Opposition parties draw battle lines on Land Bill

LERIBE — The government’s proposed Land Bill (2009) has come under a barrage of attacks from opposition parties that have vowed to block it from being passed into law.
The opposition says the Bill is the government’s plan to dispossess the poor of their land.
The Bill, which was recently tabled in parliament seeks to change the land tenure regulations to allow foreigners to own land in Lesotho for “investment purposes”. 
The government says the Land Act (1979) which the Bill seeks to repeal is “perceived to be costly, slow, inefficient, restrictive and not transparent”. 
But opposition parties say the proposed law is an “attempt to sell the country to foreigners”. 
In a statement issued on Tuesday the Lesotho Political Parties’ Forum, a grouping of opposition parties, said the Bill in its current form endangers the “whole ethos of our nationhood”. 
They said the Bill is an attempt to sell the country to the “highest bidder”.
The parties also attacked the composition and methods of the public hearings that the government has been having to gather views about the proposed law.
“You will also be aware that there is a charade of public hearings which are presently being held.”
They also accuse the government of stage-managing public hearings to influence their outcome.
“This involves the parachuting of civil servants and people who have been informed to (talk) in such hearings.”
They said most of the people invited for the hearings were government officials like district administrators and officials from community councils as well as the Ministry of Local Government.
“The Land Bill, as you will see, is not meant to serve the Basotho people but is clearly meant to appease foreign interests.”
“We demand that the present Bill be withdrawn unconditionally and a legitimate land reform process be begun in an inclusive manner.”
The Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) leader Moeketse Malebo said the government wants to use the Bill to “rip Basotho of what is rightfully theirs”.
“These leaders who have been elected into power by ordinary Basotho men and women are today doing all in their might to take away from Basotho what is rightfully theirs,” Malebo said.
“For every Mosotho, owning a piece of land is like holding money in one’s hand. Land is valued because of its monetary worth. We are all equally entitled to a piece of land in this country,” Malebo said.
“Imagine the sadness this would create if our land were to be sold to foreigners. It is even entrenched in this country’s constitution that no Mosotho should be stripped of their land or have it sold under duress.”
He said Lesotho had lost enough land already.
“I am going to tell the public that their land is worth their blood and that it is worth fighting for. I will have all people know that this government is about to sacrifice their country to capitalists because they are too lazy to implement sensible policies benefiting every Mosotho.”
The Basutoland African Congress (BAC) party leader, Khauhelo Ralitapole, said it would be sad if the Bill progressed in parliament until it became law.
“If this law is passed, the government of Lesotho will be in a position to generate money from Basotho by compelling them to pay rates for the land they own.
“But where will poor Basotho get money when the elderly receive meagre funds of M300 per month? What of the 40 percent unemployment rate in Lesotho?” Ralitapole said.                     
All Basotho Convention (ABC) party leader, Thomas Thabane, told supporters at a rally in Bale-Bale on Sunday that he would use “any legal recourse at my disposal to ensure the Bill is not passed into law”.
“It is an unnecessary risk to let such a law pass. I will take any legal recourse at my disposal to ensure the Bill is not passed into law,” Thabane said.
He said the Bill is an attempt by the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party “to take land from Basotho after they have taken everything that is of value from the nation”.
“They have taken everything of value from us,” he said.
“There are no job opportunities here in Lesotho and our people have to seek jobs in South Africa to keep hunger at bay. Now they want to take our land from us, the only asset we have left, which also happens to be the legacy from our forefathers.”
Thabane said the fight will not only be limited to taking legal measures but that “we will also fight politically”.
“When I say fight, I mean a political fight within the limits of law. There are many ways to fight politically without breaking the law. But at the end of the day we are duty-bound to fiercely fight off this capitalist encroachment,” Thabane said.
He accused Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili of trying “to hand over our land on a silver platter to foreigners.”
Also speaking at the same rally ABC Women’s League President, ‘Mamahele Radebe said the youths must fight the Bill.
 “I appeal to the youth, not only from the ABC, to take a tough stance against this proposed land Bill. They are the leaders of tomorrow and if they sit back and do nothing about it, there will be some very serious repercussions for them in future.”
Radebe said if the youth did not fight fiercely against such laws being tabled in parliament “they will live to regret it”.
“Our youth have to challenge this particular Bill (Land Bill 2009) with all their might for the benefit of future generations,” Radebe said.
She said the Bill was full of legal jargon which the common person cannot understand.
 “Every Mosotho has to have a copy of this Bill in their mother tongue (Sesotho), to read and understand how approving such a Bill would affect this nation. There are currently chiefs and headmen deep in the rural villages who can neither read nor comprehend the essence of this Bill.”

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