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ABC bids to win over pensioners

by Lesotho Times
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Pascalinah Kabi

DONNING her All Basotho Convention (ABC) party regalia, ‘Masekonyela Lehasa (71) sits pensively in a commuter omnibus taxi headed for Ha ‘Nelese village in Maseru.

Ms Lehasa’s discomfiture stems from the fact that she has only M4 of the M6 taxi fare.

As the taxi passes by Maseru’s main traffic circle, a lady sitting next to Ms Lehasa informs the taxi conductor of her fellow passenger’s predicament.

Abuti, nkhono (my brother, granny) wants to talk to you,” the lady whispers, trying her best to avoid attracting the attention of the other passengers.

To the lady’s dismay, the conductor is not so discreet, shouting to Ms Lehasa that she should not have boarded the taxi knowing that she did not have the requisite funds.

Left with no option but to plead her case, Ms Lehasa tells the conductor she was afraid of telling him of her predicament before boarding the taxi, lest he leave her behind.

“I knew you were going to leave me behind if I had told you the truth from the onset,” she says.

“I can’t afford to walk home with the ongoing rampant killings of women in the country, so I opted to get into your taxi and deal with the consequences later.”

To Ms Lehasa’s relief, one of the passengers hands her the M2 she needs for the taxi fare.

Narrating her life story to this reporter, Ms Lehasa says she is a widow who is taking care of four orphaned grandchildren but barely able to make ends meet. Her M580 monthly pension payout barely scratches the surface of her needs and those of her dependents.

“I stay with my four grandchildren, and some of them are HIV/AIDS orphans,” Ms Lehasa says, adding that the burden of raising four grandchildren was also taking a great toll on her health.

“The M580 old age pension I get every month doesn’t cater for all our needs.”

Ms Lehasa, who was coming from the ABC’s star rally held last Sunday ahead of this Saturday’s parliamentary elections, says she braved attending the campaign event without enough transport money to hear a message of hope from party leader Thomas Thabane.

Ms Lehasa says she had reached the breaking point, and wanted to hear what Dr Thabane would do to alleviate her plight if elected into power. What she mostly wanted to hear was a promise from the former premier to increase the pensions by a significant margin.

“I desperately needed to hear Ntate Thabane’s message ahead of the elections. He increased the old age monies when he was in government, and I wanted to hear the message to senior citizens from the horse’s mouth, and I am glad I went,” she says.

“In his address, Ntate Thabane promised to increase the pension money to M700 should he form government after the elections. So, this embarrassing incident in the taxi is nothing compared to the fulfillment I got from the rally.”

Introduced in November 2004, the old age pension is a tax-based scheme for people aged 70 years and above. The non-contributory social pension also benefits dependents, particularly children.

According to an International Labour Organisation (ILO) report, more than four percent of Lesotho’s population was above the age of 70, making the Mountain Kingdom one of the sub-Saharan African countries with the largest percentages of elderly people.

“Old age pensions were introduced to lift older persons out of poverty and it is by far the largest regular cash transfer, covering over 83 000 persons,” reads the ILO report.

Given the high number of HIV/AIDS-related mortalities in the country, many grandparents have taken on the onerous task of raising their children’s children.

“The high prevalence of HIV and Aids in Lesotho often leads older persons to become the main caregivers for their orphaned grandchildren. In such cases, the old age pension also benefits children,” the ILO further notes.

With political parties in excess of 25 vying for the hearts and minds of Basotho ahead of the watershed elections, elderly voters are a site of contestation for parties across the political divide.

Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili has also zoned in on elderly voters, saying he was exploring ways of improving the welfare of senior citizens including increasing their monthly pensions.

The Democratic Congress leader also promised to issue elderly people cards that would exempt them from paying when boarding public transport.

Dr Mosisili said transport operators would be reimbursed after making claims from the government using the cards.

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