HOLOLO — A rugged road.
A clinic far from the people.
Villagers ravaged by HIV and Aids.
Welcome to Hololo constituency, one of the places where poverty has sunk its roots — perhaps permanently.
One would have expected that this would form the crux of any candidate’s last major campaign in the constituency.
But not in Lesotho.
Lesotho’s politicians like taking pot-shots at each other at the expense of expounding fundamental issues that affect the electorate.
When they decide to talk about poverty, unemployment, health and poor roads it’s as if these are little anecdotes almost irrelevant to the national discourse.
And when the pot shots don’t seem to elicit the desired impact against their political opponents they go for sheer vanity.
Mmamahele Radebe, the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party candidate in the Hololo constituency by-election, did just that when she addressed what was perhaps her final real rally on Sunday ahead of Saturday’s election.
“The LCD leadership boasts of old-age pensions and I tell you today that my contribution towards that plan was immense,” Radebe said as she tried to woe the electorate.
“I would sometimes sleep at around one in the morning, having worked all night long, trying to come up with a plan for the easy implementation of the old-age pension,” she added.
“My achievements in the LCD-led government are manifest.”
Radebe might have been genuinely trying to tell the people of Hololo what she is capable of doing and remind them about what she had achieved when she was still the director of postal services before she defected to the ABC with Tom Thabane.
Yet in doing so she fell into the same rhetoric streak that has become all too obvious in Lesotho’s politicians.
Personalities and not policies have come to define Lesotho’s politics.
In seeking to convince the people about her seemingly strong CV, Radebe pointed to the past instead of the future.
Her address was about her and not what she could do for the people of Hololo when she is elected.
“It was my head that worked hard for the success of the establishment of the Post Bank,” she said.
“It is common knowledge that the Post Bank is the bank of the poor.”
Fair and fine.
Politicians have a right to espouse the glowing parts of their history but not at the expense of bread and butter issues that are at the hearts of the electorate.
This is where Radebe, like all politicians, stuttered.
The evidence of what really touches the people of Hololo was there around her to see as she addressed a well-attended rally.
Poverty has literally set base in this mountainous constituency.
The mountains have given Hololo a beautiful scenery but they have also robbed its people of farming land.
Without enough arable land the people are always on the verge of starvation.
It has not helped that the little land they have had to share as the population increases has been “eaten” by yawning gullies that are encroaching into their fields.
The youth here spend most of their time imbibing traditional brew because jobs are hard to come by.
Once in a while a government poverty alleviation project that pays M900 per month comes their way but that only changes their miserable lives momentarily.
Because the government work is rationed among the many villagers some have to wait for months for their turn.
Sometimes that turn comes once a year.
When desperation grips them the youths normally skip the border into South Africa to look for jobs but many a times that journey to the “promised land” ends in tears when they are caught by authorities across the border and deported back home.
The road to Hololo is a treacherous one.
Meandering between small hills and up to the mountains, the road was last repaired in April when Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla visited the constituency to campaign for LCD candidate Teboho Lets’ela but that was insufficient patchwork on a road that actually needs reconstruction.
Some of the people who had come for Radebe’s rally had left their sick relatives bed-ridden at home.
HIV and Aids stalks Hololo.
Orphans abound in the villagers.
Health facilities and personnel are strained, leaving them unable to keep up with the sick.
These are just some of the many problems in Hololo, yet Radebe touted herself so much that she probably forgot that what the people are looking for is a politician who can solve these problems.
She talked about her achievements when she was a civil servant.
“Why can’t I work hard in the same way to help develop Hololo?”
She said the skills and brainpower she manifested in the LCD-led government would still be useful for the development of the constituency.
In this vanity affair Radebe was joined by Thabane who touted her hard-working-civil-servant credentials.
Radebe, Thabane said, had “gained respect internationally because of her knowledge and understanding of postal services”.
Her skills were praised in the SADC region, he said.
“Your deliverance is in your hands,” Thabane said.
When people ululated and sang praise songs on that Sunday afternoon it was clear that they liked what they heard.
But did they like it enough to be convinced to vote for Lesotho’s biggest opposition party?
Well, the answer to that question will be known after Saturday’s by-election.