:Writes Tjonane Matla,
The General Elections held on the 27th of March 1993 made the late Dr. Ntsu Mokhehle, the then leader of the Basutuland Congress Party (BCP), achieve a landslide victory in all sixty five constituencies in the National Assembly. His party’s Members of Parliament, inclusive of Cabinet Members, were mostly from exile for more than twenty years, a situation that meant that such a strong political machinery had lost touch with what had been happening in Lesotho, and therefore blunder and destroy a multi-million project that was meant to re-engineer the economy of our beloved Mountain Kingdom.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Lesao Lehohla, was Minister for Home Affairs, Local Government and Chieftainship as his first cabinet position in 1993. In our interview, held at his home in Matholeng, Mafeteng on the 22nd of February 2018, the elderly citizen sadly recalls how the BCP government repealed the grazing fee, resulting in a situation that destroyed a project that had been mobilised for almost 22 years.
“We had no opposition in Parliament, the Military Government had already done so much as they had mobilised the Nation and accepted the project. Ours was just to implement but we destroyed such a project that was going to save Lesotho”, Lehohla recalls.
While concluding the interview, after several hours of story-telling kind of dialogue, Lehohla mentioned that the decision of the BCP Government’s Ministry of Agriculture, Land Reclamation and Marketing led by the late Hon Ntsukunyane Mphanya, to repeal the grazing fee, was never in Lesotho’s favour although he was part of it, therefore he regrets such a decision was ever taken.
“We were new in the Government, and therefore the top civil servants by the likes of Lefu Lehloba who was Director for Livestock Services (DLS) by then, had arranged to orientate the new Government with the Lesotho Agricultural Policy and Institutional Support (LAPIS), a project that was financed by the People of the United States of America”, Former Deputy Prime Minister recalls.
To understand the scenario much better, on the 6th of March 2018 we consulted the Managing Director of the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA) Lefu Lehloba who was DLS at the time, to narrate to us, what actually transpired.
“LAPIS was meant to finance different institutions to function within their mandate. Such institutions included the Department of Agricultural Research & Development and the Lesotho Agricultural College. After end of institutions support, Livestock Services requested help from the Americans as the pastures were in a very bad shape in Lesotho. We formed a project that was named Community Natural Resources Management (CNRM). At the time Lesotho’s arable land was 9%, rangeland was about 70% while the residential and rivers was 21%.” Facts narrated by Lefu Lehloba.
Lehloba further narrated that there was a need to address the issue of natural resources through communities because of communal grazing system in Lesotho. It was for that reason that CNRM, incorporated all Principal Chiefs of Lesotho and the LNWMGA. According to Lehloba, and referring to our memories of the interviews we had held with the late first Chairman of LNWMGA Ntate Mojalefa Lephole: Chief Masopha Seeiso was appointed Head of Delegation of a trip that went to New Mexico in the United States of America (NM-USA) where Lesotho was to learn the systems used by the Native Americans. Luckily, The Silo had an opportunity to interview both Chief Masupha Seeiso and Chairman Mojalefa Lephole (on a number of occasions before his passing) on the issue of the LAPIS project. The other founding member that we encountered on a number of times on the same issue is former Secretary General of LNWMGA – Nkone Phiri who can still recall verbatim of almost all the comments of Members of Parliament and Ministers during the study tours of LAPIS resultant pilot projects at Sehlabathebe, Ramatšeliso, Mphaki, Qhoalinyane and unfortunately just before Malibamatšo, the then Minister Mphanya requested that they were satisfied with what they had seen in the first four pilot projects, so there was no need for the Malibamatšo a visit.
When Lesotho’s rangelands no longer had carrying capacity for her own livestock, Lehloba (a Silicon Valley graduate) and his team under the then Principal Secretary Reid Ntokoane had to think outside the box, and advised the Council of Military Government to amended the Range Management and Grazing Control Regulations of 1980, by amendment no: 78 of 1992 which stated as follows:
These Regulations amend the Range Management and Grazing Control Regulations 1980 by adding new definitions and with respect to grazing fees penalties for grazing offences. They also prohibit the cutting of grass on a communal grazing area. No person shall graze or cause his or her stock to graze on a communal grazing area unless (s)he has paid to the Village Development Council or Ward Development Council, as the case may be, the annual grazing fees set out in the Third Schedule …………(Source: FAOLEX – Website: www.environment.gov.ls)
According to Lehloba, during the first five years of the Military Government under Major General Metsing Lekhanya, it was more or less impossible as Major General himself as a farmer was sceptical that this new way of solving overstocking shall be accepted in society. Major General Phitšoane Ramaema who become known as the driver of a Land Rover with only forward gears, and no reverse gear, passed the amendment shortly before handing over to Dr Mokhehle. What rather fascinated Ramaema was the fact that the payments, usage and management of the fund that was to develop the pastures was not to be deposited into the Government budget but to district councils, therefore this project was rather the people’s project not government.
The user pays concept
The project had mobilised and organised the farmers across the country, and the farmers had even registered the communal grazing associations which had even contributed funds and deposited such funds in district council bank accounts.
The farmers grazing associations had been mobilised and trained very well for range management. Their leaders as Principal Chiefs and Farmers Associations had visited NM-USA and learned how best communal land could be managed. How funds could be collected, planned and used to develop the rangelands. It was very clear where the farmers wanted to go, they had themselves seen the benefits of such a bold step, they were ready and very willing to move forward.
Habofanoe Makhoane who was the Principal Secretary for the then Ministry of Agriculture, Land Reclamation and Marketing had worked very hard to tour the whole cabinet and members of parliament to the pilot projects mentioned in earlier paragraphs. Lehloba still remembers that Berea district council had M 127,000.00 in their bank account when one morning Mphanya called them to notify them that due to the outcry down in the villages he decided to repeal the grazing fee.
Backsliding caused by the BCP Government
BCP became the first Basotho organised initiative to invest in education through organising scholarships for Basotho children to go and study abroad. Amongst those who were in the scholarship list we can mention Dr. ‘Musi Mokete, Hon. Monyane Moleleki and the late Retšelisitsoe Sekhonyana though he later on got a different scholarship to send him to Canada but the fact of the matter is he applied and his application was successful.
It is however very disappointing that the same BCP, when it gets into Government after a struggle of about 27 years striving for power, they did not honour the value of education.
Imagine all intelligentsia of the likes of Reid Ntokoane (late), Lefu Lehloba, Bore Motsamai, Chief Masopha Seeiso, Chairman Mojalefa Lephole, Habofanoe Makhooane, Major General Phitšoana Ramaema (late) and many others who worked endlessly to correct the terrible situation about our rangelands and one morning an announcement is made by a Minister to oppose such efforts. Imagine knowing or extrapolating the future of Lesotho in the next 24 years, and indeed living to witness the results of that extrapolation.
It is for that very reason that the Former Deputy Prime Minister Hon Lesao Lehohla in his retirement years terribly regrets being part of a government that once sabotaged CNRM program.
The question that faces us today is what have we learned of this mistake and what can we do to restore that concept, and what have the current politicians learning from this story? I doubt very much if they are to learn something, just few moments ago, some were in the wool and mohair industry saga and seems not to want to learn anything.
That is our problem as Basotho, we struggle to learn from our own mistakes.