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The vile ‘Big Brother’ law



MASERU-IN November 2016 Khotso Letsatsi, then Communications Minister, dispatched a stern letter to the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA).

Letsatsi wanted the LCA to order Vodacom Lesotho (Vodacom) and Econet Telecom Lesotho (ETL) to shut down Facebook and Twitter. His gripe was that the two social media platforms “have been a nuisance to both Basotho at large by being used to attack, defame and slander”.
“It is a fact that in the midst of such political tension Facebook and Twitter are being used to propel instability and to undermine good governance.”

The government had no option but to do all in its might and power to protect itself and its people against this onslaught waged through Facebook and Twitter, he said.
“I therefore instruct you to close both Facebook and Twitter in Lesotho with immediate effect,” he told the regulator.

It was an unprecedented instruction that oozed both determination and desperation on Letsatsi’s political party. His coalition government was in the throes of a crisis threatening to knock it out of office.
The social media was buzzing with rumours of the government’s impending demise and a plethora of corruption scandals.

At the same time the government was leaking confidential information like a sieve and social media users were spreading it with vigour.
Seemingly still stuck in the era of press conferences and media statements, the government was losing the propaganda war.

The power had shifted to the public which people could instantly collect, share and analyse information while the government was still scrambling for a response through traditional means like radio stations and newspapers.

Letsatsi, who saw his role as that of a gatekeeper to the government’s information, had been rendered a spectator who could only boil while his team was being walloped.
His response was to go to what he thought was the source of his crushing defeat in the information battle.
Letsatsi’s letter had come two weeks after the mobile companies rejected his instruction to close the social media platforms, telling him that they don’t report to him but the LCA.

The letter prompted the regulator to hastily organise a special board meeting which resolved to ask Vodacom and Econet to make representations before it makes a decision on the minister’s order.
Thabang Mokela, the then LCA chief executive, later wrote what appeared to be a cautious letter to Letsatsi.

“After due consideration, the Board noted that implementation of the directive would involve other parties external to the Authority,” Mokela said.
“As such, there is a need to thoroughly consider the best implementation mechanisms within the confines of the law, and take into account rights and interests of directly affected licensees.”

“The Authority therefore requests the indulgence of the Honourable Minister to advise on the progress within a month.”
Letsatsi never got to carry out his threat because he was shunted to the Ministry of Energy in a reshuffle that followed a few days later.
Serialong Qoo, who replaced Letsatsi, didn’t seem to have the appetite to implement such a controversial decision.

But even if he wanted to carry out Letsatsi’s threat, time was not on his side. Within six months he and his party were deep in a gruelling campaign schedule that ended with their defeat in June 2017.
Mokela, a journalist himself, appears to have silently shelved the matter.
The new government, some of whose supporters Letsatsi was trying to silence by muzzling social media, moved on. And for the next three years it appeared the matter was dead in the water.

Then last week, out of the blue, the LCA resuscitated the issue. The authority wants social media users who “broadcast” content to at least 100 people to register.
The proposed regulations say the registration will apply to “internet posts by users who have more than one hundred followers in Lesotho”.
Although this doesn’t go as far as Letsatsi’s attempt to close social media, it amounts to the most brazen and draconian control of social media.

At its core is the government’s attempt to control freedom of expression and the flow of information. Its basis is section 5c of the Communications Act (2012) which says the authority can “establish its own internal organisational and procedures and make rules, codes directive, decisions and advisory guidelines”.

But make no mistake about the real intentions of the regulations.
This is not the LCA but the government trying to control social media content.
The LCA is just a Trojan horse for the government to control social media.
The rules chime in with the government’s intentions. Regulations like these come draped in ‘public good’ parlance but behind them are noxious motives.

It is thus predictable that the LCA will insist that its intentions are purely to stop pornography, fake news, hate messages as well as extremist views and other cybercrimes.
All these are noble intentions until you look at the broader picture as well as the vague and wide wording of the regulations. If passed in the current form, the regulations will give the government unfettered power to go after media content it doesn’t like.

This is especially because the parametres of what constitutes offending content is not precisely defined. It could range from violent language to simple criticism of the government or a minister.
The devil is in the detail. The regulations will force anyone with one hundred followers to be registered. Practically, this means almost everyone on social media should be registered.

Precisely, anyone with 100 followers on Twitter has to register.
Lesotho, by some estimates, has one million internet users. Facebook allows a maximum of 5 000 friends. Therefore, any Facebook user with 100 friends will have to register.
The same applies to even those in WhatsApp groups and post Tiktok videos.
The live streaming of weddings, church services, parties or funerals is covered under what the authority sweepingly calls “broadcasting” even if you are not doing it for profit.

