The walking wounded

The walking wounded

MASERU – Walking after dark along the footpaths of Maseru is always a risky affair for women in a city where they are often targets of muggings and rape. But many female factory workers will have to choose between taking the risk and losing their jobs. From June 1, textile factory worker ’Matšoarelo Mocha may have to walk 20km daily to spare money for rent and her baby’s milk. A hike in taxi fares planned for June has left underpaid factory workers in a fix. Many will be unable to pay for taxis and still remain with enough money for household expenses, forcing them to consider walking long distances to work.

Taxi associations have announced that they are increasing the fare for a single trip within a 10 kilometres radius from M6 to M15 locally. A return trip will cost M30. For Mocha, this 120 percent increment is simply unaffordable. “Surely I’m not going to afford that. I will have to walk to and from work. I earn less than M2 000,” she told thepost, adding that she will need at least M900 per month for taxi fares alone. “I have a six-months-old baby who needs formula milk. It is expensive for me because it costs M200,” she says. Mocha also needs M300 to pay for the room she is renting in Khubetsoana.

This leaves a paltry M100 in her pocket to buy groceries, toiletries and meet other expenses, a figure she says is hardly enough. She needs at least M500 to buy groceries for her parents who look after her baby in her rural home. Mocha was forced to leave the baby with her parents to try her luck in Maseru. About 40 percent of Lesotho’s youths are unemployed and the majority of families live below the poverty line of M13 a day. Getting a job was therefore a joyous development for Mocha. Not anymore. Mocha is one of the 40 000 factory workers in Lesotho who earn less than M2 000 a month and are likely to be the hardest hit by the planned taxi fare increase.

Mocha’s finances were already stretched to the limit before the announcement of the fare hike. On many days, she catches a taxi in the mornings only to avoid being late for work and walks the 10 km distance back home. From June, she may have to start walking to and from work. Hurrying along a side path along Moshoeshoe Road, Mocha indicates that she has no time to waste as she has to be home before it gets too dark so thepost has to trudge with her during the interview. She is not alone. ’Manthabeleng Hatasi, also a factory worker, is one of the dozens on the same path. Hatasi says she earns M1 100 per month.

She cannot afford the current taxi fare, never mind the new transport charges being planned by taxi operators. Hatasi says she lives in Ha-Tšosane, also about 10 kilometres from the Maseru West Industrial area, in a single room for which she pays M250 every month. “I know that it is risky for a woman to walk at dusk or early in the morning but I have no option but to walk,” Hatasi says. “This is really bad news for the workers,” says Qamaka Ntšene, the Deputy Secretary General for the United Textile Employees (UNITE). “Taxi associations have not approached us so that we could sit around the table and discuss,” Ntšene says.

“This is surprising because in the past we used to work together with the taxi associations but now that their political party is ruling they decided to do as they please,” he says. The majority of taxi operators and their associations are known supporters of the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, although it is not clear whether they are using their political affiliation to pursue their interests. Ntšene says factory workers would starve if the new fares are not reversed. “These people have migrated from the rural areas to Maseru and they rent places, they support their children, they buy groceries and they also give a little amount to their parents,” Ntšene says.

“They are already struggling.” Apart from the transport fares, water, sewerage and electricity rates are also likely to increase.

“So, imagine how people who work in the factories will survive,” he says.

’Makhotso Rakotsoane

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