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The plight of street vendors

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MASERU – IN Maseru, market places are piled up with stock for weekend customers. Shops are bursting with even more customers.

Many people are holding shopping bags. The spirit of the festive season is palpable in every corner of the city.

Suddenly, the weather drastically changes. In a blink of an eye, the market places are empty and everyone is rushing home.

“This is our second week experiencing this heavy rain,’’ says Libuseng Khama, packing her wares and covering the entire table with a plastic sheet.

After two years of Covid-19 havoc, businesses in Lesotho have been struggling to claw back lost gains.

But heavy rains have been identified as a second wave affecting recovery. Small-scale business people such as street vendors are particularly hard hit.

With high unemployment, informal activities such as street vending have been identified as an escape route for more people to take care of their families and to fight poverty.

According to the Mitullah report, small businesses account for 59 percent of the Sub-Saharan African urban labour force.

In developing countries such as Lesotho, between 40 and 80 percent of the urban workforce is in the informal sector.

However, the incessant rains and the absence of secure shelters to do business are presenting huge challenges.

Khama, who has been in the business for more than five years, explained that street vending was good until Covid-19 hit and she is one of those struggling to recover.

And now, the rains are causing havoc.

“Heavy rains have the potential to throw us out of business,” she says.

Khama has been selling second hand clothing in one of the shelters made of tent and plastic and she says she used to generate over M30 000 in profits monthly.

During the December festive season where everybody is willing to spend, she says she would make more.

“The profits would go beyond M30 000 in one month,” says Khama.

However, after the Covid-19 outbreak, business became slow. She would sell one bale in two months. Nonetheless, during the festive season, especially in December, business would pick up.

“I was able to generate more than double what I am making during these months,” says Khama.

While her business was still recovering from Covid-19, the summer rainfalls have done more harm than good to street vendors such as Khama. This has turned out to be a global crisis, especially in countries that depend heavily on street business.

In a study conducted in Dhaka City on the impact of urban flooding on street vendors’ business, it was revealed that daily sales dropped sharply due to a decline in the number of customers. For street vendors in Lesotho, the rains have been devastating.

“My shelter is made of a worn-out tent and plastics and they are non-resistant to rain and the sun.

“The tent costs around M300 and it is not easily accessible so I had to use more plastics which cost around R20 to stop the leakages. I have to change these plastics often, this means more costs for me,” she says.

“Last year, we had persistent heavy rains during the summer and during that time I lost more than R500 on men’s shirt bales”, adds Khama.

“Shirts which I was selling for M50 each got in contact with water and I had to take them out. I gave them to my fellow street vendors and neighbours.”

Khama says she also lost all the stock of 100 T-shirts which she was selling for M50 each. She says she had to reduce the price to R20.

“I ran a loss of over M2 000, including transport costs.” Khama says she then decided to stay home when it rained.

“As much as I was minimising the damages, I was also losing customers,” she says.

Last week, the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) held a press conference to sensitise the public about the heavy rains which will persist for the period of four months from now.

Street vendors, who will be experiencing this crisis for the second time, have little hope that their businesses will survive this year.

At the big complex of Sefika, there are a number of business shelters covered with tents and plastics. Clothes, fruits and vegetables are covered with plastics to protect them from the rain.

On a busy afternoon when many people pass by on their way to the taxi ranks, even the vendors pack their bags due to rain. Others still wait for customers and cover their wares with plastics.

But this discourages customers from buying since they will have to wait in the rain for the vendor to uncover first.

A few metres away between the taxi ranks is a row of fruit tables covered with umbrellas. The umbrellas are covered with plastics too to reduce the amount of rain water contacting the wares.

Vendors under the umbrellas are stepping on stones due to the flow of water in their working spaces. Some vendors have run into nearby safer areas.

On those rainy days, 60-year-old Makotelo Kotelo in her shelter which is half roofed is rebundling potatoes from the bag into small plastics. Besides her is her five-year-old granddaughter who is busy packing these potatoes for display.

“All my children including my grandchildren grew up in this business,” she says.

Kotelo, who would constantly stand to fix the plastic covering the bags of potatoes, says business was good before the Covid-19 outbreak when many people lost their jobs.

Kotelo, who sells a variety of vegetables depending on the time of the year, says factory workers were her biggest customers.