The same applies for posting selfies, sharing or forwarding messages on social media as long as the messages reach 100 people or more.
To put it perspective, you have to look at how broadly the rules apply.
A typical example is a family WhatsApp group. First, the administrator of such a group will have to be registered if the group has at least 100 people. So does any family member who posts or replies to messages in the group. It doesn’t matter if you are merely forwarding something picked from another group or contacts.

Professor Hoolo ’Nyane, a Mosotho constitutional law expert based in South Africa, says the 100-people threshold alone betrays the sinister motive behind the proposed regulations.
“It’s shockingly vague and amounts to controlling every social media user in the country,” Professor ’Nyane said this week.
He says the regulations do not pass the two basic principles used to test the credibility of a law. The first test, he says, is whether there is a reasonable purpose for a law.

“There is no reasonable purpose for such regulations. There is no point even attempting to have such a law because it will be monumentally difficult to attain its intended goal,” Professor ’Nyane says.
“Even if you write such a law the next question is whether you will be able to apply it effectively, informally and fairly. There is no way this law can be properly implemented to regulate one million internet users”.

The second test, says the former National University of Lesotho lecturer, is whether a law is justified in an open and democratic society.
“Even if it is justified the crucial question is whether its objectives can be achieved with other less intrusive means. This law is extremely invasive on people’s rights to freedom of expression. There is therefore no justification for it.”

Professor ’Nyane says the regulations should be viewed as the government’s tactic to insulate itself from scrutiny and criticism of any nature.
“Governments that are under pressure resort to such oppressive tendencies. They start coming up with such draconian laws.”

“What is however clear from history is that such laws inevitably fail. They have failed even in China which is the leader in the control of the internet.”
He suggests that instead of trying to muzzle the social media “the government should just open up, shape up and do things right because we are in the era of information”.

“Gone are the days when governments controlled the flow of information and dictated the narrative. The world has changed and governments should change with it instead of trying to fight what is essentially an unwinnable battle.”
Dr Dounia Mahlouly, the media Senior Teaching Fellow and Researcher at the SOAS University of London, told thepost the regulations remind her of the Egyptian law that forces social media with 5 000 followers to register.
Dr Mahlouly said the threshold of 100 followers “strikes me as a very low number”.

She says the regulations are in sync with the global trend “in the sense that we can observe various attempts at recentralising the public debate and re-establish authoritative sources of information, with governments calling for online security and policies designed to ‘counter misinformation’”.
“Concerns over the circulation of information have also become particularly strong in the context of the Covid pandemic”.

Professor Herman Wasserman of the University of Cape Town says forcing social media users to register with the authority “is a problematic policy, especially since this will include news media sites.”
“Such registration could pave the way for interference with editorial independence, surveillance of journalists and restriction of free flow of information”.

He says while he accepts the urgent need to monitor and eradicate misinformation on social media there are better ways to achieve it without violating the right to information and freedom of expression.
“For instance, by supporting public and community media, fact-checking organizations, ensuring efficient self-regulation processes and developing media literacy campaigns”.

His sentiments are shared by Professor Eric Louw of the University of Queensland in Australia who sees the LCA regulations as part of a global trend by the elites to regulate internet content.
He says the regulations have been a long time coming because “the internet has disrupted the capacity of elites across the globe to manage the flow of ideas within their societies and curtailed the ability of elites to restrict opinions that they would prefer their public not get access to”.

“This LCA move would appear to be another example of regulators seeking to put into place rules and regulations that enable them to control communication.”
“For those of us who believe freedom of expression is absolutely necessary for democracy, moves such as these by the LCA to regulate the internet must be viewed with concern”.

The idea of registering anyone making posts accessible to 100 internet users, says Professor Louw, certainly seems geared to casting Lesotho’s regulation net very wide.
“This move must be seen as threatening freedom of expression in Lesotho.”
Lesotho is not the first country to attempt to control social media content but the question is whether the LCA has the capacity to achieve the regulations’ objectives.

A University of California lecturer who is a leading expert but did not want to be named because he has not thoroughly analysed the regulations said they would be “potentially a huge supervisory burden” for the LCA and there is a danger that it might not be applied in a consistent manner.
Indeed, it is not clear why the LCA wants to take on such a mammoth task when the social media companies themselves are already doing a decent job of monitoring their own content. Between April and June YouTube, owned by Google, removed just over 11 million videos for violating its policies.

About 98 percent of those videos were automatically removed by machines. About 60 percent of those videos were removed before receiving a single view. Nearly all the removals were targeting the exact concerns the LCA seems to be fretting about: child safety, misleading information, scam, spam, nudity, sexual, violent, violent extremist, dangerous, cyber bullying, harassment and abuse.

