Sebapo’s death should serve as a wake up call

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This week we carry the tragic story of Thabo Sebapo, a 20-year-old man who died under controversial circumstances at China Garments Manufacturers (CGM) at Thetsane in December.

Sebapo, who had been engaged on a part-time basis, died after he allegedly inhaled toxic paint while working in a water treatment tank at CGM, a controversial company that hogged the headlines last year for alleged tax evasion.

Two other men he was working with were lucky to survive and tell the tale. They were treated at Maseru Private Hospital on December 21.

Although investigations are still going on to establish the exact circumstances surrounding Sebapo’s death, we are persuaded to conclude that his death was totally unnecessary.

From what we have gleaned while speaking to experts, the circumstances surrounding Sebapo’s death also point to a clear case of negligence.

The case smacks of a cover up.

We find it inexplicable that a man who was entering his prime could have his life cut short under such tragic circumstances.

It is precisely for this reason that we are calling for an inquest to establish the exact circumstances surrounding Sebapo’s death.

If it is proved that there was indeed a case of negligence on the part of CGM bosses the law must be allowed to take its full course.

What is disturbing right now are the conflicting statements emanating from the police and the CGM management about what really happened on that December afternoon.

The police say Sebapo died after he fell into the tank. CGM insists there was no attempt to cover up the death. This claim must be subjected to rigorous scrutiny.

We would like to believe CGM could have avoided this tragedy had they put in place the necessary arrangements to deal with any unforeseen emergencies.

But reports that we are getting indicate the company was neither prepared nor did it anticipate any such emergencies.

We are also wondering whether these workers were under any competent supervision.

Was there any assessment of the risks involved before the three were made to undertake the dangerous task? Why did it take 90 minutes before these victims were assisted?

These are questions CGM must answer.

It is in everyone’s interest that CGM provides clear, cogent answers surrounding the young man’s death.

For the sake of Sebapo’s mother and other grieving relatives who are battling to find closure, it is important that the truth surrounding the young man’s death is exposed.

Did CGM do all in their power to prevent this tragedy? We do not think so.

In fact, we are persuaded to conclude that there was a clear breach of safety regulations and procedures on the day in question.

Sebapo’s death should serve as a wake-up call for industry, workers’ unions and the government ministries concerned as they seek to deal with the huge challenges that we still face in improving issues of occupational health and safety.

In previous editorials we have vigorously argued for the need for the government to clamp down on industries that flout safety regulations. Such a call should not be perceived as xenophobic.

It is about avoiding such tragedies as the one we saw in Thetsane last December.

We seem to have factory bosses who have grown used to bribing their way through as they cut corners in the pursuit of profits.

This is an industry that has no qualms about issues of safety for workers as long as it maximises profits. Safety matters lie at the very bottom on their list of priorities.

The government of Lesotho must clamp down on these practices and enforce rules and regulations to protect workers.

Sebapo should not be allowed to die in vain. His untimely death should be used to galvanise authorities at the Department of Labour to crack down on industries that willfully flout safety regulations.

The department must carry out regular spot checks to ensure companies are in full compliance with the law. Those that flout regulations must be made to feel the full weight of the law.

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