THE sad plight of many Basotho men forced to eke out a living in South Africa was laid bear with the killing 14 illegal miners in Benoni last week.
This tragedy has made me relive some equally sad memories when Basotho miners were also killed in South Africa in 2009.
I recalled with sadness the 2009 tragedy where more than 86 illegal miners perished in the belly of the abandoned Harmony Gold mines due to a fire.
The death toll of the tragedy remains the highest among illegal mining disasters to have happened in South Africa to date. Forty six Basotho illegal miners died during that disaster.
Once again, Lesotho mourns the death of 14 of its sons who wanted to live by the dictate of the word of God and be providers of their families. They chose not to just sit back and watch their loved ones starve due to lack of employment opportunities in their homeland and opted to foray into the illegal realm zama-zamas.
The poverty they faced at home made them risk their lives and overlook the dangers associated with illegal mining.
However, unlike in 2009, the government is ready to help out the deceased men’s families this time around.
Yet nine families in Ha Noko, Thaba Tseka lost their sons in 2009 and the government didn’t flinch. Some of the families had lost contact with their loved ones who were still trapped in the mine.
Many Basotho looked to Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili to provide assistance. But the premier was unequivocal in stating that the illegal miners were criminals who were sullying the warm relations between Lesotho and South Africa.
Dr Mosisili did not even bother to visit the bereaved families to comfort them and effectively took a back seat on the issue.
The deceased miners were kept in the Welkom state mortuary, with no hope of their repatriation for burial in their homeland.
They were only brought home for burial thanks to the Lesotho Funeral Services, Popular Front for Democracy leader, Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane and Jobo Sekautu who was then legislator for Semena constituency who pooled their resources.
“I have approached some individual business people in my constituency and in some parts of the country, I had to do something for these people” Adv Rakuoane had said.
However, this time around, there is a sudden willingness on the part of the government to assist in repatriating and burying the deceased miners. What has suddenly changed? Is it the mindset or just another vote-buying strategy by the government after it lost a vote of no confidence in parliament and resorted to go for snap elections?
As was broadcast on national television on Tuesday, one of the members of the bereaved families said: “We really appreciate what the government is promising to do for us and bring back the bodies, but the main question is when?”
I want to believe this was done purposely by the news producers as they equally could have been confused. My million dollar question is why help now when other Basotho families lost their in 2009?
These incidents present both the Lesotho and South African governments with an opportunity for self-introspection, and the issue is long overdue.
Otherwise, more men will needlessly die as illegal miners.
Admittedly, there are no easy solutions to this crisis. But it’s time that the government puts in place proactive and intelligent policies that address the issue of unemployment and improves its responsiveness to issues of social welfare.
Otherwise, we are likely to witness more painful deaths, of men leaving behind widows, who will soon follow suit in search of jobs and also end up in brothels and exploited in the neighboring country.