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The death of tourism



MASERU-COVID-19 has hit hard the tourism industry, placing many companies on the verge of closure as global travel restrictions shut out tourists from rich countries.

Hotels are empty, leisure resorts deserted and tour and travel operators are grounded, leaving thousands of workers stranded.
But there is one group that is hardly given attention despite being among the worst affected: street vendors.

Making a living from hawking items such as artefacts to tourists at the country’s main entry points like the Maseru border gate and at tourism sites, they have been left with no source of income.
’Maseabata Bulane used to make enough to feed her family from selling local cultural items to tourists before the outbreak of the pandemic.
Nowadays, she sells masks, fruits and snacks to truck drivers but the income is hardly enough to put food on the table.

“I only manage to cover transportation costs with the little I get,” Bulane, who had been in the tourism industry since 1995, said.
“The mainstay of the (tourism) business has always been foreign tourists visiting the country mainly through the Maseru border gate. Since the closure of that port of entry, I haven’t been able to sell even one item,” she said.

She said she used to manufacture Basotho grass hats (mekorotlo), grass mats (meseme) and laced loin dress (thithana).
She said she had injected M5 000 into building her stock just before the pandemic struck, hoping to cash in during the Easter holidays.
“Only for Covid-19 to stop everything,” she lamented. “I thought I would generate income but to date, there have been no customers,” she said.
Bulane said even though the country has been hit by the virus, borders should be opened for tourism purposes as it is an essential money earner for the country.

“We need tourists for us to survive. Hunger has hit us hard. I am drowning in debts,” said Bulane, who said she said she used to make roughly M4 000 a month, depending on the number of tourist arrivals.
Tanki ’Muso, another trader, said he would make M2 500 monthly selling local artefacts and cultural clothing to tourists before the lockdown. Now he sells airtime vouchers to survive.

’Muso said he was keen to return to his trade after the lockdown was lifted “but it still feels as if I am in one”.
He said he only managed to sell molamu (a fighting stick) and a sporty hat after the lockdown.
“My mother tries to sell from door-to-door and hopefully it will work but to date she only managed to sell a single hat,” he said.
He said although they are struggling, border openings are still not a solution.

“We will be at higher risk of contracting Covid-19,” he said.
’Malimpho Mahao, who used to make up to M4 000 a month selling mokorotlo hats, said she is now eking a living selling fruits and vegetables.
She said she managed to sell two mokorotlo hats to local people ever since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out.

Owners of small bed and breakfast lodges are also singing the blues.
Motebong Lodge director ’Mamoeketse Mohapeloa described the situation as “tough”.
Apart from tourists being locked out, Covid-19 restrictions have made it very difficult for her to accommodate local people.

“We are trying our best to survive. It hurts to have to turn down even local people because of the no movement from district to district regulation,” Mohapeloa said.
She said her 20 employees have been seriously affected as well but she holds meetings with them regularly to ensure that they adhere to World Health Organisation (WHO) Covid-19 prevention measures.
“At first, they were reluctant but now they are getting used to it,” she said.
She said after the lockdown she had to buy them PPEs and masks for protection.

Mohapeloa said she had to deploy some of her chefs and waiters to the laundry section as there was no work in the kitchen.
“I wonder where this will lead us. I am currently paying them from my savings. I want to work so I will be able to pay my staff without overdrafts,” she said, adding that her business screeched to a halt in March when the lockdown was announced.

A receptionist at Molengoane Lodge, Boitumelo Moteane, said the effects of the pandemic outbreak are still biting despite the lifting of the lockdown as business is still badly affected.
“The only difference is we are no longer on lockdown,” she said.
She said they still get a few customers but people are reluctant to visit for takeaways.

“It’s only those who love the place who still come for takeaways, most used to come for the experience of stay,” she said.
Business was “great” until they were forced to cancel bookings and refund clients who had paid for their stay in advance in April, she said.
She said it is very difficult for the employer to pay 29 employees without the business generating any meaningful income.
“Our managers are doing their best,” she said.

Elisa Mokali-Motšo of Maluti Stay Lodge said the “struggle” forced them to retrench all her eight employees, and only calls some of them when some guests trickle in.
“Currently I am working alone,” said Mokali-Motšo, adding that she had to refund people who cancelled their bookings following the outbreak of the pandemic.

Jonathan Halse, the manager of Semonkong Lodge said the entity is “really struggling”.
“We have gone from 100 percent capacity to zero,” Halse said.
He said they had to retrench 30 employees, leaving only 20.
“We are trying to survive as a small team,” Halse said.
He said they are trying to get visitors and last week they managed to get two.

“We don’t have enough to sustain everybody as we have a big team. It is very hard at the moment,” he said.
Those in travel and tours have also not been spared.
Black Hawk Empire Transport and Tours manager, Bohlokoa Makote, said he lost most of his customers after the lockdown.

