MASERU — Sekhutlong is a tiny village in Berea just about 12 kilometres north-east of Maseru.
Situated in a rocky valley under the Sehlabeng plateau, the village is almost unreachable without a suitable vehicle.
It is isolated and lonely.
The road that used to link the village with nearby villages has been washed away.
Without access to the comforts of modern life such as electricity, life in Sekhutlong is one hard slog.
Villagers who spoke to the Lesotho Times this week say they expect the new coalition government led by Thomas Thabane to improve their lives in line with their election pledges.
They say they expect the new government to remember that they exist.
“Governments have abandoned us for too long. We are hoping that things will get better under the new government. We need improvements,” Moletsane Morakabi says.
Morakabi says it has been years since they last had public transport. There used to be buses that ferried people.
But they stopped operating when the gravel road deteriorated and was never maintained.
Ever since, villagers in Sekhutlong, old and young, have had to walk for over two hours to get public transport on the Main North Road that links the village with the capital Maseru.
It is a long and torturous journey for the ailing.
The nearest clinic at Marabeng along the main road is just three kilometres away. But villagers say getting there is a mission almost impossible.
“It is just unbearable to live here. You just don’t want to take a trip anywhere outside the village. You just wonder how you will get back because there are no buses,” Morakabi says.
“The road is in a horrible condition. It is so embarrassing to say that in our village we carry our elderly parents on ox-drawn carts to take them to clinic.”
He adds: “During the rain season we are not able to move out of the village even when we desperately need to because the road gets slippery.”
Morakabi says when the sun sets in the evening the whole village is enveloped in gloominess.
With no electricity, the nights are too dark and sad, he says.
“We can see some villages that are near Maseru at night and they are alive with electricity. We are not that far from them but we suffocate in the darkness here,” he says.
“We long to be part of those people who have electricity in their houses and streets. Our new government should take us out of this misery.”
He says the new government will also need to build a proper road for the people of Sehlabeng.
“We need a proper road. We hope only then will things improve for us. We are not asking for too much; just a proper road that will link us to places where we can get services.”
For 18-year-old Joy Letele, a Form E student at Berea High School, all he is asking for is a new bridge between his school and the Sehlabeng plateau.
School is sometimes cancelled for Letele and students from his area during the rainy season when a gorge that runs between the Berea and the plateau is flooded.
There is no bridge to link the school and the village.
Letele takes one and half hours to walk to school.
“We want the government to build a bridge over the river. Our time is wasted when it rains because we cannot get to school. A few years ago a student drowned when he was trying to cross a flooded river.
“Such sad accidents will continue to happen. Some days you just have to get to school for some assignments you cannot miss,” says Letele.
He adds that their safety is often compromised when they walk to and from school.
“We always look over our backs when we walk in the open. We have heard stories of how children have been kidnapped, raped or murdered and we fear it might happen to us.
“Girls are the most vulnerable. But we will not have to worry much if there is a proper road where public transport can be easily availed,” he says.
He says youths are also crying out for proper sports infrastructure.
“Our soccer pitch is bad. We do not have a proper soccer team in our village. There is nothing to encourage us to engage in sports. We cannot even watch sports on TV because we do not have electricity.
“We are the last to acquire information of things happening around us because we do not have TV or internet like other young people in urban areas,” Letele says.
He adds that while their village is not too far away from Maseru, he thinks there could be some villages in more remote districts that “are far much better than us.”
Our future remains bleak if the government does not answer our pleas, he says.
“There is a lot of disillusionment among young people. Only a few have made it to tertiary schools and they never set foot here again after their studies. There is nothing to look forward to. Life is just a struggle.”
’Mateboho Mpobane, 71, says all they wish for is a brighter future for their children.
“We pray that the new government will improve our children’s lives. We cannot expect them to all flock to Maseru where things are happening. They can earn a living while they still live here in their home area if the government can remember us,” says Mpobane.
She says government should not be biased when allocating resources as has been the case in the past.
“We have been neglected like we do not exist. That has to change. They should create employment for our children. We have fields here that have been left unattended because we do not have money for agriculture,” Mpobane says.
“The new government should subsidise agriculture. They should make seeds available to us the poor.”
Mpobane says producing food has remained a challenge after they lost all their livestock to thieves.
“We used our cattle to plant in the fields. Things were easier that way. But stock-theft got rife and the cattle were stolen in large numbers. A few that were left were sold off to avoid total loss. Now we can only use tractors to plough and that is a problem because you need money to hire one. We do not have the money because our children are not employed.”
She says she is hopeful that the new government will improve things like they promised during their election campaigns.
Thabane was inaugurated as Lesotho’s new prime minister on Friday.
He replaced Pakalitha Mosisili who had been premier since 1998.
The other partners in the coalition government are Lesotho Congress for Democracy’s Motheotja Metsing and the Basotho National Party’s Thesele ’Maseribane. In his inaugural speech at Setsoto Stadium on Friday, Thabane vowed to fight poverty by resuscitating the key agriculture sector.
He said the agriculture sector will be revived so that Basotho are able “to plough their fields and produce food, rain or not”.
“We will devise mechanisms to tackle climate change so that we are able to improve food and livestock production,” Thabane said.
With Thabane now firmly in charge, the villagers of Sekhutlong now wait with baited breath to see if he will live up to the hype of being the Basotho’s “new Messiah”.
They also want to see if Thabane’s coalition partners are men and women of their word.