Jobless young graduates stand up to government


Irene Seme and Keneuoe Nkuatsana

Maseru– Municipal officers this week ordered demonstrating unemployed graduates off the streets accusing them of obstructing traffic. The jobless graduates, clad in their academic regalia, were protesting urging the government to prioritise youths in employment creation efforts. The unemployed graduates’ demonstration organised by the #BachaShutDown Movement, is set to take place every first Monday and Tuesday of the month nationwide this year, the group has said.

Youth were selling merchandise on the streets of Maseru in their graduation regalia to make a statement to the government that henceforth they shall create their own employment since the government has failed to hear their cry after several attempts to have cordial discussions with the authorities in Lesotho. In an interview with Public Eye on Wednesday, the movement’s chairperson, Thuso Leina outlined what he said were four issues of concern.

These are for the government to: announce unemployment as a state of emergency; the national youth development bill to be passed as law so that the youth council can operate; reform of the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) to sponsor technical studies such as carpentry, for example; and, to pass the Gender Based Violence (GBV) into law so as to be able to deal with the killings happening in the country, especially those concerning GBV.

Leina explained that on the NMDS issue, some youth like himself find themselves having to study for what they do not really like but end up opting for such studies because they are the ones sponsored. Leina expressed disappointment with the municipal officers saying it seemed as though they (youth) were the target but don’t understand why since they are not occupying any particular space.

“We feel like we were the target, even though the officers did not dismiss us alone since they also chased away the other regular vendors who are always on the streets”.

Maseru City Council Public Relations Officer, Makatleho Mosala, said the youth were not the target as such a target. Rather, their municipal officers were doing their duty as the demonstrating youth were blocking authorised street vendors and the officers’ action was a response to a complaint lodged by the vendors. Mosala further noted that street vendors are not allowed to roam around the street selling their merchandise because that will likely hinder free movement of other people such as the blind, the elders, children and others.

“There are places marked for street vendors so as to allow other people’s movement. We urge the youth to approach our offices and find alternative suitable areas for their demonstration,” said Mosala adding that on agreement one could be given permission to sell at a particular place for a certain period on specific conditions.

“We’re ready to have amicable talks with them (youth) to advise on how best they can carry out their demonstration without stepping on the toes of other street vendors. We can agree on terms of their demonstration and also sensitise the street vendors to make them aware that there will be such an event for a certain period,” Mosala said.

On the contrary, Leina said surprisingly the street vendors buy from them and they are satisfied with the support they get from the general public. “The fact that other street vendors also buy from us simply shows that the unemployment issue is a concern to both the unemployed and the employed because some employees work under harsh conditions which the government needs to attend to as a matter of urgency,” he argued.

Asked what their next move will be if the government announces unemployment as a state of emergency, Leina said: “We’d have reached the peak of our struggle and it would now be time to assist the government to respond to our (youth) needs in a modern and favourable way to us.” Minah Lekau, a youth who is unemployed but holds a bachelor’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning said it would be of great benefit if Lesotho would pave a way for its youth to easily get employment in other countries like China and the United States of America.

“Lesotho is a small country and the vast majority study in the same field, especially in health sciences, therefore this has resulted in a lot of youth staying at home with their qualifications. However, if Lesotho could pave a way for its citizens to get employment in other countries like South Africa is doing for its youth, then the burden of youth unemployment could be alleviated”.

BachaShutdown member, Mohau Mabetha, said, “We are not lazy but unemployed. We need sustainability which can only be brought about by getting a job”. He further explained that as youth they are tired of stimulus programmes that they are offered but do not last to provide a recurring stable income. The government should therefore provide decent employment for the youth which will not only assist in the building of the economy of the country but also put bread on the table for the youth and their families, he said.

Stimulus programmes are those undertaken by the government to encourage private sector economic activity. In as much as this boosts the economy, he said, it does not include the informal sector. The president of #BachaShutDown movement Tumelo Moteuli said, “We as the youth would like a hand-in-hand collaboration with the government to increase the country’s GDP through economic growth”.

“In our meeting with the government, our issues seemed to be heard but those issues were never followed and that’s a dilemma that we as the youth have never found closure on,” he said. The youth would like the Government of Lesotho to declare youth unemployment as a crisis, that does not need to be shelved but should be addressed with immediate effect.

Despite only 16 youth graduates attending the protest in Maseru, he said that has in no way discouraged them from proceeding with the initiative because while some might be absent because of they were out of town visiting rural areas, only a few might have been discouraged. In the end all this does not mean they cannot proceed with the initiative because it would eventually benefit generations to come.

Moteuli added: “It has not only come across as a dilemma to Lesotho but to other countries as well, making it the number one issue to be addressed globally. It has fortunately been a proven hypothesis that countries that have invested more in their youth are flourishing economically therefore if Lesotho wishes to one day to have better economic growth it must invest in its youth as well”.

In a collective voice BachaShutDown movement still stands on its motto which states “NOTHING FOR THE YOUTH WITHOUT THE YOUTH”, meaning the youth should be involved in projects that empower them. The youth have the ability, education and skills to carry out these tasks that the government wants to do for them (youth), therefore it would be effective and economically wise to task the youth in different projects, he said.

BachaShutDown was established on June 16, 2020 with the primary objective of bringing awareness to the Government of Lesotho for its neglect of the needs of youths. The movement has previously met with the Prime Minister to plead with him to declare youth unemployment a crisis that needs special attention but that too was in vain. Later on, they met with the minister of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation, Ms Likeleli Tampane, to assist the youth to create employment but this too was effort wasted because nothing was ever done hence they came to a decision to launch a demonstration dubbed “Unemployed youth graduates week” to grab the public and government’s attention.

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