Connect with us


Urban poverty deepens



MASERU – THEY trek to Maseru in their droves in hopes of getting a job and living a better life.

Instead, after failing to land jobs in factories, construction sites, hundreds of people end up living in congested villages around the capital where poverty is rife.

Some resort to other adventures that often land them in jail.

Others, especially young women and girls, become sex workers to survive.

Tankiso Moletoa, 20, lives with her mother in a rented corrugated shack in Ha-Hoohlo towards the border gate of Maseru.

The shack has no windows.

“The environment is unhealthy because we stay within a compound of packed rented shacks,” said Moletoa, whose landlord lives in an old, dilapidated brick house at the premises.

Almost every tenant in the compound is nowhere to be seen during the day.

“They are out to look for piece jobs,” she said.

Each tenant pays M150 per month as rent.

Just outside the shacks, a swarm of flies hovers around. Small tributaries of dirty water run through the compound.

Moletoa’s mother is a factory worker at one of Maseru Industrial Estate factories where she takes home M2 500 a month.

Moletoa says she used to do part time jobs at construction sites in Maseru.

And at times, she would get a job as a part time employee at the factories. Now the piece jobs have dried up and she has to rely on her mother to survive.

Moletoa says her mother used to tell her that the situation would improve once factories reopened, but this is turning into hot air.

Because the buyers from overseas are no longer placing orders like they used to, many factories have remained shut.

As a result, low skilled people such as Moletoa continue to wallow in poverty.

“I cannot get a better job because I did not have a proper education. I only did Form C at school and I did not even write exams because I failed to raise the examination fees,” Moletoa said.

When rural life became too tough for her, Moletoa packed her bags and headed to Maseru to join her mother.

She said problems intensified when her father died and no one could help her pay for her studies.

She says she was split between coming to Maseru to look for work and herding cattle in the rural areas where she would get paid a cow after a year.

Morapeli Lesole, 30, who stays in the same compound as Moletoa, described the situation as extremely difficult.

“I can hardly provide for my small family,” said Lesole, who lives with his wife and a young child.

For him to put food on the table, he seeks jobs at construction sites while his wife does laundry at different homes.

Lesole says he did not go for any formal training to become a builder but gained experience working as a labourer.

He said jobs are hard to come by.

“I have not yet paid rent. Look at the date,” he said.

When he left his home in Mazenod to stay in Maseru in 2016, Lesole hoped he would get a better job to take care of his family.

But it wasn’t to be. He said his family sometimes goes to bed hungry.

“People back home might think that we are hiding in Maseru and living a busy city life oblivious of the fact that we are struggling,” he said.

Tankiso Malepa, 69, who stays in Sea Point, a few metres from the bus-stop, is struggling to cope with city life.

Malepa is unable to work for his family because he is sick.

He said he used to sell cow heads before he fell sick. With the revenue he generated from the sale of cow heads, he paid for his children’s school fees.

Originally, Malepa is from Marakabei and he arrived in Maseru in 1982 to try his fortunes. He secured a small piece of land on a sloppy area where he built two shacks with corrugated iron.

Next to the shacks, he has planted some vegetables for family consumption.

His 19-year-old daughter has enrolled with the Centre for Accounting Studies (CAS) and is in her first year.

He stays in two small shacks with three of his children while the other two have rented accommodation elsewhere.

Running water is a pipe dream. For water, he has to draw from a neighbour’s well and pays M40 per month.

Malepa said his business was booming in the past because many cows were slaughtered locally but of late, they were imported from South Africa as carcasses.

“My family is struggling to survive because we don’t have a reliable and proper source of income,” said Malepa, adding that he informed the then Ministry of Social Development about his illness but was told that the ministry’s coffers were dry.

He said he is still being treated for his illness but sometimes he is told that the clinic has run out of drugs.

“The health centre experiences incessant stock-outs,” Malepa said, his hands shaking as he sits on a chair.

“I would be advised to buy the medication at pharmacies but I won’t have the money to buy the prescribed medication. I feel helpless,” he said.

He said his wife is dead and his children are the ones taking care of him.

Malepa says he hopes the new government will change Basotho lives for the better.

While it is undeniable that food insecurity is an endemic problem in Lesotho’s rural villages, the rural bias of both donors and government ignores the fact that poverty and food insecurity are increasingly important urban issues as well.

A study by a National University of Lesotho’s Urban Planning lecturer, Associate Professor Resetselemang Leduka and others found that Lesotho is urbanising at a rapid rate and this reality needs to be acknowledged, understood and planned for in food security discussions and debates.

“There has been little attention paid to the drivers, prevalence and characteristics of food insecurity in Lesotho’s urban centres,” states the study, which Leduka conducted with five others in 2015.

“Lesotho is experiencing a rapid urban transition with large-scale internal migration to the urban centres, higher urban than rural population growth rates, and depopulation of the more remote mountainous areas of the country,” notes the report.

The number of urban dwellers increased from 127 000 in 1976 to 444 000 in 2006, according to the study.

The UN projects that urbanisation in Lesotho will rise to 39 percent by 2025 and 58 percent by 2050.

Leduka’s study says most of the country’s population live in villages in the lowlands of the country and no one in these areas is more than an hour or two from the nearest urban centre.

Thus, even the country’s “rural” people regularly visit urban centres and have their lives and livelihoods framed by what goes on there.

The study says Lesotho’s rapid urbanisation is evidence of an ongoing shift in household livelihoods away from agriculture and towards wage employment within and outside the country.

“Within the Lesotho agricultural system, farmers themselves have been subordinated as welfare recipients,” the study says.

“Their ranks are dominated by small-scale sharecroppers and small-scale landholders, which are organised only at the household level,” it says.

“Farmers have become passive receivers of technical advice, beneficiaries of public sector subsidised inputs and price takers in local markets, which are particularly volatile because of their small case and isolation from other markets.”

The study found that no effective cooperative or association system operates within the agricultural sector.

It says agriculture has moved further and further from a business undertaking and increasingly toward a mode of social security.

In the process, it says, Basotho families have become increasingly passive in coping with their dwindling resource base.

It says the growing numbers of lowland field owners have done their sums and decided that this kind of production is too risky to continue.

“Lesotho is, and will continue to be, heavily dependent on food imports from South Africa. The only real question in the long-term, especially in urban areas like Maseru, is how to make that food affordable and accessible.”

Unlike many other Southern African cities, the study found, Maseru does not have large areas of informal settlement and shack dwellings.

Most people, including those in the poorer parts of the city, live in basic housing made of brick and tin roofing on clearly demarcated plots.

In the peri-urban areas, traditional rondavels (round huts) are more common as Maseru’s urban sprawl has incorporated neighbouring rural villages.

The study says of the 800 households surveyed, 61 percent lived in houses and nine percent in traditional housing.

Less than 0.5 percent were in informal shacks.

Poor households in Maseru obtain their food from a variety of sources and with varying frequency, the study says.

Around half of the households (47 percent) said they obtain some of their food from urban agriculture, but only 21 percent do so on a regular basis (at least once a week).

A similar proportion of households (49 percent) source food from the informal economy, at least a third on a regular basis and 11 percent daily.

As many as 84 percent of households shop at supermarkets.

The majority (62 percent) do so monthly and 21 percent at least once a week.

Easily the most important source of food on a daily and weekly basis are small retail outlets and fast-food nodes, it says.

Other food-access strategies include the bartering of household goods for food, laundry, babysitting, brewing and sale of wild vegetables in exchange for cash or food, borrowing or buying food on credit, and attending funerals and feasts for free food.

Majara Molupe

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Copyright © 2022. The Post Newspaper. All Rights Reserved