‘I didn’t know things were going to end this way’

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Granny narrates predicament after Maputsoe jobs carnage

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

MAPUTSOE-Shortly after receiving her dismissal letter on Tuesday morning, 60-year-old ’Mampho Holomo collapsed in shock.

Ms Holomo had to be carried to a nearby tree-shade where she eventually recovered consciousness.

The elderly woman was one of approximately 900 mostly female workers fired by Maputsoe-based Ace Apparel for taking part in a strike which had paralysed company operations since 10 February.

The workers decided to down tools in solidarity with a colleague who had resigned after receiving a warning letter from the company for a punch-up with a supervisor earlier in the day.

Ms Holomo told the Sunday Express she panicked after receiving the letter due to the responsibilities she carries and the acrimonious ending to her 10-year association with the firm owned by South Africans.

“I looked at where it said ‘this letter serves to inform you that the management has decided to terminate your employment contract’. I don’t understand English that well, but I am familiar with words like dismissal and contract as these have been used very often here at Ace. Our boss also speaks English all the time because he is white, so you definitely have to learn and hear his instructions,” Ms Holomo told the Sunday Express as she sat outside the company gate on Thursday.

Ms Holomo says she was one of the first group of workers to be employed at Ace Apparel International when the clothing manufacturing company opened shop in Maputsoe in November 2005.

“I clearly remember the day I was employed here on 14 November 2005. It was the happiest moment of my life. I already considered myself too old at that time because I was 50 years of age and thought the company would not hire me. I was among many young and energetic women jostling for employment at the gate that day. But there it was; God was on my side. I got the job and my life and that of my family changed for the better. I could buy the family basic necessities just like other employed Basotho, and I would look forward to each day as I knew there was a job for me here at Ace. That’s how I have been living for the past 10 years—full of life and hope—and that’s why I fainted when I was handed that dismissal letter. I couldn’t believe it was all over just like that. It’s like a nightmare, and I keep hoping that I am asleep and would be waking up from the bad dream and my life returns to normal. And by normal, I mean waking up early in the morning and going to work,” she said.

Ms Holomo is diabetic and epileptic and also suffers from high blood pressure.

“Because of my health problems, every time I get over-excited or extremely upset, I collapse. That’s why I fainted shortly after I understood the contents of my letter of dismissal. My colleagues who later took me to that tree over there, helped me understand the letter because they had also received similar letters of dismissal,” Ms Holomo said.

“I remember one of them was still talking to me when suddenly, I could not hear the words. I don’t even know how they helped me because when I woke up, I was seated under that tree. I was wet and cold. They had used some water to revive me,” she said.

Ms Holomo says she is raising five grandchildren and does not know how they are going to survive now that she has lost her job.

“Two of them are orphans and the eldest is in Form A. I pay their school-fees and take care of them. They live with me. My husband passed away a long time ago. How am I going to cope without a job?” Ms Holomo asked.

Ms Holomo said her basic monthly salary was M1, 181, and she would earn M50 more for each day of overtime.

“I sometimes worked overtime on Saturdays and would earn an extra M50 per day. I was able to feed my grandchildren and pay for their school needs with the money. Who is going to employ me at my age now?”

Following her dismissal, Ms Holomo was given M275. It was not immediately clear it she would be receiving more due to her long association with the firm.

“I just received M275 after being fired, and I don’t know if this is all I will ever get from the company. I am really stranded. I didn’t know things were going to end this way after we went on strike on 10 February,” she said.

One of the women who assisted Ms Holomo after she lost consciousness was 70-year-old ’Matebatso Matšela. Ms Matšela joined Ace Apparel on 31 July 2012 and told the Sunday Express: “I heard someone shouting my name saying they needed my assistance. As I drew nearer, I realised people had gathered around ’Mampho (Holomo). She was lying down and I knew she had passed out.”

Ms Matšela also said she did not know how her four grandchildren were going to survive now that she had lost her job.

