Life Back in Masitise
Mark Behle – Lesotho
It is just about a month ago that I returned to Lesotho. Nothing exciting about the trip back; all went smoothly flying from Phoenix to Atlanta to Johannesburg to Bloemfontein, where I was met and went by road back to Maseru (Lesotho’s capital) and spent a few days with friends before driving the 100 miles south to Masitise.
One of the first things I began looking into was buying a computer and entering, as someone told me, “the 21st century”. Not too much trouble buying the computer, but there was difficulty getting the internet connection. My phone line was supposedly internet-capable, but the computer was not connecting despite the same computer connecting at the computer shop in Maseru. So the computer people said the problem was the phone line. Phone technicians from the head office happened to be down my way and they spent an hour here and determined that the phone line was absolutely ok. I went back to the computer folks and they eventually installed a different modem and since then I have been able to connect with the internet.
The winter weather has been mild. Most nights it is around the freezing mark, but the majority of days are wonderful once the sun gets up and takes the chill off the air. While it isn’t as warm as the internet temperatures for Maseru on Yahoo would suggest (97 degrees the other day, according to them!!), the highs usually make it to the 60 degree mark or higher. Clear blue skies and little, if any, wind, can make the temperature seem warmer than that if you are in the sun. Delightful weather, I think, but it does get very chilly once the sun goes down.
Since getting resettled in my house, and setting the computer up, I have been holding some revision classes for the Form D (4th year of 5 for high school here) math students I will be teaching once the 2nd term begins later this month. I have had as many as 80 come for the informal sessions we are having for several hours in the mornings during the week. All 80 crammed in one room, which is good practice for getting used to the congestion I will face when school begins in another week. Somehow too many Form D students were admitted at the beginning of the year, so I will be seeing 77 kids in one class and 75 in the other. That’s about 20 more kids than I have ever had in the past. I may need to go on a strict diet in order to pass between the chalkboard and first row of desks.
Within Lesotho as a whole, possibly the most significant event during the time I was away was the expiration of the World Trade Organization’s Multi-Fiber Arrangement. This agreement concerning the export of clothing had put quotas on the amounts of apparel that countries like China could export, in order to help the development of apparel industries in countries, such as Lesotho, which are struggling economically. The MFA had led to a number of textile firms opening in Lesotho (funded by the Lesotho government and Chinese private investment) in recent years and the creation of over 50,000 jobs, the vast majority of which were held by women.
On December 31, 2004 the MFA expired and nothing has replaced it. Consequently, Chinese exports are now flooding the world market and putting the future of the textile industry in Lesotho, and other countries, at risk. Several Chinese-owned companies never re-opened after the December holidays and in some cases the owners reportedly simply left the country without paying the workers. A recent newspaper article put the current number of job losses resulting from the expiration of the MFA at around 14,000. This is having a huge impact on Lesotho’s clothing exports (most of which goes to the USA) as well as impacting the lives of thousands of Basotho people. Many of these employees who have lost their jobs were the sole wage-earners for their immediate and extended families.
One can take the view that most of these textile jobs paid little (around $100 month for most people) in conditions that were less than ideal. With so many people wanting jobs here, not many workers were willing to risk their jobs pointing out the poor conditions they worked under. Nor was the government going to speak out too strongly less it lose the much-needed private investment. Still, these jobs were providing incomes that enabled people to have a steady wage and improve their lives to some extent. In Lesotho’s impoverished economic climate these lost jobs were a lifeline for many.
As most of you know, I have been involved with Scripture Union during my stay in Lesotho and we have had an excellent SU group here at school. During my absence, the partner church I work with, the Lesotho Evangelical Church, issued a statement saying they did not want SU at their schools (Masitise is an LEC school). The director of SU in Lesotho is trying to meet with LEC officials to discover what has led to this. I, too, am trying to find out details and may have more to report next time I write.
Prayer requests: for the many Basotho affected by the job losses in the textile industry; wisdom for myself in handling 75 kids in a class; healing of the LEC/SU rift.
Mark Behle is a missionary with the Lesotho Evangelical Church. He is a Mathematics teacher at Masitise High School, Lesotho.