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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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Mahao, PS in big fight

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PRIME Minister Sam Matekane this week summoned the Basotho Action Party (BAP) executive committee in a bid to defuse simmering tensions within the party.
This comes amid fears that Professor Nqosa Mahao’s fallout with his principal secretary at the Ministry of Energy, Tankiso Phapano, could threaten the unity in the BAP and the government’s stability.

thepost can reveal that Mahao has hinted that he would resign if Matekane doesn’t fire or reassign Phapano.

But there are strong indications that Mahao doesn’t enjoy the backing of his executive committee and MPs in his fight with Phapano.

Inside sources this week told thepost that some members of the BAP’s executive committee and MPs are openly siding with Phapano and have been secretly lobbying Matekane to reshuffle Mahao from the Ministry of Energy to Sports.

A source said Mahao is aware of these manoeuvres, including a clandestine meeting in Maputsoe, and has said he would rather resign than be the subject of a humiliating reshuffle instigated by people he leads.

The source of the bad blood between Mahao and Phapano is not clear but it is understood that they have disagreed over tenders and the ministry’s direction.

The source said Matekane was first briefed of the running battles at the ministry some three weeks ago just as matters were coming to a head.

It is the second briefing which revealed a complete breakdown in the relationship that triggered Matekane’s meeting with the BAP’s executive committee and MPs on Monday.

Three people who were in that meeting said Matekane told the BAP officials to deal with the crisis before it affected the ministry and threatened the coalition government’s stability.

The BAP’s executive committee, including MPs and Mahao, then had a marathon meeting to discuss ways to make peace between Mahao and Phapano.

A source who was in that meeting said “it was clear to Mahao that the majority of the committee and the MPs were on Phapano’s side”.

“Mahao quickly realised that he did not have the backing of the majority and took a conciliatory approach. It was clear that the committee would rather have him resign than get Phapano removed from the ministry,” the source said.

“In the past Mahao had flatly refused to reconcile with Phapano because of seniority. But this time he appeared to be open to a meeting to discuss reconciliation.”

Both Mahao and Phapano told thepost last night that their relationship was still cordial. ‘“We are still in good books with Phapano until further notice,” Mahao said.

“However, we cannot predict the future.”

Mahao denied ever discussing Phapano’s dismissal or transfer with Matekane.

Phapano also insisted that he was working well with Mahao.

“We are still on good terms,” Phapano said, adding that the allegation that they were fighting was “baseless”.

The fallout between Mahao and Phapano has been quick and spectacular.

The two had been almost inseparable months before Mahao agreed to join the coalition government.

Phapano would use his car to drive Mahao around. They would attend party meetings together. Some party insiders saw Phapano as Mahao’s right-hand man and adviser.

Mahao allegedly strongly pushed for Phapano to be appointed as his principal secretary when he became energy minister.

But sources said Mahao started having second thoughts days after recommending Phapano and tried to get his appointment reversed but it was too late.

A source says within weeks Mahao was telling cabinet colleagues that Phapano had captured the ministry and he was unable to function as the minister.

“He started pushing to oust Phapano within days because they were already clashing. It’s been war from the first days,” said the source.

Staff Reporter

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How chicken import ban hit vendors

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MALESHOANE Pakela used to work at small backyard chicken farms where she was paid with chicken heads, necks, legs, and offals that she would roast and sell to factory workers at the Thetsane Industrial Area.

Her job was to clean and pack chicken.
The profit wasn’t much but just enough for the 37-year-old widow to feed and keep her four children in school.

“It also covered her monthly rental of M150 for a room in Ha-Tsolo Sekoting.

Her life was however shattered last October when the government imposed a ban on chicken imports from South Africa following an outbreak of bird flu.
Without day-old chicks the farms quickly shut down, cutting Pakela’s supply of heads, necks, legs, and offals.
Within a few days, her family was starving.

Pakela had been struggling even for months before the ban. The closure of the factories and retrenchments of thousands of workers has severely hit her sales. She was behind on her rent and could barely feed her children.

The partial lifting of the chicken ban has not helped Pakela because her former employers still cannot import day-old chicks or live birds.
Pakela and a family were kicked out of their rented room in November when their arrears were about M1 000.
She has found another room nearby.

A ‘Good Samaritan’ has allowed her to use a room for free until she can afford the rent. But Pakela says she still feels obliged to pay something because she understands that things are hard for everyone.

“Here the rent is still M150 but the landlord accepts every amount that I give her,” Pakela says.
There are days when her children go to bed hungry.

“I have told them (children) that if I have nothing they should accept (the status).”

She now survives on handouts from neighbours and other well-wishers. Pakela’s poverty is apparent.

Barefoot and holding her small child in a seshoeshoe dress, Pakela says her two children usually go to school without eating.
The other child has dropped out of school because she doesn’t have shoes.

