Sunday, June 16, 2024
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Roadworks leave Vendors in a pickle


Lehlohonolo Motšoari

Street vendors along the Moshoeshoe Road Main Circle to Seputana in Maseru were taken aback on Wednesday morning as excavators razed their stalls to make way for road development by the Roads Directorate.

Despite prior warnings issued by the Maseru City Council (MCC) and the Road Directorate through various media channels, including Facebook and public announcements, many vendors were unprepared for the sudden evacuation.

Mpho Mpojane, Chairman of the Committee representing the affected area, known as the Olympic Zone, expressed frustration over the lack of alternative arrangements for the vendors.

“When the council asked us to vacate the area for road development, we requested to shift back a bit far from the road to allow construction. However, our pleas were ignored, leaving us nowhere to go,” Mpojane lamented.

He also refuted claims by the MCC that alternative spaces had been allocated for their operations. “Rumors suggest the council has assigned us alternative locations, but this is false. We have not received any such provisions,” Mpojane stated.

The MCC, however, asserted on Wednesday that alternative spaces had been designated for the vendors, urging them to apply for relocation.

Mpojane revealed that the final warning was issued on Monday, with the MCC threatening to take action if the vendors did not comply.

“The MCC vehicle, accompanied by armed police, passed through the area, warning us to vacate immediately, or they would take action. As you can see, it was more than just a threat,” Mpojane recounted.

Eyewitnesses reported that the excavators arrived as early as 4:00 AM on Wednesday and commenced demolishing the stalls located beneath the footbridge near the Main Circle of Maseru.

“They demolished stalls funded by individual street vendors and even destroyed one stall provided by the MCC. Many vendors who sell traditional medicine had their goods destroyed as well,” remarked one witness.

Amidst the chaos, vendors were left uncertain about their next steps, with new perishable stock they bought in the morning and livelihoods at risk.

“As you can see, I came here with fresh vegetables (she pointed to a 50kg sack full of green fresh vegetables), and I already have my daily running stock that I don’t know what I will do with at this moment,” bemoaned ‘Maletsema Mojakisane.

“I’m clueless as to what next step I have to take at this juncture, I have kids to take care of back at home and I really do not know…” Mojakisane added.

“This is the end of road for me; I have been operational here for years now and I have aged enough to be seeking for a new home,” an elderly ‘Manyeliso Mohajane said with a worried face.

“I arrived here just last year after struggling to find employment, and now this is a devastating setback for me. We were told that some of our stalls would be stored safely, while others were instructed to keep them at our homes. But most of us rent our homes here in Maseru, and convincing our landlords to accommodate these stalls will be extremely challenging,” expressed a vendor who preferred to be anonymous.

Tšeliso Masasa, chairperson of the Committee of Maseru Street Vendors, revealed that the MCC had tasked them with finding a new location for the displaced vendors, a task that proved exceedingly difficult to accomplish.

“We were tasked with negotiating spaces in other zones, but these negotiations have taken longer than the originally set timeframe. We requested an extension, which unfortunately was not granted,” Masasa explained.

“Makatleho Mosala, spokesperson for MCC, stated that the council had extensively deliberated the departure terms with the street vendors from Olympic Zone to ensure a seamless transition.

“When we issue contracts to street vendors, we clearly stipulate that they are valid for only 12 months, with developments pending. They are well aware that their occupation of the Roads Directorate space was temporary,” Mosala clarified.

“Again, we had met prior to this relocation to discuss their next stop; there is an alternative space (Sakeng, Lepoqong, Metro and Thibella) which we had stopped new applications of other Basotho to priorotise for them but it seems they are not keen to apply for that space and we have also issued a note that after the 15th of June, the applications will be made open to every Mosotho,” she added.

According to MCC, the affected street vendors from this development are 180 and 122 working under the permission of MCC. Additionally, there are about 6000 – 7000 street vendors operating around the city.

Currently, the timeline for the development’s completion remains uncertain. However, MCC has reiterated that the affected street vendors would not be relocated to their former spaces, and any further arrangements would be communicated promptly.

Mpojane expressed their intention to pursue legal action, stating: “We are prepared to take this matter to court.”

Furthermore, Masasa revealed their plans for a demonstration scheduled for the 22nd of this month. “We demand that the government enact legislation to limit foreign competition for our jobs,” he asserted. “Our petition will also address the relocation concerns of Olympic Zone street vendors.”

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