THABA TSEKA — Morapeli Motoboli from Thabong village in Thaba Tseka district is one of few young men who have resisted the urge to join the well-beaten path to illegal mining activities in South Africa to escape unemployment and its attendant effect of poverty.
Popularly known as Zama Zamas, the illegal miners are known for flashy lifestyles whenever they strike gold.
Some come back to erect large and fancy houses while others drive around in expensive cars and wear the latest trendy clothes.
They come home to regale young men with well-woven tales about the fabled land of gold just across the border and the extravagant lifestyles and tales have often proved an irresistible magnet for starry-eyed young people who believe after all they have nothing but the chains of poverty to lose.
And so like in many other areas of Lesotho, the youth of Thaba Tseka are lured into trekking across the border, leaving their parents, siblings, wives and girlfriends to dig for gold in mostly abandoned mines.
However, the pictures and tales of opulence are just one beautiful side of the story but unfortunately, the other side is not so glittering and glamourous.
In fact, there is an ugly sinister side to the life of the Zama Zama which often ends in the despair of broken, unfulfilled expectations and death.
Illegal gold digging has its hazards as it is conducted without legal recognition and regulation.
Quite often, the absence of safety procedures leads to miners being trapped underground. And on other occasions deadly turf wars break out.
“One major challenge in the district is that of lack of employment opportunities especially for the younger generation like me,” Mr Motoboli told the Lesotho Times this week, adding, “And this has led many youths into trouble”.
“Our youths in Thaba Tseka are known for joining the illegal mining operations in neighboring South Africa. This is very dangerous because these miners die in their tens and hundreds.
“There are some villages such Ha Noko where young men joined illegal mining but unfortunately most of them perished leaving behind widows and orphans without any breadwinners. It is a sobering sight if you could see it with your eyes,” he added.
Mr Motoboli said in addition, those unemployed youths who did not trek to South Africa often engaged in substance abuse which led to fatal fights.
“Some of our idle youths resort to abusing alcohol and smoking dagga, and engage in quarrels that end with stabbings and deaths.”
He said while some youths like himself had resisted the lure of the illegal gold mining activities, they were struggling to fend for themselves because of the scarcity of jobs in Lesotho.
“Government has to step in and help by setting up projects to employ youths and keep them away from these dangerous habits.”
Another villager from Ha Tsiu, ’Mamphosi Lehloenya complained about the errant and sometimes criminal behaviour of some of the unemployed youths who engaged in acts of stock theft.
She said as a result, the community had been forced to come up with strategies to curb such criminal behaviour including setting up community policing initiatives.
However, Ms Lehloenya expressed concern about the plight of community policing members, saying they were not adequately equipped to carry out their otherwise sterling job of combating crime.
“They have done a good job because stock theft is no longer a big challenge for our farmers as it used to be.
However, they need weapons especially as they come face to face with the thieves who are well-armed,” Ms Lehloenya said, adding, government could also assist with stipends for their efforts.