Are we truly free?

Are we truly free?

Last Sunday I woke up with a heavy heart. I looked around my house and everything was imported. I checked my wardrobe and everything I wear was imported, yet it was my country’s Independence Day. I then started browsing on the internet searching for the literal meaning of the word independence and this is what I found: “freedom from outside control or support”. Similar words include, ‘self-governance’, ‘self-sufficiency’, ‘self-reliance’, ‘liberty’, ‘autarky’.

Then a thought popped up in my mind, ‘Are we really independent?’ Is it enough being a constitutionally independent country? Are we living with complete freedom, are we free from outside control and support? These are the few questions I would like us to ponder this week.

On the 4th October 1966 Lesotho was declared independent from British rule. More than 54 years later we are characterised by stagnation, high unemployment and lack of development and our most apparent weakness is that we are a nation of consumers that barely produces anything. For example, since independence we are unable to produce even the bare minimum of our own food, lest I mention that our cosmetics, clothes and cars are also imported from neighbouring South Africa and beyond.

Can a country that is unable to feed itself really be referred to as independent? Lesotho is a country that was once considered the “food basket” of the mining towns of neighbouring South Africa. Once upon a time, this small enclave managed to feed itself and trade wheat in South Africa. This was despite the fact that the country had been robbed of her land by her only neighbour, South Africa. However, today after more than half a century of independence we cannot seem to return to our former glory, but we rather keep regressing.

Instead of utilising the land that we have left to feed ourselves, we import everything including food from South Africa. In recent years I have noticed Basotho selling their land to Asian immigrants. This is a worrying trend because as a nation the relationship between our Asian friends and us has been marked by regression and exploitation rather than being beneficial to us even though it is referred to as foreign investment. I find it worrisome when they accumulate land, the one resource Basotho have always possessed, and ought to utilise to escape the grip of poverty and economic dependence.

At the time Lesotho gained independence, the South African apartheid government had already turned her into a labour reserve. Our young men were compelled to go to the mines as they were taxed for breathing, for merely existing. Young able-bodied Basotho that had once sustained themselves through trade, returned to the very mines they dreaded to seek employment, to feed their families and satisfy the demands of British tax. These young men were directly targeted and systematically excluded from trade again through heavy taxing, until they were desperate enough to become mineworkers.

After more than 50 years, things have not changed much, except that Basotho men have served their purpose in South Africa and mining jobs are no longer easy to come by. However, in the present day the backbone of Lesotho are factory workers, mostly women that seam clothes which benefit Asian foreign investors more than themselves.

Basotho women produce clothes for the world, clothes that they cannot afford themselves, because of their meagre salaries. Even more bizarre is that even though our mothers and sisters make clothes, for peanuts, we import the clothes we wear. Our clothing retail stores are South African franchises, Chinese shops and Basotho owned boutiques that fetch clothes in South Africa and beyond.

Corruption is another major problem which has been haunting Basotho and adversely affecting our economic system. Though we are an independent country, we are not able to get freedom from corruption which has made its way into the hearts and veins of most of the government offices.

We have seen and heard of instances where small peons to top government officials including Cabinet Ministers are involved in corruption but the DCEO has done nothing. Most of the Basotho have had first-hand experience of paying bribes to get jobs done in public offices successfully.
Where independence mean self-government, we the people in Lesotho have to pay bribes to get a basic driving licence, trader’s licence, payment of a job done, to a traffic police, to clerk/peon in government office, to even get gas connection. Is this freedom? Are we really independent?

I urge you my country men, let us put all our differences aside and fight against these crippling issues and make Lesotho independent from outside control and support. We have been disappointed so many times and have had so many negative vibes going on in this country.

For once let us do something positive together in pushing for economic transformation. Let’s just do it and remove those who are the source of our disappointments. We should “just do it”.

Ramahooana matlosa

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