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Road works leave Mafeteng residents in the lurch

. . . as promised jobs fail to materialise

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MAFETENG – Although Prime Minister Thomas Thabane last month pledged to create 5000 jobs for low skilled young people, hundreds of residents of Mafeteng, are still waiting for jobs officials promised them early this year.

In January, over 400 bedraggled residents of dusty villages around Mafeteng town braced the scorching heat to wait in long winding queues to register for jobs on a road construction project.

The Ministry of Public Works and Transport is upgrading the 46-kilometre Main South 1 road from Mafeteng to Mohale’s Hoek.

Residents of this sprawling but deprived precinct were told the project was labour intensive and would create hundreds of menial jobs.

Dirt poor villagers from Ha Seitlheko, Phahameng, Matšaneng, Ha Motlere, Matlapananeng, Wepener Road and Ha Ramokhele among others, registered but have been waiting to be hired since.

That is a problem in an area where jobs are scarce as only a handful of young people are employed.

Communities in Mafeteng are still smarting from the closure of PNT Textiles that saw over 3 000 people lose their jobs.

The factory renowned for producing T-shirts abruptly closed down in 2010 when competition got tougher after the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) awarded other developing sub-Saharan African countries an opportunity to export garments to the United States of America free of duty.

When Public Eye visited the villages last month, the residents said since registering for the jobs, they have not heard from either the Ministry of Public Works, the District Administrator (DA) or the Member of Parliament (MP) for Mafeteng constituency, yet the project is in full swing.

This week, Public Works Minister Prince Maliehe referred this paper to the Roads Directorate’s Director General Seboka Thamae.

Maliehe though disclosed W N Letsapo Construction (Pty) Ltd won the lucrative road construction tender.

Thamae on the other hand told Public Eye that he was not directly involved in the project but confirmed people had registered for employment.

“Usually when the construction does not involve extensive use of machines, we recommend to the contractor that he must employ people from nearby villages to work in turns. For example, one group can work for a month. But when there are many machines involved, we tell people that the constructor will only employ permanent staff,” Thamae said.

He indicated that upgrading of Main South 1 road from Mafeteng mainly involved filling potholes and upgrading shoulders; and was therefore a labour intensive enterprise.

“Mafeteng District Administrator is well-placed to say if the registered people are being engaged. But sometimes you will find that the problem is that so many people have been registered while only a few people are need.

“I remember 10,000 people were registered in Butha-Buthe when only 600 people were needed. It is inevitable that people would complain when they do not get employed yet they registered their names because everyone is hoping to get a job,” he said.

Earlier this month the Roads Directorate announced that work on rehabilitation of the road was on schedule.

It said the total progress of road works was at 60 percent while progress on shoulder gravelling and side drains excavation was at 90 percent.

The project is scheduled for completion by November this year, it said in a statement.

“The major of works for the plant and design build maintenance project includes rehabilitation of the badly deuterated 1.5 km section from Mafeteng traffic circle by existing base and surfacing and constructing sidewalks. Maintenance of streetlights and installation of new ones will be carried out on this section.

“Other works entails pothole patching, cleaning and reshaping of the existing longitudinal side drain, reinstating drainage system to proper functionality, re-gravelling road shoulders throughout the length of the road, patching and repairing edge-breaks and surfacing with asphalt,” read the statement.

It added that: “Ancillary works such as road marking, installation of the road studs, replacing of relevant road signs, reinstating of reinforcement concrete kilometre marker posts as well as reinstating of erosion protection structures among others will also be undertaken.”

The approximately M50 million project is being implemented by W. N. Letsapo Construction (PTY) Ltd in association with SM Consulting Engineering who undertook the design works for sections being rehabilitated as well as supervision of the entire maintenance works.

Most jobs in Mafeteng were lost in 1998 during the political riots when the town was razed to the ground by rampaging crowds.

Only the two hotels in town, a few shops owned by Basotho and the parastatal owned Lesotho Pharmaceutical Corporation factory remained.

When Southern African Development Community (SADC) troops stormed Maseru in September 1998, reverberations of anger were felt in Mafeteng. The destruction of Mafeteng began two days after the raid on Maseru.

As SADC forces were bombing Lesotho Defence Force (LDF)’s barracks in Maseru, people went berserk and attacked South African-owned businesses.

The looting and burning frenzy went on for hours. The police were powerless to stop the havoc with some claiming they had been disarmed by renegade LDF soldiers fleeing superior SADC troops firepower.

The looters had a field day. But there was method to their madness. They left all Basotho owned businesses intact.

Renowned local businessman Ben Maphathe’s fruit and vegetable shop was not touched. So were Lefa Ntsike’s chicken wholesalers and Bitsang Theoane’s restaurant and butchery, even though these businesses are in the middle of the central business district that was burned to ashes.

Scores of people died. The local economy tanked. Skilled workers and foreign businesses left. Unemployed Mafeteng locals followed in their wake.

Hordes of them now crowd places like Van Dyksdrif, a squatter camp near the R544 road, about 40km outside Middelburg in Mpumalanga, believed to be a haven for copper cable thieves.

Surrounded by coal mines, Van Dyksdrif reportedly owes its existence to the close-knit community of Lesotho nationals.

MP for Mafeteng constituency Temeki Tšolo who is also minister in the prime minister’s office this week said he was aware people registered for jobs but added he was not privy to the employment process.

“I have seen people wearing reflective jackets working on that road. I do not even know who the contractor is, and I do not know how those people working there were selected.

“I do not understand the explanation that maybe many people than those needed registered. How can you register more people than you need? That raises false hope among the people,” Tšolo added.

Lefu Manaka of W N Letsapo Construction told this paper that his company hires 20 people every month.

The road cuts through Siloe Community Council (SCC) and Mashaleng Community Council (MCC) areas, both in Mohale’s Hoek district.

“We have lists of people living in the villages along the road. We select 20 people from different villages every month and these people work for 20 days. But since we are now nearing completion, we recently hired only 10 people,” Manaka said.

He added that: “It is true people are complaining that we are not employing them but we cannot take in everyone that registered. We employ people residing closest to where we are working, and we can only take in a certain number.”

His remarks were substantiated by Maine Mahlaka, SCC secretary.

“They employ five to ten people every month. These are people who come from villages close to the road but they sometimes also take some people from outlying villages,” Mahlaka said.

The SCC is based some 15 kilometres south of Mafeteng town where over 400 people were registered.

“There were 432 people registered from the villages around town. The contractor has a list and they take names from that list whenever they need to employ people,” Mafeteng DA Ntsane Mathibeli said.

Mathibeli however admitted that his office was not involved in the recruitment process and could not say how many people have benefitted so far.

“We registered people and gave the lists to the contractor. Our people should understand that not everybody will be hired. There is a formula that is used to make sure that at least person from each village gets a job in that project.

“Not only people from the town will be engaged. There are many other people living along the road in the rural areas who should also benefit from this project,” concluded Mathibeli.

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