Rank madness

Rank madness

QUTHING-FOR food trader ‘Mabataung Matlama, the business environment in Quthing has always been deplorable.
But nothing puts her off more than being forced to sell food to her customers at a busy site with no sanitary facilities – a situation that poses a health risk to both businesspeople and their customers.

For years, Quthing has faced daunting social challenges that include high unemployment, low educational pass rates, poor, and sometimes unavailable health facilities and a local economy that cannot cater for residents.
Many residents of this impoverished district usually flock to South Africa to work as maids or at construction sites and on farms.

Matlama, a single mother of two, is one of those who chose to stay put, hoping to use her culinary skills to fend for her family.
She has been able to keep her head above the water since 2017 when she started her food business at the Quthing taxi rank.
There, the 46-year-old prepares simple meals such as pap, vegetables and meat for her clients who are mainly composed of taxi operators and passengers travelling to various destinations.

One thing constantly worries her. The Quthing taxi rank does not have proper sanitary facilities and this leaves people operating at the rank vulnerable to diseases.
The toilets do not have running water. They are just pit latrines, which are highly likely to cause groundwater pollution.

The rank is on an open space and does not have shelter to shield the people against the scorching sun or rains. In winter, people such as Matlama have to endure the harsh, cold weather conditions in the open.
Water used to be made available in the past to ease the situation, but that was more than a year ago. The Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) has cut off water supplies at the rank over unpaid bills by the relevant authorities.

Negotiations with WASCO to reconnect the water to mitigate the health risks have failed, said Matlama.
“Cutting off water supplies was like adding salt to a wound. Conditions were already bad even when water was still available,” she said.
Traders have to carry containers of water from their homes to prepare their meals and, if there is still enough, to get customers to wash their hands.

Together with the taxi operators, the traders have once again approached WASCO to help ease the situation.
“We are asking them to allow us to start the billing afresh, to open a new bill for us so that water can be made available again but it seems WASCO is not interested,” said Matlama.

WASCO remains adamant that the outstanding bill should be paid first and they even went further to remove the water taps altogether, Matlama said, shaking her head.
With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, this means both traders and customers cannot practise recommended basic hygiene measures such as regularly washing hands.
“It’s a serious problem,” said Matlama, echoing the sentiments of most people who operate from the rank.

Another street vendor, ‘Mabataung Teisi, 55, says she has been working at the rank for the past 15 years.
She says all hell broke loose when WASCO cut off water over an unpaid bill by the council.
Teisi, whose husband is unemployed, is taking care of three children.
“It is really difficult to run the business here,” Teisi says.
She says they have to buy water from somewhere else and have to transport it to the rank to prepare meals and use in their make-shift kitchen.

Teisi says this has seen the cost of doing business at the rank balloon.
“The commuters beg for some water from us and when we charge them, they think we are being hard on them,” she says.
At one time, they were forced to close their businesses as part of lockdown measures to slow the spread of the deadly virus.
To worsen matters, their public representatives seem blind to the problems the traders are facing.

Moyeni MP, Mahooana Rapitso Khati, said he is not aware of the hardships faced by the traders.
He said the unavailability of water supplies was news to him as he had not been advised of the problem.
“I recently met the District Administrator who said nothing about the problem in the town,” said the MP, adding that he also met local councillors “not long ago” but they didn’t raise the issue.

Khati said he has since asked the authorities in the constituency to bring to the fore the problems that people are facing in workplaces such as the taxi rank so that he could assist.
He said some councillors find it difficult to approach him so that they could solve the problems of the community together “because of the political inclinations”.
“Unfortunately, it is the ordinary Basotho who end up suffering. I cannot hide anything. I really do not know about the problems,” Khati said.
“I could have worked on the matter if I was informed,” Khati added.

This week, the Quthing Town Clerk, Tefo Mofolo, said he is aware of the unavailability of tap water at the taxi rank due to non-payment of bills by businesses that operate from there.
Mofolo accused the street vendors of not taking good care of the water taps.
“They would let people from faraway places come with big trucks carrying tanks to draw water from there,” he said, adding that it is up to the vendors to find a solution to the problem.

In the meantime, traders such as Matlama have to live with the threat of both water-borne diseases and the deadly Covid-19.
“I have to feed my family so I cannot just stop working from here simply because there is no water. It is a risk; but what can I do?” she asked.

Majara Molupe

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