In Summary

  • The flood of migrants from Lesotho goes back to the discovery of gold in Johannesburg in the 1880s, when thousands of men from Lesotho were recruited to work in mines.
  • The World Bank puts Lesotho jobless rate between 24 and 28 per cent.

MASERU, Lesotho, Sunday

In a cottage in rural Lesotho, Tisetso Litheko lays out six full passports packed with immigration stamps showing his constant movement across the border to neighbouring South Africa.

The 31-year-old former shepherd is one of more than 400,000 Lesotho nationals who live for much of the year in South Africa, forced by decades of a lack of work in the small mountain kingdom to seek a livelihood elsewhere.

“Moving to South Africa was something I could not avoid. I had very few options here in Lesotho,” Litheko told AFP.

GOLD MINES

The flood of migrants from Lesotho — a country the size of Belgium that is encircled by South Africa — goes back to the discovery of gold in Johannesburg in the 1880s, when thousands of men from Lesotho were recruited to work in mines.

Litheko says his father and grandfather spent most of their lives as mineworkers in Johannesburg, the first in a long line of male members of the family who were forced to migrate for work.

“In Lesotho there are no jobs, there is no money, that is why many people sacrifice the comfort of their home life to work in South Africa,” he said.

Litheko left his village, Ha Abia, when he was 22 years old, initially sneaking illegally across the border to toil on farms in nearby Ladybrand as a seasonal worker.

SECURITY GUARD

“Before I had a passport, I used to go over the mountains before sunrise to avoid being detected, and come back at night.”

Now employed as a mine security guard, Litheko often works 24-hour shifts patrolling the boundaries of a gold mine in Carletonville, a gritty mining district south west of Johannesburg.

He saves the bulk of his weekly 550 rand (Ksh4,000) wage and sends it home at the end of each month to his wife and three children.

The sum may appear meagre, but it goes a long way in a country where 56.2 per cent of the two-million population lives in extreme poverty.

DEMANDING BRIBES

The World Bank puts Lesotho jobless rate between 24 and 28 per cent.

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