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 Majoro condemns Mofomobe’s xenophobic utterances

Staff reporter

PRIME Minister Moeketsi Majoro has led the chorus of condemnations against Deputy Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister, Machesetsa Mofomobe, over his xenophobic outburst against foreigners invested in the media sector in Lesotho.

Mofomobe called a press conference last week and publicly deployed the derogatory term “makoerekoere” to describe local newspapers in which foreign nationals have a stake.

Makoerekoere is a highly offensive term which falls in the same league as other derogatory epithets like nigger and kaffir. The later two being mostly used by racist white people to describe blacks. Makoerekoere is used to denigrate foreign nationals and largely denotes black on black hatred. It is hate speech.

The term has been the source of major xenophobic violence mainly in South Africa in recent years.  While officials are known to use it in muffled tones, it is almost unprecedented for a public figure to call a press conference and use the term.

Mofomobe, who is also the Basotho National Party (BNP) deputy leader, exactly did that. He called a press conference at which he accused “makoerekoere owned newspapers” of peddling falsehoods against his party leader and Communications, Science and Technology Minister Chief Thesele ‘Maseribane. This was after the Lesotho Times exposed how the now disbanded National Emergency Command Centre (NECC), which was chaired by Mr ‘Maseribane, misappropriated a huge amount of money before it was closed down in June by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro.

The NECC had been established by ex-premier Thomas Thabane to spearhead the fight against the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

It has since been replaced by the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) headed by the respected Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) boss Thabo Khasipe.

A confidential payment schedule published by the Lesotho Times showed that, before its disbandment, the NECC gobbled about M161 million of the M698 million budgeted for the fight against Covid-19 within the short three-month period of its existence. The expenditure scheduled clearly showed some expenses were grossly inflated like the purchase of four gas heaters at an astronomical figure of M184 000 yet a lesser amount of M4000 would have sufficed.

More than M10 million was spent on food for NECC officials when frontline health workers did not even have the most basic personal protective equipment (PPE) to work with. Before the leaking of that document to the Lesotho Times, the extent of the NECC’s profligacy, possibly the reason why Dr Majoro disbanded it, had not been known in detail.

But there had been an earlier social media storm when a leaked budget of the NECC showed it had planned to spend as much as M500 000 on a single non-contact thermometer yet such an item can be bought for as little as M500. The most expensive non-contact thermometers cost no more than M7 000. Mr ‘Maseribane had explained at that time that the budget was only a draft and not the actual one.

His comments were included as background in the Lesotho Times story and his picture was used in that context. It’s standard journalistic procedure to use the picture of any person mentioned in a story.

While the document obtained by the Lesotho Times showed that the NECC had grossly exaggerated costs, it did not accuse Mr ‘Maseribane of abusing any funds. Information about the responsible culprits is not yet known because no formal investigation has been launched into the NECC fraud. The newspaper therefore reported on the expenditure irregularities without attributing them to anyone directly.

But in a foul-mouthed tirade on Wednesday, Mofomobe, attacked the Lesotho Times, without using its name, for dragging Chief ‘Maseribane’s name in the mud.

“The BNP has realised that makoerekoere owned newspapers have a tendency of dragging people’s names in the mud and I am also a victim of that,” Mofomobe said.

“They have a tendency of using Chief ‘Maseribane’s pictures and name but when you read the stories, you do not see the proof that he has misused the funds as alleged,” said Mofomobe.

His comments have been roundly condemned by Dr Majoro, the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC), opposition parties, and ordinary Basotho.

Dr Majoro’s spokesperson, Mosito Moqhekoana, yesterday said the premier did not condone such behaviour from a senior member of his government.

“It is also uncalled for, for a deputy minister to utter words that promote hatred of our fellow Africans. The comments would have still been very bad even if they had been directed against someone who is not African,” Mr Moqhekoana said.

Mr Moqhekoana said Dr Majoro and his government were not xenophobic and treated every person in Lesotho equally.

“The Office of the Prime Minister condemns Mr Mofomobe’s careless talk.  This is very bad indeed and we shouldn’t allow such irresponsible behaviour from a minister and a senior member of a party in government.

“One wonders what will happen tomorrow as such utterances will not end there. Mr Mofomobe should not be left to have free reign because when he is done denigrating other Africans he will jump onto fellow Basotho. We have seen this happening elsewhere in Africa and if it goes unchecked such hatred could build into something higher than anticipated,” he said.

The government spokesperson, Chief ‘Maseribane, who is also BNP leader and Communications, Science and Technology minister, said his party deputy’s utterances did not reflect the position of government.

He was however, quick to defend Mofomobe, saying his utterances were prompted by the newspaper’s style of reporting “which included the assassination of the characters of innocent individuals”.

“We should address the issue that prompted Mr Mofomobe to utter such words, which is your (way of) reporting which assassinated the characters of innocent individuals. This has happened many times and I urge you to introspect on your reporting (of issues)”, Chief ‘Maseribane told the Sunday Express.

