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Flashback on vendors’ tragedy

Mohloai Mpesi

The Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Tlhopheho Sefali reflected on the car accident tragedy that transpired two years back where 12 passengers lost their lives in South Africa. 

Sefali said this during a dialogue of Bridging the Divide Between Formal and Informal Cross-Border Traders which was held at Avani Lesotho with the topic surrounding the challenges and safety of informal cross-border traders, formalization of informal traders as well as increasing the economic contribution of informal cross-border traders yesterday.  

“An informal trader is a mother of eight kids whose husband has been sent to exile and has a full time during the week and goes to Durban at the end of the week to buy stock. They come home to sell and are able to take care of eight kids, educate them to primary school and high school while the husband for political reasons is in exile, that woman is my mother.

“Informal traders are also youths who have been promised to go to school, get a degree and better their lives, will get employment after they graduated and they did everything right,” he narrated.

“The first year they wonder what to do with their lives, they got depressed and one thought they would not go to prostitution nor become a maid in South Africa but start their small business.

“As they have rented a taxi to go open a group because it’s safe, along the way between Clocolan and Marquand, another taxi association in South Africa chases that taxing and crash into it, and out of fifteen people, twelve of them die, burned to ashes. Until this day our country has not done justice for those people,” he said.

He said the informal trading doesn’t have to be formalized as some of the traders are there to transit to better business opportunities, instead the sector can be refurbished to make it easier for the traders to import their stock from South Africa in spite of the challenges they come across at the border gates.     

“Informal traders are the youth and incredible women, resilient and very innovative people and adaptive,” he said.

“So why should they be formalized when cross boarder transport for them is seasonal? I know a farmer who had excess cabbage; he can be able to go via the farm, load the cabbage in his car, cross the border and give the tax invoice where they can be able to click VAT in South Africa and be able to sell the cabbage in Borokhoaneng, Thabong and everywhere else or give it to street vendors who will sell it.

“Why should they formalise when this business is by chance, temporary, a side hustle, and a stepping stone to something else. Why should they formalise when they seem as springboard that could give them the capital they need to go to something else,” he said.

He further narrated a story which indicated the problems that the traders face when buying stock in neighbouring South Africa.

“In May this year I came from Kenya and when I arrived in Johannesburg I took a bus. Then the taxi operator gave a ride to three other young women who went there to buy stock and come back to sell.

“When you sit in a car you thought you’d have all the space sufficient to stretch your legs, but they started piling up goods and before you know it there were some boxes on my lap

“As we got to the boarder, the driver said, you guys know the drill and there was an amazing young guy who charged M70 to help people pass through the border. There is a clear chain of how this thing works; they help the first person, while the other one is waiting at the old bridge, they already have a passage of way, and when they cross over, we meet at the filling station on the other side where there are two cars waiting; one coming to Maseru while the other one goes to Botha-Buthe because it was through Ficksburg. Nicely orchestrated and done.

“When you look at them, I can only admire the level of resilience and the level of enterprising that is already there amongst these people. These are human beings, sisters, mothers, children who as a country we have failed.

“The level of arrogance and impunity done by the South Africans because the other government is sitting back and saying we are a small country, we are dependent on South Africa and we cannot do much but sit and watch while the abuse is being done to Basotho.

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