Harvest FM owner ‘Malichaba Lekhoaba has decided to sell her radio station because she is tired of fighting the government.
Ms Lekhoaba told the Lesotho Times that it was with “a heavy heart” that she had decided to sell the popular station—a project she started in 2003 “from nothing”.
According to Ms Lekhoaba, government’s decision to approach the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) about Harvest’s programme aired on the morning of 5 January 2016, could result in the closure of the station.
However, Ms Lekhoaba believes the complaint, lodged by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s Political Advisor, Fako Likoti, was “personal”, hence her decision to sell the station to save its workers from unemployment.
Ms Lekhoaba on Monday told the Lesotho Times: “I have decided to sell the radio station to the next available buyer. Maybe if I sell, there will be no threats to the station and the lives of the 18 employees who depend on it to earn a living will be saved. I don’t believe the government has a problem with the station but does have a personal vendetta against me as an individual.
“Dr Mosisili’s government has been fighting Harvest FM since 2007. The station was then being accused of giving the opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) a platform to broadcast its campaigns before the general elections to the extent that it was suspended and put off air for months.
“It has not been an easy decision to make because to let go of a project you started out of nothing, is not a joke. I sacrificed and started from scratch because I was passionate about bringing Christian programmes to the nation.
“Even though it has grown so big and into what I had not even imagined it could become, I am proud the radio station and its programmes attract so many Basotho. It is no longer my passion alone and my thing as it used to be, but something supported and loved by Basotho at large.”
Meanwhile, Dr Likoti on 5 January 2016 wrote to the LCA asking the regulatory authority to take “stern” measures against Harvest FM following a programme the station had aired that morning.
The programme in question was an interview with Lehloenya Mahao—family spokesperson and brother to slain former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao.
Lt-Gen Mahao was shot dead by the military on 25 June 2015, allegedly while resisting arrest for suspected mutiny, with the killing sparking outrage both in Lesotho and internationally.
During the broadcast, Mr Mahao denied claims by the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) that the party had helped fund his brother’s funeral. The PFD is one of the seven parties in the coalition government alongside the Democratic Congress (DC) led by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC), Basotho Congress Party (BCP), Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) and National Independent Party (NIP).
However, Dr Likoti claimed in the letter of complaint to the LCA that Mr Mahao falsely alleged during the programme that the government had provided M100 000 to fund Lieutenant-Colonel Tefo Hashatsi’s court case. In the case lodged before the court in October 2015, Lt-Col Hashatsi is seeking to nullify a Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry into Lt-Gen Mahao’s killing for alleged bias. Lt-Col Hashatsi says the commission, led by Justice Mpapi Phumaphi of Botswana, had made him look like the prime suspect in Lt-Gen Mahao’s killing when he appeared before it in September 2015.
Lt-Col Hashatsi on 14 January 2016 also lodged a complaint with the LCA regarding the Harvest FM interview, arguing he had not been invited to the programme to defend himself against Mr Mahao’s funding allegations.
In his letter to the LCA, Mr Hashatsi said: “I am the only Tefo Hashatsi, a citizen of Lesotho, who has lodged a case before the High Court of Lesotho in relation to matters pertaining to issues emanating from Phumaphi’s commission. In so doing, I exercised my constitutional right in terms of Section 22 of the constitution of Lesotho of 1993. I am the one who is incurring all the costs arising from that litigation, not the government of Lesotho or anyone on my behalf, as alleged by Harvest FM.
“I did not serve a copy of this complaint on the licensee against which the complaint is being filed to avoid unnecessary misinterpretations with the radio. Humbly, the authority may kindly file it on my behalf if necessary.”
Asked if Harvest FM had responded to the LCA ultimatum to “show cause” why it should not be charged for allegedly contravening broadcasting rules, Ms Lekhoaba on Monday said: “I will submit the first representation tomorrow (Tuesday) because the deadline is 21 January 2016, while I will submit the other one on Monday next week because the deadline is 29 January 2016.”
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) – Lesotho Director, Tsebo Matšasa, said he was aware of the Harvest FM case when asked by the Lesotho Times if the organisation was doing anything to help the station.
“I am aware of the complaints lodged to the LCA by Dr Likoti and Lt-Col Hashatsi. I will not comment on claims that the government has a personal fight against Mrs Lekhoaba because I don’t know about that,” Mr Matšasa said.
“But what I would urge Mrs Lekhoaba to do is seek legal advice on the matter.”
Mr Matšasa also appealed to media practitioners to be careful as they perform their duties.
“The law in Lesotho is not favourable to the media, so practitioners must be very careful of what they publish or say on radio or TV,” Mr Matšasa said.
Repeated attempts to get a comment from Dr Likoti were fruitless.