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when hunger drives a mother mad



’Makhotso Rakotsoane

LERIBE – A murder case about to go to trial in the Leribe Magistrates’ Court is likely shock the country.

And that is not because of the alleged murder’s gory details but the suspect’s motive, at least according to what she has already told the police.

It’s a bizarre case likely to prod the nation’s collective conscience.

When she eventually has her day in court Botlebosele Liaho, a 25-year-old-woman from Maputsoe, will tell the magistrate she threw her week-old-baby into a sewage pond because she could not feed her.

Poverty, she has told the police, pushed her to commit this heinous crime. The new baby came when Liaho who is unemployed was already struggling to feed her two-year-old toddler.

Liaho’s dilemma was on deciding which one of the babies to feed, the new born or the toddler.

Despite her neighbours’ efforts to bring her food Liaho decided to kill the baby.

According to the police’s spokeswoman Senior Inspector Lerato Motseki, Liaho said she does not think she will be able to feed the new baby.

Motseki says Liaho explained to her neighbour that she had thrown the baby in a sewage dam.

The neighbours called the village chief and the police.

There is no indication that Liaho made any efforts to seek foster family for her baby.

Motseki says Liaho will face a murder case in the High Court in Maseru.

This is not the first case that the Leribe Magistrates Court has handled in which the mother committed a serious crime against her own baby because of extreme poverty.

Earlier this year the court heard a case in which Nthabiseng Nyelimane, a 21-year-old woman of Peka Ha-Mohlokaqala, allegedly sold her baby for food.

Nyelimane, a married woman whose husband’s whereabouts thepost failed to trace, appeared before the Leribe magistrate’s court in April together with a woman she gave her baby.

Nyelimane and Motšeoa Mabea of Senqu in Mokhotlong who allegedly bought the baby with food, were charged with violating the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act of 2011.

Denied bail, the two women now await trial in remand prison.

The case is pending in the magistrate’s court.

The police allege that Nyelimane gave her three-month old baby to Mabea on condition that Mabea would provide food for her and the baby.

According to the police Mabea who is 21 years old was once pregnant but aborted the baby and later told her family that she was still expecting.

She left her home for some time and later made an arrangement with Nyelimane to give her the baby with the promise that she would buy her food.

Mabea allegedly also promised to take good care of the baby by buying food, diapers and taking it to a doctor for medical care – all of which the real mother could not afford.

The president of Lekhotla la Mekhoa le Meetlo, an association of Basotho traditionalists that turned into a political party in 2012, Malefetsane Liau, says this is a sign of abject poverty that prompted a parent to give her child to another family so that the child could be taken care of.

Liau, who is also a traditional doctor, says it is common in the Basotho culture for poor families to give up children they cannot feed.

“For hundreds of years Basotho have always used this way to save children from being malnourished or starve to death,” Liau says.

“Children from poor families were given to those that can provide them with food and they were never told who their real parents were.”

“This was never a crime.”

The police did not investigate whether Nyelimane and Mabea did this deal in a customary way or whether Nyelimane was so poor that she opted to give her baby to Mabea in a customary way.

“That is not the role of the police,” they say.

Their concern, the say, is if the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act of 2011 has been violated.

Section 10 of the Act says a “child has a right to live with his parents and grow up in a caring and peaceful environment unless it is proved in court that living with his parents shall lead to significant harm to the child…or not be in the best interests of the child”.

Section 47 says where a person takes a child into his care or guardianship he shall, together with a person under whose care the child was at the time of the taking of the child, notify the chief or the Department of Social Welfare.

The department shall then investigate the circumstances and the reasons for taking the child and the suitability of the person who has taken the child into his care or guardianship.

The Act gives the department power to refuse or grant such taking of the child into care or guardianship other than by the parents’.

This means that even if the parents are so poor that they cannot afford to take care of their children, they cannot take them into foster care without following the stated procedures in the Act.

