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Workers’ union apologises for ‘rape’ song

’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE National Clothing and Textile and Allied Workers Union (NCTAWU) has distanced itself from the workers who recently sang a song calling on three unnamed men to rape the Minister of Labour and Employment, Keketso Rantšo, as punishment for award them salary increments.

The deputy secretary general of NCTAWU, Tšepang Makakole, apologised on behalf of the union. Mr Makakole however, suggested that the rape song only became an issue because it was directed at a high ranking individual who was a cabinet minister.

He accused the government and the ruling parties of remaining silent in the face of said threats of violence against ordinary women.

Mr Makakole apologised in the aftermath of Monday’s protest march by thousands of workers who converged at the Moshoeshoe 1 monument in Maseru where they handed a petition to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane demanding wage increases for all workers.

The protestors, who comprised of factory employees, security guards and general workers from the retail and catering sector, want a 15 percent increment for all workers. They are also demanding a minimum wage of M2000 for factory workers.

The workers had hoped to deliver the same petition to Ms Rantšo by they were disappointed by her failure to meet them on Monday.

Government sources say that Ms Rantšo was granted medical leave of absence by Dr Thabane to enable her to seek treatment outside the country for an undisclosed ailment.

Upon realising that Ms Rantšo was not present to receive their petition, the incensed workers, who were predominantly female, broke into a song calling for Ms Rantšo to be raped by three men whose names they did not disclose.

Ms Rantšo is the only female leader of a political party in Lesotho. Her Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) is part of the governing coalition along with Dr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC), Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki’s Alliance of Democrats and Communications Minister Thesele Maseribane’s Basotho National Party (BNP).

Mr Makakole recently told the Sunday Express that the union was very sorry and did not condone any behaviour which incited people to commit crimes.

He however, suggested that the political parties in the governing four party coalition were guilty of double standards in that they only condemned the attack on Ms Rantšo and yet they did not say anything about a similar statement calling for the rape of a female journalist, Nthakoana Ngatane.

Mr Makakole said this in reference to the Alliance of Democrats Women’s League (ADWL) which called a press conference on Wednesday where it condemned the workers who sang the song calling for Ms Rantšo to be raped.

The ADWL said it was not only morally reprehensible but also an incitement to criminal behaviour for the protesting workers to call for anyone to be raped.

Mr Makakole was also speaking in reference to the failure by the ADWL or any of the ruling parties to condemn threats by some unnamed people for SABC News correspondent Nthakoana Ngatane to be physically harmed for her coverage of events in Lesotho last October. Ms Ngatane fled the country for South Africa in October 2017 after being allegedly threatened by unidentified people.

Shortly after fleeing Lesotho, Ms Ngatane told the SABC’s Channel Africa radio station that “journalists in Lesotho are under threat on the streets, not from the (Thabane) administration”.

“The Lesotho government must come out and clearly condemn when they know that journalists have been threatened. They must come out clearly and state that they will not tolerate such acts,” Ms Ngatane said at the time.

And in recent interview with the Sunday Express, Mr Makakole apologised for the workers’ rape song.

“We are very sorry and we do not condone such behaviour calling for Ms Rantšo to be raped,” Mr Makakole said.

“It is however, quite surprising that the same things are not treated the same way.

“We had a youth member of one of the ruling parties calling for the rape of a female journalist, Nthakoana Ngatane, and yet we never heard much noise being made about that incident.

“We wonder if it’s about the class position (of the workers who sang against Ms Rantšo).

“Why are people not treated the same way in this country,” Mr Makakole asked.

He said it was highly likely that the condemnation of the workers’ song was meant to divert attention from the workers’ demands for wage increments.

“Is it because those petitioned suddenly want to run away from the real issue of salary increment? “These politicians hijacked our ‘Save AGOA’ protest march in 2016 and even went the extra mile to provide us with an amplifying system and even addressed us.

“Now all of a sudden, they are saying our wage demands have been politicised. How convenient,” Mr Makakole said.

The ‘Save AGOA’ protest march was staged in December 2016 by the workers and civic groups to pressure the previous government that was led by Pakalitha Mosisili to implement the benchmarks that were set by the American government as a precondition for Lesotho to retain its eligibility for African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA).

AGOA provides for duty-free entry of goods into the US from designated sub-Saharan African countries, including Lesotho. The legislation, which was first approved by the US Congress in May 2000, is meant to incentivise African countries to open their economies and build free markets.

Among the main eligibility criteria for AGOA are a market-based economy, rule of law, systems to combat corruption, and not engaging in gross violations of internationally-recognised human rights.

Lesotho’s textile and garment industry, which is anchored on AGOA, employs more than 40 000 people, in addition to other downstream sectors.

Mr Makakole said that in as much as they regretted the rape song, they remained unshaken in their demands for wage increases.

“We remain unshaken in our demands. We want the minister Rantšo to be removed from that ministry as she has failed us. It doesn’t matter whether she is reshuffled or fired from cabinet, all we want is a change in that ministry,” Mr Makakole said.

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