A voiceless people

A voiceless people

It is quite hard to hear a voice in the cacophony of a melee of arguing smart alecs that speak from without that which is being argued over. It is quite a different turn if one views a problem from within, for they then can make informed decisions on what needs to be done to deal with the issue at hand from the point of view of one who has first hand knowledge and experience of that which is being discussed.

Right now in this country, there are a million or so informed ‘experts’ discussing the issue of factory workers getting paid what is due (in fact overdue) to them. Instead of the relevant parties simply paying out what the 40,000 women workers in the textile industry of Lesotho deserve, it seems the way of the court is being taken as the option at this point in time.
Of the long years of underpayment despite working in the most appalling conditions, the parties opposing the salary increase put forth their smart alec views. What they fail to understand is that the factories are not air-conditioned, meaning that they are freezing cold in winter and sweltering cauldrons of slavery in summer.

I have heard that there are sweatshops in South-East Asia, and I think their workers do not earn the nothing these poor women receive as salaries.
In contrast with the surging growth of the countries in the First World camp and the many ‘development’ projects taking place in the Third World (forget the newfangled current patronising terms used by international organisations… ‘developed or developing world’ the reality is that the old monsters have not gone to sleep, they have just morphed into something that is even meaner than the colonial times version), a majority of the so-called underdeveloped countries are in total stagnation, and in some of them the rate of economic growth is lower than that of population increase.
Even if there is production going on, the rewards are not concomitant to the effort put in: because someone takes away what is due to the labour in briefcases.

There is just no easy way to understand why people are earning slave wages in a multi-billion dollar industry, because whoever is supposed to stand in their stead is in actual fact a Fagin conning Oliver Twists in a Charles Dickens novel, that is, there are figures that reap rewards from the toil of the poor underpaid women in Lesotho’s textile factories.
Where this notion that certain people should not be rewarded for their effort on the basis of their level of education and not on their rate of production and output disgusts me because it is the type of scale scallywags rely on when they want to cheat someone and anyone out of their reward.

Speaking in stilted economic terms that are meant to sound technical but which do not address the real issues at hand is the way of the politic that promises one thing in the lobbying speeches only to deliver its exact opposite upon entry into parliament.

I often wonder who taught the politician and the leader on this continent to present his or her people as a bunch of cheap labourers that can be whored away for under-the-poverty-line wages.
We are constantly sold cheap for the sake of ‘aid’ from ‘donor nations’ by the political and economic leadership, forced to bow and bend under the heavy yoke of conditions and sanctions for the sake of help from ‘brother or sister’ nations.

What type of sister or brother would like to see their kin live as beggars despite the fact that their contributions uplift the family? Some brothers and sisters we have here on this continent.
When Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara de la Serna and his friend Alberto Granado set out on a transcontinental journey on a motorcycle (La Poderosa or ‘Mighty One’) across South America in 1951, he was a 24 year old medical school graduate and specialist in leprosy.

The world would have turned otherwise for him had he rested on his laurels and the wealth of his family.
But there was a nagging spirit in his chest to see the continent of his birth, and on the long journey, he would be stung again and again when he made friends with the people he came across in the different South American countries they came across on the long journey.

One day they met a married Chilean couple, communist workers who had been harassed in Baquedano.
He could see the misery in their eyes, could see the cruelty of the capitalist system, and from that point on became the communist revolutionary he came to be known across the world until his death after stints in Cuba as ‘Commandante’ Che Guevara who walked side by side with Fidel Castro in the fight against Fulgencio Batista’s regime in the name of the oppressed masses.
Of the day he changed, he states in his diary recorded in the biopic The Motorcycle Diaries that:

The couple, numb with cold, in the desert night, huddling against each other in the desert night, were a living representation of the proletariat in any part of the world.

This is the sentiment I feel everytime I see those poor women working in the factories walk the long distances from day to day. They walk not because they want to regain their ‘summer figure’, but have to walk because the gratuity posing as salary cannot carry them to the first of the next month.
What they earn is dry ice that sublimates as soon as it is hit by the rays of the pay day’s sun, and many actually have to live in perpertual debt out of necessity because they feed the children they hardly ever get to see because what they get cannot cover the journey home.

I see them and I see the upturned faces of hungry children hoping that their mother might have something for them at the end of the month, if she has not been summarily expelled by then.
Women are forced to walk a precarious line in this textile industry, and it is time the issue of their basic payment is discussed as fact, and not as some issue where one side wants to prove how smart they are by going to courts and arguing over increasing M1 200 to M2 000.

