. . . Maputsoe vendors give chilling warning to govt
MATHATISI SEBUSI & KABELO MASOABI
Maputsoe – Vendors are up in arms against what they say is unfair competition from more resourced foreign business operators. Angry small business operators in Maputsoe and Mafeteng this week said despite the fact that they mostly work under very harsh conditions such as selling in the open air exposed to weather elements, with little social protection, they go home daily after making paltry sales as they face competition from well established businesses owned by foreign merchants. This they largely blame on irregularities that favour foreign businesspeople who they accused of undermining Lesotho trade laws as the government remains mum about such misconduct.
Street vendors in Maputsoe yesterday wrote a petition to the Minister of Trade, Thabiso Molapo, seeking government intervention to protect street vendors from foreign-owned businesses. Vendors complain about unlawful competition they face daily from foreigners who run businesses exclusively earmarked for them as indigenous small and medium enterprises. These include public bars, hair saloons, printing services, butcheries and selling furniture, grocery and clothes in the same shop which they say is against the law.
The incident in Maputsoe follows hard on the heels of a similar uprising in Mafeteng where on Wednesday local vendors and foreign retailers and shop owners were brought together to chart the way forward on how to abide by the guiding laws. The meeting was called after demonstrations the previous week threatened to become violent. Mafeteng District Administrator Motinyane Motinyane told Public Eye that the situation of foreign traders, especially Chinese nationals, taking over small businesses reserved for Basotho was getting out of hand.
Motinyane said small business holders and Chinese business owners on Wednesday met with the ministry of trade and industry to discuss the matter where both parties were taught about trade laws and what they should sell and not sell. He said now that Chinese are aware of the law stipulating what to sell and what not to as per their licenses, he hopes the businesses will strictly follow the rules and allow these to be solely operated by Basotho. Minister of Trade at the meeting had to pass several directives calling on all to keep order and respect the laws of the country.
Top among the directives was that mainly Chinese owned businesses in Mafeteng should immediately unpack goods they had repackaged in small quantities for resale, allow use of electronic methods of payment and stick to selling their merchandise in bulk as per their licenses. Molapo said the challenge of Chinese taking over businesses reserved for Basotho is not only being experienced in Mafeteng district but was countrywide. He said most foreign businesses had made it a norm not to abide by trade laws and are, in the process, being aided by some Basotho nationals.
In Maputsoe yesterday, the vendors gave Minister Molapo an ultimatum of seven days to answer their letter which he had asked they should submit to the Lesotho National Development Corporation offices in Maputsoe, after he failued to show up at their scheduled meeting. Speaking on behalf of protesting vendors, Mrs ‘Masalemone Molale said they also demand that the government build proper stalls with electricity, water and toilets for them like other countries.
Vendors say the government had failed in its attempts to regulate street vending through the construction of markets and stalls. With regard to poverty alleviation, Molale said some vendors are escaping from poverty, while some are trapped in poverty and yet others are struggling but their households are still surviving. Overall, the number of street vendors getting out of poverty is not significant, she said.
She also appealed to government to regulate the rent they pay for rooms let to them by foreign investors in business premises they have acquired in Lesotho saying it was too expensive for them to operate business in proper premises as a result. “It is in our power to defeat this situation in solidarity as Maputsoe and Hlotse vendors. Should these challenges be treated lightly, we shall close foreigners businesses if we have to. But we don’t mean to loot any business. We call on all vendors to support this movement regardless of our association affiliations,” Molale also appealed.
Again, street vendors from Maputsoe want government to pay them stipends worth M500 for three months that were dispensed to other affected workers during the height of Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. “We were forced to shut down our business but factory workers were given stipends of M800 per employee yet they were allowed to go to work during lockdowns. We never received any compensation,” she concluded. Business Licensing and Registration Regulations of 2020 were adopted by Parliament in November 2020.
The regulations reserve businesses including but not limited to transport, cleaning, repairing and retail motor sales, growing and selling fruits and vegetables, pharmaceutical wholesaling and retailing, real estate, retail of animal feeds, supply of fuel and retail hardware to Basotho. Also reserved for Basotho are activities such as raising horses, sheep and goats, piggery and poultry. However, to date small business holders including street vendors still have a challenge of competing with foreign businesses over these reserved sectors.