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Vendors strike over Covid-19 grants

Bereng Mpaki

MASERU vendors will on Wednesday take to the streets to compel the government to avail the Coronavirus (Covid-19) grants it promised them in May this year.

The vendors say they have run out of patience after being taken from pillar to post by different government authorities when they inquire about the grants.

In May 2020, the then prime minister Thomas Thabane announced different socio-economic mitigations to assist different players who were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Among these measures was a relief fund which would give matching grants to registered micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) who were negatively affected by the economic impact of the virus.

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.

The government has since committed M20 million into the relief fund.

But vendors say they have waited too long for the government to get its house in order and were determined to get the compensation as they have been impoverished by the lockdown. The government imposed the lockdown on 30 March 2020 and eventually lifted it on 19 May 2020.

“We have resolved to embark onto a strike on Wednesday to protest the delay of the compensation that the government promised to cushion us against the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said one vendor who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.

“We are struggling to feed our families as a result of losing revenue during the lockdown. Many vendors have gone out of business and have not been able to resume.

“For those who have managed to continue operations, business is no longer the same as they are struggling with low stock levels which are not generating adequate profits to sustain their families.”

The vendors said they have resolved to strike to force the government to act.

“We have realised that unless you protest, you will never be heard in this country.”

For his part, project manager of the PSCEDP Chaba Mokuku said they were still waiting for the funds for the funds from the government.

“We are still waiting for the government to transfer money into our account so that the payments can be processed. We have played the role that is expected of us,” Mr Mokuku said.

He said they have received applications requesting assistance amounting to M4.8 million.

Meanwhile, a report by the Lesotho Vulnerability Assessment Committee (LVAC) says vendors have also been hit hard by travel restrictions between Lesotho and South Africa.

LVAC is under the SADC’s Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis (RVAA) Programme, which enhances regional and national response to climate change, poverty and livelihood vulnerability.

“Due to border closures, hawkers are unable to buy stock from South Africa and Botswana… Although some street vendors returned to work, they operate at a reduced level of activity,” LVAC said.

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