The bridge of despair

The bridge of despair

MASERU – BALANCING precariously to navigate a creaky and shaky ladder made from poplar tree, the man wishes he could just get to the end alive.
For many residents in the city’s poor neighbouring villages, this so-called bridge is their only way to cross the raging Phuthiatsana River that snakes through Ha-Tseka, Ha-Abia, Ha-Penapena, Ha-Au villages in Maseru.
It’s a case of from jubilation to despair.

In 2018 local village women ululated while their menfolk danced to the mohobelo song as officials officially opened a footbridge that was half complete. It was the answer to their dreams, and hoped the bridge would become a gateway to more development and a better life for the village due to faster access to Maseru where they buy most of their items.

The bridge is just less than 20 kilometres south-west of Maseru city and most villagers travel to the city daily to work and buy groceries. Many of them walk to their respective workplaces.
Two years later, the bridge is incomplete and proving to be a threat to residents using it.
On Monday this week heavy rains hit some parts of Maseru. So vicious were the rains that people were forced to park their cars on the roadside.

thepost sought to see how the pedestrians crossing the bridge were faring. There was despair, fear and anger.
“My blood pressure just rises to its peak, dizziness and nausea attack me right at the first step,” an elderly woman ’Mantoa Mosekele said.
The bridge is in a sorry state. On one side, the bridge has no declining or inclining walkway. On the other side, the bridge rail stands pillared by iron rods, leaving a downward gorge to the flat ground on Ha-Tseka’s side.
Villagers said it has been this way for close to two years now, adding that their joy was “very short-lived.”
Villagers have even built a ladder connecting the ground to the bridge using poplar tree sticks.

According to the village’s former chief, ’Malineo Tseka, the bridge serves about 3 000 people from her village.
The elderly people, the weak, the fearful and those with heavy luggage are hesitant to even attempt to cross the bridge.
“I will never ever attempt going down or up that ladder,” said the elderly ’Mantoa Mosekele.
Even the young are terrified that they risk plunging into the river. One of them, ’Maretšepile Mohapi from Ha-Tseka ignored the bridge, choosing to walk through the river’s dangerous waters.
She used one hand to hold her dress up her to her thighs and held her shoes in the other.
“I do this every day,” she said.

On this day, she was going to sleep at a relative’s house closer to her workplace in Thetsane Industrial Area in Maseru because she feared she might not make it to work the following day if the river filled up overnight.
“I was off on sick leave and it will put me in bad books with the bosses if I miss my first day of returning to work,” said Mohapi, a native of the area.
Another woman, ’Mamojalefa Khoalibe, said she decided to leave her husband’s home in the village to live at her maiden home in Maseru because it was never easy to get to work when the river was in full flow.
“I would miss work on several occasions because of heavy rains and it was time to move to the other side if my family was to cope with finances,” Khoalibe says.

Khoalibe works at a textile factory company owned by the Taiwanese, who strictly enforce the principle of no-work, no-pay.
thepost met a Grade 5 pupil walking home from school. She hopes the bridge can be repaired, but for now, is just happy it still provides her access to school.
“I used to miss school a lot before the bridge but now, even though I have to use the shaky ladder, I don’t miss school as much,” she said

Refiloe Thobakae, a teacher at Tseka Primary School, says when going to work she crosses the same bridge with many pupils at her school, which has 120 students.
“This water is very cold, especially in winter. This river is never dry and the alternative route makes the journey unbearably long,” Thobakae said.
She said some students have withdrawn from the school because the journey to school is too dangerous.
“One day I almost fell from the ladder,” she said.

Women who work at the firms in Maseru cross in groups during winter when it gets darker earlier. They say no one seems to care about creating a safe crossing point for the villagers.
“All I ever heard was that the contractor was owed by the government hence the bridge was never finished,” says one villager.

By the end of last year, the contractor, Morning Star Construction, had come to collect a few of the construction equipment that was left in a shack erected close by.
Tseka says she was the village chief when the bridge construction took off in 2018.
“I am still very disappointed that what we asked for many years ago has turned into a useless structure,” she says. “We need to meet with the councillor and seek a way forward because it has been two full years since the start of the construction.”

Tseka remembers that there was a woman who slipped and fell from the ladder less than a month ago.
“This is one case I know, there might be many others that people don’t share but I can attest that that ladder is dangerous. I don’t use it myself,” she says.
The Roads Directorate’s spokesperson, Nozizolo Mpopo, says the Ha-Tseka footbridge was among nine footbridges that were built in 2018 but the contractor had to stop working on the bridge due to heavy rains.
Mpopo says there was no money to finish off the project by the time the rains had stopped.

In the financial year 2019/2020, the budget had zero allocation for footbridge construction, she says.
This year the directorate has requested money for the building of bridges during the 2020/2021 financial year.
“If it is approved, Morning Start Construction will go ahead and finish the Ha-Tseka bridge,” she says.
Mpopo advises people living in Ha-Tseka and nearby villages to stop using the bridge because it is too risky.
“It is dangerous to walk on an uncompleted bridge,” she warns.

“I would miss work on several occasions because of heavy rains and it was time to move to the other side if my family was to cope with finances,” Khoalibe says.
Khoalibe works at a textile factory company owned by the Taiwanese, who strictly enforce the principle of no-work, no-pay.
thepost met a Grade 5 pupil walking home from school. She hopes the bridge can be repaired, but for now, is just happy it still provides her access to school.
“I used to miss school a lot before the bridge but now, even though I have to use the shaky ladder, I don’t miss school as much,” she said

Refiloe Thobakae, a teacher at Tseka Primary School, says when going to work she crosses the same bridge with many pupils at her school, which has 120 students.
“This water is very cold, especially in winter. This river is never dry and the alternative route makes the journey unbearably long,” Thobakae said.

She said some students have withdrawn from the school because the journey to school is too dangerous.
“One day I almost fell from the ladder,” she said.
Women who work at the firms in Maseru cross in groups during winter when it gets darker earlier. They say no one seems to care about creating a safe crossing point for the villagers.
“All I ever heard was that the contractor was owed by the government hence the bridge was never finished,” says one villager.

By the end of last year, the contractor, Morning Star Construction, had come to collect a few of the construction equipment that was left in a shack erected close by.
Ha-Tseka says she was the village chief when the bridge construction took off in 2018.
“I am still very disappointed that what we asked for many years ago has turned into a useless structure,” she says. “We need to meet with the councillor and seek a way forward because it has been two full years since the start of the construction.”

Tseka remembers that there was a woman who slipped and fell from the ladder less than a month ago.
“This is one case I know, there might be many others that people don’t share but I can attest that ladder is dangerous. I don’t use it myself,” she says.
The Roads Directorate’s spokesperson, Nozizolo Mpopo, says the Ha-Tseka footbridge was among nine footbridges that were built in 2018 but the contractor had to stop working on the bridge due to heavy rains.
Mpopo says there was no money to finish off the project by the time the rains had stopped.

In the financial year 2019/2020, the budget had zero allocation for footbridge construction, she says.
This year the directorate has requested money for the building of bridges during the 2020/2021 financial year.
“If it is approved, Morning Start Construction will go ahead and finish the Ha-Tseka bridge,” she says.
Mpopo advises people living in Ha-Tseka and nearby villages to stop using the bridge because it is too risky.
“It is dangerous to walk on an uncompleted bridge,” she warns.

Rose Moremoholo

 

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