When push comes to shove

When push comes to shove

MASERU – Braving the biting cold, hordes of men line walkways along Maseru’s Main North 1 Road or stand in front of the Basotho Enterprises Development Corporation and Oxford Building. Others huddle at the corner of the Roman Catholic’s Mofumahali oa Tlholo Cathedral in hopes of scoring a job — even for just a few hours.

Slowing industrial growth, low agricultural productivity and the spill over of South Africa’s economic problems particularly in the mining sector have resulted in rising unemployment in Lesotho, which stands at between 24 and 28 percent, according to the World Bank.
The result: dozens of desperate men flooding the streets of Maseru in search of odd, part time jobs.

S’khumbuzo Shiya has spent the past 24 years doing carpentry and plumbing. Yet, holding a steady job has been almost impossible because he does not have formal education. Daily, he leaves home before dawn to hold a place at the cathedral as temperatures hit below zero.
“In most cases I get picked for a day’s job,” he tells thepost.

“I acquired my skills through the many construction companies I have worked for since I was 17 years old,” Shiya says.
When the jobs dry up, he goes back to “the usual turn at the cathedral corner”.  It is at the cathedral that he has to endure not only the cold, but the disapproving glances of passers-by, many who frown upon the job seekers. There is a measure of mistrust and resentment from some members of the public who scorn upon the jobseekers and view them as men who have run away from their family responsibilities to roam the streets of Maseru.

One incident remains etched in the mind of Mohau Hlongoane, a job seeker and regular feature at the cathedral.  A local business woman hired him and four others to load and unload building blocks from a truck. “Her husband, a man we looked up to in high esteem because he is one of the Maseru elites, stared me down and made me feel inferior,” Hlongoane says. “He called us thieves and hobos. He shook his head in repugnance,” Hlongoane tells thepost his voice shaking with emotion.  For Shiya, such incidents are now part of the “job”. With the money he gets from the part time jobs, he puts food on the table for his wife and two teenage daughters.

The 41-year-old trekked to Maseru from Butha-Buthe, about 120km north of the capital Maseru. Now he has a house in Ha-Seoli, Maseru’s southern outskirts. “I don’t care whether people call me a hobo or anything they want to call me as long as they don’t call me Satan,” he says.
“What matters most is whether I have a job for the day”.

Lesotho’s economy has been on a slowdown since 2015 when growth slid to 3.4 percent after four years of an average of 4.3 percent growth, according the African Development Bank, which cites weaknesses in the construction and manufacturing sectors.  Low agricultural productivity has resulted in a “massive influx” of people from rural to urban areas, where the limited economic opportunities are concentrate, according to the African Economic Outlook.

With the body forecasting Lesotho’s urban population to grow at a rate of 37 percent every 10 years, unemployment is likely to remain a pressing issue, worsened by the slowdown in the neighbouring South African economy. Those without any special skills such as Hlongoane are hardest hit.
“The best I can do is to push a wheelbarrow,” he tells thepost.

Tebello Maine & Caswell Tlali

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