This is shameless evidence of how uncouth and unscrupulous some figures have become in the name of ‘keeping the economy balanced’. If certain sectors enjoy the full attention of government and others do not, then the economy is not balanced, finish and klaar.

Che Guevara, in his 1964 speech quoted in chapter one of Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa speaks of the abuse and the exploitation the citizens of developing nations by the developed countries that hold them to ransom and use sanctions as blackmail to further their sadistic economic pursuits.
He sees abuse and exploitation meted on the Third World in the words:

These characteristics are not fortuitous; they correspond strictly to the nature of the capitalist system in full expansion, which transfers to the dependent countries the most abusive and barefaced forms of exploitation.

It must be clearly understood that the only way to solve the questions now besetting mankind is to eliminate completely the exploitation of dependent countries by developed capitalist countries, with all the consequences that this implies.
The fear is that the investors will run away, meaning that over 40, 000 plus jobs will be lost. Of the years that the factory workers have been complaining about meagre pay, little concern is given to. The truth is that M1 200 as monthly salary is a clear insult to the effort the workers.

Those willing to take out their calculators and to try and give lessons on how to read economic charts are just a bunch of heartless brutes. What is needed are not lessons in economics but a living wage which can at least ease some of the load off the shoulders of the poor women who support large extended families back home.
A system that garners in investors whose main goal is only to make a profit has no interest of the welfare of the people and should be done away with, for in the long run it ends up behaving like the investors in Lesotho are.

A once glorious country is beginning to be viewed as a cheap labour base by every John, Elliot and Mike that comes with anything that bears some semblance to an investment.
I have always thought that the basic business rule or question, “What’s in it for me…” should always apply in every type of deal where profits are to be made.
In the instance where a foreign investor is garnered by the political or economic negotiators, I fail to understand why the beneficiaries have to get the short end of the stick in the form of exploitation they receive from their employers that start companies with the apparent aim of making as much profit as they can whilst paying the local labour force meagre pay.
It does not matter how unskilled or undereducated one is, what matters is whether they deliver what is required, and in this instance, the effort the poor factory worker puts in is visible for all to see, even if there appears to be some kind of hitch when it comes to the issue of their compensation.

From the days of slavery through to the colonial times, it has always been the case of the native selling another native for trinkets to the outsider that comes with the sole purpose of gain from his ventures after travelling the long distance from the land of his birth.
That type of creature never actually went away, it just put on a better looking suit, polished its speech, and surrounded itself with ‘experts’ that justify the exploitation in progress. Walter Rodney posits:

Although class divisions were not pronounced in African society, they too contributed to the case with which Europe imposed itself commercially on large parts of the African continent. The rulers had a certain status and authority, and when bamboozled by European goods they began to use that position to raid outside their societies as well as to exploit a internally by victimizing some of their own subjects.

The basic fact is that the coloniser (in this case the neo-coloniser) comes from a state that is united in terms of goals set to achieve economic gains. What they find out here are class structures and political divisions that work to their advantage in that they can easily work one side against another on the basis of class and political affiliation.
These two work against the local in that the core concerns are left out of the equation and the investor’s needs are addressed before those of the local.
That there is extreme political polarisation in Lesotho is a clear case, and over the years, the factory worker has been used by the changing political regimes as a drawcard and core topic of the campaign speeches.

That the worker is underpaid has been dismissed until the present moment when tensions boiled over to the point where the security sector of society had to intervene. That there is a court case is a clear sign that all is not well with everyone concerned; the needs of the factory workers are not as serious an issue as they are to some characters who rather than face the economic realities of the moment feel it is right that they should defend the ‘investors’.

Meanwhile, the children of the factory workers go on to suffer in the conditions of having to live below the poverty line for most of their existence. And the truth is that this serfdom posing as redemption should be done away with.

The workers deserve what they demand, if not more, and it should not rest in the arms of some legal or economics expert to determine just how much they deserve.
The roots of protest lie not in the discussions of the experts on what should be done, how the people should be treated and, the manner in which their grievances should be handled.
The roots of protest lie when an injustice is meted out on a given sector of society for a prolonged period, that is, to the point where the individual members of a group begin to say, “Enough is enough…” and in the case of the factory workers of Lesotho, injustice in the form of underpayment and appalling work conditions has been going on for so long that even those outside can tell that what is being done to the over 40,000 workers is wrong.

It is wrong to expect someone to be living under the poverty line when you can afford to go to the mall 8 times a week. To be just is to be fair, and to be fair is to tell the truth as it is, nothing else. Let justice be done in the name of the factory workers, as it should have been done over ten years ago.

By: Tšepiso S Mothibi

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