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Wool and mohair farmers caught up in fight

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MASERU – WHEN two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. That has been particularly true for Lesotho’s wool and mohair farmers who find themselves caught up in a fight between two foreign-owned companies over the control of their products.
BKB Limited, a South Africa-based wool and mohair marketer and Maseru Downing Trading (Pty) Ltd, which is owned by an Australian of Chinese origin, are fighting to control Lesotho’s wool and mohair.

The fight led to a temporary freezing of BKB’s bank account held with Standard Lesotho Bank two weeks ago.
The police, who said they were investigating tax evasion, money laundering and the financing of terrorism, had managed to get a court order to shut down BKB’s bank account.

BKB, which has been an agent for Basotho wool and mohair farmers for the past 40 years, was paying the farmers through the account.
After its account was frozen, Lesotho’s farmers could not cash their cheques.
Their association, the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association, entered into an agreement with Maseru Downing to sell wool and mohair through it behind BKB’s back.

This led to another setback for the farmers because their exports had to be stopped until further notice.
Farmers told thepost this week that they were hard hit and they do not know or understand what is happening.

Some farmers at Matsieng Shearing Centre say they are only aware that their wool and mohair is not being exported and they do not know why.
The farmers said they do not have full information about why they are not able to export their wool.
They say they were only told that for a while their wool will be stored at the LPMS in Maseru because there was an order to wool exports.

The Chairman of Matsieng Shearing Centre, Teboho Sehlahla, said there were about 276 farmers last year who exported the wool in two groups.
He said the last group of 152 farmers called Marketing Group Matsieng, sheared their sheep on November 24 last year.
“Their wool has not been exported to South Africa up until today,” Sehlahla said.

Sehlahla said they do not have information yet as to why the wool was not exported.
He said as a committee of the shearing centre, they will have a meeting on February 8 to understand what happened.
Sehlahla said they do not know anything about BKB suspending the export of wool.

He said over the years they had worked well with BKB and had since developed a strong bond of friendship with the company.
Sehlahla said they make a living out of the export of wool so if they are stopped from exporting wool, they will suffer as farmers.
He said most of the farmers in Matsieng depend solely on wool exports.

“It is obvious that the farmers will suffer if the exportation of the wool stops,” Sehlahla said. Sehlahla said the 124 farmers in their association last year produced 198 bales of wool. Sehlahla said he does not want to comment on anything involving BKB because he does not have facts.

“All I know is that we have been working well with BKB for 40 years and we hope we will work together forever,” he said.
One of the farmers in the Marketing Group Matsieng, Paseka Malefane, said he has been suffering together with his family because he has not been able to sell his wool.

“Even though I do not receive much money because I do not have enough sheep, I am able to pay for my two children’s school fees,” Malefane said.
Malefane said since it is the beginning of the year he hoped that he would use that money to pay for his children’s school fees.
He said he will look for temporary jobs while waiting for the wool money.

Malefane said for the past 24 years his life has been revolving around selling wool.
He said when it is not the shearing season he would look after other people’s livestock.
Malefane’s wife is unemployed and they have seven children.
“If my wool is not exported I will really suffer,” he said.

The Manager of Qeme Shearing Centre, Phatela Nkopane, said they are not aware that BKB had suspended the exportation of wool and mohair.
Nkopane said they still have a good relationships with BKB.
He said the only problem they encountered was that in January three farmers did not receive their cheques.
“We will surely find a solution,” he said.

Nkopane said they were not affected by the closure of BKB’s account because they will only shear their sheep in September this year.
He said if there are still problems in exporting the wool the country committee will intervene.
Nkopane said their shearing centre has 286 farmers.

He said the farmer who shears most sheep has 300 animals while the least has 15 sheep. He said just last year they produced 114 bales. Small Businesses Development Minister, Chalane Phori, said the dispute arose when the Maseru Downing Trading and Lesotho Wool and Mohair Growers Association had a cooperation agreement but later had some disputes.

“The exports of mohair were put on hold due to the disputes,” Phori said. “Permits for transportation were not awarded to both companies. Lesotho farmers wanted to continue trading with BKB while Maseru Downing wanted to process the mohair locally,” he said.

Phori said six MPs were chosen to form a sub-committee which would investigate the problem and come up with a lasting solution.
Phori was the chairman of the committee. The intervention by Parliament was only stopped after the parties sued each other.

Senate Sekotlo and ‘Makhotso Rakotsoane

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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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