‘Mammuso Lebakeng has been making and selling crafts in Maseru, Lesotho's capital, for five decades. But in recent years, sales have been poor and her income from farming has declined due to unfavourable weather.
Lebakeng had six children, but only two are still alive. Although she is now a pensioner, she cannot afford to retire as she is helping to support two of her grandchildren.
Name: ‘Mammuso Lebakeng
Does your spouse/partner live with you? My husband passed away some years ago.
What is your monthly salary? It fluctuates. In a good week, I make 500 maloti [US$63], meaning I can make 2,000 maloti [$252] profit per month. But after the burning of our exhibition centre, our income has dwindled drastically. I sometimes make a mere 100 maloti [$13] per week, especially during rainy or cold weather. In addition, I get a monthly pension of 300 maloti [$38] from the government.
What is your household’s total income - including your partners’ salary, and any additional sources? In a good month, it’s 3,150 maloti [$394], including my daughter-in-law’s monthly salary of between 850 maloti [$106] and 1,500 maloti [$188]. She works at one of the Chinese-owned garment factories.
How many people are living in your household - what is their relationship to you? It’s me, my daughter-in-law and her two children.
How many are dependent on you/your partner’s income - what is their relationship to you is? Three, my daughter-in-law and her two children.
How much do you spend each month on food? It’s a minimum of 600 maloti [$78] per month.
What is your main staple - how much does it cost each month? Maize meal. Per month, we spend 260 maloti [$32] on maize meal.
How much do you spend on rent? I have my own house, and I don’t pay rent.
How much on transport? 480 maloti [$60] per month
How much do you spend on educating your children each month? We spend 400 maloti [$52], but it’s only for transport because they attend a government school free of charge. They also get free lunch.
After you have paid all your bills each month, how much is left? In most cases, I am left with barely anything, and I am usually forced to borrow money from my friends to buy materials for my business for the next month.
Have you or any member of the household been forced to skip meals or reduce portion sizes in the last three months? Not a chance! I am a diabetic and I can’t afford to gamble with my health. Also, my grandchildren are still young, and I can’t make them suffer just because I want to save some food or money. It's true, I am poor, but in case there is no food in my house, I borrow flour or maize meal from my neighbour. That’s how we survive in my area - we rely on each other and nobody can die of hunger in our presence.
Have you been forced to borrow money (or food) in the last three months to cover basic household needs? That happens quite often.
“I have been working with crafts since as early as 1962. I have never been employed anywhere else. I inherited all the skills from my mother. I am not educated, and I guess this is my only weapon.
“I would normally go and sell as far as Free State [Province] in South Africa, but business was not always good, and I decided to come back home to figure out how I could best improve my business in the comfort of my home and my country.
“It’s true that I am old but I don’t feel it... and I have grandchildren to look after. My son just passed on some years back, and at home I live with my daughter-in-law and her two children. My two surviving children are both married.
“From colonial times until the early 1990s, the tourism industry was quite good and our goods had a reliable market. However, things started to change from bad to worse in recent years. We sometimes sell almost nothing per day.
“To add salt to the wound, our exhibition centre where we displayed all our crafts was gutted by a fire in 2010, and the little market we have has dried up. Tourists hardly notice us in the street, where we don’t have proper structures or shelter.
“I have three hectares of land. When properly planted, the field yields a minimum of two tons of maize. But for the past three years, I have been harvesting far below that, and 2012 has been the worst year for me because I only harvested seven 50kg bags of maize - barely enough to cater to our needs for the whole year.
“We struggle to make ends meet. And I was stressed to learn that the Maseru City Council is planning an ambush on us street vendors. Where will we go if they drive us off the streets?
“But just a few weeks ago, I learned that I have repaid all my debts. I will start December as a debt-free woman. I am so relieved!
“I sincerely believe by next year, my financial situation will have improved dramatically. In January, I will be joining the women’s club, where we pool our monies each month and share the profits at year’s end. It’s going to make my life easier.”
June 2013 update
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions