SA’s Operation Dudula inspires Basotho

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MALESHOANE RATSEBE

MASERU – In a style reminiscent of South Africa’s Operation Dudula, members of the Lesotho Economic Freedom Fighters (LEFF) want the Ministry of Trade and Industry to ensure local businesses licenced and operating under the Business and Licencing Registration Act of 2020 toe the line. This is in line with the movement’s public declaration that the government must ensure that businesses operate within the bounds of the law and that only indigenous Basotho are allowed to trade in types of businesses provided by the law.

The movement, on May 27, dispatched a protest letter to the ministry complaining of three business enterprises that they claim operate outside the law. The businesses are Xiaopong Zhuang (located along Kingsway), Green House Take Away Fast Food (at Borokhoaneng) and Mama’s (found at Circle Speedy Complex) – which the LEFF claims are selling fat cakes, encroaching into small businesses reserved for citizens.

“We, therefore, call on the ministry to review the status of these businesses,” writes LEFF secretary general Mohau Mabetha in the letter. This is also the concern of the Ministry of Small Business Development, according its minister, Machesetsa Mofomobe. Mofomobe told Public Eye that the status quo has been a thorn on the side of both the previous Motsoahae Thabane-led and the incumbent government of Moeketsi Majoro. He said he has been tasked, together with the trade minister to map a way to ensure reservation of small businesses for indigenous Basotho.

“However, there are key issues that we have been forced to consider as we move forward on the matter. First, being the question of whether we can just move to remove foreigners from small businesses in one swipe. “We have to ask ourselves what the plight of the multitudes that the businesses employ will be if we do it suddenly, also thinking about revenue received by many Basotho on the rent the businesses pay each month…can we really dislodge so many people from their source of income all at a go,” Mofomobe asked.

He believes the loss of income for many Basotho would be immense. The minister continued that they also had to weigh if government would manage the financial burden of having to buy out foreigners who would be willing to leave their business – to facilitate takeover by eligible locals. “Would government have the money to buy out stock of an estimated M1 million or M500 000 in a foreign-owned business which a Mosotho would want to operate,” he asked, adding that there should be a lot of consideration before government moves with this solutions – though there is will to ensure that business operators abide by given laws and space is opened up for locals.

Speaking to Public Eye in a separate interview trade ministry spokesperson, Liahelo Nkaota, confirmed the ministry’s receipt of the LEFF letter and highlighted that it is the indeed the responsibility of citizens to alert relevant officials about businesses operating beyond restrictions. Nkaota said the ministry is already in the process of addressing the concern, and have inspected the three businesses in question.

“The complaint has already been addressed by our office, an inspection has been conducted and the parties involved communicated with,” she said. She explained that Mama’s is owned by a Lesotho citizen by naturalisation and will be reviewed accordingly. She pointed out that a Lesotho citizenship by naturalisation refers to foreign born nationals carrying Lesotho identification and, in this case, they established that the business is operated by a naturalised Chinese national.

Deli Fast Food & Take Away was found to be owned by a Mosotho and operating within the law while Xiaopong Zhuang is registered under a Mosotho’s name and operating within the law too. Public Eye has established that LEFF raised concerns over a business named Xiaopong Zhuang, which the Ministry of Trade refers to as Deli Fast Food & Take Away – but both are located in the premises.

According to the Business Licencing and Registration Regulations of 2020, certain business activities have been reserved for Lesotho citizens whose ancestry can be traced to at least three generations. These include restaurants, hair salons, general cafes and butcheries. However, the LEFF secretary general has denied receiving any formal correspondence for their concerns from the ministry, pointing out that they have been to the ministry several times to seek a response to their query – pointing to the latest visit on July 6.

He alleges they were told the businesses were yet to be visited, which can only be done in a day if they are allocated in Maseru. Mabetha said they were assured they would receive formal correspondence today. “We have frequented the trade correspondence office this past month looking for answers, even yesterday we were there. We were told then that we will get formal correspondence on Friday.”

Meanwhile, vendors in Mafeteng and Maputsoe have already forged an open protest against foreign businesses complaining they are taking over customers and privileges in their regions. Generally, an uproar of dissatisfaction on foreign businesses taking over small businesses have been an issue throughout Lesotho.

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