A deadly cycle of generational poverty

A deadly cycle of generational poverty

…Early marriage, no schooling, no jobs as poverty digs in…

MAFETENG -Had the government acted a little earlier to open the doors to primary school to all children free of charge things might have turned out differently for ’Mamolefi Matsepe.
With even the most basic education she might have had more options than in life than fate has granted her so far.
But by the time early school education was made free for all in 2000 it was way too late. By that time, Matsepe, then 17 years old, was already pregnant with the first of her six children.

Besides, her parents had died four years earlier in 1996, meaning at that juncture Matsepe would have probably preferred the security of marriage more rather than an uncertain future as an orphan with or without education.
In any event, Matsepe, who has never set foot in a classroom, got married in 1999 to Seeeng Matsepe, a villager from Thabaneng Ha-Lekoantlane in Mafeteng, who was 20 years then and had gone to school up to Standard Seven.

Their first child, a son, was born in 2001. Then for reasons others might find a bit puzzling but which husband and wife find perfectly reasonable, the two decided they would not stop making babies until they had had a girl.
That only happened in 2016, at the sixth try when they were blessed with twins, one a boy and the other a girl. The boy died and the girl survived as their sixth child — the dream of having a daughter happily fulfilled.
But an early marriage, a large family plus little or no education has left Matsepe and her family — as it has many other families dotted around Lesotho with them same profile as theirs — trapped in what economists and sociologist call a vicious cycle of poverty.

A situation where poverty is so deeply entrenched and self-replicating, with a so many setbacks and disadvantages combining in cyclical fashion to make it virtually impossible for one to break out of a life of want and destitution.
Or as American educator and author Ruby K Payne calls it: a generational poverty that is a cycle passing from one generation to another.
Take for example the case of Matsepe’s eldest son; he dropped out of school after Standard Seven, no doubt forced by all the difficulties of going to school hungry and without all the other necessary support that his poor family cannot afford.

Now employed as a cattle herdsman, he has virtually ensured his own children won’t do better than himself and are most likely destined for a life of equal penury or worse.
And one might think now that the family’s eldest son is working, he would use whatever he is earning to help cushion them from poverty.
But not Matsepe. He has told his employer not to pay him a monetary monthly wage but to give him livestock in lieu of cash after one year’s labour.
“But he is grown enough to decide such for himself,” Matsepe says, visibly disappointed by her son’s decision not to bring money home.

A disappointment that is easy to understand if you consider that Matsepe is battling to find cash for one of her sons who has been sitting at home since the beginning of the year because there is no money for fees so he can go to school.
Matsepe needs to raise between M600 to M1 000 for the boy’s school fees. Or if she cannot raise the money the boy might have to drop out of school, which would be just another way of reducing the family’s chance of ever escaping poverty.

Matsepe says they are considering selling some of their cattle to raise the school fees, a reasonable thing to do but one which means they are again subtracting from the family’s few worthwhile possessions.
They have, according to Matsepe, tried to seek help with their troubles from the Ministry of Social Development but none was forthcoming.
The tragedy is not that the ministry could not help a family that seems so obviously in need of state support such as Matsepe’s.

It is rather the fact that there are many more such families dotted across the country whose livelihood is built on agriculture and have fallen on hard times since the devastating El Nino-induced drought in 2015 and would require help but cannot get it.

According to the local Chief Mokeke Matsepe, the drought has been one of the most devastating in living memory, causing a drop in food production, while livestock have died because there is not enough grazing or water to drink.
“This is not a very big village but because people rely on farming to feed families, drought has a huge impact that is undeniable,” says the chief, who disclosed that he has been able to secure some food from donors for distribution to the worst affected families in his area.

According to a joint assessment by the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) and Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis Committee (LVAC), the total number of people in need of humanitarian assistance stands at 487 857 or slightly above a fifth of the country’s more than two million people.

Food shortages mean prices are likely to rise in the near future according to a United Nations report on food price stability which is more bad news for a huge chunk of Lesotho’s population who, like Matsepe’s family, are too poor to afford a further rise in prices.
For example, Matsepe needs between M250 to M380 to buy a 50kg bag of the staple maize-meal enough to last them three weeks.
But her husband, Seeeng, says it’s been hard to raise money for the maize meal and any increase in the price would simply push the staple beyond their reach.

“Sometimes we don’t even have money for the next 50kg of maize-meal. We could have ploughed and planted maize for ourselves,” says Seeeng.
He is unemployed and does odd jobs in the neighbourhood to raise cash, that is if he is not helping his family with their hustle selling scrap metal for recycling or if he is not selling some of his cattle.
With food the topic under discussion, one could not help asking what was up for dinner that night for Matsepe and her family.
She did not immediately answer. Instead she cleared her throat, let out a small laugh, then raised her eyes to look at her husband who returned the laugh, then finally she spoke: “I don’t know. What I know is there will be porridge.”

The porridge would be had with bobatsi (stinging nettle) or whatever her mind might settle on later that evening.
The odds are that the Matsepes and other poor families like them will sooner or later find this meal hard to come by if predictions by the DMA and LVAC about the food supply situation in the coming months is anything to go by.

Rose Moremoholo


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