It is common in the beginning of the year to greet each other with “happy new year” I believe it is to express our best wishes for the year. How do I even begin to wish a blessed, happy or joyous year to anyone when people are dying in a search for a better life! Caledon River (Mohokare) which separates Lesotho from South Africa is a bottomless abyss that swallows my people each year during the rainy seasons. Basotho who have no proper documentations take chances and put their lives in danger by swimming across to South Africa in hope for greener pastures. This has been happening for centuries and makes headline news for few days and then forgotten but the crossing is never ending.
The year 2020/2021 with the challenge of a pandemic - Covid-19, brought a new dynamic of a ‘COVID PASSPORT’ to the already big challenge that exists between these two countries. Let us not forget that it is a known fact that “migration is a human phenomenon…” people have been migrating and will continue to migrate for as long as we exist. ‘COVID-19 PASSPORT’ means that for one to cross a border they should produce a Covid-19 certificate on top of their normal passport. Now, a big challenge is that a Covid-19 certificate does not come cheap and does not last forever. For already struggling people with jobs that pay them bare minimum wages, it is almost impossible to pay for a Covid-19 certificate.
Images like this demonstrate desperation of a people migrating in search of better opportunities for themselves and their children. My heart bleeds for my people, who risk their lives and the lives of their children only having hope as their saving grace. Many drown and their dreams and the dreams of those left behind get buried within the Caledon River. Many are unaccounted for because families never know what happened to them, the common rhetoric sounding back home is “haesale a ea Gauteng” loosely translated ‘he/she left years ago going to Gauteng.’ My heart bleeds for my people.
According to the SABC report of the 3rd January 2021 “Police in Lesotho have retrieved the bodies of seven people from the Mohokare (Caledon) river … between South Africa and Lesotho…It is understood that the number of bodies could be more.” How can we still continue to greet each other with ‘a happy new year’ when our brothers and sisters die unnecessarily because they cannot afford to pay for a Covid-19 test certificate?!
Nowadays having a passport to cross a border of any country is not enough, Covid-19 certificate has become an additional travel document. However, those who suffer most are the poorest of the poor, those who struggle for a slice of bread. Is Covid-19 still a global pandemic in a literal sense or is it the disease that affects the poor the most! My heart bleeds for my people.
My heart bleeds for my people, images coming from up North Beitbridge Border showing the people of Zimbabwe rushing to cross the border into South Africa. How can it be “a happy new year?” Public health is challenged, there is no social distancing and that does not seem a priority. Desperation of a people hoping for greener pastures in the Republic of South Africa is my interpretation of this reality. This image of the Zimbabwean People represents the similar situation between Lesotho and South Africa. The Border Posts are in chaos, there is only one common thread, desperation for something better. Even if people had not been infected, surely Border Posts are hotspot for infections.
The governments in the Southern Africa region should think seriously about the desperation of their people in the fight of this deadly virus Covid-19 with new variants. Public Health measures should be well mapped taking the reality of the people in to consideration. There is no hope of successfully curbing the spread if the governments do not put people first. Any Public Health measure that is not centered on people is just a theatrical show on the part of the Southern African governments. My heart bleeds for my people.
Clementine Sekantsi, dated 06/01/2021