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High hopes, low pay

by Lesotho Times

MASERU — When ‘Malerato Masupha graduated with a diploma in education in 1980, she thought she had finally kissed poverty goodbye.

Back then in the 80s, a teaching diploma opened the doors to prosperity and endless opportunities.

Masupha, 53, says with her diploma in hand, her salary jumped from a modest M450 a month to a massive M800.

She says the fat salary came as a shock back then.

With it, she could feed, clothe and pay school fees for her small family of four children.

Life was good back then, Masupha says.

But 30 years down the line, Masupha’s life has been transformed into one big slog.

She no longer looks forward to her payday.

Instead, she dreads month-ends as she battles to budget her pay.

When Finance Minister Timothy Thahane last Friday announced a 3.5 percent salary increment for civil servants, Masupha was exasperated.

Under the new salary schedule, Masupha who earns M5 400 a month will now earn an additional M189.

It is as good as nothing, Masupha says.

“Life is getting tougher for us day by day,” Masupha says.

“As civil servants we get a salary that is only enough to keep body and soul together so that we can come back to work the next day and toil.”

Teachers in Lesotho have for years complained about poor pay.

A primary school teacher who holds a diploma in education earns a gross salary of M5 400 a month while graduate teachers get about M7 000 a month.

A trainee teacher however earns a gross salary of about M2 000 a month.

Masupha says her pay can only last for about two weeks.

She says it was not uncommon for the majority of her colleagues to buy groceries, pay their loans and struggle till they got to the next pay day.

She says teachers’ salaries have fallen way behind their colleagues across the border in South Africa.

“Our standard of living is way behind that of teachers in South Africa. Their lives are far better than ours.

“There is a huge gap between our salaries. It appears their government values the work they do,” she says.

A South African primary school teacher with a diploma in education is said to be earning about M8 000 a month while a degreed teacher earns a gross salary of about M13 000 a month.

Masupha says it was disheartening to note that in spite of her immense sacrifices over the past three decades, she is still struggling to make ends meet.

“Most of us conduct unpaid extra classes. We have never demanded extra pay because we feel it is our responsibility to see that students pass.

“But our government kicks us around like dogs. It is unfair,” she charges.

A civil servant, who preferred to use a pen name, ‘Matolo Fako, says she has been living from hand-to-mouth for years.

She says she has given up on her dreams of living what she calls “a good life” one day.

She says she has worked as a civil servant for over 20 years.

But during all those years, she has failed to buy her own house.

She still lives in a rented government house in the Stadium area, a section of Maseru that houses some of the poorest of the poor.

“I have worked like a slave for successive governments and no one has ever been thankful for the hard work we have put in the growth of the country.

“I have worked for over 20 years and I have never received a salary which is enough to sustain my family’s needs and still be left with some to save,” Fako says.

“We are serving an ungrateful government,” she says.

‘Mataelo Ramochela, who works in the department of livestock, says the 3.5 percent salary raise was way too little.

“The government has failed to award a decent salary increment for civil servants. The 3.5 percent increase is too small,” Ramochela says.

It would have been better if the government awarded salary increments on a sliding scale, she says.

This, she says, would ensure that the lowest paid workers received a bigger increment to help them make ends meet.

“Now the 3.5 percent adjustment is going to apply uniformly to a public servant who earns, for example, M800 and to one who earns M6 000.

“It is not going to make any serious difference to the lowest paid civil servant.” 

She says the government had for years failed to fulfill promises to civil servants to promote workers based on individual performance.

“Promotions could put civil servants in better salary grades so that when annual adjustments come, they add to already better figures.”

Another civil servant, Lekoala Ramoku, said he felt trapped in poverty as a civil servant.

He says he has nothing to show for his 12 years of loyal service in the department of roads.

“I have never earned over M5 000 in the 12 years that I have worked as a public servant.

“And it seems the situation is not going to get any better any time soon. It is unfortunate that our government thinks so little of us,” he says.

A nurse, who refused to be identified for fear of victimisation, said the government did not give a hoot about the plight of civil servants.

He said they were working under difficult and sometimes life-threatening circumstances despite the poor pay.

“We are being exploited. We do a lot of work for nothing. Nurses are exposed to all sorts of diseases but are not insured.

“The government knows about the risks but it just does not care. No wonder why we flock to countries that have respect for public servants.”

Lilemo Mosongoa said most civil servants were trapped in debt as they were earning too little to survive without borrowing from loan sharks.

 “Most of us are heavily in debt. Our salaries are just too little to help us keep our heads above the water.

“But our leaders are getting richer and richer,” Mosongoa says.

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