The wretched of the earth

The wretched of the earth

MASERU – FROM the frying pan into the fire.
This aptly sums up the situation of many Basotho who migrated from their rural homes to seek better lives in the city, only to end up enduring wretched conditions.
Some have made street pavements their homes, where they spend the day sitting and holding out plates to beg for food, money or anything that can help them survive.
Others live in dilapidated shacks, trying to eke out a living as maids or factory workers.

According to Lesotho Urbanisation 2017 Report, there was a 4.43 percent increase in rural-urban migration from 2007 to 2017.
With unemployment rife in rural areas, trekking to the urban areas seems the only viable option for many rural folk.
However, as some of them often find out, it is all not rosy on the streets of Maseru and other urban areas.

One of the most affected areas, Ha-Hoohlo urban village, is testimony to the wretched poverty and joblessness plaguing Lesotho’s urban areas.
This village is nestled on the Mohokare River bank, about two kilometres from Maseru city centre.

Located only two kilometers from Maseru’s city centre and a stone’s throw from Maseru West Industrial Area that has at least 15 textile firms, one would expect the village to flourish.
The village is also less than a kilometer from the Maseru Bridge, and one would expect beautiful rental houses and a clean environment to greet visitors entering the country.
Instead, small, old shacks made from corrugated iron sheets charging as little as M110 per month for accommodation seekers line the streets.

The shacks do not even have electricity and running water is a pipe dream, with residents sharing a single water tap that sometimes runs dry for up to a month. There are no proper toilets. These are the conditions for people such as ’Malefa Mafaesa who migrated from rural areas have to endure.
Mafaesa rents a shack a few metres from a sewerage dumpsite.

“The scarcity of clean water coupled with no electricity and toilets make the situation even worse,’’ she says, pointing at the dump site where flies are buzzing. A strong stench emits from the dumpsite.
“We have to relieve ourselves in the open space because there are no toilets,’’ she says.
Like many, she now believes life in the rural areas was better.

The 64-year-old Mafaesa has been renting the shack for more than 15 years since migrating from the rural village of Ha-Moruthoane, about 25 kilometres south of Maseru.
She says she started working as a maid but later found a job as a factory worker to support her sick mother and her 18- year-old son with whom she shares accommodation.
She says living conditions in rural areas “are far better” than in urban areas, especially for people who can’t find a decent job.

“We even struggle to plant vegetables because the soil is not fertile and there isn’t enough space,’’ she says, standing next to a small, parched plot with a spinach crop stunted by water shortages.
Mafaesa says the place is insecure because of thieves who frequent the area.

“You cannot leave a basket outdoors for five minutes and find it still there,’’ she says, clapping her hands out of frustration.
A few metres from Mafaesa’s shack are several one-roomed shacks made from small, rusty pieces of corrugated iron metal.
Another resident, ’Masaene Mokoena, says she has been renting a shack in the area for about a decade.

She moved from Mazenod with her husband and their two children who are now 10 years and 15 years respectively.
Now jobless, Mokoena says she first worked in one of the furniture shops but quit in December “due to personal issues”.
She says life in the urban areas is getting tougher for her after her husband abandoned the family some years ago.
As life got tougher, Mokoena stayed with another man who has his own two children.

She says life is difficult since she is unemployed yet she has to pay rent, buy food and pay for children’s education. Her older child has already quit school.
“I am still looking for job but the challenge is that I am still raising a one-month- old baby,” she says.

Back at her home in Mazenod, Mokoena says they used to collect free firewood for cooking but in the city, everything demands money.
A landlord in the area, Bongani Hoohlo, says most of her tenants are employed in the factories, except two who are still struggling to find work.
Hoohlo says his tenants pay rent on the agreed dates except those who do not have permanent jobs.
But they still struggle to pay, he says. “They are trying their best to pay,” he adds.

He says he does not have a problem with building a toilet within the premises of rental shacks but this needs tenants to pledge to protect and maintain the toilet.
At the moment, the tenants use toilets outside the premises. In the light of this wretched poverty in Maseru urban, Maseru City Council (MCC) says it has plans to alleviate poverty.
“We have projects that deal mainly with helping the community to have some money,” MCC public relations officer ‘Makatleho Mosala says.
She cites the poverty obliteration scheme (fato-fato) that she says enables community members to get part-time jobs.
Mosala says the council has set aside M10 000 for poverty alleviation projects to be run by community members while a private contractor has been contracted to help vulnerable villagers secure jobs to clean of the streets in Maseru.

Despite the appalling conditions, some people are still hopeful.
In her shacks, holes on the floor can be spotted from a distance.

‘Makaliseng Motsapi, who works as a maid for the owner of the shack, appears holding a nine-months-old baby.
“It is easy to get paying piece jobs in Maseru and the food prices are also lower,” she says.

She says she is from Qacha’s Neck, a mountainous rural district about 200 kilometres from Maseru.
Motsapi says she arrived in Maseru early this year after being invited by a neighbour who is working in the factories to be a nanny.

The 38-year-old Motsapi says she gets M300 per month for taking care of two children and doing the house chores, although her disability prevents her from doing some chores and taking up some part-time jobs.
The mother of an eight-year-old child says it is even harder to live in rural areas due to high unemployment, coupled with lack of health facilities and infrastructure.
Motsapi believes the rural to urban migration can be slowed through programmes that encourage investing in rural areas.

But, with the country’s leaders busy tearing each other apart through factional wars, such investments could be long in coming.
“I so wish that the leading parties can work together with other parties to establish more decent jobs instead of fighting against each other,” she says.

Refiloe Mpobole & Letlotlo Mncina

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