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Wool farmers, political parties pile pressure on Thabane

Bereng Mpaki

PRESSURE continues to mount on the beleaguered Thomas Thabane administration after thousands of disgruntled wool and mohair farmers brought Maseru to a standstill with the “mother of all protests” to  express their anger over the 2018 wool and mohair regulations which prohibit them from selling their produce from outside Lesotho.

The government is already reeling from the infighting in the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) which culminated in the filing of a no confidence motion against Dr Thabane in parliament last month. The motion will be tabled and voted on whenever parliament is reconvened after it was adjourned indefinitely last month in a move that is widely believed to buy time for the embattled premier to address the challenges confronting him.

The farmers recently marched from the Pope John Paul II monument near Maseru Mall to parliament where they submitted a petition to the National Assembly Clerk, Lebohang Fine Maema.

They are up in arms with the government over the 2018 regulations which bar anyone from trading in wool and mohair without a licence from the Ministry of Small Business, Cooperatives and Marketing.

They can only sell their produce at the only licenced local broker, the Lesotho Wool Centre (LWC) in Thaba Bosiu. The farmers prefer selling their wool and mohair via South African brokers, BKB, as they had done for 44 years until last year when the new laws were passed.

The farmers argue that they are assured of quick and higher payments by BKB than those offered by the LWC.

The farmers were joined in the march by Movement for Economic Change (MEC) leader Selibe Mochoboroane, Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing, Democratic Congress (DC) leader Mathibeli Mokhothu, and Socialist Revolutionaries (SR) leader Teboho Mojapela. ABC chairperson Samuel Rapapa who is part of a faction that has joined forces with the opposition to file a no confidence motion against Dr Thabane, also joined the protestors.

The march proceeded despite Dr Thabane’s frantic last minute attempts to appease the farmers by announcing a three months’ moratorium to allow them to sell their produce from anywhere and through brokers of their choice.

Dr Thabane made the announcement last Wednesday just two days before the demonstration.

In their Friday petition to National Assembly Speaker Sephiri Motanyane, the farmers scoffed at Dr Thabane’s concession, saying the three months’ moratorium would not be of any use to them. They said in view of the fact that there was currently no wool to dispose of as the shearing season will only begin next month and end in December when the moratorium would have expired.

The farmers said the moratorium was therefore a cleverly disguised attempt to help the LWC to get rid of the mohair which was not wanted by the LWC.

They demanded the full scrapping of the controversial 2018 wool and mohair regulations.

“We write to the Honourable House of Parliament to humbly request for removal of Legal Notice No. 65 of 2018 as those regulations prevent us from selling our fibre at an open and internationally recognised market with optimised returns,” part of the petition that was read out by Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA) representative Khotsang Moshoeshoe states.

“It pains us when the leadership of this country gets exposed that they do not know about the wool and mohair industry. The mohair shearing season in Lesotho begins in April and ends in July while the wool shearing season begins in mid-August and ends in mid-December.

“It is therefore clear to everyone that in three months the wool would still not be ready for the market. It is therefore clear to us that the three months window period announced by the prime minister clearly shows that the intention is to clear the mohair from the woolshed as the Chinese (who buy the produce at the LWC) are not interested in mohair but wool.

“It should be noted that there is no wool from the current year in the bales at the LWC…therefore we are here demanding that parliament scraps the Legal Notice No.65 of 2018 completely as it is not beneficiary to Lesotho’s fibre industry.”

The farmers also challenged parliament to enact laws that make it mandatory for schools curricula to cover wool and mohair issues.

Mr Maema promised to hand over the petition to Mr Motanyane who would then pass it on to the relevant portfolio committee for consideration.

On his part, LNWMGA chairperson, Mokuenihi Thinyane, said parliament should serve the interests of the electorate and not those of the legislators.

“This parliament belongs to the people of Lesotho, and we expect you parliamentarians to craft laws that promote our well-being not be detrimental to us.

“May I also remind you that the monthly salaries you get are paid through our taxes, and there is no sane person who can continue to pay anyone who is against them? Therefore remember your responsibility,” Mr Thinyane said.

Mr Rapapa said he was in solidarity with the wool farmers who had “sensible grievances”.

“As the economic and development cluster committee we recommended that the government gives the farmers a year to prepare themselves for the new laws. However, the government went ahead and implemented the law.

“Secondly, when we became aware that there is a challenge of payment delays to the farmers, we advised the government to advance payments to the wool farmers whose sales had been confirmed. The understanding was that the government would then claim from the wool centre when international buyers had paid for the produce but the government once again failed to heed our advice,” Mr Rapapa said.

He however, said instead of scrapping the new laws, they should be amended to allow for multiple brokers to enter the industry.

Mr Rapapa also said there was need to investigate why the LWC was paying much lower than what the farmers used to get from BKB.

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