“We want to be your new government for the next five years!” The electorate in Lesotho must rank among the most frustrated in the world. They have gotten used to the rants and orations of political leaders who pose as
“genuine” alternatives yet the poor electorate have often emerged with nothing but egg on their faces, and remain miles and miles away from the promised land of milk and honey. Some of the causes of frustration are hard to swallow: roads that get washed away soon after completion, the so-called free education that has further pushed the word quality out of our vocabulary, the tens of thousands who see no slim hope of employment, the endless crises plaguing higher institutions of learning, the huge passport backlog and delays; this country’s challenges are simply endless and do not show even slight signs of abating.
Lesotho’s problems are far bigger than its size would suggest. A tiny little kingdom nestled in the huge belly of Africa’s economic powerhouse. It is hard to think that, indeed, this is where geography has chosen to place us.
Some years back when I took a decision to become a teacher it was due to the burning desire I had to make a difference in my own country. Whether I have indeed made that difference, only my former students can tell.
I would prefer this story to be told by them; it’s best that way. When I joined the teaching profession in 1996, it took just three months for government to pay my salary. Today newly employed teachers have to wait frustratingly for over a year to get their wages. What went wrong in just 16 years? While they wait, they continue to commute daily to work, pay rent, buy groceries and try to meet a multitude other needs. I am not sure how they manage.
As a teacher, I find it extremely difficult and unsettling to guarantee my students who are prospective teachers that their country will treat them with the best of care once they sign on the dotted line to commence their teaching career.
I wish I did not have such mixed feelings about this. This is not how it should be. If fortunes were to be reversed, I am not sure if any other employee would warmly welcome a year without pay. In a similar vein, when a teacher retires at 65, the relevant arms of government are already aware of this impending date. Papers are processed and the tired greying teacher patiently waits for the miserable gratuity and pension. It would be a miracle if the money lands in the hands of the teacher in less than a year. Some possibly, due to hurt, unbearable pain and humiliation at the hands of their government, depart the world before their eyes even see the promised cash. This is the country we all love to hate.
What is obvious is the glaring inefficiency in the systems that are supposed to serve us more humanely, and with more dignity, than they are doing at the moment. What are the responsible officials, from the most senior to the most junior, doing to address the deficiencies in our government? For how long are we going to be treated like second or even third and fourth class citizens in our own country? Do Basotho have to beg for fair treatment in their own country?
A country that treats its citizens this way breeds nothing but frustration, deep feelings of hate and despondency among them. In the early 1960s, former US president J F Kennedy told Americans to think differently about the concept of providing and receiving service: “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,” he said. Lesotho has immensely gifted and skilled individuals who want to make it a better place. They are genuinely determined to plough back those skills and contribute in the making and nurturing of this country. They need a government that recognises and values them and promises clean and efficient governance. Government and its citizens must provide reciprocal service; it must not be a one way relationship. If the in-coming government does not recognise this, it will always wonder why Lesotho’s best brains continuously seep through the border and choose, instead,
to fuel the economy of South Africa. Patriotism must be from government as well, not just from citizens; and many of them, literally, have nothing to give.