Failure to do so attracts criminal liability on conviction.

These two cases display the extent to which poverty has affected families both in the rural and urban areas, in stark contrast to many studies that depict the rural areas as the ones affected by poverty.

Maputsoe, where Liaho lives, is considered an urban area because of trade activities brought by textile factories that have hired at least 25 000 workers.

There is also a lot of traffic because of the busy border between Lesotho and South Africa.

Maputsoe is the second biggest town after the capital, Maseru.

So, Liaho’s case shows that urban dwellers are also affected by poverty in exactly the same way it affects the people in the rural areas.

Basotho, irrespective of whether they are living in the rural or urban areas, are experiencing abject poverty.

According to the February 2016 article on El Nino-Related drought, published by the UNDP’s office of the Resident Coordinator for Lesotho, the current drought cannot only be seen as a food security crisis.

“It is impacting different sectors including food security and agriculture, water, health and nutrition as well as migration and protection,” the article reads.

“The historic delays in rains attributed to El Niño are expected to have a severe impact on the food security of the Basotho in 2016 and 2017, and many areas are already suffering from water shortages,” it reads.

It also shows that this year’s poor harvest is a compounded issue which originated with the poor rainfall during the 2014/2015 agricultural season and has persisted during the 2015/2016 agricultural season.

According to the recent Lesotho Drought Impact Assessment done at the end of January 2016 and published on February 8, 2016, the current number of people assessed to be at risk of food insecurity and not able to meet their survival needs until the next harvest is 534 502 people, which is over 25 percent of the total population.

The UNDP’s economic forecast was that “incomes are likely to further deteriorate, the harvest is going to be very low and food prices are expected to further rise”.

In comparison 2012 a year with more favourable conditions than those currently being experienced left 725 000 Basotho food insecure.

“As the drought worsens, peri-urban and urban regions will also be increasingly affected, mainly due to increases of food prices and water shortages,” the UNDP article reads.

The studies reveal that due to the low levels of rainfall, up to 70 percent of communities report not having planted their crops.

The stresses of both the cumulative impacts of this agricultural season along with the previous two poor harvests have meant that many communities and households are reliant on government assistance to purchase food at high prices at local markets.

Livelihoods have been negatively impacted due to loss of livestock due to drought related hunger, thirst and disease, including resulting in poorer feeding/water sources and increased animal morbidity, says the UNDP.

“Resulting food insecurity from loss of crops and livestock is exacerbated by the increase of food prices, compounded by the weak South Africa Rand,” it reads.

The Drought Assessment of Jan/Feb 2016 revealed that poor and very poor households in Lesotho are only able to meet 69 percent of their survival needs – a deficit of 31 percent.

“This can be seen to be a result of decline in both crop production as well as all types of employment,” the article reads.

The UNDP says the household food and income basket when compared to the reference year 2009/10 has declined by over 44 percent.

“The deficit is expected to increase throughout the second half of 2016 and into 2017.”

The Lesotho government’s 2016/2017 budget for the Ministry of Social Development is M253 million, after realising that people cannot graduate out of poverty by getting grants, but they should be assisted with projects to raise money for basic needs and other economic activities to push them out of poverty.

“The intention is to train people in the communities regarding income generating projects and to provide start-up capital,” Finance Minister ’Mamphono Khaketla said during her budget speech.

“As a result the ministry has developed a Community Development model which will assist in implementing income generating projects,” she said.

Agriculture, which is the main source of employment and income in rural areas of Lesotho, was allocated M429.1 million as an indication that the government is committed to “subsidising agriculture until such time that local farmers are adequately developed, and local food reserves are stocked with sufficient grain                crops”.

Khaketla said however there are factors which constrain agricultural growth and these range from a decline in income due to unfavourable weather and soil infertility.

“Agricultural methods need to be improved to help farmers to migrate from subsistence farming to commercial farming,” Khaketla said.

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