To achieve this YouTube relied on machines, users and a 10 000-strong ‘army’ who monitor and remove offending content.
Facebook, which owns WhatsApp and Instagram, has 35 000 employees who monitor their platforms. It is because of the work of those people that Facebook removed over 30 million posts between July and September last year.
Both Facebook and Google rely on their financial muscle to achieve this scale of monitoring.

As of yesterday, Facebook was worth US$736 billion and employed more than 52 000 people globally. Alphabet Inc which owns Google and Youtube is worth more than US$1 trillion and had 127 000 employees in the first quarter of this year.
Yet those companies sometimes struggle to keep pace with content violating their guidelines.

By comparison, Lesotho’s budget this year is slightly over US$1 billion.
And how much is the LCA’s revenue? According to the 2016/17 annual report the authority received M69.7 million (US$4.2 million) in licence, application, royalty and spectrum fees (the latest annual report on the LCA report is for 2017/18 report but it cannot be opened).
The authority had 36 employees to monitor all radio stations, two mobile companies and all other communications service providers.

Shakeman Mugari

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The beauty queen of Lesotho



MASERU – WHILE many children her age were still adapting to the early years of school after kindergarten, Reatile Molefe was already plotting her life goals. Barely 10-years-old, Molefe already knew exactly what she wanted to do in life.

“I was already geared towards being a model at that early age. I was already portraying fancy and modest moves linked to modelling,” said the beauty queen, now aged 22.

It didn’t take time for her mother to identify the potential and found a need to sharpen it further.

“My journey in beauty pageantry started at the age of eight in 2009. The reason my mom thought I should hop into pageantry was because I was active and smart. I also had role models from the industry by then. I mean, I had an ambition of every little girl’s dream of being a star or being dressed in cute ball gowns so I also had a strong desire to be like that,” she said.

“I started my cat walking lessons at Little Miss Lesotho Companies but didn’t win. Not winning gave me motivation to work more towards my craft, it pushed me into wanting more as I couldn’t settle for less,” she said.

Molefe now boasts of 14 tittles to her name. She has donned the beauty pageant crowns in all stages of her life.

“I was crowned Queen in my two previous schools. I was Miss New Millennium High School in 2012 and Miss Lesotho High School in 2017. The 14th title I scooped made me believe in myself even more as I got to gain experience competing with people from different countries,” said Molefe, who has also made a bold statement by competing at the international level.

Molefe attributes her prowess to her high levels of confidence.

“Pageants create a bonding experience where women lift each other up, but what gives me an upper hand is being comfortable, secure with myself and being me throughout,” said Molefe, adding that her favourite category during pageantry competitions is when models are asked to strut the ramp in evening wear.

“That’s when the audience and the judges get to see the creativity, the poise and eloquence of the queens,” said Molefe, who believes that the audience’s response can destroy or build a contestant’s confidence.

“The audience can play either of the two roles during a contest. They may make a positive impact on females taking part because they teach them how to be resilient thus prepare them for real world situations. On the other hand, the audience may also make a negative impact and lead to a whole host of mental issues among participants who may be worried about their image and appearance. This can lead to harmful side-effects,” stated Molefe.

Like other women in the modelling industry, Molefe has come across some challenges.

“An example is trying to get enough support from the general public on my first international contest,” she said.

Another was the cost of competing in beauty pageants as well as evolving body changes, she said.

“Being a beauty queen is not a walk in the park, especially when being judged by the community. And, yes, pageants do help women grow in confidence but without proper mental health support, they can also create insecurities. But through all the struggles, I am thankful to my family and friends. They are my biggest supporters. I may have gone through it all but their unbending support has kept me going,” she said.

Molefe says she considers being crowned second runner up in the Miss Culture International competition held in Johannesburg in 2021 as her most outstanding achievement. She was also crowned Miss Culture Lesotho in 2018.

“What was intriguing to me about this contest was the fact that I was the youngest among the contestants. It proved to be a learning experience for me and it deepened my knowledge about what the modelling world really entails.

“I never doubted myself but I thought I wouldn’t make it as I was the youngest. I got to compete with people of different races, which got me even more motivated. I learned a lot in participating in a multi-racial event,” she said.

Pageantry isn’t just about looks, according to Molefe.

“There is to more to it, like being able to embrace glamour. Beauty is subjective and it can be interpreted in different ways according to the perception of individual viewers. I consider being beautiful as an inside and out perception but the golden rule is to brim with confidence to make it in pageantry,” said Molefe, urging parents to enroll their children in pageantry schools at an early age “even as early as three-years-old”.

