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Street vendors on the edge



MASERU-Tšolo Lebitsa, a street vendor, says only “divine intervention” will see him through these hard economic times after the government imposed a 21-day lockdown at midnight on Sunday.
Lebitsa, who is the chairperson of the Khathang Tema Baitšokoli, an association of street vendors, told thepost yesterday that the government never consulted them on the way forward.
“We are in serious trouble as a sector, we are going to have a lot of corpses as a result of hunger,” Lebitsa said.
“We are on our own. We are orphans with no one to help us. We are crying out to God to come to our aid because we do not see a way out of this.”

With the lockdown now in full swing, thousands of street vendors who rely on daily sales for an income to put food on the table for their families have been pauperised.
Most of them have no meaningful savings.
They have bills to pay.

They also need to buy food for their families.
Stuck with mountains of stock, some who sell vegetables, food and fruits say they had to throw away some of their products which were now rotting.
Lebitsa, like thousands of other street vendors, is a bitter man.
He says he was stupid to think “this government cared for the poor”.

They are capitalists to the core and don’t give a hoot about the interests of the poor, he says.
“We previously heard that the Prime Minister would meet different sectors before the lockdown. But nobody met us,” Lebitsa says.
“This clearly indicates that we are not considered to be important players in the economy.”

He said what made their situation worse was that they eat only when they have worked adding that staying at home for 21 days would be disastrous for most of them.
Lebitsa admitted that the idea of a lockdown was good to save the lives of Basotho from the Covid-19 disease which has now infected over 850 000 while killing 43 000 people worldwide.
He said the government had however dismally failed to put in place measures to protect the vulnerable in society.
’Mateboho Lerotholi has been a street vendor since 1989 when she was still in school.

When she left school she continued to sell steamed bread and indigenous chicken on the streets of Maseru.
She later diversified to sell souvenirs, cigarettes and airtime.
Over the years she has been able to support her family from monies that she raises on the streets.
But today, Lerotholi is now among thousands of vendors who are wondering where their next meal will come from.

When thepost team met her on Tuesday, she was sitting at home with her family.
An emotional Lerotholi told this newspaper that she is having trouble sleeping at night as anxiety gnaws at her.
Her biggest fear, she says, is how she will continue to provide for her family over the next three weeks.
“We live from hand to mouth and because of the state of the economy we have been struggling to make money for a few years way before this pandemic,” Lerotholi said.

She said most of her colleagues were not prepared for this lockdown.
“We did not have anything to save to cushion us during this period,” she said.
“All I have is some 12.5kg bag of mealie-meal, cooking oil, salt, a bit of bathing and washing soap. The vegetables that I had in my garden are almost depleted because we harvest them daily.”
Having just scrambled enough to pay the first quarter and books for her son who is doing Grade 12 there are a lot of items that Lerotholi says she cannot afford.
“I still have unsold stock but that does not help much as no one will be buying for 21 days. I hear there is a possibility of this thing going on for a period longer than 21 days. I am already asking

myself how we are going to survive.”
Luckily Lerotholi does not have to pay rent.
“A few years ago we helped each other in our savings groups to build houses. However, utility bills like electricity and water still need to be paid,” she said.
She said she is also afraid that after the lockdown they will still have to pay school and exam fees on time despite not having worked for almost a month.
“I have never seen what I am going through. I am not used to begging, I am a provider. Right now I don’t even know what we will be eating next week let alone how I will reinvent my business after this pandemic,” she says.

“Who is going to lend me some money when banks are not in the business of lending to people like us and my colleagues are all going through the same problems?”
The Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Small Businesses, Lerata Pekane, said they are still consulting the industry to find out about their problems during this lockdown.
“We have figured out that some are in serious trouble and will need food parcels, some will need capital, and some will fail to pay rent and will need to be helped,” Pekane said.

He however said this is only an outline of their problems, the final solutions on how to help them will be taken at the national level with all relevant stakeholders involved.
“Our mandate is to make sure that the needs of the MSME sector are taken into consideration,” Pekane said.
According to the Finscope MSME Survey 2016, there are about 62 168 informal businesses in Lesotho.
Seventy percent of MSME owners exclusively rely on their businesses as sources of income and 45 percent earn less than M2 000 per month which is equivalent to about US$138.

Lemohang Rakotsoane & Nkheli Liphoto

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