Standing up with the oppressed

Standing up with the oppressed

Let me start my article this week with the most famous Holocaust poem of all time, written by German pastor and Holocaust survivor Martin Niemöller.

“First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me”

Last week, I participated in a protest march organised by wool and mohair farmers because I was standing in solidarity with my immediate relatives, friends and fellow Basotho who have suffered a loss since Minister Chalane Phori introduced new wool and mohair regulations.

In fact the other day I was counting people I know closely who have put them out of business as a direct result of the new wool and mohair regulations and I realised they are a significant number.

On Monday I participated in another protest march organised by young people who are faced with tremendous challenges that the government is failing to address.

I have read the statements that said some of us politicians were irrelevant to the plight of poor farmers and young people. To clarify, I am not trying to undermine the intelligence of those who wrote these statements. However, I feel that many people do not fully understand what standing in solidarity truly entails.

In the wise words of dictionary.com, solidarity is the “union arising from common responsibilities and interests.” Therefore, one cannot stand in solidarity by simply sitting at home or in the comfort of their offices and wishing wool and mohair farmers a successful protest march.

Standing in solidarity means accepting the common responsibility of fighting for the rights of wool and mohair farmers who have been impoverished yet they contribute a lot towards my country’s economy.

When a natural disaster such as snow or floods devastates the people in the mountains, the government does not simply verbalise its condolences for the nation’s loss. In actual fact, it provides radical relief through action by providing both monetary and physical aid.

Like a natural disaster, this nation’s wool and mohair regulations and youth challenges are a disaster that needs immediate relief to end the pain and suffering.

The fight against the legalised theft of our wool and mohair by a Chinese broker will continue until the matter is finally resolved. That fight will not succeed unless the farmers get the full support of the entire nation.
It is a fight that concerns everyone not just the wool and mohair farmers nor the youth. Any failure to recognize that the Chinese monopoly is unjust and that youth unemployment needs to be addressed will further impoverish our people.

Doing nothing is adding to the problem, and posting a Facebook status is doing nothing if it is not backed by robust action. I beg that you do not reduce the future of wool and mohair farmers and young people to a Facebook status.
We must be serious on these issues.

The coalition government messed up the only Basotho-owned industry that has been self-regulating successfully for over 50 years. And now they want to mess up the future of our young people.

It would have been easy for me to sign an online petition and make my usual Facebook posts. But is that really standing up in solidarity with the oppressed?

To stand in solidarity for me means standing in the streets with the wool and mohair farmers and the youth.
We must stand with the wool and mohair farmers and the youths facing the police in their riot gear. We must stand and march with them and not to be afraid of their anger, not to be afraid of their pain.

I stood and cared less about my own feelings and more about theirs. I stood and listened to their stories and believed them. I stood with the wool and mohair farmers and the youths and therefore allowed the world to see I was standing with them. That’s solidarity for me my fellow countrymen.

For me solidarity is being willing to stand up with someone when they are under attack because an injury to them is an injury to you.

Make no mistake: the unjust wool and mohair regulations, the disinvestment in education and youth unemployment will be on the ballot in the next elections — and the stories of suffering that I listened to last week remind me just what’s at stake!

There’s Mathabiso Pitso from Mantsunyana, a widow raising her children alone for the past 12 years. She has been surviving from wool and mohair sales.

The husband left her with 600 goats and 400 sheep. Today she has 1 500 goats and 1 000 sheep. She has two daughters and a son. Both her daughters are studying at South African universities and they are not sponsored by the National Manpower Development Services (NMDS).

She has been paying for them in the past three years.
However this year has been very difficult because she still has not gotten her payment from last year’s harvest of wool and mohair. Her future and that of her family is uncertain.

Telang Mariti is a young who has been unemployed for the past five years. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Public Administration. He is unable to pay back the NMDS because he does not have a job. He cannot further his studies because he owes the NMDS.

These stories are heart-breaking and far too common. This is the reality of our current wool and mohair industry and our youths – an industry that Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his ABC leadership in Parliament have broken and refuse to fix.

It does not help to complain silently nor post our frustrations on Facebook or twitter. The only way that we will be able to ensure that the wool and mohair industry and the massive problems affecting our youths are fixed is by electing forward-thinking people not pensioners.

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