QEME — Fourteen years is just how long 2 500 villagers of Qeme, 25km from Maseru city centre, have had to wait to be paid for temporary jobs they did for the government.
The villagers were hired in 1995 as casual workers for road and dam construction projects.
They were hired by the then Basotho Congress Party (BCP) government and worked for seven months.
Problems started in 1996 when their wages were due.
The villagers said they were sent from pillar to post until they gave up hope of ever getting their wages.
Some said their children had to drop out of school. They had hoped the wages would help them pay school fees.
Others had to sell their livestock to raise the school fees.
The majority of them were in debt.
The casual workers included students who had joined the project to raise school fees.
One of those severely affected by the delay is ‘Mabolae Jasone.
When the project started Jasone was in Standard 7.
Her parents had died and she was struggling to pay her school fees.
She had hoped to use the money to complete her secondary school education.
“I could not pursue my studies because of the delay. I was expelled from school because I owed school fees,” Jasone said.
Jasone is in her late 20s now.
She said the delay affected her life.
Jasone is not alone.
Mabolae Taole was in also in Standard 7 when the project started.
During the school holidays she got hired as a casual worker.
Like Jasone, she was hoping to get enough money to proceed to high school. And when the money did not come she dropped out of school, her dreams were shattered.
Her parents could not help because they too had not been paid.
“I dropped out of school while in Standard 7 because my parents could not afford to pay for my education,” Taole said.
Others like ‘Makhasipe Khasipe sank into debt.
“I was sued at the Ha-Matala local court by one person whom I owed money,” said Khasipe.
For some months she battled to raise the money to clear her loans.
Teboho Malesela’s children dropped out of school.
Malinkeng Mokhethi’s son died before he could receive his wages.
“I am really hurt because my late son did not get his wages while still alive,” Mokhethi said.
Puleng Kibinye said her brother died a sad man because he felt “used”.
“My brother was always worried about his pending wages.
“He always said he felt sad to work without being paid,” Kibinye said.
Their long wait ended last week when they received news that the government was finally paying them.
Bofihla Nkuebe, who was the MP for the area in 1995, said he had helped push for the payment.
Nkuebe, who is the leader of Sefate Democratic Union party, said the government would make the payments through banks.
“My supporters were not paid while BCP followers who were employed in the following years got paid,” Nkuebe said.
“The government has now agreed to pay the wages and payments will be made through banks.”
He said about 1 000 people got paid last Thursday.
“Another 900 people were paid on Friday and the remaining 600 people will get their money on Monday,” he said.
About M5 million will be divided among 2 500 people.
The budget controller in the Ministry of Finance, Khosi Letsie, confirmed that the casual workers were finally receiving their wages.
“We have paid about 1 000 people and we hope to finish by Monday,” said Letsie.
The money will come in handy for some villagers but for others it has come too late.
For those that dropped out of school it might be too late to go back.
Still they are happy that they have finally been paid.