She says she managed to buy land of about M13 000 and built a four roomed house.

She says she also bought a van worth M18 000 and also managed to pay for her children’s school fees.

However, she says she took her business to the streets since the advent of Covid-19 when most of the factory workers were retrenched and business has been slow.

“We are still sticking around street businesses since there is nowhere else we can go but the heavy rains have worsened our conditions.

“We only generate money for transport during the rainy days,” she said, appealing to the government to create more formal jobs.

The Chairman of the Street Vendors Association, Khathang Tema Baitsokoli, Tšolo Lebitsa, says there are about 7 000 shelters for street vendors in his town. However, he said about 5 000 of these are improperly constructed.

“These shelters were built using tents and plastics,’’ he says.

“Last year over 500 shelters were blown away by wind during heavy rains.

“The major challenge is that these people fully depend on these businesses for survival, so they have nowhere to go,’’ he says.

The Public Relations Officer in the Ministry of Trade, Liehelo Nkaota, says after the recent merging of the ministries, they are still building a database for street vendors.

She said the database will allow the government to know the number of street vendors and the challenges that need to be addressed.

Staff Reporter

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Suspension was malicious, says Nko

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MASERU – A gunshot wound and an attempted murder charge have not stopped Dr Retšelisitsoe Nko from starting a new fight.

The suspended Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC) boss is rolling up his sleeves for what promises to be an epic legal battle to be reinstated.

In an application filed in the High Court this week, Dr Nko argues that the LTDC’s decision to suspend him had a “glaring element of bad faith and malice”.

He says the suspension was procedurally flawed because there was no complainant to instigate it and he was not granted a hearing.

Dr Nko was suspended after he was involved in a shooting incident with guests at an event at a Hillsview guest house on December 27.

He is alleged to have rushed home to take his gun after an argument with some of the guests. Dr Nko and a guest sustained gunshot wounds in the scuffle that ensued.

Reports say the guests were trying to wrestle the gun from Dr Nko when the shots were fired.

The LTDC’s board suspended him two days later, alleging that he had failed to attend an extraordinary meeting called to discuss the incident.

The suspension letter was written by Nonkululeko Zaly who was the chairperson of the LTDC board by virtue of being the principal secretary in the Ministry of Trade.

Zaly, who has since been fired following corruption investigations, also approached the court to force the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences to return the assets confiscated during a raid at her house.

Dr Nko, in his court papers, accuses Zaly of usurping the board’s powers to suspend him. He says there was never a board resolution to suspend him.

The extraordinary meeting, he alleges, was a “prearranged dishonest scheme between certain members of the board and social media personnel which were part of the ruse deliberately designed to compromise” his interests.

Dr Nko says the board called him to the 29 December meeting when he was on sick leave and then suspended him without hearing his reasons for failing to attend.

He complains that Zaly wrote his suspension letter on the basis of mere allegations even though she had remained principal secretary and chairperson of the board when the corruption investigations against her were in full swing.

He queries why he was being suspended when Zaly was allowed to hold on to her job.

Zaly appears to have been belligerent when Dr Nko’s lawyers contacted her to query the suspension.

She told the lawyers, in a letter, that their queries were based on misinformation. She also dismissed the lawyer’s request for a record of the board meeting that decided to suspend Dr Nko.

“We are therefore not going to honour any of your demands and if your client is not satisfied, he is free to approach any appropriate forums to pursue these baseless issues,” Zaly said in her letter.

The lawyers say that response shows that Zaly was hell-bent on suspending their client.

Dr Nko wants the High Court to order the LTDC board to reverse the suspension, stop his imminent disciplinary proceedings and release the records of its December 29 meeting.

He also says the board is already conducting investigations on the incident to use as evidence against him in the disciplinary hearing.

Staff Reporter

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thepost columnist wins award

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Maseru – Two scholars associated with the National University of Lesotho have been awarded the 2022 Thomas Pringle prize for the best literary article published the previous year.

Chris Dunton, who is a columnist for thepost, and Lerato Masiea have won the prize, which is awarded by the English Academy of Southern Africa, for their article “Between rocks and hard places: the controversial career of A.S. Mopeli-Paulus,” which was published by thepost.

Dunton was previously Professor and Dean of Humanities at the NUL and for some years cwrote a column for this newspaper titled “Left Side Story.” Masiea is a lecturer in the NUL’s Department of English and is currently pursuing his doctorate at the University of the Free State.

