Child shepherd dreams of joining the army


  • Young Mokhotlong herder yearns for education and a better life


MOKHOTLONG – For ages, Basotho boys have practiced livestock herding as a rite to manhood and an alternative form of employment when they grow older, while it has also, in the main, been perceived as a quick way of accruing personal livestock wealth without paying mature herders. This economic imperative has further rendered young Basotho boys at a disadvantage in terms of access to education because of the semi-nomadic nature of herding and the inaccessibility of the herding topography. Resident at Khonofaneng, Mokhotlong, Tšokoliso Letšela, is one of the many young boys who have been growing up burdened with the role of a bread winner, yet his heart pines for education.

Tšokoliso was plucked out of school at Grade 5 against his will by his father who then ordered him to herd his 100 sheep and 20 goats. Wrapped in a worn-out blanket in the cold snowy weather of Mokhotlong, Tšokoliso explains that since 2020, his sole abode has been the animal post from which he tends the flock. He has only visited home occasionally since then.

He is ready to give all away for a chance to go back to school, but his wish seems far-farfetched as he points out that every time he raises the topic of education to his parents he is dismissed with the explanation that if he deserted and left herding he, and his eight siblings, would go hungry as his family solely depends on animal farming for survival. Tšokoliso is the seventh child in the family of eight children. His brother, aged 19, also herds livestock while the others still attend nearby schools. Both his parents are unemployed and focus solely on farming. His family depends on selling wool and mohair for survival and at times sell the very livestock when in dire straits.

“I was taken out of school when I was in grade five by my father telling me that he is struggling to find a herd boy. I tried showing him reason that as much as I appreciate animal farming and I am aware of its importance in our lives, I want to take my own route, get an education and be a soldier.

“My wish was to change the narrative of my family of having no one learned that can provide for the family. But my father said I should forget about school and focus on livestock farming,” a sad Tšokoliso tells this reporter. He says there is never a day that passes without him praying for the miracle to finally return to school. Wherever he goes he carries with him a book to fill the void in him. He reveals that he hates spending all his time at the cattle post, especially in winter. He says together with the other herders they are exposed to severe weather conditions ranging from heavy rains, snow, hail storms and severe drought with unreliable shelter and little to no clothing. This has seen them experiencing different sicknesses, and their lives have been in extreme danger more often than not.

Another challenge facing Tšokoliso and his fellow livestock farmers in the area is animal theft. Tšokoliso reveals that in the past three months alone he has lost around 20 sheep which were stolen from his animal post by unknown marauding rustlers. He says efforts to recover them have been futile and they have come to accept animal theft as normal in their area.

He calls this a great concern to him and he fears that one day he will wake up to an empty kraal and consequently his family’s only way of survival would have been snatched away from them.

In an almost similar predicament though he has the love for livestock farming is Bokang Sefotha, aged 21, from Tlhanyaku, also in Mokhotlong. Bokang chose livestock farming over school.

He tells this reporter that he only managed to go as far as Grade 4 in school and dropped out after realizing that he has no interest in education and wants to focus on livestock farming. He says despite his parents’ disapproval, he left school and started herding his family’s livestock with the aim to start growing his own livestock once he gets older.

He said he started herding at the age of 11 and since then nothing has fulfilled him more than looking after his father’s livestock and 17 sheep and four goats of his own. Bokang states that at the age of 21, he is able to help his parents financially as he sells wool and mohair. He adds that with the money from his livestock farming, his parents and siblings’ needs are always met. He wishes to one day be a big livestock farmer who not only sells wool and mohair but with interests in the meat and milk market. However, animal theft is their biggest enemy and it restricts their growth in the industry.

Apart from losing their livestock as a result of animal theft, the country is losing millions of Maloti that it should receive in revenue from selling wool and mohair which are among the biggest revenue generators in Lesotho. According to the Wool and Mohair Promotion Project (WAMPP), Lesotho is the second leading mohair producer in the world after South Africa.

WAMPP’s project information titled ‘The Lesotho’s wool and mohair chain: production aspects’ notes that Lesotho produces 3 320 tons of merino-type greasy mohair and 750 tons of angora-type greasy mohair annually, respectively 0.2 percent and 14 percent of 2011 world production. WAMPP further states that wool is Lesotho’s leading agricultural commodity export while mohair ranks 5th and production remains largely in the hands of smallholder and subsistence farmer producers. It further articulates that the rural economy of Lesotho is dominated by livestock production which contributes 4.8 percent of GDP compared to agricultural crops which contribute only 1.9 percent.

“During the 2012/2013 season, Lesotho’s wool sales grossed M192 million and mohair sales grossed M29 million,” WAMPP says. It further states that wool and mohair production are major factors in injecting cash into rural communities and addressing poverty in Lesotho. Speaking on animal theft Khonofalong area chief, ’Matumeliso  Letšela, points out that the herd boys shoulder the blame for animal theft in her area, articulating that they have turned stealing livestock from neighbouring South African KwaZulu Natal Province into a game. As a result, Zulu farmers steal from them in revenge.

“These boys are the ones promoting animal theft. We sometimes wake up to kraals full of stolen cattle. When their owners come searching for them, they take even those that do not belong to them in revenge,” the chief says.

She articulates that animal theft in Khonofaneng will only stop if their herd boys also stop stealing from South African herd boys.

In an effort to fight cross-border crime, including animal theft, the government through the Ministry of Local Government, Chieftainship Affairs, Police and Home Affairs has signed a Memorandum of Understating with the South African Police Services to fight animal theft between the two countries.

Police Commissioner Molibeli Holomo has also noted that stock-theft has been identified to be a problem in the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces of South Africa, with KwaZulu-Natal being the hotspot.

Holomo has established a team of police officers who solely focuses on animal theft. The plight of the Mokhotlong herd-boys surfaced during an outreach by a World Food Programme-financed project titled ‘Improving Adaptive Capacity of Vulnerable and Food for Insecure Populations in Lesotho’ (IACOV) aimed at capacitating herd boys on the importance of looking after their environment and protecting themselves against severe impacts of climate change.

The outreach is done across the country with the main focus on herd boys’ capacitation on issues of environmental protection and climate change adaptation and resilience. While Tšokoliso and other herd-boys show limited knowledge of climate change and its impact, they are aware that times have changed and due to extreme weather conditions they have not only lost lives, but their livestock as well.

They say most times snow and heavy rains catch them unprepared as they have no access to radio or any other medium of communication to alert them on expected weather conditions.

Deputy Chairperson of National Climate Change Committee (NCCC), Mofihli Phaqane, warned the herd-boys of what climate change entails and how they can stay safe during the climate change era. He further encouraged them to look after their environment and avoid unregulated grazing explaining that overgrazing is one of the causes of land degradation.

He said that to form a grazing association which will not only address environmental issues in the area but would also attend to issues of herd boys’ safety. Also present at the outreach was Theletsa Mpholle from the Lesotho Metereological Services who explained to the herd-boys how the world has changed as a result of climate change experiences. Mpholle told the herd boys that hailstorms, severe drought and shifted seasons are a result of climate change.

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