MASERU — ‘Maleshoboro Mopeli is grieving.
Her nephew, Borane Raletsatsi, died last Wednesday after being crushed to death while digging for clay to sell.
The walls of the pit caved in, crushing Raletsatsi and his friend only identified as Mohlomi to death.
He was only 18.
Raletsatsi, the sole breadwinner for Mopeli and his five siblings, was buried alive in the pit, about 500 metres from his home in Semphetenyane
For months, Raletsatsi had worked his socks off to extract clay soil from the bowels of Mother Earth.
Raletsatsi, assisted by Mohlomi, would dig and collect the soil which they sold mostly to pregnant women on the streets of Maseru.
The work was tough with the financial rewards modest.
A small packet of the grey soil is being sold on the streets for as little as 50 lisente — enough only to buy the cheapest packet of pop-corn in town.
Raletsatsi was among hundreds of unemployed Basotho youths selling soil on the streets in a desperate attempt to escape grinding poverty.
Medical experts say between eight and 65 percent of pregnant women suffer from pica — an eating aberration that is linked to iron deficiency.
The disorder is said to be responsible for the indiscriminate craving for non-food substances such as clay soil, according to medical experts.
The soil traders sometimes make an estimated M10 a day. On a good week some make as much as R200, enough to buy the barest essentials.
When the chips are down the soil vendors can spend the whole day without anyone buying their product.
Last Wednesday disaster struck for Raletsatsi and Mohlomi.
The pit they were digging collapsed, burying them alive.
Mopeli, 85, was inconsolable when the Lesotho Times visited her home last week.
Mopeli said her nephew was the sole breadwinner who helped look after his five siblings.
“He was our sole breadwinner. It hurts so much to know that he died while trying to help me out,” Mopeli said her voice quaking with emotion.
“He had taken over from me the responsibility of providing for the family.”
Mopeli said Raletsatsi was a “good boy” who did not deserve to die in the manner he did. She said her nephew’s “business” was putting food on the table for the family.
When a news team from the Lesotho Times visited her home she was sitting dejectedly on her wooden bench, wiping tears with her shawl.
She was the only adult at home and was welcoming neighbours who came to mourn with the family.
The family’s tiny one-roomed house stands isolated on a small hill.
Narrating the events leading to the disaster, Mopeli said Raletsatsi woke up at the crack of dawn on the fateful day.
He collected his tools and waved good-bye.
When Raletsatsi failed to come back home at the “normal” time around 5pm she assumed he had gone to Thetsane industrial site where he sold the soil.
She was startled when a neighbour who had borrowed their wheelbarrow reported that she had seen some clothes lying outside the pit.
“It appeared quite odd when she told me that their clothes were still outside. They had been there for hours and surely they would not have taken that long,” Mopeli said.
“I knew they always took off their clothes because the pit was muddy.”
She said it had not registered in her mind that something terrible could have happened to her nephew.
“I even went past the pit when I went to collect some water from the pond. I did not even recognise that the pit’s wall had caved in,” she said.
When it was around 7pm she became extremely worried.
“He never used to come home later than 6pm and when an hour passed by I knew something was wrong. We waited the whole night but he did not come home.”
The following morning Mopeli went to the police station to report that her nephew was missing.
Some villagers, suspecting that the two young men could have been buried under the soil, had already reported the matter to the police and were busy digging the pit in an effort to retrieve the bodies.
Mopeli said it was a harrowing sight.
“I was so scared. I sat a few metres away from the digging. When they eventually pulled the bodies out, I could not hold myself,” Mopeli said.
“I could not believe my eyes. He laid there lifeless.”
The bodies were later taken to a mortuary.
Mopeli said she was yet to start any funeral arrangements as she had no money.
“I am stuck. I do not know where to start. I have no money, no relative and yet I have a nephew to bury,” she said.
Efforts to contact Mohlomi’s family were unsuccessful.
The horrific incident has not dissuaded other diggers from continuing with the business.
Sello Moisa, a vendor in central Maseru, said this was the only project which did not require capital.
“We sell the soil because it is cheaper to start the business. We sell mostly to women, especially pregnant ones,” Moisa said.