By ‘Majirata Latela
Reports indicate that most people migrate for economic reasons which see them living and working in another country, among other things, to earn money to send back home to improve long-term life conditions for themselves, their families and communities.
It is in the light of this that Lesotho has approximately 400 00 people living and working in South Africa, mostly in the informal sector, such as women employed as domestic workers.
While just a small percentage works in the formal sector in SA, the reason for working there is to make money to support themselves and their families back home; this way they send remittances to their country of origin.
Due to the high unemployment rate – 22.83 percent – many women in the rural areas of Lesotho have found greener pastures by working in SA as domestic workers.
theReporter ventured out to hear stories of women who have taken the bull by the horns and left the country to eke out a living for their families.
Puseletso Rathipe (59), originally from Quthing, started working as a domestic worker in SA in 1991. She started out earning a paltry R150 a month, with which she fed her kids who were living with their grandmother, pay their school fees and clothe them.
“I worked as a domestic worker until 2008 when I felt. I was now weak and my health was deteriorating. If it wasn’t for that, I would still be working because the money made a big difference in our lives.
“With my earnings, I put my two children through school; they were better off than some of their peers whose parents were not working. They never went a day without food. Even though my son never finished high school because he chose to go to initiation school, I am proud that my daughter was able to complete high school with the money I earned in SA,” says Rathipe.
She remembers that she used to send money through the Postal Office while she continued to work, and would sometimes for a whole year without coming home. She says the money at the time, was not enough for them to go home whenever they felt wanted.
Although she may have missed out on certain milestones as her children were growing up, she is happy that she did everything as a widow to give her children a better education and to make sure that they never went to bed on an empty stomach.
Her son, Tshepo Rathipe, is full of nothing but admiration and praise for his mother who so brave as to go to SA to work for them to meet their needs.
“Yes, the absence of my mother left a huge void in our lives, but we were very lucky to have a grandmother who closed that void. I also believe that, due to unemployment, I too might end up going to SA to look for a job,” he said.
International Organisation for Migration reports have indicated that one of the greatest disadvantages for children whose parents work abroad is the lack of an emotional support system, which results in feelings of loneliness.
Children have to make huge efforts to overcome this feeling and quite often they don’t manage to adapt well to the situation. Certain circumstances and events in their lives remind them of their parents, and this tends to increase their suffering.
“When a mother goes abroad, her child is traumatised, the child loses his mother, in many cases both parent.
“There is no one to help him deal with emotional problems, to give him advice, to tell him what is right and what is wrong.
“Children and teenagers need love, advice; they need to be caressed and understood, but how can they get all of this unless their parents are with them, they miss their parents, and they have no possibility of sharing their thoughts and sorrows,” IOM says
‘Mabasia Marite (26) of Ha Thetsane in Maseru relates how the absence of her mother in her life affected both her and her younger brother emotionally. Her mother started working as a domestic worker long before she was even born and when she turned 14 her mother migrated to SA.
“My father died when I was five years old and my mother had to make ends meet as a single parent working as a domestic. When she went to SA she got us a nanny who looked after us but that didn’t take long as my mother had to change nannies frequently due to their behaviour and failure to take good care of us.
“When I turned 15, I then had to live with my brother alone; he was seven at that time and I had to be a mother to him. I cooked, cleaned the house and took my brother to school. I had to play the role of a mother in his life when my mom was hustling to make sure we had money to buy food, clothes and to pay for our school fees.
“It was heart-breaking. Sometimes I had no one to guide me through my teenage stage. I used to be very angry at my mother when she reprimanded me for misbehaving and using money recklessly. I was only a child, I felt lonely most of the time and there were no close relatives to look after us due to family politics,” Marite says with a shaky voice.
She agrees that her mother had to work in SA so that they could go to better schools but the gap that of their mother’s absence left a huge scar. She says her back then her mother used to send money through the banks and currently their mother’s card bank card stays with them so that they can get easy access to the money.
‘Mabasia went to college but never got her degree as she had to drop out due to lack of funds; she now stays with her nine-month old daughter and her brother who is now in high school.
Speaking to this publication form SA, ‘Mabasia’s mother, ‘Matankiso said she has worked as a domestic worker all her life and, when she decided to go to SA it was because of the prospect of tripling what should was earning in Lesotho.
Yes, her children were young and needed her, but she could not let them die of hunger or not afford to take them to school.
“I am a widow, and if I didn’t take the risk of coming to SA, who knows, maybe my kids would have not been able to get an education because we only have free primary in schools.
“When I first started working far from home, I would miss them and get worried at night; it was too much to take in and it was also risky leaving them on their own, but I am grateful to my daughter; she is very understanding and like any other kid, she made her own mistakes and I would scream at her sometimes, like any parent would.
“Again, like any other parent, I wish to see my kids growing and be there for them, but poverty and unemployment in my country has deprived me of that experience. As if it’s not enough, the borders between SA and Lesotho are also adding more stress,” Rathipe explains.
She further says that due to the high cost of travelling to and from Lesotho, she sometimes takes up to four months without going home, but only sends money and communicates with her children on a daily basis.
When South Africa introduced the Lesotho Special Permit in 2015 with the aim of granting Lesotho nationals the opportunity to work, study and do business in SA without fear of being deported or staying illegally in SA, a total of 90 314 permits were issued.
Yet, like score of other Basotho, Rathipe did not get the chance to apply for the permit. In March last year when SA went into Lockdown due to the global Covid_19 pandemic. she did not come home, and had to stay in SA for the entire lockdown and only came back in December.
“For the whole year, I did not have the chance to go home and even after the December holidays when I heard that another lockdown was looming I had to come back to work to avoid losing my job like other people who went home during the first lockdown,” she says.
According to a study by Christine Kushinga Matsvai-Mutsau, the South African Department of Home Affairs (DHA) in 2009 and 2016 respectively, in a bid to legalise Zimbabweans and Basotho who formed the majority of illegal and undocumented foreign migrant workers in South Africa, embarked on the “Dispensation of Zimbabweans Project,” popularly known as the “DZP” and the Lesotho Special Permit (LSP) project.
According to a 2010 World Bank report, there were an estimated 1.86 million foreign migrant workers living and working in South Africa. Of this figure, the majority were from Zimbabwe and Lesotho, and most were undocumented as they had crossed the borders illegally. However, the accuracy of this figure is questionable, partly because of the phenomenon of irregular migration and partly because of the inadequate data collection systems.
It may also be said that this figure has recently risen to four million migrants as the political and economic climate in most African countries has been volatile, forcing many citizens to flee and seek refuge in more economically and politically stable countries such as South Africa.