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“Depressed” vendors sue govt over lockdown

  • allege they are being punished for politicians’ failure to combat Covid-19.

Bereng Mpaki

FIVE street vendors have teamed up to file an urgent High Court application to reverse the government’s decision to impose a total lockdown banning them from conducting business.

The five are Mareni ‘Mabathoana, Paul Pakisi, Lesole Ramole, Kotsi Koali and Teboho May.

By imposing the lockdown and banning vending, the vendors argue that they are being unfairly made to suffer for the politicians’ own failure to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

They further argue that the ban will permanently destroy their businesses while politicians, civil servants and others will continue earning their monthly salaries even if they stay at home in line with lockdown regulations.

They have vowed to defy the vending ban. They also want the courts to order the security forces not to brutalise them when enforcing the lockdown regulations announced last Tuesday by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro.

Dr Majoro imposed a nationwide lockdown from 14 to 27 January 2021 in response to the exponential increase in Covid-19 cases which stood at 6 371 infections and 93 deaths yesterday.

As part of the lockdown rules, street vendors are not allowed to operate their stalls or conduct any business.

Dr Majoro, Health Minister Motlatsi Maqelepo, Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli, army commander Mojalefa Letsoela, the Ministry of Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing and Attorney General Haae Phoofolo are the first to sixth respondents respectively.

In terms of interim reliefs, the applicants want Commissioner Molibeli and Lieutenant General (Lt-Gen) Letsoela “and the officers subordinate to them be ordered (or interdicted) and restrained from dealing with the applicants in any manner other than by due process of the law while enforcing lockdown regulations”.

They also want Commissioner Molibeli and Lt-Gen Letsoela and their subordinates “to be ordered (or interdicted) to not assault the applicants and/or subject them to any form of torture or inhuman treatment while enforcing lockdown regulations”.

In terms of final reliefs, they want “The decision of the government of Lesotho announced and or published by The Right Honourable Prime Minister and or any government ministry or department that prohibits the applicants to conduct their trade be reviewed and set aside as irrational”.

They also want the Ministry of Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing to be ordered to pay Covid-19 relief stipends which had been promised to vendors by the previous Thomas Thabane administration.

They do not say how much they expect each vendor to receive.

In her founding affidavit, the first applicant, Ms ‘Mabathoana alleges that the Covid-19 pandemic has negatively impacted vendors’ businesses, adding the lockdown has compounded their problems.

She argues that the ban on vending is discriminatory and promotes the monopoly of big retailers at their expense since these are allowed to continue operating.

“The said announcement (lockdown) negatively discriminates against me and other street vendors because we are prevented from selling food items while the retailers are allowed to do the same.

“The announcement of first respondent (Majoro), insofar as the street vendors are concerned, is irrational and has no factual basis as to how we are being differentiated from the retail stores that sell the same items as the ones that we sell.

“I aver that there is no legitimate factual basis to differentiate street vendors’ trade from that of big retailers which are allowed to operate and are said to be offering/selling essential services similar to the ones we are selling.

“I aver that on account of the fact that individuals sell limited items, the chances of the super spread of Covid-19 are highly limited. The big retailers attract large numbers of people on account of the several items they sell.”

Ms ‘Mabathoana also argues that the government decision is arbitrary as they were not consulted before the lockdown was imposed.

“The first respondent (Majoro) never consulted any of the street vendors’ associations when he planned the lockdown. The decision unfairly affects street vendors on account of the fact that street vendors are not allowed to sell vegetables, seeds and other items. But the same ban is not extended to big retail stores.

“I and my co-applicants are mostly living from hand to mouth and the decision to ban our trade is detrimental under the circumstances.  I aver that we have no option but out of necessity to defy the announced lockdown to go and sell so that we can put food on the table for our dependents.

“We are fearful that the police and soldiers will be deployed to brutalise us as they did previously without anyone being held to account. Other vendors’ items in the form of eggs, vegetables, fruits were taken by the police. They were left helpless and the government will do nothing to ameliorate their plight.

“The first respondent, public servants and the employees of the other sectors are going to earn their salaries when this month ends not withstanding their stay at home but the same will not extend to street vendors.”

Ms ‘Mabathoana argues that through the imposition of the lockdown, the vendors are being unfairly made to pay the price for “the government’s failure to combat the spread of Covid-19”.

“The government has failed to combat Covid-19 pandemic and no one is held to account and the government’s poor decision (sic) is made to affect myself and other street vendors. It is a fact known to me that no street vendor where I operate ever succumbed to Covid-19 and I never heard of my known customers to have suffered the same. This is because street vendors observe Covid-19 protocols as mandated by the World Health Organisation.

“I am approaching this Honourable Court on an urgent basis for the following reasons:

“I am seeking the protection of the law against inhuman treatment that is likely to be meted to myself if I sell in order to earn a living. Time is of essence and is running out as my wellbeing and livelihood is at stake.

“I am suffering from depression as I have no alternative source of income. I am apprehensive that if this Honourable Court does not intervene on an urgent basis — street vendors or their dependents may die of hunger as opposed to Covid-19.

“However, I should state without equivocation that street vendors mostly understand the seriousness of the Covid-19 and are willing to observe safety protocols towards themselves, their customers and public at large.

“It is very clear from the foregoing that if this Honourable Court does not intervene as prayed, I and other applicants stand to suffer irreparable harm.

“Street vendors will starve to death with their dependents while politicians continue to benefit from public purse despite their incompetence to combat spread of Covid-19. When the schools reopen, I will have no means to pay for my children’s school fees.

“I am likely to lose my business and be unable to restart afresh if this Honourable Court does not help,” Ms ‘Mabathoana states in her court papers.

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