Vendors bring Maseru to stand still


Bereng Mpaki

BUSINESS was brought to a standstill yesterday morning in Maseru’s central business district after hundreds of vendors took to the streets to protest the government’s delay in releasing the Covid-19 grants that it promised them.

The vendors chanted songs while waving placards at the city’s main traffic circle.

One of the placards read: “We would rather die of Covid-19 than of hunger”.

The vendors, who staged the protest without obtaining a permit from the police, were eventually dispersed by heavily armed anti-riot police officers who fired rubber bullets and teargas.

Some of the vendors have since been detained by police for emptying rubbish bins, burning car tyres and blocking the roads with boulders.

The vendors said although they did not have a permit to hold the demonstration, they had no option but to find a way to register their dissatisfaction with the government.

“The government has treated us unfairly by first stopping us from working and then failing to give us the grants it promised to us,” one vendor said.

“We have been patient with the government for almost five months but there is still no money. The protest has achieved its mission because we wanted the world to know how the government is treating us. This is the kind of treatment we are used to from the government. They do not care about us.”

Another vendor said their protest was peaceful until the police provoked them.

In May 2020, then prime minister Thomas Thabane announced different socio-economic measures to assist different economic players ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic. Among these was a relief fund to give matching grants to registered micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

Mr Thabane said the relief fund would be administered by the Lesotho Enterprise Assistance Programme (LEAP), under the broader Private Sector Competitiveness and Economic Diversification Project (PSCEDP) of the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

The PSCDEP is financially supported by the World Bank to facilitate private sector investment in Lesotho by improving the business environment and by diversifying sources of growth for Lesotho’s economy.

Contacted for comment, the Ministry of Trade and Industry spokesperson, Lihaelo Nkaota, said they had now received M20 million to be distributed to different enterprises under the government relief fund.

“I can confirm that the ministry this week received the funds that must be transferred to the PSCEDP for distribution to affected members of private sector under the relief fund.

“The ministry is currently working around the clock to address technical challenges in order to transfer the money to PSCEDP,” Ms Nkaota said.

Police spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli last night said three of the protestors were in police. They will likely be charged for protesting without a permit. Huge gatherings are presently prohibited as part of measures to fight Covid-19.

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