‘We’re on our own’

‘We’re on our own’

LAST Friday’s shooting and injuring of several youths who participated in a march to demand their rights to economic inclusion shows Lesotho has a big problem on its hands.

The protests clearly show that Lesotho could be sitting on a time-bomb. Young people have been disproportionately affected by the unemployment crisis. This trend has worsened earlier challenges and there is a concern that unless action is taken, the situation will be unsustainable, threatening social cohesion. Lesotho’s youth unemployment rate, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for 2019, was estimated at 33.68 percent.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2020 Assessment of the socio-economic impact of Covid-19 report revealed that unemployment is “high and persistent”. It is estimated at 32.8 percent. The UNDP assessment reveals that unemployment is even higher among youths aged between 15 and 24, at 43.2 percent. It also estimates that 39.7 percent of employed Basotho live on less than US$1.90 a day (38.8 percent women, 40.4 percent male and 46.6 percent for those aged 15–24).” Our reporter ’Mapule Motsopa interviewed Tšolo Kabane, the organiser of hashtagBachashutdown, that turned violent last Friday. Below are excerpts from the interview.

Why did #Bacha shutdown march despite not being issued a permit?
Our plan was to hand over our petition to parliament and we realised from the beginning that we were unable to get a march permit hence we decided to go there walking as individuals to tell the MPs our demands. We walked there. Since the grievances were from all youths, they decided to accompany us.

It was not a march per se, youths were walking to parliament each one going to tell their MPs what they wanted. We were not necessarily marching but walking to parliament as another way of voicing our concerns. We didn’t have to wait for permits but had to go there and hand over the petition. And if people resonate with the petition, they would walk with us there as they wanted to be part of the walk. To basically hide behind the legal technicalities is ludicrous. The focus is on what’s not important, that is poor handling of public issues – it just shows how incompetent or arrogant a leader is.

Who should shoulder the responsibility now that some have been arrested, shot and injured?

The youths decided to exercise their democratic right and the responsibility of unlawful and malicious arrest and police brutality should lie with the police. They should shoulder that responsibility as they are the ones that brutalised and sjamboked the people that decided to speak up against social ills that cripple them day in and out. It lies solely with the police and they should be held accountable as they handled the situation poorly.

We demand the dropping of all charges against them – their release on free bail is indicative of their innocence.

Why didn’t you go to court to force the police to issue the permit?
Our organisation, the Transform Lesotho Initiative (TLI) doesn’t have human resources such as lawyers to file cases in court. We found it easy to send our petition there.

Give clear reasons why youths want the government to declare the state of unemployment as a disaster in harmony with the DMA Act 1997.
This will allow the government to be intentional and decisive about bringing the monstrous disease to a controllable low. The government’s financial and procurement policies should look towards job creation or support youth businesses.

What is it that youths expect from the government and it is not doing?
We expect it to uplift and empower us economically and enable us to participate in leadership roles.

Is the government failing to provide employment? Have you studied why?
The government has failed as we don’t see it taking action in supporting youth businesses or other businesses for them to create employment. Any vacancy available, they use it for their political advantage, they hire politically. We have seen them do that at Home Affairs Ministry and at the police posts. They fought for the posts. They even fail to create jobs for ‘their’ people but give them those jobs that belong to the nation.

In your research what have TLI found?
We found that nepotism was the biggest issue. There is no way a government that promotes nepotism can create jobs in any way.

Have you tried to find out why the government is not paying attention to TLI’s concerns?
We tried to talk to them years back, marched, petitioned and they never really responded in a way that indicates that they are committed to address our demands.

How does the TLI want the government to handle Gender Based Violence (GBV)?
We want thetabling of the Bill against GBV as we currently don’t have a law that is focused on ending it.

What can TLI say in light of the fact that between every August and October each year students go on strike because they haven’t received their stipends?
It is noticeable that the country has been engaged in blind training and as a result, the majority of graduates are trapped (without any jobs) and the blame is on both the Education Ministry and the NMDS. This shows how ineffective and inefficient the NMDS is and the issue of strike has been going on for far too long that it is ‘normalised’. It seems like civil servants need to strike each year for them to do their job and unfortunately this affects students in so many ways.

What is the TLI’s proposal to the government to address this issue?
We demand that the government should reform the NMDS policies to ensure its efficiency and effectiveness.

Has Lesotho adopted targeted measures to support youth unemployment?
The youth apprentice programme was a good way to start to bring down unemployment but it got infiltrated by politicians and they use it for their political gains. It doesn’t benefit youths fairly. Some of the good things they adopted they politicised as usual and that is a problem.

Why does the government need to act on youth unemployment?
It is a struggle in this country and it kills our youths. Our young people are very angry.
What can young people do to find a job?
We could say youths should get into business, farming, in production business but the poor economy on its own makes it very difficult for us to do that. There should be tax incentives for starting businesses as well the credit support facilities. First of all, there has to be political will to create employment. They should wield their power and encourage the starting of businesses.

What are the consequences of unemployment?
There is an incredible and yet alarming rate of depression in our country. The serious cause could be the deprivation of our right to a livelihood. If we don’t have a job, we don’t have a livelihood and dignity.

Why is finding a job so difficult?
It is very difficult to find a job in this country. Privilege is given to those with certain political affiliations and especially in the private sector, it is difficult to get a job given the tough economic times we are in.

Were there any lessons that you learnt after the march?
The greatest lesson was that we are on our own as young people hence there is a dire need for us to do something. We need to continue with the TLI enlightenment project to show young people in our country that we are on our own as the government doesn’t care about us.

Why is the TLI so passionate to fight for the youths?
We are passionate because it is formed on the same basis of trying to empower young people and ensure that they become part of the solution in this country. We realised there is a problem in our country and we have to be prepared to be part of the solution.

Following the march, what can we expect from now on?
We expect the government to advise itself a bit differently although we don’t have confidence that it will be able to address our issues – we don’t see it happening. But if they do call us and want to talk, we will sit around the table and discuss the way forward. We however need less talk but more action.

This is the beginning of a revolution and it will make way for young people to have their dignity restored. By virtue of our petition not being received, our concerns cannot be heard and we will not rest until our petition is received, our concerns heard and our dignity restored. We will employ other means of peaceful protest until they hear us.

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