“This gives them ample time to develop because the young ones are able to easily learn from others to improve their skills and boost their self-confidence,” said Molefe, who dreams of a day when a beauty queen is considered a legendary woman in Lesotho.

One of her goals is to assist in educating the youth, especially young women, about menstrual health and other sexual and reproductive health issues.

Her target group is mainly girls that live in rural areas and small towns.

“Pageants promote goal setting, encourage us to value personal achievement and community involvement,” she said.

Calvin Motekase

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The stock-theft menace



MASERU – IF you recently enjoyed a nice beef stew at a restaurant in Lesotho there is a high possibility that the slaughtered cow might have been stolen from a farm in South Africa.

If you are in South Africa, it is equally possible that the cow was stolen from a cattle post in Mokhotlong or any other mountainous region of Lesotho.

That is because cross-border stock-theft is on the increase between the two countries. In fact, it has become a thorn in the flesh for farmers on both sides of the border.

Since 1990, 85 percent of livestock owners on the border villages of Lesotho have lost animals to thieves as compared with 49 percentage from non-border villages, according to a study published by Wilfrid Laurier University.

Earlier this month, this problem came into sharp focus when four Basotho men were picked up by the police in Thaba-Nchu in the Free State.

These men, aged between 24-51 years old, were travelling in a car bearing Lesotho number plates. They were transporting cattle that did not have documents.

The SAPS informed their counterparts in Lesotho who rushed to the place to repatriate the suspects.

Maseru Urban Commanding Officer Senior Superintendent Rantoane Motsoela said their investigations uncovered that the cattle crossed into South Africa at Ha Tsolo through the Mohokare River.

Then they were transported from the border into South Africa.

S/Supt Motsoela said they have found that the cattle already had tattoo marks from one farmer in Ficksburg.

But the suspects had no documents to prove that the animals belonged to them.

Both the cattle and the car are still in the hands of the SAPS while investigations are continuing.

S/Supt Motsoela said the suspects are assisting the police with investigations.

In another incident police recovered five cattle of a Mosotho man in Qwa-Qwa, still in the Free State Province.

These cattle were reported stolen in Tšehlanyane in Leribe at the beginning of this month.

Police under their sting operation “Zero Tolerance to Stock Theft” launched their investigations that led to the discovery of the cattle.

The Leribe District police commanding officer Senior Superintendent Samuel Thamae said they were able to recover the animals with the help of the community who tipped them off.

S/Supt Thamae said they stormed Qwa-Qwa with their counterparts in South Africa to identify the stolen animals.

After convincing the SAPS that the cattle belonged to the concerned farmer, they were released to him.

The Mokhotlong District Administrator (DA) Serame Linake says they have been battling cross border stock theft for years.

He says Basotho in Lesotho would go to South Africa to steal the animals that they sell back to South Africa in Vanderbijlparkl after getting fraudulent documents.

Linake says these animals, cattle and sheep, are sold at an auction in Vanderbijlpark.

He says the South Africans on the other hand sometimes also cross the border into Lesotho to steal the animals.

To fight this theft, they have formed good relations with the SAPS, chiefs and councillors.

Linake says when animals are stolen from South Africa into Lesotho, their counterparts simply inform them on this side so that they could waylay them.

“Stolen animals are strictly sold in Vanderbijlpark in South Africa,” he says.

He says in his district animals are not sold in the butcheries like is the case in Maseru and other lowlands districts.

Linake says they are now struggling to control theft that takes place between the northern district and Qwa-Qwa because the perpetrators are Basotho who have now migrated to South Africa.

He says these perpetrators have lived in Lesotho and know all the corridors that they could use to come and steal animals in Lesotho and go back to South Africa.

Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli says stock-theft is a grave problem in the country.

He says they have formed a special team that is going to reinforce the team that is already dealing with stock-theft in the country.

When there is an alarm that some animals have been stolen, this new team is informed so that it can lend a helping hand.

S/Supt Mopeli says the theft happens within the country’s borders and between Lesotho and South Africa.

S/Supt Mopeli says they are managing to deal with the theft because they arrest the perpetrators and bring them before the courts of law.

He says the public should alert the police when they see animals being stolen so that they can be saved from the hands of thieves.

Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola says they have registered big successes in curbing cross-border theft especially after having a post in Mokota-Koti in Maputsoe.

He says they usually hold frequent patrols at the borders to fight this crime.

“We also hold frequent crossings with the South African army to share information regarding cross-border theft,” Lt Col Lekola says.

Lt Col Lekola says they sometimes use air patrols as another way to fight stock-theft.

