In this issue we publish a story on social vices breeding at Setopong in Maseru. Informal liquor outlets around the bus terminus have provided the seedbed for all manner of social ills ranging from under-age consumption of alcohol to illicit sex behind plastic shacks. Some of the patrons, according to eyewitnesses, include girls in their early and mid-teens who have taken to prostitution largely under the influence of alcohol and possibly drugs. The currency in the transactional sex, is beer.
More concerning is that when they are drunk, some of these girls are sexually assaulted by male patrons. The toll on the physical environment is as visible as it is appalling: If you pass by early in the morning you are greeted by a putrid stench of urine and you literally have to skip rivulets of the urine that flow from one such toilet. The patrons, always visibly drunk after another binge drinking night, never bother to really get into the toilet to relieve themselves but just give passing taxi commuters their back and pee.
Even more worrying should be the invisible scars left not just on the families in that neighbourhood but also on the minds of the young, impressionable school children who have to see such ugly scenes daily on their way to school.
Little wonder, some school children have already started the habit of stopping over to get a piece of the action.
The story itself is not new. What revived our worries is the fact that in spite of similar published reports before, nothing has changed. It is encouraging that local authorities have unequivocally condemned the events at the latter-day Sodom and Gomorrah. Correctional Services Minister, who is also the MP for the area (Stadium Constituency), Mophato Monyake said he once visited the area in the company of Maseru City Council (MCC) authorities to warn vendors to stop illicit businesses.
Equally gratifying is MCC’s concern about the situation. Both the public relations officer and the town clerk say council is planning to act on the situation. We hope our leaders will act quickly because another day of procrastination is a day too many for many more youngsters who can potentially fall into the trap of alcohol and sexual abuse.
Unfortunately, while the authorities are planning to investigate further and then act, we feel some of the facts are so glaring they don’t need any rocket scientist to certify that a portion of our community has become visibly sick.
The further we delay, the worse the situation deteriorates and the more the sickness becomes septic and less likely to be remedied. Some of the simple questions to be asked would for instance include: Who are the owners of those premises and why are they being left to get away with day light murder? There are reports that some owners are renting facilities out to these illicit traders.
Why are they clearly above the law? What is there to fear among those taxpayers to rein-in rogue social elements like these? Have the neighbours, most of whom have built beautiful homes at a cost, given up their peace to the loud music and daily sight of clear social vices? Our cops are ever present on the roads every rush hour doing their work, why can’t the relevant policing department be diligent with such misdemeanors?
These are some of the questions that also go through the minds of some law abiding Basotho as they pass by these spots. As for the plastic shacks, these leave a lot to be desired. Under the new government, some visible steps were taken to ensure decency at the bus stop area. For instance, more than 20 new iron sheet market stalls were set up at the Sefika taxi rank and these replaced the dilapidated plastic shacks. The idea was to make the vendors pay small rental fees and increase revenue that would help improve services such as provision of water and toilets.
However, some vendors criticised this move arguing the new stalls were too confining and too hot in summer. We believe the route to take is clear. Any bona fide vendor selling legitimate items like fruits, food and airtime obviously can never have problems with being inspected on. It is clearly illegal traders who cry the loudest when council officials and police try to instill order.
Society also has a duty to prevent potential problems. That the area is notorious for all manner of crime all the time is given, police are on record as having said so. That owners of both the sites of these crime scenes are known is also given. So the question is why is nobody moving fast to doing anything about it?