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Beauty queen defends Mokhothu against human trafficking claims

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Pascalinah Kabi

DEMOCRATIC Congress (DC) beauty queen, Bongiswa Hesman, has defended DC leader Mathibeli Mokhothu and other senior party officials who have been accused of human trafficking.

The 27-year-old reigning Miss DC said the allegations were part of a smear campaign aimed at tarnishing Mr Mokhothu and others’ names. She said the claims had been made by people who were not happy that the party “is progressing so well”.

Ms Hesman said none of the 30 young women who had participated in last year’s DC-organised beauty pageant had ever been trafficked as claimed in some quarters.

Allegations of Mr Mokhothu and other senior DC officials’ complicity in human trafficking activities alongside a Pakistani, Rana Qamar, are also contained in a November 2020 High Court application by an immigration officer, Mapeete Jonathan. Ms Jonathan is challenging her transfer from Moshoeshoe I Airport to the head office of the immigration department in Maseru.

In her court papers, Ms Jonathan alleges that she is being transferred as punishment for refusing to allow Mr Qamar to “traffick” two Pakistanis into the country through the airport earlier in 2020.

She further alleges that she was reliably informed by a fellow immigration officer that Mr Qamar, who is married to a Mosotho woman, is close to Mr Mokhothu and other senior DC officials. He is said to have given the DC six campaign vehicles during the 2017 elections, giving him leverage over the DC leadership to demand her transfer after she refused the two Pakistanis entry into the country in March this year.

Last December, the DC had a bitter fight with its main coalition partner, the All Basotho Convention (ABC) over the human trafficking allegations.

This after ABC secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, addressed a press conference where he called on Mr Mokhothu, who is also deputy prime minister, to step down from his post if he is charged with human trafficking.

Mr Mokhothu has vehemently denied the allegations. No charges have been filed against him or any of the DC officials.

This week, Ms Hesman weighed in on the issue, saying the allegations against the DC leader were false and only meant to tarnish his image along with that of the party.

She said Mr Mokhothu and the party had nothing but good intentions for her and the other 29 women who had participated in the Miss DC pageant.

“It is not true that young women and girls in the DC are being trafficked,” Ms Hesman said.

“If at all the DC girls were being trafficked, it would have started with me because I am the reigning Miss DC. I would have been trafficked if ever there was something like that.

“I know very well that since the beginning of Miss DC beauty pageant, there has never been a missing person report for any of the girls who entered the pageant. No parent has ever reported that their daughter went missing after contesting the Miss DC pageant.”

She praised Mr Mokhothu for improving the lives of the 30 contestants, saying “contrary to the allegations, he has given us jobs and leadership skills”.

“Our lives are improving. We have all laughed off these allegations. All the girls keep asking each other who has disappeared because all 30 of us are still there.

“It’s really a bad joke made up to tarnish the name of the leader and the party itself. The party is really progressing and I think this is just a smear campaign championed by other political parties to try and bring this party down,” Ms Hesman said.

Human trafficking has become a thorny issue in Lesotho and it could cost the country development assistance from the United States (US) government.

Lesotho was last year placed in tier three—the lowest tier in the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report for 2020.

At the time, US Ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales, said under normal circumstances, a country in Tier 3 on human trafficking like Lesotho would have already lost all development assistance from the US.

However, she said she had recommended a waiver of any punishment against Lesotho to enable Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro to act on the issue since he had only come to power last May.

Lesotho has slightly improved its ranking from to the Tier 2 Watch List on the US State Department’s human trafficking index report for 2021. This in recognition of the “positive” steps taken by the Moeketsi Majoro administration to meet eligibility criteria for development assistance.

Ms Gonzales last month acknowledged that the Lesotho government had made some “significant” steps over the past year including the passing the Anti-Trafficking (Amendment) Act last November to combat human trafficking by imposing lengthy and even life imprisonment on those convicted of the crime.

She however, said the government needs to do more including expediting investigations against officials of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s government suspected of involvement in the trafficking of persons.

Ms Hesman acknowledged that “human trafficking is there” and the scourge had to be decisively dealt with.

“There are people who do not fear God and they hurt vulnerable people by taking advantage of their poor economic status. The traffickers do not just forcefully pick you from the streets to take you somewhere.

“They come disguised but one can only draw wisdom from God. When one has a close relationship with God, He keeps whispering the truth into your ears,” she said adding, traffickers can even entice women to spend the night with them in exchange for expensive clothes and other material possessions.

She encouraged girls and young women not to fall prey to material inducements but to work hard to overcome poverty.

“Some of us girls love blingy things, expensive mobile phones and clothes. We go after the so-called blessers to shower us with money for our wants. Sometimes you may not even detect a potential trafficker because they come disguised promising beneficial things. Some promise employment but one has to apply their mind before accepting such offers. These traffickers promise things that are too good to be true, promising huge salaries that are not attainable,” Ms Hesman said.

Ms Hesman advised women to exercise caution when interacting with people on social media because their posts could unwittingly put them in danger.

“Writing about your whereabouts on social media can be very dangerous. I advise all young women to be careful,” she said.

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