THE crackdown on Chinese-owned supermarkets that has been going on for the past few weeks is welcome as long as it is driven by the need to protect the public.
The intervention by the Ministry of Trade has generally been welcomed by Basotho who for years have had to endure rough treatment by unscrupulous businessmen driven solely by the need to make astronomical profits.
We can understand the people’s anger.
The businessmen, mostly of Chinese origin, have been accused of selling expired foodstuffs and paying little regard to health regulations.
For years it is the people who suffered.
In spite of their cries nobody seemed to care.
This is why some of these businessmen had been allowed to operate for decades with impunity.
They had simply become a law unto themselves; which is unfortunate.
But like all bad things this had to stop at some point.
It is against that background that Trade Minister Temeki Tšolo two weeks ago led a massive crackdown on Chinese-owned businesses that he said were flouting the law.
We believe the crackdown is for the public’s good.
This is precisely why we have endorsed the government operation.
However, it would be a mistake for the government to conclude that it is only the Chinese who are at fault.
Such an approach would appear patently xenophobic.
This exercise against unscrupulous businessmen must not discriminate.
Its tentacles must reach every corner of the Kingdom and cover all shops and supermarkets operating in Lesotho regardless of whether they are owned by Basotho or foreigners.
The desire for profit knows no colour.
We take heart from current legislative plans to revamp Lesotho’s antiquated legislation dealing with errant tradesmen.
Lesotho needs new pieces of legislation that take cognisance of our modern realities.
The Public Health Order of 1970, with its outdated and almost meaningless fines, must be revamped immediately.
We are glad that the new Public Health Act will make it an offence, punishable by a five-year jail term, for any businessman to sell food not fit for human consumption.
They could also face a M5 000 fine for breaching the law.
We believe such fines are deterrent enough to restore order in the retail sector.
Parliament must move fast to pass such a progressive piece of legislation with no fuss.
It would also be wrong to target just the Chinese.
It would also be wrong to paint all Chinese with the same brush.
It would also be wrong to conclude that it is only the Chinese who are intrinsically corrupt and prone to violating the law.
We know there are indeed lots of honest, hardworking Chinese who have played a key role in the economic development of Lesotho.
At the diplomatic level China continues to have excellent relations with Lesotho.
Beijing has contributed immensely to the economic development of Lesotho.
But in spite of that contribution the reality on the ground is that China still has a huge “image problem” in Africa.
It is still seen, despite its vigorous denials, in imperial terms.
China, however, apparently still has a long way to go in correcting this perception among Africans.
The majority of Africans still think the relationship between the two peoples is heavily skewed in China’s favour.
This is the perception that Africans hold.
This perception, regrettably, often cuts across the African continent.
Unless China steps up its game and fights to smash these pockets of resentment in Lesotho and across the continent it will continue to be viewed through negative lenses.
Beijing must do more to manage its image on the continent.