‘My Thabo is gone for good’

MASERU — Hearing the news of your child’s death is every parent’s nightmare.

For ’Masekake Sebapo the dreaded news came on the night of December 21 when she heard that Thabo, 20, her only son, had died in a factory accident.

After Thabo had landed a job at the China Garments Manufacturers (CGM) ’Masekake hoped they would finally build a proper home.

For years she had lived in a shack made of corrugated iron near the Thetsane industrial area.

The CGM factory is just a stone’s throw away from her home so it was easy for Thabo to hear news of job opportunities at the factory.

After months of waiting at the CGM gate Thabo’s opportunity finally came when he was hired as a temporary employee to paint a tank at the water treatment plant at the factory.

It wasn’t a great job but at least it was better than nothing.

There were many boys of Thabo’s age who had never worked in their lives.

His mother was thrilled at the news.

For her this was the beginning of better things to come and she hoped soon her son would be hired as a permanent employee at the factory.

Textile factories don’t pay well but at least they pay something.

Half a loaf, they say, is better than nothing.

She hoped that with Thabo’s help and the income she got from selling vegetables they could finally build a proper home and move from this shack.

But that dream was shattered on December 21.

It was way past his knock off time but Thabo was not yet home.

She wondered how it could take her son so long to walk home.

“I waited and waited that evening hoping to see Thabo coming back home but I never saw him,” ’Masekake said when the Lesotho Times visited her on Monday.

Then the news of the accident at the factory started reaching the village and neighbours started talking.

Eventually some neighbours brought her the horrifying news.

“When the neighbours broke news that Thabo was involved in an accident at work, I did not want them to tell me more,” she said while trying to fight back tears welling in her eyes.

“I could read in their faces that Thabo was no more.

“I feel empty inside. It’s like the world has turned against me. How could Thabo leave me like this?”

Thabo died while painting the inside of a tank at the factory.

The police say the CGM management told them that Thabo plunged to his death.

Witnesses and two survivors say Thabo was suffocated by the fumes from the paint because he was not wearing a gas mask.

His death certificate says he died of “respiratory failure”.

Some witnesses claim that Thabo’s life could have been saved if the management had moved quickly to rescue him.

But for ’Masekake such speculation won’t bring back her son whose remains now lie in Mapoteng, the home village he had left a few months earlier to look for a job in Maseru.

When he arrived in Maseru his mother was already struggling to make ends meet.

She was taking care of a toddler her daughter had left before she disappeared without trace.

Some have told her daughter is somewhere in South Africa but wherever she is she seems to have forgotten that she left a wretchedly poor mother and young child.

Her vegetable vending business could barely put food on the family’s table.

Summer is not a good season for vegetable sellers and even the bigger suppliers that use their volumes to undercut small vendors were not making it any better.

So when Thabo arrived and showed enthusiasm to work ’Masekake started seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

Finally, she thought, a helping hand had come.

Her joy was short-lived because Thabo left before he could help her out of the grinding poverty that has stalked her for years.

It’s back to square-one for ’Masekake and she says she doesn’t know how her life will be without her son.

’Masekake is so poor that she could not afford to buy a traditional mourning garment after the burial of her son on January 14.

Today she is wearing a coloured dress and a worn out shawl on her shoulders for a mourning cloth.

“My son,” she says, “had grown to be a man and he was beginning to provide for this family”.

“He was going to take care of me when I am old.”

CGM paid the funeral costs and has promised workmanship compensation from its own insurance company to pay ’Masekake.

“The firm bought the coffin, groceries and a cow to slaughter at the funeral,” she said.

Now that Thabo is gone, ’Masekake says she wishes her daughter who left her with her child could come back and console her.

“I hope she is alive wherever she may be and she should come back home,” she said.

Yesterday this paper saw ’Masekake pushing a wheelbarrow at around 5pm to the factories.

Her struggle for survival continues but unfortunately her son is no longer there to help her carry the burden.

It is a burden she has to carry alone.

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