However, the newspaper report clearly stated that Chief ‘Maseribane was only mentioned in the story in his capacity as head of the NECC during its tenure. It did not accuse him of embezzling any funds. It could not have done so without an official probe naming the culprits.

Even though it is common knowledge that the abuse and theft at the NECC happened when Mr ‘Maseribane was its chairman and , and he would ultimately have to take responsibility, the Lesotho Times refrained from apportioning any blame on him or any other person at this stage until investigations, if any, are concluded.  Mr ‘Maseribane and his deputy’s insistence that the story targeted the BNP leader is therefore incomprehensible, the Lesotho Times editor, Herbert Moyo, had said.

While he has rushed to take offence with the publication of the story, Mr ‘Maseribane has not bothered to explain the actual details in the story including all the inflated costs mentioned therein, since he chaired the NECC when the rot happened.

South Africa has for example taken a tough stance against the abuse of Covid 19 funds and that country’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has been mandated to investigate all cases of fraudulent and irregular expenditure.  The Lesotho government is yet to say what it will do with the NECC.

The ruling ABC has also strongly condemned Mr Mofomobe’s utterances.

The party’s secretary general Lebohang Hlaele said, “the ABC does not condone any xenophobic or racist utterances by any individual in Lesotho”.

“We want Prime Minister Majoro to deal with that issue as a matter of urgency.  The prime minister must immediately reprimand Mr Mofomobe as his utterances do not give our government and country a good name,” said Mr Hlaele.

He added that he would personally approach Dr Majoro to swiftly deal with the matter.

The opposition Lesotho Congress of Democrats (LCD)’s secretary general, Teboho Sekata, weighed in by calling on Dr Majoro to either fire or suspend Mr Mofomobe because of his “unbecoming behaviour”.

Mr Sekata said there was nothing wrong with foreign-owned local newspapers reporting about events in the country, adding it was their duty to do so.

He said Mr Mofomobe should have approached the courts for redress if he felt aggrieved instead of promoting hate speech.

“This is not the first time that Mr Mofomobe has publicly denigrated other people. The last time he did so was when he was fighting for the BNP deputy leader’s position with Chief Joang Molapo last year,” Mr Sekata said.

Chief Molapo, who has since dumped the BNP for the opposition Alliance of Democrats (AD), said, “it’s unfortunate that a minister of government would utter such xenophobic comments”.

The Lesotho chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Lesotho) also condemned Mr Mofomobe.

MISA-Lesotho deputy chairperson Kananelo Boloetse said Mr Mofomobe’s “egregious display of hatred towards newspapers owned by foreign nationals whom he referred to as makoerekoere – a derogatory term used only by the halfwits – must be condemned in the strongest possible terms”.

“MISA-Lesotho unreservedly condemns the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Machesetsa Mofomobe’s utterances which not only drive up anti-foreigner sentiments but also portray Zimbabwean journalists working in Lesotho as problematic,” said Misa Lesotho in a statement.

“The last time when foreign journalists were publicly referred to as makoerekoere and portrayed as rubble-rousers, the Lesotho Times editor Lloyd Mutungamiri was shot and he escaped death by a hair’s breadth (in July 2016).

“It is inexcusable for Mr Mofomobe, or anyone, to refer to Zimbabwean journalists working in this country as makoerekoere and any attempt to justify such utterances would be tantamount to glorifying hatred and bigotry.

“MISA-Lesotho does not take kindly to such remarks against foreign journalists, and view Mr Mofomobe’s remarks as a direct attack on media freedom and the constitutional values that we hold dear. While MISA-Lesotho respects Mr Mofomobe’s right to free speech…that right cannot be used to spread hate speech.

“Whatever concerns or grievances Mr Mofomobe may have against foreign-owned newspapers, he should handle them in a democratic way. MISA-Lesotho commits to a discussion with Mr Mofomobe and the newspapers he is aggrieved with, to resolve his grievances peacefully,” the statement says.

Meanwhile, social media was awash with messages condemning Mr Mofomobe’s utterances.

“I would like to see if @PrimeMinisterLS (Dr Majoro) will reprimand the deputy minister of foreign affairs for his utterances that drive up anti-foreigner sentiments and portray Zimbabwean journalists working in this country as problematic,” one twitter user wrote on Friday.

“Am waiting for the day he will be called before the parliamentary ethics committee, then he would say he did it because he was angry,” another twitter user said.

“Did a whole Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations say this? This is outrageous,” another twitter user said.

Another social media user suggested that the anger and hysteria displayed by Mofomobe indeed suggested that “something was amiss”.

“It seems money was indeed stolen and they are hysterical because the truth has been exposed…There is no other way of interpreting their anger…” explained one social media user.

“If ‘Maseribane was there when heaters were being bought for those figures mentioned, then what was his job….Was he sleeping…I would wish to know. Instead of being angry, they must explain this bad expenditure.”

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