…repeal wool and mohair regulations or we take ‘serious measures’
THE government’s stand-off with farmers went a notch higher this week with the farmers threatening to “take serious measures” against Prime Minister Thomas Thabane should he ignore their seven-day ultimatum to reverse laws which bar them from selling their wool and mohair from South Africa.
Led by the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA), thousands of farmers this week staged a protest march in Maseru to force the government to yield to their demands.
For the past 44 years, Basotho farmers have been selling their fabric from South Africa through brokers BKB.
But on 4 May this year, the Agriculture Minister, Mahala Molapo, torched a storm when he gazetted the Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing) Regulations of 2018.
The regulations forbid anyone to trade in wool and mohair without a licence obtained from the Ministry of Small Business, Cooperatives and Marketing.
The regulations further state that “the holder of an export licence shall not export wool and mohair unless it is prepared, brokered, traded and auctioned in Lesotho”.
Any person found guilty of brokering, testing, processing, trading and auctioning wool and mohair without a licence is liable to a fine of M50 000 or a maximum of five years imprisonment.
Anyone found to be in the business of shearing wool and mohair or exporting without a licence will be fined M20 000 or be imprisoned for two years.
Mr Molapo recently defended the regulations in an interview with the Lesotho Times. He said that having the wool and mohair sold from Lesotho would boost the foreign currency reserves as the international buyers paid for the products in United States dollars.
He further said as things stood, the foreign exchange benefits from the sale of wool and mohair accrued to the South African economy instead of Lesotho.
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“Lesotho fabric is exported to international markets such as India, Australia, Italy and China. So, the broker who sells it on behalf of the farmers is paid in US dollars.
“The broker then takes the US dollars to the South African Reserve Bank and this means the foreign currency from overseas remains in the South African economy with Lesotho only receiving what the broker gives to the farmers after deducting all their expenses,” Mr Molapo said. He also said that selling the wool and mohair from Lesotho would also give this country international recognition as currently, it was presumed that South Africa was the country of origin for the product.
He further said that by selling its wool and mohair from South Africa, Lesotho was missing out on benefitting from duty-free and other exemptions extended to least developed countries.
But the farmers are having none of the government’s arguments and this week they came in their thousands from different parts of the country to hand over a petition to Dr Thabane in Maseru.
Dressed in sheep skins and grey blankets which are associated with herd boys, the farmers began arriving at the Pope Paul II monument in Katlehong, Maseru at about 8:30am.
They later marched to the Moshoeshoe I Statute, singing sings urging the government to free the wool and mohair industry allegedly from the clutches of Small Businesses Minister Chalane Phori and his Trade counterpart, Tefo Mapesela.
Messrs Phori and Mapesela have been very vocal in their defence of the regulations and they even embarked on countrywide tours in June this year in an effort to win over the farmers.
But on Monday the farmers registered their resistance to the regulations through songs like Mona ha re a tlela masaoana, Mona ha re a tlela Mapesela (loosely translated to mean that “we are not here for jokes, we are not here for Mapesela”).
At the Moshoeshoe I Statute, the farmers’ petition was received by Mr Molapo and Development Planning minister Tlohelang Aumane on behalf of Dr Thabane.
Dr Thabane is currently in the United States where he is attending the United Nations General Assembly.
The farmers said they were forced to deliver a second petition because they were ignored when they first wrote to Dr Thabane on 23 August 2018.
In their petition which was drafted by LNWMGA national chairperson Mokoenihi Thinyane, the farmers gave Dr Thabane seven days to withdraw the wool and mohair regulations, claiming the new rules had ruined their hitherto profitable businesses.
“Dear Prime Minister, we the small stock family submitting this second petition humbly request you to withdraw the regulations so that we are able to put bread on our tables.
“Kindly note that we are left with no option but to give you only seven working days to withdraw those legislations. Otherwise we shall take serious measures against His Majesty’s government. We have tried in vain to take all legal ways to solve this man-made problem but the government has decided to ignore all court orders in our favour only to impoverish the men and women of the merino and angora family.
“We remain the largest, strongest and oldest Basotho commodity association in the country. We achieved that through a proper choice of fibre sale method, hard work, unity and avoidance of party politics in our association,” the farmers stated.
They further said that more than more than 150 000 livelihoods were affected by the regulations which had stopped them from freely selling their wool and mohair through the South African broker, BKB.
“Prime Minister, kindly note that our income is derived from the once a year harvest of wool and mohair. It is therefore of paramount importance for us to notify your office that the once a year income is not only spent on our families but also the maintenance of the stockmen at our sheep and goat posts. We should also bear in mind the operational costs meant to maintain the same flock in terms of supplementary feeds, medicine and veterinary costs which are borne by us.
“It is worrying when regulations are forced upon us only to disturb the stable market of our fibre and other related contracts. It makes matters worse that this is done without consultations as if we live in a dictatorship state not democracy.”
Mr Thinyane also said that the LNWMGA had shares BKB and therefore they had a lot to lose by cutting ties with the South African firm.
“We (LNWMGA) have shareholding at BKB and for last year only, we got dividends of M1, 2 million. Therefore, if we were to stop business with them we would lose our wealth to the South African company.
“On top of that, we pay insurance in South Africa which protects our fibre from possible damage. For instance, in 2009 our truck carrying 156 bales of wool was hijacked just after it crossed into South Africa and the owners of the consignment were compensated for the loss,” Mr Thinyane said.
On their part, Messrs Molapo and Aumane promised to deliver the letter to the PM’s office but said Dr Thabane would only be able to address the issue on his return from the United States.
“I admire the proper channel you used to address your grievances but this issue concerns the Prime Minster directly and unfortunately he is out of the country.
“Therefore, this means that he will only be able to address the issue when he returns. It is therefore impossible to get the response within the seven days you have demanded…When the Prime Minister returns we can assure you that you will get a response,” Mr Molapo said.