The pains of a lockdown

The pains of a lockdown

MASERU-HOME is always best, so they say.
But what if you are forced to stay in your home for 21 days? What if you never have to leave the yard for three weeks? That is what the lockdown means for almost everyone in Lesotho now.
It’s only a few days into the lockdown but most families are already struggling to find food and pay their bills.

Without an income this month, the next three weeks and the few that follow, will be tough. They never had enough to stock up before the lockdown.
Most live on the small incomes that barely last a month. Others live from day to day, eating what they make during the day and going back to hunt for more tomorrow.
But the lockdown has disrupted that routine.

It’s a disaster for many like Tšeliso Qhosi and his wife ’Marethabile Qhosi who live with their four children in Ha-Thamae.
Both are unemployed but Qhosi sells fruits and snacks at the gate of their rented flats.
This is Qhosi’s only source of income but on Monday and Tuesday he closed shop because of the lockdown.
Yesterday Qhosi opened shop but kept on the lookout for the police and soldiers.

He says he had no choice but to open shop because his family is running out of food and the rent will be due in 29 days.
“I have missed out on making money for two days and this is going to reduce my income,” Qhosi says.
Qhosi and his family live in two single rooms. His rent is M200 but raising it from sweets and snacks is always a tall order.
The rooms are dilapidated and have no electricity. It resembles a hovel but it’s what Qhosi can afford.

Yesterday Qhosi closed shop at 11 after raising only M20. He doesn’t know how he will buy food if he doesn’t reopen in the next few days.
“My maize-meal is finished and by the end of today I need to have collected enough to buy just enough maize-meal to take us through.”
Qhosi’s wife, ’Marethabile, says she understands why there is a lockdown “but the government should have thought it through because people who are living from hand-to-mouth like us are suffering”.

’Marethabile says it is worse for those that use ARVs or live with a chronic disease that requires them to take pills after proper meals.
“We live from hand-to-mouth, our informal business gives us some means to survive but the lockdown has tied our hands,” she says.
’Marethabile finds it odd that police and soldiers were deployed in villages to enforce law and order but they are not in protective clothing either.
“Should we even believe that they are here to protect us when they are not protected themselves?”

Qhosi says the price hikes at the shops makes their lives even harder.
This lockdown has brought more misery than blessings.
The washing of hands regularly, one of the ways to avoid catching Covid-19, is a problem for Qhosi and his family because he does not have potable water.
He gets water from his neighbour at a monthly fee of M50.

He does not think it will be possible for him to pay rent or water this month.
With the schools closed Qhosi is now struggling to provide three meals to his children.
“It was better before the pandemic because (two of the children) would eat at school, leaving us with two to fend for in the afternoon.”
’Marethabile says that she believes this disease is not as bad as the rest of the world is making it look.

“Just because it started killing whites it is now making it an international crisis. I believe just like when HIV/AIDS first arrived and scared people this disease is no different.”
’Mathabelang Sesene works at Precious Garments, a firm at the Maseru West Industrial Area.
She says she clearly and fully understands why the country is in a lockdown but is worried about how she will survive during the lockdown.

Sesene also lives in Ha-Thamae.
Her company has been shut down because of the lockdown. She doesn’t have another source of income.
“We are under contracts of no work-no-pay. It means this month we are at home without any hope of how we will be able to pay for this month’s rent,” Sesene says.

She says she wishes the government talks to her employer about the situation because “it is not by our choice that we are at home but the country called for us to stay at home”.
Sesene’s husband works at a construction company which has also closed and is unlikely to pay his April salary.
“We don’t know what we will do if the lockdown is extended,” she says.
’Mathabo Sekoati is a housekeeper at one of the homes in Ha-Thamae but was told to stop coming to work when the lockdown started.

She doesn’t know if she will get her salary this month.
“I will only wait and see when I get back to work.”
Sekoati says what scares her is that food prices are increasing at a time when his income has run out and she might not get any this month.

“Life is tougher for us right now,” she says.
Sesene and Sekoati wish that the government can subsidize food during these hard times.
“It is important that we don’t die of hunger because this means the crime rate will be on the increase too,” she said.
Liteboho Letima believes when hunger bites there will be a spike in burglaries’ as people look for food.
Letima says some of the people he knows survive by selling cupcakes and biscuits in town but now their business is closed.
“What should these people do to survive? How should they feed their families?”

Letima says he understands that the pandemic is dangerous but thinks the government is doing little about keeping Basotho safe and informed.
“There are many ways to curb the disease,” he says, adding that there has to be “a testing and screening station at every constituency like they have ballot papers and boxes at every constituency”.
He says businesses are out to make profit out of this crisis this is why there is a hike in prices.
“We don’t know how long the wholesalers will have stock, how long South Africa will be able to allow manufacturers to continue bringing food in the country,” Letima says.

He is worried that the police have started beating people who violate the lockdown in his village and warns that “soon we will see people retaliating and the government should know it is to blame”.
Letima thinks there is no use for the lockdown where the screening of people is so poor.
He says the virus, if already in the country, is spreading because South African immigrants are back home and they were never screened.
“I fear for constituencies and villages in the rural areas where there is no water or information on this disease,” he says.

“Basotho should prepare for the worst.”
’Marearabetsoe Kolobe says she has been indoors since the lockdown started.
She and her husband are self-employed and besides their businesses being on hold, they have not faced any problems.
Kolobe and her husband work from home most of the time making their lockdown less of a worry.

Kolobe says her fashion designing business has suffered the most because her work requires her to touch people and being in close proximity with them.
“I will not risk my life for money,” Kolobe says.
“It is better to be in a lockdown than to be sick and die. We should look at the bigger picture,” she says.
Kolobe says some Basotho have not come to understand the seriousness of the pandemic.

She says she has witnessed neighbours sharing a cigarette through the fence, “and this still puts them at a risk”.
She was also surprised at a man from Teya-Teyaneng who had come to prune a hedge at a neighbour’s house.
“He came to borrow a step ladder. Imagine if he sneezes on the ladder and I hold the ladder later and then touch myself,” she says.
“It is a big risk but people behave like all is normal.”

Her two children are locked in the yard and she says they understand why they cannot go out and play with other children.
She often returns children that come to visit hers, telling them to stay home because that is why schools are closed.
Kolobe did not panic-buy but she says she did not buy at a normal rate as other months.

Rose Moremoholo & Itumeleng Khoete

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