He says they usually erect camps along the borders so that they can stop animals coming out of Lesotho or vice-versa.

“Last year we had a successful collaboration with South African soldiers where we patrolled the borders from Leribe to Mafeteng. The South African army was on their side and we were also on our side,” he says.

He says they were working together with the police and they reaped good results.

Lt Col Lekola says some herd boys report the theft of livestock long after first trying to track the animals themselves.

He says this gives the cattle rustlers a chance to hide.

He advised the farmers not to erect cattle posts near the borders because they are stolen easily.

“When the South Africans enter Lesotho borders to trace their stolen animals, they make the first encounter with the animals at the cattle posts and drive them away,” Lt Col Lekola says.

He appealled to farmers to work collaboratively with their herders to pay them their dues.

He says some farmers do not pay their herders and those herders usually bounce back to steal the animals in revenge.

“They enter the cattle posts easily because the dogs know them,” Lt Col Lekola says.

Because Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa, stock-theft takes place easily between the two countries especially in the provinces of Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

The porous borders make it easy for the movement of animals to take place between the two countries.

And the theft between these countries has been happening since time immemorial.

The cross-border menace continues to take place despite patrols that are organised by the security agencies from both countries.

A Transnational History of Stock Theft on the Lesotho–South Africa Border, Nineteenth Century to 1994 Journal states that stock theft has long been a problem along the Lesotho–South Africa border.

It says from Moshoeshoe I’s cattle-raiding in the nineteenth century through to the start of the democratic era in Lesotho (1993) and South Africa (1994), the idea that stock theft is both prevalent and an international problem has been generally accepted by all.

According to Farmer’s Weekly livestock theft has a much more detrimental effect on the economy than previously thought, and is becoming more violent.

It says organised livestock theft feeds into other more serious types of transnational organised crimes such as drug, weapons and human trafficking.

And ultimately this results in the creation of illicit financial flows.

Challenges to safety included no fencing along large stretches, and the lack of a suitable roads to enable South African National Defence Force (SANDF) troops to conduct border patrols effectively, Farmer’s Weekly says.

In a piece published in November on the International Security Studies (ISS) website, ISS Today, stock theft was on the rise in South Africa, with 29 672 cases recorded by the South African Police Service (SAPS) for the 2018/2019 financial year.

This represented an increase of 2.9 percent over the previous year.

The ISS said the problem is exacerbated by porous and poorly secured borders, lack of capacity to monitor the border, and mountainous terrain that is difficult to police.

“Such challenges create opportunities and trafficking routes for criminal networks to smuggle livestock, drugs and, at times, firearms across the border.”

The ISS said the transnational livestock theft affects farmers revenue and adds to consumer costs.

It says thousands of animals are stolen and sold through the black market.

And this hurts the economy and goes even further to impact consumers, as these animals could have provided meat.

Majara Molupe

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Matekane to launch microchip project



MAPUTSOE – PRIME Minister Sam Matekane will this Sunday launch a new microchip project designed to combat the rampant stock-theft in Lesotho.

The launch will be held in Peka in Leribe.

Speaking at a rally for his Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) in Maputsoe last weekend, Matekane said the government is weary of the rampant stock-theft that impoverished rural farmers in Lesotho for decades.

“When your livestock leaves your kraals your phones will alert you and your families,” Matekane said amid loud cheers.

He asked the people to go to Peka in great numbers to witness the launch and learn from the livestock microchipping experts how the project will work to combat stock-theft in the villages.

The project was first spearheaded by Thomas Thabane when he was the Home Affairs Minister in 2003.

That year, 120 rams were implanted with the microchip identification system in Masianokeng.

The rams belonged to a company called Mahloenyeng Trading Company (Pty) Ltd.

The then police boss, Jonas Malewa, had microchipped 64 horses at the Police Training College (PTC) a year earlier in a pilot project.

The Home Affairs Ministry had contracted a company called Primate Identity Technology ran by a Jewish man, Yehuda Danziger, to carry out the pilot project.

Danziger was also tasked with observing any side-effects the animals could have after the implantation of the microchip.

The government introduced the microchip implantation technology after realising that stock thieves would easily erase the branding and tattoo marks with red hot metal and acid.

The stock thieves also cut off stolen animals’ ears if they bore the owner’s identification marks.

Microchips are tiny electronic devices, about the size of a grain of rice, which could be stored in a capsule and implanted near the animal’s tail to make it easy to identify and trace lost or stolen animals.

The project however never picked up with successive government not showing any political will to carry it through.

Things are now set to change with Matekane launching the project this Sunday.

Tšepang Mapola & Alice Samuel

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