“Three of the grandchildren attend school and I take care of their entire needs. Since I was dismissed on Tuesday, I haven’t told them about it. Where would I begin? I am afraid they are going to go crazy with frustration. I am stressed. I don’t want them to end up as thieves and sex-workers. But what choice do they have now?” Ms Matšela said.

However, both Ms Matšela  and Ms Holomo said they had no choice but to continue coming to Ace Apparel with the hope that the company management would take them back.

“I will keep coming here to Ace and also try my luck at other companies here in Maputsoe. I know competition is stiff and the companies might opt for the younger generation. But I don’t want to think about this because it only adds to my frustration. I am old, yes, but the older I get, the more I need money to eat well because one’s health deteriorates with age. If I don’t eat well, the situation gets worse and I have no one else to look after me,” said Ms Matšela.

‘Unfairly treated’

’Manthabiseng Khasane, whose bloody fight with  ’Maletsatsi Morasenyane on 10 February sparked the strike, told the Sunday Express that she felt the company did not treat her fairly.

Ms Khasane was a machine operator at the company and Ms Morasenyane a line manager. After the fight,  Ms Khasane resigned from the company in protest at the warning letter she had been written by management.

Ms Khasane told the Sunday Express she was not happy Ms Morasenyane had not been issued similar warning by the company.

Ms Morasenyane was not immediately available for comment, but the fired workers who were gathered outside Ace on Thursday afternoon had no kind words for her.

’Masellane Nkhahle (28) says she joined the company on 25 May 2010 and on the day in question, Ms Morasenyane and Ms Khasane allegedly argued over work-related issues, resulting in the fight.

She said after the brawl, management issued Ms Khasane with a warning letter. This, she added, angered the rest of the workforce, who then decided to down tools in protest.

“Initially, the entire workforce of about 2000 was issued with letters summoning them to a disciplinary hearing on the same date and at the same time.

“The hearing was set for 15 February at 8am. All of us were issued those letters, including supervisors, technicians and some other managers. But it is surprising that some workers, especially supervisors, technicians and managers, have not been dismissed. The 900 workers who have been fired are all machine operators,” she said.

Ms Nkhahle further indicated the workers were kept waiting at the gate without being called in for the hearing.

“It is surprising that all of a sudden, we are being dismissed without any hearing. We are going to sue them (management) for this,” she vowed.

Sebongile Roelane, 30, said she was given M183 after her dismissal, adding the money was not even enough for transport back home to Mokhotlong.

“I don’t know what to do, hence I am still here at the gate,” she said.

The Sunday Express made repeated efforts to seek a comment from factory director, Arnold Coetzee, to no avail.

Security officers on duty at the company told this reporter that Mr Coetzee had instructed them “not to allow newspaper people inside.

“He said tell them that the issue of dismissed workers is already being dealt with by the courts and the company could not discuss it with them,” said one of the guards.

Unions intervene

On Thursday, union leaders met with the workers outside the factory premises to discuss the way forward.

According to Qamaka Ntšene, secretary general of the United Textile Employees (UNITE), the meeting had agreed to take the case to the Directorate on Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR).

“The workers are filling referral forms through which we will be in a position to take this matter before the DDPR. This is definitively unfair dismissal whichever way you look at it. You cannot fire 900 people at the same time without a hearing. The workers have not even received their terminal benefits after such long service with the company,” Mr Ntšene said.

Mr Monaheng Mokaoane of Lentsoe La Sechaba Workers Union, echoed Mr Ntšene’s sentiments, adding: “If, as unions, we cannot stand up and teach these employers that workers have rights, they are going to continue harassing our people. This is clear harassment.”

Ace Apparel is an internationally acclaimed textile manufacturing brand, and established its Maputsoe branch in 2005. The company produces clothing ranging from jeans to shirts for the export market.

 

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Sunday Express is Lesotho's only Sunday newspaper. Published every Sunday and distributed nationwide.  News: editor@sundayexpress.co.ls | Advertising: marketing@sundayexpress.co.ls | Telephone: +266 2231 5356

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