Their prize-winning article was published in the journal English in Africa (vol.48 no.3, 2021, pp47-64). In it the authors explore the writings and life of the South African Mosotho author Mopeli-Paulus.

As their title indicates, their subject was a controversial figure, who degenerated from being an opponent of the apartheid regime (he was, notably, one of the leaders of the Witzieshoek Cattle Rebellion, for which role he was incarcerated in the Pretoria Central Prison) to being a high-ranking accomplice in the Bantustan system.

He was a prolific writer in both English and Sesotho (at one point he referred to the compulsive desire to write as a kind of madness!), his best-known works being the poetry-collection Ho tsamaea ke he bona (from time to time a set-text in Lesotho schools), the novel Blanket Boy’s Moon and the autobiography The World and the Cattle.

Dunton and Masiea’s article covers all his writing, published and unpublished (his papers are freely accessible at the William Cullen Library, Wits University) and is especially concerned with the question of cross-border identity.

Mopeli-Paulus was born in Monontsa, South Africa, in the lost territories—much in the news recently—and remained a South African citizen all his life. The dust-jacket for his first novel, Blanket

Boy’s Moon — which was an international best-seller — carries his name with the tag “Chieftain of Basutoland”, but this was a mistake.

Nonetheless, Mopeli-Paulus identified very strongly with Lesotho and has much to say — some of it fanciful, even spurious — on concepts of Sotho identity.

Dunton and Masiea explore this issue in detail, as it remains a topic of crucial importance even today.

Staff Reporter

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Matekane to boot out PS

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MASERU – THE Sam Matekane government is getting ready to get rid of Principal Secretaries appointed by the previous administration.

First to be axed is Nonkululeko Zaly who Matekane fired as a PS for the Ministry of Trade on January 11.

Zaly, who is challenging the decision, suffered a blow yesterday when the High Court refused to hear her case on an urgent basis.

Her case will now have to join the long queue of hundreds of others pending in the High Court.

Lefu Manyokole has been replaced as the PS of the local government ministry.

The axe is also likely to fall on government secretary, Lerotholi Pheko, and Foreign Affairs principal secretary Thabo Motoko.

The four have been the subject of a graft investigation by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO).

Their homes and offices have been raided and properties seized as the anti-corruption unit investigates allegations that they received millions in bribes from contractors. The four are likely to be the first to be shown the door.

Indications are however that Matekane could be readying to purge the government of principal secretaries inherited from the previous government. Matekane hints at that impending clean up in his dismissal letter to Zaly.

“You will agree with me that as a Principal Secretary, yours was a political appointment,” Matekane said in the letter that Zaly claimed not to have received in her court papers.

“It follows therefore that the working relationship between yourself and the person appointing you, the Prime Minister in this case, is mainly based on utmost trust and confidence.”

“The trust and confidence components become even more important under the obtaining circumstances where the new government, of which I am the head, has just been installed.”

Matekane told Zaly that his government came with new ideas and policies at the top of which is to fight corruption.

He said he was aware that the DCEO had seized certain documents in Zaly’s possession “evidencing a commission of crime and that you failed to give a satisfactory explanation for your possession of those documents”.

“This has eroded all the trust and confidence I had in you as the Principal Secretary and there is no way I can continue with you at the helm of any government ministry,” Matekane said.

Highly placed sources in the government have told thepost that Zaly’s exit is just the beginning of a shake-up that will continue for the next three months as Matekane seeks to bring in new people he trusts and share his vision with.

Meanwhile, Moahloli Mphaka, the government’s special adviser in the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission this week told the High Court that there is a plan to fire him and two other senior officials.

Mphaka made the allegations in an urgent application to force the commission to pay his salary and that of Thabang Thite, and Bahlakoana Manyanye who are also part of the lawsuit. Thite and Manyanye are assistant advisers in the commission.

Mphaka told the court in an affidavit that on December 22 last year, the Natural Resources Minister Mohlomi Moleko told them that his superiors had instructed him to terminate their contracts.

The reason, Mphaka said, is the fact that they are the All Basotho Convention (ABC) members hired by former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. He said the government’s delay to pay their December salary was meant to frustrate them into resigning.

Nkheli Liphoto

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