As struggling street vendors fend off worst crisis
MASERU – Over 3 000 of the country’s documented street vendors are in a crisis never seen before, after their enterprise was crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic whose extended series of lockdowns have smothered their survival.
An earlier estimate by the Maseru Street Vendors Association chairman, Molefi Paneng, put registered vendors around the country at 2 536, a number seen as an underestimation as scores remain unregistered – leaving the undocumented ineligible for relief aid.
This week 330 street vendors in the capital, Maseru, received 3 bags of cabbage each from the Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) from a total 1 000 bags to revive their collapsed small businesses around the city.
This is the third initiative of the MGC’s national Covid-19 recovery efforts to help vendors survive the negative impact of the pandemic on their livelihood after earlier assistance extended to small businesses in the Thaba-Tseka and Mantšonyane towns.
Speaking at the event at the Pitso Ground this week, Maseru District Administrator, Mpane Nthunya, expressed appreciation for the gesture, indicating he was overwhelmed to witness such magnanimity from a Mosotho to assist sustain businesses of his fellow countrymen.
“But, we should also be grateful in these hard times for challenges brought by the lockdowns we have been subjected to have shown to us the need to produce our own fruits and vegetables and stop depending on neighbouring South Africa,” he said.
For the donating company, Sam Matekane revealed that the produce being handed out came from “the 750 000 cabbage seedlings we planted, 650 000 of which survived and are being handed out to supports this sector.”
Matekane said when his company realised the manner in which the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the nation, with border movement to South Africa prohibited, they embarked on a project to produce vegetables meant to eventually be given out the street vendors to boost their businesses.
“This means there will be no more stock purchased from South Africa, and this is a sign that we need to invest in the production of our own vegetables. We can start from our small plots at home,” he added.
On behalf of recipient street vendors’ groups, Tšolo Lebitsa from Khathang Tema Baitšokoli said he was happy and thankful as some of their members have been struggling to rebuild their businesses. He added: “I am compelled to go back and advise other vendors to start producing their own fruits and vegetable for sale.”
For Jeremane Liporo, getting access to the three bags of cabbage in relief aid to help restart his business is invaluable. Liporo sells fruits and vegetables and says words cannot describe how grateful he is because in order for him to rebuild his business he had to borrow money.
“I was not even sure how I would eventually repay this money. When the first lockdown was declared I was forced to survive on the stock I had because I had nothing to feed my family.
“Some of my products also started rotting, and the best way to save them from perishing was to eat them…and I did not even get the stipend the government had promised.” “Even though business has recovered, now that we have offered additional stock I cannot complain; I only need to work hard to keep afloat and flourish.”
In May 2020, the Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane-led government made public different socio economic measures he said were intended to assist different economic players impacted by the pandemic. Among these was a relief fund for grants to registered micro, small and medium enterprises, which included street vendors.
Thabane said the relief fund would be under the broader Private Sector Competitive and Economic Diversification Project (PSCEDEP) in the trade ministry.
PSCEDEP is financially backed by the World Bank to facilitate private sector investment in Lesotho by improving the business environment and by diversifying sources of growth for Lesotho’s economy.
The fund was reported to have in its coffers M20 million but until beginning of August 2020, nobody had received a cent leading to hundreds of the Maseru city vendors staging a protest in the central business district on August 25 to demand the release of the delayed Covid-19 relief funds which the government had committed to disburse as part of economic measures to cushion small businesses during lockdown.
But demands by the vendors to be included in Covid-19 recovery efforts grew as the wrath of the pandemic began to be felt by workers and small business people.
Several strikes and protests by different sectoral groups started despite this promise by government. The protest, for which the police refused to issue a permit, was dispersed by police who tear-gassed the protesting vendors and fired rubber bullets. Several protestors were arrested for blocking roads with rocks and burning car tyres.