Anti-Chinese Feelings in Lesotho
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
24 January 2008
Posted to the web 24 January 2008
For 14 years, Mathabo Mabekhla was one of Lesotho’s most successful entrepreneurs. Her ladies’ clothing boutique sold dresses, blouses and slacks imported from neighbouring South Africa, and boasted a client base that included cabinet ministers and their wives.
But dwindling sales forced her to shut down last year, for which she blames the country’s growing community of Chinese retailers. “Chinese are selling very cheap and not good quality things, and they are killing Basotho businesses,” said Mabekhla, 59.
She now sells cigarettes and beaded jewellery on the sidewalk in the capital, Maseru. “The Chinese, they must go back home,” Mabekhla told IRIN. “We don’t want Chinese here.”
When I was a kid growing up in the Maseru suburb of Qoaling, we would go to the Chinese plantations not too far from home. There they grew and sold rice and other things. I believe that their project was government financed, or somehow in tandem with a government undertaking. I recall no problem at that time.
There were not only Chinese immigrants but Italian (Mataliana), Indians (Makula) and others. And they were mostly traders and shopkeepers. No problems there either, as far as I can remember. At Peka where I went to high school, there was an Indian trader with whose children we went to school. Apart from the usual kids’ jokes (on those that are different), there were no problems to speak of. In the capital, Maseru, most fast food cafÃ©s, as we called them, like the famous Maseru CafÃ©, were run by Basotho of Italian descent: white people who were visibly different. No problem. So what is the matter now? Why are we saying, “We don’t want Chinese here,” something we never said to other immigrants?
To my knowledge, when the hard times bite, the immigrant is always the scapegoat. It is happening in France today (immigrants are being forcibly flown to their countries of origin), it has happened in Germany where the Turkish population there has been blamed for economic woes, and Idi Amin chased Indians out of Uganda because they ran most retail businesses there.
I think that Basotho who are suffering from economic disease are right to vent their anger. But I do not think that immigrants are the right targets of that anger. We, the Basotho, have lived for many years on money sent home by our immigrant brothers, fathers, uncles who worked in South Africa’s mines. True, our labour filled a gap, but the Chinese in Lesotho are not exactly vultures. They have provided a certain amount of income for suffering families, through factories or retail employment. If we want to blame someone for being poor, we should blame the government. Governments are elected to work for the populace, and when the populace suffers, those governments, and them alone, remain accountable.
Blaming and attacking the Chinese, or any other part of the population, is discrimination, and it’s wrong. There are lots of Basotho who live and work overseas, and there are other nationalities who live and work in Lesotho. That’s the way it is, and i’m sure we wouldn’t like it much if Basotho who live overseas were attacked in the same manner. Our solution lies in being innovative and entrepreneurial. If we can’t, then there’s something wrong with the way our country is being run, and that’s where we turn toward the government and start asking questions. Khotso, Pula, Nala.