He said he used to pick tourists from hotels and transport them to the country’s tourist attractions before the lockdown.
The outbreak of the pandemic and subsequent drying up of tourists forced him to park two of his cars and “release” two of his drivers as there were no customers.

“I am only transporting local people but still I get about two passengers a week,” Makote. Makote said he used to make about M5 000 a month.
Molengoane Tours manager, Tankiso Molengoane, said they had to cancel 11 international bookings from March.
“I had to let go of my employees so that they find other ways to survive,” Molengoane said, adding he hopes to rehire the staff once the situation returns to normal.

He suggested a new way of doing things for the tourism sector to survive the pandemic.
“I think virtual tours would be of great help until this is over,” he said.
’Majubile Ntšoereng of Leloli Travel Agency said she worries for her six staff members whom she last paid in March.

“Since we haven’t received any commission, six of the employees haven’t been paid. I really don’t know how they are managing,” Ntšoereng said.
She said businesses need help, especially because of the likelihood of a reintroduction of the lockdown as cases of infections spike.
“I wish we could be bailed out… and hopefully we will manage to survive the pandemic,” she said.

Unique Tourism Services manager, Motlatsi Rametse, said the virus outbreak has affected business during the firm’s traditional peak period between July and September.
He said most of his clients come from Asia, mainly China and Japan.
“We have none at all at the moment,” Rametse said.
He said last year they had seven group tours and the number had increased to 10 this year before the outbreak.

“This was going to be our biggest year,” he said.
Many hotels are relying on locals, especially government ministries and agencies.
New Central Hotel manager, Motšelisi Shata, said the only customers currently are the Ministry of Health and the ministry’s partners who use their halls to teach about Covid-19.
Workers are getting half the normal salary, Shata said, adding, “We are not sure how long it will last.”

She suggested that the government “meets the hospitality industry half way in terms of employees and taxation” to avoid layoffs.
She said businesses are expected to pay value added tax and income tax “but it is very difficult as it is.”

“It doesn’t make sense to shelve it (tax) for three months as that doesn’t change anything and it would even be harder to pay then,” said Shata.
She said they are trying to find alternatives to sustain the hospitality industry “but we will need assistance and the problem might still be getting customers as tourists remain the target market.”

Shata said the hotel, which has 31 rooms, had a single visitor this week, a far cry from last year when business was flourishing.
Afriski Resort General Manager, Vivienne Schultz, said they are trying to discuss with the Tourism Ministry and the High Commissions of South Africa and Lesotho to allow tourists who already paid six months ago to come through.

“We will put them in self-isolation here as the resort is very big and we can spread them wide,” she said.
She said if they are forced to refund clients then “the resort will have to wait until the next winter season and all between 70 and 80 workers will have to wait until business is back again.”

However, she fears hunger could set in as workers go for long periods without being paid.
“It is terrible how we are struggling,” she said.
She said they started a bakery and they are training staff as a way of saving jobs.

“With the alternative business we saved four jobs,” she said.
The Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation Public Relations Manager, ’Manchafalo Motšoeneng, said they are still quantifying the damage done to tourism following the outbreak of Covid-19.
“It is too early to tell,” she said.

’Mapule Motsopa

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[BREAKING NEWS] Lebona sets curfew



MASERU– In an effort to curb the rampant increase of homicides in Lesotho, the Minister of Police Lebona Lephema has announced a 10:00pm-4:00am curfew, effective Tuesday May 16, 2023. Failure to comply with the curfew attracts a 2 years imprisonment or a fine.

Staff Reporter

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Two nurses deleted for misconduct



MASERU – A Kolonyama midwife, ’Mamalibeng Ralenkoane, who allegedly neglected a woman during labour has been deleted from the nurses’ register for the next six months.

The woman went on to deliver her baby by herself without professional assistance.

In another case the secretary-general of the Lesotho Nursing Council (LNC), ’Mamonica Makhoswonke Mokhesi, has also been deleted for violating a patient’s privacy.

The LNC’s disciplinary chairman, Advocate Rapapa Sepiriti, said Ralenkoane had committed an act of serious misconduct and deserved severe punishment.

Advocate Sepiriti ruled that Ralenkoane “should not be seen anywhere attending (to) patients”.

Ralenkoane was working as a midwife at the Little Flower Health Centre in Kolonyama, Leribe, when ’Mateboho Letlala was admitted there for labour in August 2020.

Letlala told the panel that Ralenkoane took her to the examination room and later left her despite that there were signs that she could give birth anytime.

“At 19:00 pm Ralenkoane examined the patient but left her unattended and the patient had to deliver on her own,” Advocate Sepiriti said in his verdict.

“Clearly the blame has to be put at the door of Ralenkoane,” he said.

Adv. Sepiriti ruled that she should be deleted with immediate effect for 12 months, half of which was suspended.

“During these six months period, Ralenkoane is prohibited in any way from attending patients and this judgment should be delivered at her place of work,” he said.

