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Poverty drives Basotho to South African mines

by Lesotho Times
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FROM history archives we read that from the late nineteenth century men from southern African countries trekked to work in the gold and diamond mines in neighbouring South Africa.These included hundreds of men from Lesotho.

Basotho men were driven to the South African mines because their means of livelihood in Lesotho, cattle, had been wiped out by rinder pest.New taxes imposed by colonial authorities in the late 1880s also drove blacks in southern Africa to seek work in the mines.

I was shocked to learn recently that most of the dead illegal miners at Welkom were Basotho.These Basotho were desperately searching for gold in an attempt to kick away their poverty.

The treatment of mine workers in South Africa has always been brutal.

Mine workers were brought back home when they were deemed no longer economically useful.

Most of them would come back home suffering from tuberculosis (TB).

They were sent back home to die.

The mines have therefore never provided a safe and reliable means of survival for Basotho workers.

The situation is worse if the mine has been shut down and is regarded as dangerous.

Even under that kind of environment we find desperate Basotho risking their lives to strike it rich.

It is true that Lesotho is among the poorest countries in the world with the majority of the country’s 1.8 million people living below one United States dollar a day.

I would not be surprised if current records were to suggest that of all the miners who have died in South African mines the majority of them are Basotho.

I am not proud to say that the majority of our people have gone to the mines driven solely by poverty.

The problem is that we do not have a quick fix solution to the problem of unemployment in Lesotho.

The majority of Basotho who seek jobs in the mines have no other option.

The exodus also includes our intellectuals who have sought greener pastures across our borders.

This is because our economy cannot provide jobs for all of us here.

These are desperate circumstances.I read last week that some of the trapped miners were refusing to come out fearing arrest.This is what poverty does to people. It gives them guts.People are willing to risk their lives than face prison.

The story of the dead miners demonstrates to what extent people are willing to go to deal with issues of poverty and economic deprivation.People are willing to take risks to get out of poverty.Contrast this sad situation with what we hear at political rallies.

The chorus at these political meetings is how the politicians promise to minimise poverty among the citizens of Lesotho.We have heard these promises ad infinitum.Nothing much appears to have been done over the years to deal with the issue of poverty in Lesotho.

The poverty alleviation programmes have generally failed.This is the reason why thousands of our young ones continue to go to South Africa to work as illegal miners.This appears to be their only option.

I think it is painful and shameful for us as a people to have allowed the situation to deteriorate this far.It is a historical fact that Lesotho has provided cheap labour to South African mines since the advent of mining activities in Kimberly.The mines have provided a source of income to thousands of Basotho over the past hundred years.

On Tuesday 16 June, South Africa marked Youth Day, a day to remember the heroic acts of Soweto youths who took on the apartheid regime on 16 June 1976.The day brings back sad memories about the apartheid era.

It is on this day that young people sacrificed their lives for future generations.It was my hope that as South Africans remembered the heroic youths they do not forget the equally heroic acts of Basotho mine workers who died in the mines.

May Jehovah console all families who lost their loved ones in the tragedy at Welkom.

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