors what they did with the money. Now we are expected to teach people about something that we ourselves do not understand,” he said.

Reverend Moeti Rankhotha, the African Apostolic Church priest at Hillside in Thaba-Tseka, accused authorities of using ineffective top-to-bottom approaches that do not resonate with the people.
“In most villages, water is still a challenge. How are villagers expected to wash hands? Let’s start with the basics if indeed we want to win this fight…water first,” Rev Rankhotha said.
The Assemblies of God’s Back to God Pastor, Maqapalla Letlatsa, said they attend many workshops with different teachings about the same thing.
“It’s really confusing. At this point I am no longer sure what the right way to disinfect or fumigate is. We need accurate information that will help us help others,” Pastor Letlatsa said.

He accused the District Health Management Team (DHMT) for staying in offices and not reaching out to communities to teach about Covid-19.
“This causes more delays for Basotho to vaccinate as some are still clueless of vaccination importance,” he said.
Bonang Mapitse, a reverend at LECSA’s Tsooelike parish in Qacha’s Nek, said health education should be universal.
“It shouldn’t be done in towns only. When we need it in the rural areas we are told of the lack of cars,” Reverend Mapitse said.
The African Methodist Episcopal Church’s Reverend Ben Tshongweni said there is still a dire need for mask disposal education.
“They are thrown everywhere and are found everywhere in town,” Rev Tshongweni said.

He suggested regular meetings between health officials and clerics to update each other on developments.
The Environmental Health Officer in Qacha’s Nek, Matsepe Phatela, encouraged the clerics to maintain physical and environmental hygiene.
He advised them to teach people about vaccines circulating countrywide (AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson).
“It will be easier to respond to questions and it will help convince congregants about the importance of vaccination bearing in mind that we are still learning about Covid-19,” Phatela said.

Liphapang Mosese, the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) Project Manager, said the clerics are influential leaders within their communities but they need accurate information to be effective vaccination campaigners.
“Regardless of what health professionals say, Christians often rely on the priest’s views and if the priest is not capacitated, they wouldn’t have answers for their congregants,” Mosese said.
“A reverend’s words are powerful to God’s flock,” he said.
“Separating science from God will cause problems. Often we have to remind congregations that scientists get wisdom from God,” he said.

Mosese rubbished claims that vaccines are a symbol of a satanic beast described in the Bible book of Revelation meant to wipe mankind off the face of the earth.
He urged religious leaders to compliment efforts by authorities to fight the pandemic.
“We have to accept that the fight requires collaboration. Keep on proclaiming things that will rescue Basotho regardless of how long you have been left behind. God has not left you behind. Although you are not happy, prioritise the congregation of God. This is a golden moment, let’s use it,” said Mosese.

The Ministry of Health Education Officer, Letšoara Tšehlo, apologised for the delay in disseminating information to religious leaders.
“We learnt about Covid-19 on the job and research took us longer than expected,” Tšehlo said, stating that the ministry had not deliberately left out the clergy in information dissemination.
“Your opinions about us matter and they will guide us to do better,” he said.
He promised to ask his bosses to involve religious leaders in the Thaba-Tseka District Covid-19 Secretariat (Dicosec)’s activities.
“We will encourage each church to be represented,” he said.

Nacosec Risk Communication and Community Manager, Baroane Phenethi, said they realised that Covid-19 is related to social behavior hence the need to disseminate accurate information to minimize confusion and mistrust.
“We wanted to share information on Covid-19 so as to help each other in the dissemination of the correct information. This will help Basotho to make informed decisions at the end of the day,” Phenethi said.
“We realised that we can’t fight this alone. We have to collaborate for us to win,” said Phenithi, adding that authorities need the participation of the clergy to win the fight.

He said they acknowledge the delays in approaching church leaders. “But it’s never too late because people are dying and some people still wear masks only when they see the police”.
He said vaccination is not mandatory but it is encouraged for good health.
The WHO Risk Communication and Community Engagement Consultant, Rose Moremoholo, said they understand the mistakes made.
“Now we are focusing on rectifying them. It’s acceptable to correct mistakes and be accountable. It will help us move forward together. It’s never too late,” Moremoholo said.

Moremoholo said achieving high uptake of safe and effective vaccines to control the spread of Covid-19 is a public health priority.
“Given the ongoing risk that Covid-19 poses to frontline health workers, people with high risk medical conditions and older adults, there is a need to first support vaccine uptake in those population groups then to expand the introduction more widely.”
The campaign was piloted in Leribe, Berea and Butha-Buthe in mid-September.

Mokhotlong, Thaba-Tseka, Qacha’s Nek were visited last week.
The campaign will be taken to Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing next week before it reaches areas such as Maseru and Mafeteng.
The campaign seeks to identify “at risk and vulnerable community groups” and build community engagement through inclusive and locally tailored activities.
Its objectives are to improve the quality and consistency of RCCE approaches, reinforce knowledge, local capacity and solutions as well as strengthen coordination and advocacy.

’Mapule Motsopa

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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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