…they say enough is enough
Nthatuoa Koeshe/Ntsoaki Motaung
Street vendors who ply their trade at the bus stop area at the heart of the capital Maseru city have told leaders of two parties which formed the ruling coalition between the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the Democratic Congress (DC) in no uncertain terms that they would take their votes elsewhere if their grievances are not answered by the time country goes for general elections around October this year.
Both messers Nkaku Kabi of the ABC and Mathibeli Mokhothu of the DC were summoned to address the vendors at their base at the Maseru Pitso Ground this week although they went on different days.
The vendors told the politicians that of the many things they may stand in want of, their greatest worry is in the fact that foreigners are still trading in the kind and sizes of businesses legally preserved for Basotho only, saying that if that wrong is not righted by the time elections arrive, they would not be voting for them.
The irate vendors say they want to see the law respected.
Founder of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Association (MSME) Motlere Thobi who spoke on behalf of the vendors said they have complained about foreigners taking over their businesses for a while but nothing has been done by government to help them overcome the challenge.
Motlere said according to the law, foreigners are forbidden to run retail businesses in Lesotho but up to today that law has not been implemented.
“We do not want foreigners in retail businesses at all in this country. What they should be doing is investing in big industries.
“If you (Mokhothu) stand with us in making sure that foreigners in retail are chased out of this country, we will applaud you and even vote for you. But if elections come and nothing has been done then we will not vote for you,” Thobi said as vendors cheered in agreement.
According to the Business Licencing and Registration Regulations legal notice of 2020, 34 (1) to (2) “For the purposes of the promotion and development of local entrepreneurship and micro, small and medium enterprises, the business activities
set out in Schedule 16 shall be reserved exclusively for citizens of Lesotho, excluding a naturalized and registered citizen of Lesotho.
It further reads “A licence issued to a naturalized or registered citizen of Lesotho,
or an enterprise of which the proprietor, shareholder, partner or director is not a
citizen of Lesotho shall remain in force until the expiry of the licence”
Thobi said they have run out of things to sell because with every corner, foreigners are found selling the same thing as the street vendors and this has resulted into their businesses dying.
“Our businesses are being overtaken by foreigners and we find ourselves competing with them for customers who should rightfully be ours and this make us very unhappy.
He said when Covid-19 hit Lesotho, vendors suffered the most because they were told to close down their businesses but foreigners with their shops were allowed to continue operating
“This hit us the mot because this is a Chinese virus and yet they are still benefiting from the aftermath of the pandemic and the government is allowing that.”
To reiterate on the issue, ‘Maremi ‘Mabathoana a vendor at Thibella indicated that, business permits for foreigners say, foreigners can only come into the country if they are going to start up a wholesale or a supermarket.
“According to the law, foreigners’ businesses should occupy a space of 1000 square meters but they are occupying less than that. We have been complaining for a while about this issue to the government but we do not get any help,” she said.
Member of Parliament Tšepang Tšita-Mosena yesterday asked the Minister of Trade and Industry to apprise the National Assembly on the status of implementation of legislation that reserves certain business for Basotho, the number of foreigners that have been reported operating illegally in business reserved for Basotho since 2020, and measures taken.
She further asked clarity on the measures that the Ministry is taking to inform citizens of the legislation and the measures taken against Ministry officers who thrive on corrupt practices instead of taking appropriate action on illegal foreign traders.
The Minister of Trade and Industry did not reply to the questions indicating that, his officers are busy drafting answers and that the questions are referred.
Meanwhile, the vendors also want their Covid-19 relief fund they were promised at the start of the pandemic which they still haven’t received.
“Among 7000 street vendors who were supposed to get those funds, only 2330 vendors got the money and they only got M500 for one month when we were promised the fund for three consecutive months,” ‘Mei said.
They said they are still expecting that money and they now want it to come all at once.
Addressing the angered vendors, Mokhothu agreed that indeed street vendors’ businesses have been overtaken by foreigners.
He said they did not only overtake business for street vendors but many other businesses inside villages.
“Though we love and appreciate it when investors come into Lesotho, they need not to take over businesses which Basotho can do. They should rather venture into businesses which Basotho cannot venture into and these businesses are clearly stated by the law,” Mokhothu said.
He said law enforcers need to intervene and help the public and the government by seeing to it that small businesses are protected for the betterment of Basotho and Lesotho as a country.
“Street vendors are important people who do not bother the government with seeking for employment but rather creating it for themselves. They just need the support from the government,” he said, adding that they would investigate the issue of unpaid covid-19 relief funds to address it duly.
Meanwhile addressing the same issues, on a different day, Kabi said for the vendors’ grievances to be addressed they would have to ensure that his party wins the upcoming polls as at the moment they are not party to the current government. He did acknowledge the challenges the street vendors face as he promised that they would soon be a thing of the past.