FOUR local butcheries have lost their Court of Appeal application to overturn the government’s March 2018 ban on the importation of red meat into the country.
The businesses which unsuccessfully challenged the ban on red meat imports are William Mafoso Butchery, Fresh Farm Meat Market, Bensons Meat Market and Econo Foods.
They applied to the apex court after the High Court ruled against them last year. There was still no joy for them after the Court of Appeal recently ruled that “the appellants had demonstrably failed to make out the case for review and their application was properly dismissed by the High Court”.
“I would therefore order that the appeal is dismissed and each party shall bear its costs.” Acting Judge of the Court of Appeal Justice Petrus Damaseb said in his brief judgment.
In March last year, the government banned the importation of red meat into the country, a move it said was aimed at capacitating the local meat industry.
However, the appellants criticised the move, 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.
They said Meraka should not enjoy this preferential treatment because it is not different from the other local meat suppliers.
Another meat supplier, Cool Foods, also complained about the red meat ban last April after it was told it could not import meat as it was not licenced to do so.
Cool Foods representative Stephen Ramsay said it was “unfair that we are being told to buy from Meraka when they do not have the relevant quantities and grades that we are looking for”.
“They have C grade and we supply A grade, therefore in the meantime we are unable to supply our clients.”
Mr Ramsay said the ban gave Meraka a monopoly in the meat industry.
He said “sometimes” Cool Foods was granted permits to import mince, liver and lungs, adding “that only happens when Meraka says it has run out of those things”.
The Ministry of Small Business, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Small Business, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Attorney-General and Meraka Lesotho (PTY) LTD were cited as respondents in the appeal.
But the Principal Secretary for Small Business, Lerata Pekane, refuted the butcheries’ allegations that the government had created monopoly on the import of red meat to benefit Meraka.
“As butcheries the appellants are not prohibited from importing livestock for the supply of Grade A red meat,” Mr Pekane stated in his court papers.
He asserted that the government had only imposed restrictions on the import of other grades of meat to protect Basotho farmers from foreign competition.
Meanwhile, Meraka managing director Mosito Khethisa says the red meat import ban has worked wonders for the abattoir which has suffered from the stiff competition from imported meat over the years.
Mr Khethisa said without the ban, it was useless to operate an abattoir which was not getting the support it needed from meat wholesalers who preferred to import meat.
“Business has improved drastically for the Meraka abattoir and it continues to pick up,” Mr Khethisa said, adding, the abattoir that used to slaughter about 60 cattle per week now slaughters about 170 cattle weekly.
Meraka’s majority shareholder is the controversial business tycoon Yan Xie. Mr Xie, popularly known as “John”, is a naturalised Mosotho who arrived in Lesotho from China in 1990 and built a business empire spanning supermarkets, construction, farming and quarrying.
He first hit the headlines and stirred heated debate when Prime Minister Thomas Thabane appointed him “head of special projects and the prime minister’s special envoy and trade adviser on the China-Asia trade network” in August 2017. This was shortly after the advent of the Thabane regime in the aftermath of the 3 June 2017 elections.