OP-EDs

CAN LESOTHO’S NEW GOVERNMENT USHER-IN ECONOMIC INDEPENDENCE?

By Nkopane Mathibeli

“Any hope that this tiny black enclave will play any significant independent role requires considerable optimism and possibly, credulity” ~ Weisfelder (1971)

I find it very interesting that Lesotho’s new coalition government sets out to go against the above Weisfelder’s untrue conclusion. I am also hopeful that it is resolve to achieve economic independence is not mere rhetoric.

The last government to embark on this journey, in earnest, was the Leabua Jonathan led dictatorial government that spanned sixteen years (1970 – 86). It did a remarkable job by laying a very solid foundation.

The rest of the eight governments in between, beginning with the Metsing Lekhanya led military junta (1986) and ending with the Thomas Thabane’s just dissolved coalition government (2017 – 2020), have been utterly useless when it came to the pursuit of this beautiful ideal of economic independence.

In fact, all of them worked tirelessly to keep Lesotho not only a viable South Africa’s labour reserve/Bantustan, but a lucrative neo-colony for every imperialist state around the world.

But is it possible for Lesotho to become economically independent from South Africa? Of course it is. To begin with, Lesotho has not always been economically dependent on South Africa. On the contrary, Lesotho’s economic dependence on South Africa has been doctored/engineered over a period of time.

The issue of land dispossession aside, Lesotho was gradually and intentionally transformed from a granary of South Africa (1863) to a labour reserve (1933).

Everybody who cares to know would know that after the discovery of diamond at Kimberly (1867), Basotho farmers exported food to feed the burgeoning town.

This was because the Afrikaners who had nineteen years earlier (1848) forcefully taken over Moshoeshoe’s land before forming what they called the Oranje River Sovereignty/Oranje Free State, had not yet started growing crops. Their main focus was livestock rearing.

By the time of the discovery of gold (1886), things had changed hence the prohibition of grain imports from Lesotho by the government of Transvaal.

Seven years later (1893), the Orange Free State (OFS) did the same by imposing tariffs on grain from Lesotho to protect Afrikaner grain farmers.

That was not a coincidence because according to Brand, president of the OFS, in order for the OFS to achieve economic independence, Lesotho’s economic prowess had to be destroyed.

By 1933, Lesotho was a full blown labour reserve that could not feed its population. The arrival at this state has nothing to do with laziness on the part of Basotho, the British in cahoots with the Afrikaners outmanoeuvred them.

This is just a brief account of how Lesotho lost its ability to feed itself. I have intentionally not touched on how its industrial development was thwarted by the same Afrikaner Republic through the SACU Agreement (1910) and the South African Customs act (1925).

In summary, the All Basotho Convention –Democratic Congress government’s resolve to achieve economic independence is a beautiful thing.

If this is not mere rhetoric, it will be the beginning of Lesotho’s economic revolution which can best take off if begun in the agricultural sector, specifically with food production.

For too long, Basotho have been deceived into believing that due to being surrounded by South Africa, Lesotho cannot economically fend for itself, let alone feed itself. This is a lie that has never convinced me.

For instance, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that Lesotho will have to import 70,000 tonnes of maize this year. Mind you, this quantity of maize can be grown on 20,000 hectares of arable land.

Now, why does Lesotho have to import food from South Africa when it has 273,195 hectares of arable land and the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) for purposes of irrigation?

The answer is simple, for too long Basotho have been victims of intellectual bankruptcy. It is time to think again. NW

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