Letlala in her testimony said by the time Ralenkoane arrived, she was already having severe labour pains and was told to go to the labour ward for assessment.

She said when she stepped down the labour bed Ralenkoane said to her: “Ua seke ua tatela ho hema empa molomo oa popelo o buleile ka 3cm’ (meaning she seemed to be in a hurry yet the cervix had opened by 3cm only).

“I was so surprised because I could feel I was very close to delivering because this was my second child and I could say I have experience,” she said.

She said she told the nurse that she needed to use the toilet but was instructed to use a pan instead.

“As she left me on the bed pan I could not stand from the pan as the pains were severe. I called for help but to no avail,” she said.

She said the moment she got energy to stand from the bed pan she saw blood, she called her but there was no response.

“Ralenkoane promised to come after two hours but there were no instructions on what to do in case I needed help prior to two hours,” she said.

“I wheeled myself to the bed and sat on it, still calling to no avail.”

She said while still alone, her membranes raptured and the time of birth came and the baby was delivered.

“The child did not fall as I was able to hold him,” she said.

She phoned her aunt who told her to find s scissor to cut the umbilical cord.

She said she bled a lot and ran out of energy, then Ralenkoane arrived at around midnight.

“When she came in she asked where the baby was and I pointed to where I had put him where he clamped the cord,” she said.

She said it was then that she got assistance.

The investigator for Professional Conduct Committee (PCC), one Nteso, told Advocate Sepiriti that his findings were that “the mother’s life was in danger as she was found having bled heavily and tired and the baby’s life was also in danger from prolonged exposure which could lead to hypothermia and brain damage”.

“Ralenkoane was not there for the mother until she delivered in the absence of the midwife, this is a case of negligence,” he said.

However, in mitigation Ralenkoane said this was her first time to appear before the panel and has been a nurse for more than nine years.

She said she has two children to support and she has already been punished by the clinic as she was dismissed and that she has policies and loans.

She pleaded with the panel to have mercy on her.

In another case Mokhesi who was the Secretary General of LNC was also deleted from the register for two years after she was found guilty of sharing a patient’s picture on social media without their consent.

She was accused of defamation of character and violating the patient’s privacy by posting pictures of the injuries he had incurred.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Nurses back at work



MASERU -NURSES who have been on strike since Monday are set to resume work this morning after the government started paying their salaries.

The nurses went on a go-slow last week but escalated to a full-fledged strike on Monday after the government delayed their salaries. Some nurses claimed they had not been paid since March.

Morephe Santi, the secretary general of the Lesotho Nurses’ Association (LNA), said they have started telling members to go back to work after the government said the salaries will start reflecting in their accounts last night.

The strike has inflicted huge reputational damage on Prime Minister Sam Matekane’s government which came to power on promises of efficiency.

Minister of Public Service Richard Ramoeletsi blamed the Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS) and the Human Resource Management System (HRMS) for the delay in April salaries.

Ramoeletsi told parliament last week that the two financial management systems were unable to reconcile, leading to delays in salaries.

But that explanation was little consolation for patients who bore the brunt of the strike.

At least 20 expectant mothers at Machabeng Hospital in Qacha’s Nek were told to go home because nurses could not help them.

Some of the women were later admitted at Tebellong Hospital, a facility under the Christian Health Association of Lesotho (CHAL).

“We were staying at the hospital’s roundavel awaiting our time to go to labour but on Thursday afternoon (last week we were called by the nurses and they told us to go to other hospitals or go back home,” said Maretlotliloe Mpeli, who is heavily pregnant.

She said the nurses told them that they could not work on empty stomachs.

’Matlotla Poling, 19, from Ha-Rankakala said she had to call her parents because she did not have any money to either go back home or to Tebellong Hospital.

The Machabeng Hospital management declined to comment, referring thepost to the ministry’s headquarters in Maseru.

Ministry of Health spokesperson, ’Mateboho Mosebekoa, said Machabeng Hospital “did not expel the expecting mothers but merely sent them back home”.

“Due to the ongoing strike by doctors countrywide …they decided to take those women to the places where they would get help,” Mosebekoa said.

There was similar anguish at Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital.

“The strike has affected all the departments including the kitchen, maternity, and emergencies, but the managers are on duty,” said ’Makananelo Sepipi, the hospital’s spokesperson.

Sepipi said managers were forced to hold the forte “because some sections cannot be left unattended utterly due to their importance”.

“The operations are happening in the emergency section, even though they do not operate in a normal way.”

She said patients whose operations were scheduled for this week were sent back home.

Santi, the LNA’s secretary general, blamed the government for the chaos caused by the strike.

Santi said as much as the government likes to call them an essential service they do not prioritise their ministry.

“They do not appreciate us, it is like they do not see the importance of our job,” Santi said.

“The government turns a blind eye to the fact that our working environment alone can put us at risk of contracting diseases.”

“Now we are not able to buy food and other necessities.”

Nkheli Liphoto & Thooe Ramolibeli

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