A police crackdown against Lesotho garment workers protesting a two-year delay in scheduled minimum wage increases resulted in two fatalities in Maseru, the capital, last week. Pitso Mothala and Motselisi Ramasa died as police fired into the crowd. Many more workers were injured.
The deaths come after two weeks of escalating state-sponsored attempts to use shootings, beatings and arrests to force thousands of the country’s 50,000 garment workers to return to their factories. Meanwhile, government ministries have rejected union attempts to negotiate an end to protests and are still refusing to provide garment workers with the wage increases they need to sustain themselves and their families through the COVID-19 pandemic, reports United Textile Employees (UNITE).
“We want justice for our brutal[ally] killed comrades and we shall forever make sure that their blood is not in vain,” says a UNITE media release that identifies the two slain garment workers by name. Garment workers remain at home this week while the country’s armed forces continue to patrol the industry, reports the union.
The country’s unions are refusing to return to work until the government makes good on two missed incremental minimum wage increases—for 2020/2021 and 2021/2022—that have been delayed indefinitely.
Lesotho has a long history of human rights violations against political and labor activists, including police violence against peacefully striking factory workers rallying for fair wages last year. The 45th annual U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Human Rights report on Lesotho found that members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service and Lesotho Defense Force last year committed numerous human rights abuses, including “unlawful or arbitrary killings; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions [and] arbitrary arrest or detention.”