MASERU – A factory in Mafeteng town, which closed down in 2010 putting 3000 out of work is expected to re-open this year, Trade and Industry Minister Habofanoe Lehana told Public Eye on Wednesday.
In the early 2000s, Mafeteng hosted one of the biggest factories in the country which was part of the once blooming textile industrial.
PNT Textile firm, which made this town one of the country’s economically thriving areas, collapsed in 2010 leaving around 3000 people, most of whom were women, jobless. This time the premises will house pharmaceutical operations, not textile business.
The factory, renowned for producing T-shirts came to an abrupt closure when competition got tougher after the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) awarded other developing sub-Saharan African countries an opportunity to export products to the United States of America free of duty.
Many other businesses that set up shop in the district to take advantage of textile factory workers had to close while some retrenched their staff.
“We have found an investor who is going to reopen the factory but this time it is not going to be a textile factory but a pharmaceutical business. Renovations are ongoing and the factory will be operational very soon, maybe in about three months from now,” Lehana said.
He indicated that the new firm is expected to create at least 300 high value jobs.
“It will not employ as many people as a textile factory but because it is a pharmaceutical it will employ people who studied chemistry and pharmacy among others. We are talking about high value jobs here,” the minister added.
Jobs are scarce in Mafeteng and only a handful of young people are employed.
And the district is not alone; countrywide, the unemployment rate now stands at over 35 percent up from 25 percent in 2014, according to the country’s Voluntary National Review on the Implementation of the Agenda 2030 report of 2019.
Nationally, the rate of unemployment is relatively higher among females and the youth.
According to the Voluntary National Review report, more women are unemployed compared to men, with an unemployment rate of 29 percent males and 34 percent for females. There are also regional disparities, where there are more unemployed people in poorer districts,” read the report.
Jobs were also lost in the district in 1998 during the political riots when the town was razed to the ground by rampaging crowds.
Only two hotels, a few shops owned by Basotho and a parastatal, Lesotho pharmaceutical corporation factory remained after that dark experience which left scores of people dead while economic growth in that the district was reversed, with brain drain worsening.
Running away from unemployed in their home town, men from Mafeteng now crowd places like Van Dyksdrif, a squatter camp near the R544 road, about 40km outside Middelburg in Mpumalanga South Africa, 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.
Member of Parliament (MP) for Mafeteng constituency Temeki Tšolo who is also Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office told Public Eye earlier this month that he did not understand why the Ministry of Trade was not making efforts to re-open the factory.
“I asked about that factory but the explanation I got was that it is difficult to get investors to invest in Mafeteng because the Van Rooyen’s border gate is not commercial,” Tšolo said.
He added: “But I believe there are other means of attracting investors to Mafeteng. You can tell an investor that they can use that factory for a certain period of time without paying rent. Government has nothing to lose by not charging rent.”
Tšolo was the minister of trade between 2012 and 2013.
According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification – an innovative multi-partner initiative for improving food security and nutrition analysis and decision-making, published this month, the number of acutely food insecure households has been increasing steadily in Mafeteng since last year.
The IPC indicated that six districts, namely; Maseru, Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek, Quthing, Qacha’s Nek and Thaba-Tseka, have been classified to be in third Phase of food insecurity (crisis), with the other four districts in Phase Two (Stressed), namely: Berea, Butha-Buthe, Leribe, and Mokhotlong.
Around 40 percent of the district population is in Phase One (minimal), while 20 percent in Phase Two (stressed), with 35 percent in Phase Three (crisis) and five percent in Phase Four emergency).