February 24, 2011

Ex-mineworkers search for new livelihoods

Communities in Lesotho are struggling to find new livelihoods as the number of local men employed in South African mines continues to dwindle. With few domestic resources or job opportunities, Basotho men have been migrating to neighbouring South Africa to work in the country’s gold and platinum mines for generations. In the 1990s, the money they sent back to their families accounted for as much as 67 percent of Lesotho’s GDP, according to the World Bank. But a shift towards less labour-intensive forms of mining, higher production costs, the global economic slowdown, and the strength of the South African Rand against the US dollar have resulted in more and more migrant mineworkers being sent home over the last 15 years.

From a peak of about 125.000 Basotho men working in South African mines in the late 1980s (almost 20 percent of the Lesotho’s total work force), by 2010 the sector only employed about 35.000, according to mine recruitment agency TEBA Ltd. The loss of remittances from mineworkers has had a major impact on the economy of this tiny, mountain kingdom, which is completely surrounded by South Africa. Remittances had dropped to 28 percent of GDP by 2008 and, according to Malineo Nkhasi of the Mineworkers Development Agency (MDA), even the country's food production levels have been negatively affected.
The MDA, which was established as the development wing of South Africa's National Union of Mineworkers, runs programmes in four of Lesotho's ten districts aimed at helping ex-mineworkers and their families find new ways to make a living. Participants receive skills training and small loans to help them set up businesses. The MDA also has a food security programme which provides households with seedlings from its nursery that can be used to start a vegetable garden or plant a field. (IRIN)

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