THE managing director of Meraka Abattoir, Mosito Khethisa, has accused three mining giants – Liqhobong Mining Development Company, Mothae and Kao Mines of colluding with some South African companies who continuously smuggle red meat for consumption at the mines.
The mines have however, flatly denied the allegations.
Early this year, the government banned the importation of red meat into the country in a move it said was aimed at capacitating the local meat industry.
The move was however met with criticism, with the opposition accusing the government of enacting the ban to ensure that Lesotho’s only abattoir, Meraka, enjoys an unfettered monopoly as the sole importer and supplier of red meat in Lesotho.
Meraka Abattoir however, refutes these allegations and in a recent interview with this publication, Mr Khethisa said the abattoir’s business had suffered due to the smuggling of red meat into the country by South African suppliers.
Mr Khethisa sensationally claimed that the three diamond mining companies were being supplied with smuggled red meat. He made the allegations in an exclusive interview with the Lesotho Times.
He said that the criminal acts by the South African suppliers, who mostly used the Calendonspoort Border Gate in Butha-Buthe, had seriously affected his company’s viability.
“I cannot say the business is very good because a lot of meat is being smuggled in the country and there are a lot of businesses that are smuggling meat,” Mr Khethisa said.
“The Butha-Buthe border is the hub for this (smuggling) practice. We only supply meat to Letšeng Diamonds and the rest of the mines are being supplied with red meat from South Africa. The South African suppliers smuggle meat all the time to supply the mines. Almost of all them (mines) are supplied by South African companies and it is only Letšeng that is being supplied by us.”
Mr Khethisa said individual companies were not allowed to import red meat into the country without authentic permits from relevant authorities.
He however alleged that South African companies had disregarded the policy and were continuing to smuggle the red meat into the country by storing it at the back of cold room trucks. He said it was not easy for authorities at the border gates to detect that red meat was being smuggled into the country because the meat was disguised with vegetables.
“Relevant ministries and Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) have to put measures at the borders to curb this (smuggling) practice because it is not only affecting Meraka but also the government because it is not getting the revenue that it is supposed to get.
“We still have our own customers and we are trying hard to get new customers across the country but the red meat is being illegally imported into the country. Government has not tightened the screws,” Mr Khethisa said.
He said he was working with the Small Business Development ministry and the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) to come up with strategies to curb smuggling.
In a separate interview, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Small Business Development, Lerata Pekane, confirmed receiving reports of the smuggling of red meat in Lesotho.
“We are working closely with Meat Traders Association of Lesotho and we gave them vehicles to travel across the country to investigate challenges facing the sector. They reported that the smuggling of red meat was one of the serious challenges they picked up during the countrywide study,” Mr Pekane said.
He said the exercise had inspired the meat industry to work closely with the ministry in finding long lasting solutions to this problem and many others facing the industry.
The mines however, denied the smuggling claims in separate interviews with the Lesotho Times this week.
Kao Mine authorities said in the aftermath of the ban on the importation of red meat, they sourced their supplies locally.
The manager of Site Worx, the company responsible for catering at Kao Mine, Mothibeli Mothibeli, said his company only uses “A Grade meat which is locally sourced to feed Kao Mine employees”.
“We have never smuggled meat into Lesotho. We have always, always abided by the law and only use meat bought in Lesotho for our catering. It is not true that we have smuggled meat,” Mr Mothibeli said.
Liqhobong General Manager,Gert Buitendach, also refuted the allegations, saying “Liqhobong’s catering contractor purchases all red meat from Pick n Pay Maseru so we find it strange that these allegations have been levelled against us”.
Pick n Pay manager Samuel Mphana yesterday concurred with Mr Buitendach, saying, “It is true that we supply Liqhobong with red meat”.
“The other mining company that we supply with red meat is Mothae. We buy carcasses from Meraka and the allegations that the mines smuggle meat is very wrong,” Mr Mphana said.
Mothae had not responded to questions sent to them by this publication at the time of going to print.
Meanwhile, Mr Khethisa praised the Ministry of Small Business Development, Marketing and Cooperatives for banning red meat imports, saying this promoted the local industry and created jobs.
“Previous governments did not implement the ban and there was no way the abattoir could make a profit while the borders were still open for the importation of red meat. Since this policy was introduced, my staff complement is almost 100 because I had to engage new employees. If borders are opened, I will fire them all and there will be no need for me to buy cattle. I will just apply for a butcheries’ license and import carcasses like everybody else.
“The main purpose is to create employment and we are trying to comply. Our economy will thrive. Government has to promote the private sector and it has to promote local production,” Mr Khethisa said.