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Restoring a sense of humanity



BEREA – A dilapidated single cracked mud room with malfunctioning doors under corrugated iron sheets is what ’Mabatho Lepono had called home since childhood.

The windows to her house were broken, and for the 30-year-old blond woman, home was far from safe…and inhabitable.

“It was my home, but I really never felt at home. It was a serious threat to my life,” Lepono told thepost recently.

Thanks to Habitat for Humanity – Lesotho, Lepono is now a proud owner of a two-roomed house that she can safely call home at her rural Ha-Morolong village, about 20 kilometres north-east of Teya-Teyaneng town.

It has not been an easy life for Lepono. Lepono’s mother was just 16-years-old when she gave birth to her out of wedlock – something frowned upon in a highly patriarchal country such as Lesotho.

She got married about two decades ago leaving Lepono in the care of an unemployed 63-year-old grandmother, ’Mamontši Lepono.

’Mamontši was seven years shy of reaching 70-years , the age when she could benefit from state grants for the elderly.

That meant working hard under tough conditions to take care of her blind grandchild.

“When she became of age to receive the old-age pension, it was so measly that it could barely cover our monthly groceries,” recalled Lepono, the grandchild.

The elderly were earning about M300 every month at that time. Repairing the house was deemed a luxury the family could hardly afford. When ’Mamontši fell ill, Lepono’s mother, Rantšo, returned home.

When ’Mamontši died, Rantšo was forced to return with her husband to take care of Lepono. But that didn’t improve the situation. Rantšo said Lepono became ill when she was very young, and her vision deteriorated with time.

When she was doing her Grade Six at St David Primary School, her teachers called, realising that she was short-sighted.

“We then rushed her to a nearby clinic for assessment where it was confirmed that she had lost her vision. I was advised to buy her glasses but I couldn’t because they were and still are expensive for me,” Rantšo said.

“I can’t afford them as we all (my husband and I) rely on piece jobs,” said the 48-year-old mother, adding that “the incident forced my daughter to drop out of school because I couldn’t even afford to send her to schools that offer special education”.

To commemorate the 2022 World Habitat Day, Habitat for Humanity Lesotho partnered with different media houses to build a two-roomed house and an improved ventilated pit latrine for Lepono.

This year’s theme for the commemoration was “mind the gap, leave no one and no space behind”.

Bohlokoa Mokhotho, on behalf of Habitat Lesotho National Director, said the United Nations designated the first Monday of October every year as World Habitat Day to reflect on the state of towns and cities, and on the basic right to adequate shelter for all.

It is also intended to remind the world that “we all have the power and responsibility to shape the future of our cities and towns”.

“Extending a helping hand to the Lepono family reflects on the theme of not leaving anyone behind especially those in dire need of safe and acceptable shelter,” Mokhotho said.

“We shouldn’t leave anyone behind,” she said.

Lepono expressed her gratitude to Habitat.

“I am short of words, I don’t know what to say to express how thankful I am,” she said.

A neighbour, ’Mamakhooa Nqheku, said the family has been struggling for years and she is happy for the assistance.

“We watched for years as ’Mabatho was being cared for by her grandmother who relied on a pension grant,” Nqheku said.

“We often helped them with food and running errands as the grandmother had walking challenges and she would take forever to fetch water or go to the shops,” she said.

“At times we would meet her at night and end up taking her home with a wheel barrow.”

Local Government Minister, Lebona Lephema, also participated in building walls and offered the family M5 000 for Christmas celebrations. He said the theme highlights the importance of taking care of each other.

“We should continue holding hands together for the betterment of Basotho,” Lephema said.

He said the initiative was in line with the government’s policy to ensure that vulnerable Basotho have better housing.

“We have gathered here together as a sign that each of us has a (role to play) to accelerate better housing in response to the government’s policy to see that every person lives in a well-designed, safe house and where basic services are easily accessible,” he said.

The Khafung Constituency MP, Chopho Lekholoane, thanked Habitat for “their visible care in people living with disabilities”.

The Centre for Affordable Housing in Africa’s 2020 report about Lesotho, says 29.3 percent of the total population lives in urban areas, mainly in the capital city of Maseru and its surrounds.

It notes that the housing deficit in Lesotho is estimated at 98 711 dwellings, mainly in urbanised zones.

“This number is expected to increase if national housing deliveries are not successful in delivering housing to meet escalating demand,” states the report.

It identifies the biggest challenge as lack of capacity and technical knowledge by financial institutions to deliver microfinance products geared to the housing market. This, the report notes, is a disadvantage to those in the population who cannot afford housing mortgages.

According to the report, the majority of formal financial institutions in Lesotho are risk-averse and lack long-term capital for housing.

“This is mostly because private property in Lesotho is still in its infancy.”

The Lesotho Housing Profile, published in 2015 by the UN Habitat, says the institutional framework for housing has many of the necessary components, such as respect for the home and limitation of state procurement of property, enshrined in law and the constitution.

The regulations controlling housing development, however, are outmoded and ready for recasting to be relevant to the housing affordable by ordinary Basotho rather than to a small elite, according to the report.

“Housing has a relatively lowly place in government structures, having no dedicated ministry,” the report says.

“There is a need to form a more focused approach to housing supply, bringing functions together under one dedicated ministry,” states the report.

In 2018, the government introduced the National Housing Policy after the one that was drafted in the 1980s failed.

The policy seeks to address the rights of all stakeholders, including those of people in situations of vulnerability – children, youth, elderly, people with disabilities, displaced people and migrants, slum dwellers, urban poor, indigenous peoples, homeless people, minorities, people living with HIV/AIDS.

The policy aims to create an enabling environment for housing development for all, as housing constitutes a social good and long term investment for Basotho households.

It says recognition of housing as a social good implies that the government “has a responsibility to enable access to adequate housing especially for those who are unable to do so”.

‘Mapule Motsopa

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