Five weeks of starvation

Five weeks of starvation

Last week Friday I was listening to Arthur Majara on a call-in programme on 357 FM. He described Lesotho as a hand-to-mouth nation and I fully agree with him. That programme made me wonder, can a hand-to-mouth nation survive the Covid-19 five weeks lockdown?
The Command Centre argued that the lockdown needed to be extended so

that the Ministry of Health and Command Centre could be given two weeks to transit from the state of preparedness to the stage of case management.
In the two weeks extension they committed to building the capacity of quarantine and isolation, rolling out robust testing facilities, procurement and distribution of medical supplies such as oxygen ventilators, patient monitors and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

The Command Centre would also conduct COVID-19 Stimulation Exercise to test the readiness of the National Emergency Command Centre and the District Emergency Operating Centres.

The Command Centre promised to implement an economic and social mitigation strategy within 14 days extension but unfortunately we are left with one week and nothing has been implemented.

The economic shutdown occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the soft underbelly of millions of Basotho and their capacity to suck it up for a long period. Barely four weeks into the crisis, thousands are already reeling in the pressure of the economic downturn. Casual labourers, small-scale traders, factory workers, street vendors are the worst hit.

This week, I seek to remind the nation of yet another unfortunate reality of hand to mouth scenario in which we find ourselves in, though Thabane’s administration has extended the lockdown by two weeks. We have been sentenced to five weeks of starvation, which could result in death in some cases.

I was listening to the Prime Minister’s Senior Private Secretary Thabo Thakalekoala who said this country could be in a lockdown state until December. The government does not understand how hard life is during the lockdown. It’s extremely hard because the majority of Basotho live from hand to mouth.

As I write this article, the middle class of this country is surviving on a hand-to-mouth basis (paycheck-to-paycheck), over 45 000 factory workers also survive from paycheck-to-paycheck and in the process supporting their life-style with a semi-permanent and growing pile of debt.

So, how are Basotho who live from hand-to-mouth coping with the crisis? What are their greatest fears? Would they survive a prolonged period of economic sluggishness? Last week, I was invited to an event where businessman Tšeliso Nthane was giving food parcels to over 3000 street vendors at Pitso ground.

I walked around the venue talking and listening to very sad stories of our people. Indeed, the past four weeks have been very hard on our people. This is partly due to the “Hand to Mouth” life that most of our people live. This therefore calls for a different approach from the government, an honest reflection and genuine commitment to tackle the economic needs of Basotho during the lockdown.

To be honest it is very hard, and it’s not just the poverty. It is the corruption and helplessness one feels when you have no one to turn to because your own government does not care.
It’s the heartache and frustration you feel knowing that Basotho have the potential to respond to this crisis in a professional manner, but they are being held back by the government officials too indulged in their own interests.
Even in times of crisis, it is the greed of the government ministers that is preventing us from achieving anything. Seven days after extension the Command Centre officials and Minister Thesele ’Maseribane appear on Lesotho Television news updating the nation on progress made and they are not ashamed to inform Basotho that the government is still in the planning stage and has been finalising the procurement of ventilators.
Come on people it’s been a month now.

The government officials and COVID-19 Command Centre are both behaving in a way that suggests a lack of any serious concern for the lives of the people who will die as a result of their posturing and machinations.
Most countries in the region announced the economic shutdown together with the remedial measures to assist affected individuals and businesses. These countries have set up sizable funds for economic stimulus strategies. But my country is still struggling with project management 101.

So if you would like to know why so many people in Lesotho are angry, it’s this. It’s because they live in a world in which seemingly no one in power cares if they live or die — never mind whether they live with dignity. During this lockdown they can starve to death, no one cares. Ministers are too busy serving their own interests.

Post COVID-19 lockdown Basotho are going to lose their jobs in big numbers, businesses are going to close, our tax revenues will go down drastically, some Basotho would have died because of starvation and crime will definitely increase. But the government does not care because they place zero value on the lives of people as the corrupt officials have been siphoning off public funds for private interests.

As I conclude it is important to acknowledge that it is our duty to tell our government, what we the people want them to do for us and not to sit idly by the wayside while people live hand-to-mouth and die. The government did not get voted into power to act on their own behalf.
They got voted into government to act on behalf of the people who mostly live hand-to-mouth. People are losing jobs and livelihoods, starving, and they need a caring government that will act fast.

Ramahooana Matlosa

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