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Killing them slowly



There is a Sesotho proverb that says: Lela le lapileng ha le na tsebe, that can be loosely translate as “an empty stomach is deaf”.

Former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, a great orator and master of proverbs, would probably be making noise about one of these if he was still in office and heard about the trouble that is happening with the school feeding programmes in Lesotho.

Years ago during Ntate Leabua Jonathan’s regime, there was trouble in keeping Basotho students in schools because of food shortages and poverty. And no one could concentrate on an empty stomach.

So Ntate Leabua put together a feeding scheme across the country where students would be provided with breakfast and lunch, free.

The programme acquired a name “mme mphe papa” and so all the government schools were then known as “sekolo sa mme mphe papa”.

Lebese la toroto, mahe a sekolopata and leshele-shele la lehala le nontloeea were some of the food on the menu.

And this really helped keep students in schools and attract more.
Emigration rates dropped a little because the need to fend for food at an early schooling age had been met halfway.

Child labour which is often a result of poverty also subsided a little because children could now fill their stomachs and fuel their knowledge at a go.

The programme continued after Ntate Ntsu Mokhehle took office and later on when Ntate Pakalitha Mosisili took the reins along with the free primary education that has been a saviour of many struggling Basotho and those that live under the poverty line. Now kids could not only be fed in schools but they could also acquire academic knowledge as well.

The feeding scheme not only benefited the students but the communities as well. This is because tenders to feed in schools were normally allocated to individuals in the community.

That selection too still had its challenges but none that ever made it to the media and threatened the success of students that solely relied on the programme to fill their stomachs.

It has been a while now since free primary pupils have been starved because of a shortage of food or no food supplies in schools at all.

Traditional initiation schools, early child marriage, lack of school fees and poor infrastructure, are said, of late, to be the reasons for the high dropout rates in primary schools. But has anyone ever thought if starvation (the imbalance in the feeding programmes in schools) is also a contributing factor to the high dropout rates?

Sabotage can present itself in different forms. One may argue that it is not sabotage but petty politics affecting a system that has been going on well for years but later slagging with new developments and moving times.

Private schools and private education, for the elite; middle and first class is slowly spreading over the country and taking over.

Pressure to level up, move children from free primary to private education is affecting a huge number of Basotho.

Neglect of the free primary education system can be proven in the countless strikes teachers always embark on, threats to bunk classes until their needs are met, lack of free stationery that was normally allocated to students and the programmes that have been there for years collapsing with no effort to try to bring them back so they can work well again.

The free primary education along with the free school feeding programmes are the backbone of more than 50% of Basotho who most of them are factory workers, the same factories that sustain the huge part of the economy of Lesotho.

The cry for help to ease life for factory workers has left many orphaned, widowed or childless.

We cannot also let the fight to stabilise the feeding programme leave many futureless and hopeless. You can deny a black child food but not education because denying them education would be killing them slowly.

But to deny a black child both (education and food), that would bring their sudden death.

Bokang Masasa

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