Its either peeping toms or hunger

Its either peeping toms or hunger

MAFETENG-Every morning, Maleshoane Molungoa says she has little choice but to let men peep into her undergarments because she needs their help climbing onto a truck that takes her to work.
It has become a ritual that leaves her uncomfortable, but the truck is the only mode of transport availed to her by her employer.

“I am a typical Mosotho woman who is self-respecting and I respect my male workmates. I don’t want them to lift me up to help me jump into the truck because they see where I don’t want them to see,” Molungoa says.
Molungoa is one of several women working for the fato-fato (poverty reduction programme) in Tšana-Talana community council who are complaining about what they view as sexual abuse.
They are among hordes of part-time workers usually packed like sardines at the back of the truck every morning, irrespective of weather conditions.

They are working on road construction in their area as part of a programme by the Local Government Ministry to bring development to rural areas where poverty is rife.
In the afternoon on their way back home after work, the women have to endure the same routine in four trucks set aside for their transport.

“We are always fully packed. The truck is so elevated that we have to use a stepladder to get in,” Molungoa says.
“In the absence of the stepladder, men have to push us up the truck,” she says.
This, she argues, is unacceptable.

“Some of us are not allowed to wear a pair of trousers because of our cultural traits. We have to respect our fathers-in-law and therefore have to wear skirts,” she says.
Nevertheless, Molungoa welcomes the project because it has created job opportunities for more than 200 people in the community

“It has made some changes in our lives,” Molungoa says.
A person is contracted for 20 days and leaves to give others a chance at employment.
However, she feels the mode of transport results in the violation of women’s rights.
Also, Molungoa and other passengers pray daily that they survive the trip.
“We have got a couple of our colleagues who have got injured in the truck because it is always speeding,” Molungoa says.

The problems Molungoa has raised are just the tip of the iceberg.
There is a total of nine Electoral Divisions (EDs) that fall under the Tšana-Talana community council and each ED has to provide 26 people to work on the project, which started in the district in 2016
Some have to walk long distances at dawn risking muggings to get to the pick-up point to board the truck.
Other community councils that have already benefitted from the five-year project include Makoabating and Matelile.
There is also gripe about endemic corruption at the project, amid allegations that senior officials stuff the names of their relatives on job lists ahead of villagers who wake up at dawn to register.

The majority or residents, like most Basotho rural folk, are desperate for the jobs.
Lesotho’s rural areas can generally be described as a sea of poverty.
Economic activity is low and there are no jobs, resulting in residents eking out a living from farming ventures that have also been adversely affected by the current drought.
’Matšepang Shale, a resident in the village, says she usually survives on subsistence farming but the drought has left her desperate for a job.

But the duties involved in the road construction project are proving too heavy for her.
“The type of work that is done at the project needs able-bodied men because we have to load and unload trucks full of gravel under the baking sun,” she says.

Shale says workers also have to mix cement with crushed stone, leaving her drained at the end of each day. She says her dire circumstances force her to work on the project.
“You see I am both the father and mother of my family. I am a widow and I have to take care of my family,” Shale says showing bruised hands.

“We are told that men and women are equal so we have to do all the work at the project,” Shale says.
Classified as one of the least developed nations in the world by the United Nations Development Programme, 57.1 percent of Basotho people live below the national poverty line, according to Borgenmargazine.com.
“As with many of the world’s poorer countries, there is a significant divide between urban and rural areas. In Lesotho, a massive 75 percent of the population lives in rural areas,” the magazine says.

“More than half of these people are deemed poor and around 30 percent are living in extreme poverty,” it says.
Principal Occupational Safety and Health Inspector Teboho Mafooa denied that the ministry was taking advantage of poverty among villagers to introduce substandard labour practices.
Mafooa says the ministry does not encourage practices, including transportation modes, that are against the Labour Code.

He cites one case where a Chinese company had on board people and a machine at the back of the truck. The truck went off the road and killed seven people in September 2017.
The same truck, he says, also killed nine people in November the same year.
He says the ministry “is out there” to root out such behaviour.
He says it is the responsibility of the employer to provide transport and accommodation for the employees when there is such a need but within the rights of workers.

Majara Molupe

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