The rags don’t pay anymore

The rags don’t pay anymore

MASERU – IN the second hand clothes business, the good old days are gone.
When her husband retired in 2009, ’Mabokang Makena took over as the sole provider of the family. With formal jobs hard to come by, the prospects seemed bleak.
But, in no time, life was good again – thanks to her then thriving second hand clothes business that she started in 2011. Makena would regularly cross into South Africa to buy clothes for resale back home and business was roaring.

“I could afford to pay my children’s school fees and cover the family expenses through this business,” said Makena, who is from Motimposo and sells second hand clothes in Maseru.
However, she cannot say the same today. The industry is flooded and competition has become cutthroat. For veteran informal traders such as Makena, the economic downturn has been a source of agony.
With the economy continuing to slide, many people have joined the bandwagon of cross border traders.
“Since people have no jobs, they get into this industry in large numbers,’’ said Makena.

Her competitors now include locals out of jobs, employed people seeking to supplement their incomes and foreign businesspeople who stock in large quantities and squeeze out small players.
Lesotho’s unemployment rate stands at 27.25 percent, according to the Bureau of Statistics.

Another trader, ’Mathabo Maqacana has been in the second hand clothes sector for the past six years and she has never seen business this bad.
When she started out, Maqacana said she managed to put two of her children through school but she is now struggling to pay fees for her 19-year-old lastborn as business plunges to an all-time low.
Maqacana said she at times made up to M1 000 “from one bag” but now is lucky to generate M200.

“This kind of business is in almost every corner throughout the country… this has caused overcrowding,” she said.
She added: “We cannot make money through selling the same thing, especially since we are so many in the industry,” she said.
Chinese businesspeople have also invaded the trade, making it near-impossible for small timers such as Maqacana to compete.
“If we sell an item for M80, the Chinese will sell it for M20,” she said.

She said the Chinese, who use their financial muscle to order truckloads of stock, are now the dominant players in the market.
Increasing crime levels are also affecting business, traders told thepost.
According to Makena, cross border conflicts between taxi drivers from Lesotho and South Africa are contributing significantly to the bad performance of business.

She said South African taxi drivers often waylay taxis from Lesotho to block them from entering their country.
“If they find us, they normally rob us of our stock and money,” Makena said.
Sometimes, the taxis are hijacked, she said.

“The South Africans complain that Basotho are stubborn and they have been telling them to stop delivering people in their country,” she said.
Lehlohonolo Maboka, an official from the Ministry of Small Businesses Development, said they have not received any cases of Basotho being waylaid by taxi operators in South Africa. Maboka promised that the ministry will investigate the matter.

Meanwhile for Makena and other traders, the challenges go deeper. With most people spending less on items such as clothing, Makena now sells one bag of second hand clothes, unlike in the past when she sold a minimum of two. Traders usually buy a bag packed with second hand clothes for between M4 000 and M5 000 with the hope of getting about M9 000 per bag.
The profit margin normally depends on the type and quality of clothes packed in the bag, Makena said.

Despite the dangers and slowdown in business, Makena said she has “no option” but to continue otherwise her family would starve.
“Due to unemployment in Lesotho, I am the only one working in the family,” said Makena, whose husband and five adult children are all unemployed.

Refiloe Mpobole

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