No Basotho casualties yet in SA riots



…but jobs will be lost



MASERU – With more than 70 people killed and above 1, 000 arrests made currently in ongoing riots in South Africa, there are no reports of any Basotho migrant workers having been affected so far. However, thousands of jobs will be lost and poverty, which has already been exacerbated by Covid-19, will rise. As a result, Lesotho will further suffer through imminent declines in remittance inflows and high food prizes.

Fears of food and fuel shortages are already threatening with the ongoing looting and destruction of shops and big businesses. South Africa has been rocked by violence and looting for a week now, as grievances over the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma into the worst unrest in recent years. Many of the deaths occurred in Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal as thousands of people stole food, electrical appliance, liquor and clothing from stores.

Thousands of soldiers have now been deployed to support the overwhelmed South African police in a move to calm the situation. Despite the ongoing life threatening moments in the neighbouring country, migrant Basotho workers, both formal and informal, remain safe. This is according to the Executive Director of the Lesotho Migrant Workers Association Lerato Nkhetše in an interview with Public Eye on Wednesday this week.

Nkhetše said his association ensured safety by constantly reminding Basotho to stay safe and as far away as possible from the chaotic riots. The only challenge, he said, is that hundreds of jobs will be lost. “So far there are no casualties on our side because we keep reminding our people to stay safe through our different communication platforms. The biggest challenge for us is that jobs will be lost and people will be back to square one because firms have been burned and local truck drivers will also be affected,” Nkhetše said in interview.

While Covid-19 related lockdown measures have already had a negative shock on the labor market resulting in job and income losses, remittances are also projected to fall due to the ongoing unrests as many Basotho will lose jobs.

The projected loss of jobs will further exacerbate the already vulnerable economic conditions in the country while hunger and extreme poverty levels will increase. Currently, according to the Social Protection Programme and Systems Review released by the World Bank Group recently, 24.1 percent of the population in Lesotho lives in extreme poverty with half of the population living below the national poverty line.

One million Basotho do not live at a basic level of consumption sufficient to easily weather shocks, while half a million live at an extreme level of vulnerability. Already, half of the working age population in the country is not participating in the labour market, constituting a huge untapped potential for economic growth. Despite a relatively low number of people actively looking for a job, approximately a quarter of the labour force is unemployed, with youth being disproportionally affected by joblessness.

With the situation in South Africa, the numbers are set to increase as more and more people go back into poverty. Major food shortages are expected as rioters upend supply chains between the two countries. Lesotho imports almost everything from South Africa.

The unrest started as protests against the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma, but soon degenerated into deadly and destructive rampages in Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng, the economic hub. Retailers have lost an estimated M5 billion to date according to the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa.


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