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Wool farmers sue own association

wool farmers

June 27, 2019 6 min read

The rearing of sheep and goats is an old age means of livelihood that has today turned into a lucrative business the world over. In Lesotho, both sheep and goats are rarely reared for milk as they specifically kept for their wool, mohair and meat.

However, the war raging between the government of Lesotho, the Thaba-Bosiu Wool Centre (TWC) and the farmers has taken a similar centre stage like the internal power struggle within the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC). From time to time there are countless claims of farmers who bemoan lack of payment for their wool and mohair by the TWC. What is unclear is whether this is a legitimate claim or if some politicians have taken the farmers’ plight and turned it into a means to their own end.
Currently wool and mohair farmers have sued their association of Lesotho National Wool and Mohair Growers Association (LNWMGA) together with its national executive committee. About eight farmers from various associations which are members of the LNWMGA have filed legal papers in the High Court seeking among others an order that association’s book of accounts be directed to undergo auditing from at least as far as 2015 by an independent audit firm to be appointed by the court. They also demand that the National Executive Committee be interdicted and restrained from performing any of its duties pending the auditing of association’s book.

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They further want the registrar of societies to be appointed as the association’s interim administrator pending the outcome of the audit report. They also want the association’s bank account held with Standard Lesotho Bank to be frozen. The applicants comprise Refeletsoe Lerotholi, Makhetha Makhetha, Teboho Tšosa, Matela Tšita, Makonyane Tšiame, Mojakisane Tšita, Esau Maolla and ’Mataele Seokho. They are all members of the following wool sheds associations the Matsieng Wool and Mohair Grower Association, Sosa Wool and Mohair Grower Association, Rapoleboea Wool and Mohair Grower Association, Rebalehela Wool and Mohair Grower Association, Qoaling Wool and Mohair Grower Association and Marakabei Wool and Mohair Association respectively.

All these associations are members of LNWMGA which is made up of all the woolsheds associations throughout the country. The concerns of the members are that from as far back as 2015, the NEC has failed to give audited financial reports to the members despite its promise to do so. They also allege that the mother body’s members including them have to date not received dipping medication for their livestock despite deductions having been made from the farmers’ sales in the previous shearing season of 2017/18 by the association’s former broker BKB. They say failure to dip livestock exposes the sheep and goats to diseases such as sheep scab and anthrax capable of killing the animals, therefore no competitive products (wool and mohair) in the international market will be produced.

The dipping season is nearing the end and no medication has been availed to the farmers. The applicants say the committee has blatantly failed to take any measures towards ensuring that farmers’ livestock gets medication and neither has there been any account why the medication has not been availed. The NEC is tasked to ensure proper running of the association in pursuing and protecting the interests of the farmers within Lesotho in the wool and mohair business. The current committee was elected into power in May 2017 for a duration of three years. The established practice is that the association through the committee engaged a South African broker BKB for the sales of its members’ wool and mohair for about 40 years now.

The broker would deduct dipping levies from each farmer’s sales and once the collections were made the money would be transferred to the association for purposes of buying dipping and vaccination medication on behalf of the farmers. The said practice came to a halt in 2018 after the introduction of the Agricultural (wool and mohair) Marketing Regulations. In the 2019 dipping season which normally commences before cold weathers kick in, there has not been any dipping of the farmers’ livestock. Despite the association commanding such huge sums of monies on behalf of the farmers throughout the country, the association was last audited in June 2016. For the past three years the association has never been audited according to the applicants.

Therefore, the applicants say they have a reasonable apprehension that the committee is misappropriating the association’s funds and thereby failing to execute its mandate in terms of the association’s constitution. In the answering affidavit of the chairperson of NEC Mokoenehi Thinyane, the applicants were obliged in terms of the constitution of the association to first complain to their respective associations, which would in turn lodge their complaint with the district associations to which their associations are affiliated. In the event the district associations failed to address their grievances, they were obliged to take them before the mother body. If the mother body failed to address their complaint they would take their dispute to the courts of law.

Mr Thinyane says the applicants as individuals are not entitled to any of the relief they sought because they are not members of the mother body directly. He says it is their respective associations who are members of the mother body. He therefore said they do not have a personal right to enforce against the mother body because such right inheres in their respective associations. He says Lerotholi, Makhetha, Tšiame and Tšita’s conduct of mounting litigation is not supported by their own associations. He notes they are therefore non-suited for that reason because their rights are derivative, adding in the same way that the Qoaling Wool and Mohair Growers Association has been suspended and therefore does not have rights under the constitution of the mother body during such suspension. “It follows that Seokho does not have any rights of her own against the mother body once her own association is suspended,” he says.

Mr Thinyane says Mr Maolla is not a member of the association he claims to belong to, adding that records of his association reflect that it is his mother who is a member of the Marakabei association. “We have been advised that he applied to be a member of that association in late 2018 but there is no evidence that he was admitted to membership,” he said, adding that for this reason he cannot purport to pursue this litigation. He says in the same way, the wife of Mojakisane is the one who is a member of Rebalehela association and not Mojakisane. He submits that all the applicants are not entitled to pursue litigation against the committee and the association collectively or individually. For this reason their application ought to be dismissed with costs.

On the other hand, some of the members of different wool shed associations have these to say in their May letters: “We as members of Sehong-hong woolshed confirm that we still work smoothly with district committee and national committee. They avail us with financial records every year or whenever need arises.” The letter was signed by secretary of Sehong-hong association  Lebajoang Mokoenihi together with other members. Bobete association also approved that it still works harmoniously with the NEC which it claims releases financial reports each year. More than 20 members also put their signatures on that letter. “We as members of Mekaling woolshed we show that the NEC gives out reports at the annual conference every year.” The letter was signed by members of that association. The matter is before Justice Semapo Peete while Advocate Taeke Thejane appears for the applicants. The respondents are represented by Attorney Qhalehang Letsika.

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