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THOUSANDS OF LESOTHO SHEPHERDS MARCH TO PARLIAMENT

Thousands of Basotho wool and mohair farmers marched to parliament on Friday.

By Poloko Mokhele

They presented a petition, signed by the Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA) national chairperson Mokoenihi Thinyane, expressing concerns that they are forced by government to supply their product to a Lesotho-registered company run by Chinese businessman Guohui Stone Shi, to the detriment of the industry.

The farmers want government to revoke the ‘draconian’ Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing) Regulations No.65 of 2018, it allegedly imposed on them last year.

Under these regulations, which came into effect in September 2018, all wool and mohair producers are forced to cut ties with South African-based wool brokerage BKB and compelled to supply to Stone Shi’s company, Maseru Dawning.

Some farmers refused while others complied with the new requirements.

Those who refused argued that they were not consulted, insisted that the wool is theirs and that they will sell it to whoever they choose and said the new dispensation amounted to the ambush of state policy by private business interests.

The government defended this monopolisation of the wool industry as a move to bring the industry under local control, create jobs for Basotho and benefit the fiscus.

Those who complied and sent their wool to Maseru Dawning later blasted the centre for failing to fulfil its promise of paying them before end of 2018.

The frustrated farmers also accused the centre of not stipulating the total amount of money they were supposed to get for their product. To date, some farmers have not been paid for the wool they sent to Stone Shi’s centre last year.

“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,” read the petition.

Earlier this month parliament approved Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing’s motion which proposed the establishment of an ad-hoc committee to conduct investigations into the sales of wool and mohair before and after enactment of the wool and mohair Regulations.

Wool and mohair are among Lesotho’s most important industries, with an annual turnover of more than R800-million. Many poor rural Basotho depend on it.

On Wednesday Prime Minister Thabane announced that cabinet had resolved to suspend the regulations to give farmers three months’ grace period to sell their wool and mohair wherever they want to.

But the farmers today said it was clear to them that the three months’ window period announced by Thabane “clearly shows that the intention is to clear the mohair from the woolsheds as the Chinese are not interested in mohair but wool”.

They said: “It is therefore clear to everyone that in three months, the wool would not be ready for the market… therefore, we are here demanding that parliament of Lesotho remove Legal Notice No.65 of 2018 completely as it is not beneficial to Lesotho’s fibre industry.”

The regulations, which wool and mohair farmers are opposed to, were initially tabled in parliament by the agriculture minister Mahala Molapo on May 4 last year, triggering a court action by farmers who said the regulations were going to harm their business.

In June, the farmers won a High Court interim order blocking the government from effecting the regulations.

The order instructed government to halt the implementation of the regulations pending finalisation of a case filed by the farmers in which they argued that auctioning of wool and mohair had to be undertaken under well prepared auction floors and well organised contingent of buyers for effective competition.

“We are not aware of the presence of this infrastructure to effectively handle Lesotho clip for this important activity,” the farmers said in their court papers.

On September 3, Molapo withdrew the regulations from parliament.

But the following day, on September 4, minister of small businesses development Chalane Phori re-instated the withdrawn regulations, sparking confusion among farmers and opposition parties.

Fifty-three MPs on the government’s side voted for the adoption of the regulations, while 46 legislators from the opposition voted against them.

Twenty-one MPs were absent from parliament.

The farmers then approached the court on an urgent basis, seeking a declaration that the regulations were of no force and effect.

The High Court in April ruled that: “It is declared that the Agricultural Marketing (Wool and Mohair Licensing) (Amendment) Regulations No. 65 of 2018 are null and void and of no force and effect to the extent that they are ultra vires (in contravention of or outside the powers stated in the) Agricultural Marketing Act of 1967.”

The government however successfully appealed against the high court ruling. NW

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