’Mako Lepolesa, 44, who has been running a chesanyama (meat grill) at the Maseru West Industrial Estate since 2018. The father of three says his clients are mainly taxi drivers and factory workers.

Chicken was her main product until last October when the ban was imposed. It wasn’t long before his business started wobbling.

“I thought it would be just a short-lived problem (chicken import ban) but it passed on this year,” he says, adding that it might take months for his business to recover.
Moshe Ramashamole, 42, who also owns a chesanyama in the Maseru West Industrial Estate, tried to remain in business by sourcing chicken from local farmers.

It was a stopgap measure that however lasted a few weeks because the farmers also ran out of stock. He resorted to bad chicken but they were double the price of a full chicken before the ban.
Yet Ramashamole thought he could make it work by increasing the price of his plate from M35 to M55. The customers however resisted the new price and Ramashamole had to take the losses.

The poultry ban did not affect street vendors like Pakela alone.
Former Minister of Communications, Khotso Letsatsi, is one of those poultry farmers struggling following the chicken ban.

He ventured into poultry in January last year. It was an audacious venture that included a M100 000 investment in a shelter and other equipment.
He started with a batch of 300 chicks and had reached 1 000 by the time the ban was imposed.

“The business was lucrative,” Letsatsi says.

“I had to employ two people permanently to assist me on a full-time basis,” he says.

When it was time to slaughter the chickens, Letsatsi says he had to employ seven casual labourers.
Since the ban was imposed he had released all his workers.

“I do not know where they are now. Maybe they are starving,” he says of the workers he released.

Letsatsi doesn’t know how he will revive his business.
The Director of Marketing in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS), Lekhooe Makhate, says the ban has been devastating to farmers and businesses.

“Some big businesses are going to declare less tax to the government because there was no business,” Makhate says.

He says Lesotho spends M2.1 billion on the importation of chicken and its products from South Africa every year.
But that amount usually soars to M4 billion depending on the market forces of demand and supply.

Makhate says the M2.1 billion goes to South Africa where the chicken and its products are imported.

At the height of the scarcity of chickens in the country, Makhate says people were supposed to make initiatives to travel to villages to search for chickens.

“There is not enough production of chickens in the country,” he says.
“Economically speaking we rely on South Africa. We have to be self-reliant.”

Majara Molupe

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Letseng fends off threat to sue

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LETŠENG Diamond says it is under no obligation to advertise jobs for Basotho to provide certain services “where it has the capacity to undertake the same services”.
Letšeng Diamond boss, Motooane Thinyane, was responding to a threat to sue by a little-known political party called Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES).

Matekane’s company, the Matekane Mining Investment Company (MMIC), had been providing blasting, haulage and drilling services at Letšeng mine since 2005.
The deal with the MMIC was terminated in December last year with the mining company saying it was improper because Matekane had now become a politician.

Letšeng Diamonds announced that it had reached an agreement with the MMIC to acquire its mining equipment at the mine and offered employment to its current employees in line with operational requirements.

“This will enable Letšeng to continue with its mining activities,” the company said in its statement.

This infuriated opposition parties that argued that the mine should have called interested Basotho companies to bid for the contract, saying it is provided for in the Minerals Act of 2005.

The leader of Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES), Molefi Ntšonyana, wrote the mine last week threatening to sue for allegedly failing to follow section 11 of the Act.
Ntšonyana argued that the Act “does not grant the Letšeng Diamond 100 percent to mine with its good own equipment” but it should engage Basotho companies like it did with the MMIC.

Ntšonyana said Letšeng Diamond and the MMIC made the agreement to acquire the MMIC equipment so that the mine could continue with its mining activities “without any advertisement to seek qualified Basotho to provide such services”.

Ntšonyana said the agreement unilaterally denied Basotho a chance to tender for such services and ignored the fact that the government of Lesotho on behalf of Basotho own 30 percent in the Letšeng Diamond.

“It is advisable to reconsider your decision,” Ntšonyana said, adding that they would also write to the mining board requesting the resolution they made regarding this matter of insourcing mining activities.

He said the company should adhere to section 11 of the Mines and Minerals Act of 2005 and within 14 working days the matter should be reconsidered, “failing which we will have no choice but to drag the company to the courts of law”.

In his response, Thinyane said Ntšonyana must “revisit the section in question in full for its correct interpretation”.

“Letšeng Diamond is under no obligation to advertise to seek qualified Basotho to provide services where it is willing and has the capacity to undertake the same services,” Thinyane said.

He said the decision relating to the agreement referred to has been through the necessary governance structures and is therefore procedural.
Thinyane said Letšeng is a corporate citizen that is fully compliant with the laws of Lesotho.

Majara Molupe

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