We would like to begin this statement by reminding Basotho that on November 6, 2020, youth under #BachaShutDown, marched in Maseru to tell Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro and his government that they should address the issue of unemployment which is rampant in the country and affecting mostly the youth.
The unemployment rate is consistently measured above 30 per cent and is a national crisis that feeds two of the country’s other big socio-economic challenges – poverty and inequality. Police responded to the protest with excessive force shooting a journalist Ntsoaki Motaung and arresting a handful of protestors including radio presenter Relebohile Moyeye. Some of the young people who participated in the protest are still facing criminal charges.
Police justified their violence by saying they were dispersing an illegal gathering. There is, however, no possible situation in which the beating and shooting of unarmed citizens by a police service set up to protect same citizens could be justified. The incidence has taught us a thing or two about how the ruling elites respond to the marginalised and oppressed, who are dissatisfied with their rule.
The protest was also condemned in strongest terms possible by some members of the society who insisted that the youth should at all times subject themselves to the laws. Protests have been banned since March last year when government imposed a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. The public health regulations do not consider the freedom of expression (Section 14 of the Constitution) and freedom of peaceful assembly (Section 15 of the Constitution) as reasonable excuse to leave home to join a protest.
Government says such draconian regulations are necessary to confront a rapidly contagious – and for some, lethal – coronavirus. There is also inconsistent application of the regulations across the country. But because the youth regard the fundamental human right to participate in government as the common heritage of all people irrespective of their status, and also strongly believe that the source of democratic legitimacy should be the meaningful participation of people in decisions that affect them, we looked for other “civil and acceptable” ways listed below to ensure that the youth continue to make a full and rich contribution to the work of the government and to the life of the nation during a pandemic of a magnitude never seen in our lifetime.
1. January 22: We wrote an Open letter to Minister of Health Motlatsi Maqelepo when Basotho were helplessly dying in public hospitals due to lack of medical oxygen. We requested the Minister to take responsibility for the deaths, show remorse and publicly apologize to those who suffered directly or indirectly.
2. January 27: We wrote an Open Letter to Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro calling for the immediate establishment of independent enquiry into Covid-19 crisis to help prevent more deaths, and ascertain whether National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) was established legally. NACOSEC, with its questionable legal status, has managed to advice Cabinet and/or government to make decisions that have affected all Basotho’s rights and freedoms protected by the Constitution.
3. February 1: We wrote an Open Letter to Prime Minister, asking him humbly to take disciplinary actions against members of Cabinet for violating Public Health Regulations when they attended the official funeral of Major General Metsing Lekhanya, and thereby breaking their oath of office.
4. February 9: Our lawyers wrote a formal letter to the Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli requesting on our behalf, an appointment with the Commissioner to appeal the decision by police not to institute criminal proceedings against those who were responsible for organizing the funeral of Major General Metsing Lekhanya. This unsuccessful endeavor to meet the Commissioner cost us an arm and a leg as it left us with a huge legal bill which we had to foot from our pockets.
5. February 22: We wrote and hand-delivered a letter to the Minister of Health Semano Sekatle asking him to explain in clear terms whether the country is currently in a State of Emergency or State of Disaster and asked him to repel the draconian Public Health Regulations because they were made in a manner that is inconsistent with the Constitution.
6. March 8: Released a Press Statement in which we called on the Office of the Prime Minister to ensure that there is transparency in the process to recruit new members of the National Security Service (NSS).
7. March 23: Released a Press Statement condemning in strongest terms Members of Parliament for passing the controversial Members of Parliament (Amendment of Schedule) Regulations of 2020 which entitle them to monthly M5, 000 petrol allowances, among many other benefits. We also called on government to establish the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office-bearers.
8. March 30: We handed over a Petition signed by 6,460 people requesting that Prime Minister Majoro and government should ensure that Tšepong Consortium reinstates with immediate effect all Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) nurses turned modern day slaves who were fired for striking for decent wages.
Majority of these nurses are young women and we were warning government and Tšepong that: “Wathint’ Abafazi, Wathint’ Imbokodo.” The First Lady knows this too. These above listed efforts are proof that youth want action and are in sympathy with the rank and file of our people. But instead of meeting with encouragement commensurate with our eagerness and goodwill, we have been met with deafening silence from government. This means the youth now face a dilemma in their own country; when they take to the streets to protest, they are met with a wave of police brutality, and when they try by all means to be civil and communicate with their government in a language they hope it understands, they are met with silence. What should we do?
Today we would like to appeal to the public to guide us on what steps to take after the aforesaid activities we have undertaken but met with silence. We plead: Guide us to the straight path.
We, however, think the answer to the above question might come from ‘The Other America’ speech delivered by Martin Luther King at Stanford University in 1967. King said: “…riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard… And so in real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay.” Our point is clear. We do not support violent tactics but strongly believe that the way to prevent citizens from rioting is to acknowledge and address their concerns.
By Kananelo Boloetse (+266) 59679617
Motsamai Mokotjo (+266) 50275010
Thuso Leina (+266) 58049082