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Don’t brutalise our youths



Monday morning I decided to go and support the young people who were arrested at the protest march. As we were singing struggle songs, one of the parents called and asked, “Matlosa, why are you here, surely you have passed the youth stage”. She was correct. I am no longer a young person but I joined the youth march to remind my government that unemployment is a serious concern that should be addressed now. Abhijit Naskar was right when he said, “time and again the need arises for a government to be reminded that its purpose is to serve people, not rule them.” Last Friday I joined the youth protest to remind my government to serve young people. Indeed, the need arose for government to be reminded that its purpose is to serve the youth and not subject them to brutality. Throughout history, a fact that has been a constant is that even the most perfect political system may and will from time to time produce unjust laws and policies. Its even worse for systems that are far from being noble such as South Africa’s Apartheid system and all the systems in all colonised states including Lesotho. Lesotho’s story is an unfortunate one, it was treated like a colony, contrary to the agreement with the British, which clearly stated that Lesotho shall be a British protectorate. Our young people staged an illegal protest march last week. It was not the first time such a march had been staged. In recent months during the Covid-19 pandemic, street hawkers took to streets and even the LEPOSA staged a protest. However, these youth unemployment protests were met with brutal force, in contrast to the other marches that took place under the same conditions. I spoke strongly against police brutality on Harvest FM and on Facebook, but I was met with some people that raised the question of the legality of the protest march. So, there are two basic positions here. Some claim that one’s duty is to obey the law no matter the circumstances. In other words, there are no conditions or circumstances in which civil disobedience is acceptable. Others like myself believe that one’s duty to obey the law is not absolute. I think there are certain circumstances which justify civil disobedience. I condone the behaviour of the youth last week Friday to stage an act of civil disobedience. I categorically find it acceptable that the youths showed their dissent, given the uncertainty and bleak prospects young people are faced with in Lesotho. The actions taken by the youth were born out of necessity and pain only they can fully comprehend. This was supposed to have been a peaceful protest march. When the young people started gathering at the Moshoeshoe memorial statue park, near the Government Complex, they were met by heavily armed police. They fired teargas and later live ammunition. I thank God that no one died. Commissioner Holomo Molibeli’s decision to brutalise young people was very successful, it is just fortunate that this did not cause a loss of lives. Civil disobedience is intentional and unlawful. A classic example is the Soweto Uprising. The Soweto youths conscientiously and publicly performed an act of protest against being taught in Afrikaans on June 16th, 1976, a day that has being turned into a national holiday to commemorate that act of civil disobedience. I am not sure what side you are on, but one thing is for sure, throughout history well organised movements of civil disobedience have been very effective in changing the course of history. What makes me unhappy is the fact that taxi owners three weeks ago decided to protest against the government’s Mobile Court. They illegally stopped those that wanted to go to work from doing so. They held the whole country at ransom knowing the government would give in to their demands. I do not remember the police firing teargas and live ammunition at taxi owners. Commissioner Molibeli did not do so. He deliberately decided to go against a government programme. The country succumbed to pressure by people that wanted to drive illegally on our roads. Is it because the youth do not have anything to bargain with, that they are beaten and maimed for their dissent? Is it fair that our country does not create an environment conducive for youths to prosper but yet when they raise their concerns about their plight, they are brutalised, beaten and arrested? The government was unwilling to engage in dialogue with the youths. Instead the police decided to jail a number of young people. Young people were ready to take the burden of disobedience of breaking the law. This youth protest march was motivated by righteous common sense of justice for young people. Blaming the young people who attended the illegal protest march simply will not do. This is a failure of police leadership. Those responsible for it need to be held accountable. Unfortunately, it looks like some in the police service will learn the wrong lessons. Young people made me proud. I am proud of every young person who participated. I am proud of those who were arrested. Valerie Jarrett argues that “each generation has an obligation to pick up the baton. We want young people to feel a sense of responsibility to take that baton and run with it.” I want to end with Frantz Fanon’s famous words that “each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity.” Generational battles are a constant feature of our lives. Young people will always fight to be heard, fight for power, for riches, fight for their right to exist and freedoms. Every generation has something to fight for. For this generation it is unemployment and gender-based violence. Ramahooana matlosa

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