Lesotho: Street Vendors' Case Fails to Take Off

Judge's gavel (file photo)
17 February 2021

The street vendors' application to reverse the government's ban on street vending during the hard lockdown failed to take off in the High Court this week due to their failure to file their court papers on time.

The case is now only of academic interest because the ban on street vending which began when the lockdown was imposed on 14 January 2021 was lifted on 3 February 2021 by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro.

However, the vendors are insisting on the case being heard in the hope that a court victory will set a precedent wherein the government will not be able to ban their operations whenever it imposes hard lockdowns in future to combat Covid-19.

Late last month, five vendors teamed up to file an urgent application to reverse the government's decision to impose a total lockdown barring them from conducting business.

The five are Mareni 'Mabathoana, Paul Pakisi, Lesole Ramole, Kotsi Koali and Teboho May. They are represented by Advocates Napo Mafaesa, Fusi Sehapi and Neo Komota.

By imposing the lockdown and banning vending, the five argued they had been unfairly made to suffer for the politicians' own failure to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

They further argued the ban would permanently destroy their businesses while politicians, civil servants and others continued earning their monthly salaries while at home during the lockdown.

They had also wanted the courts to order the security forces not to brutalise them when enforcing the lockdown regulations announced on 12 January 2021 by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro.

Dr Majoro imposed a nationwide lockdown on 14 January 2021 in response to the exponential increase in Covid-19 infections and deaths in the country in the aftermath of the Christmas holidays in December 2020.

As part of the hard lockdown rules, street vendors were not allowed to operate their stalls or conduct any business. However, the lockdown restrictions were eased on 3 February 2021, allowing vendors to resume operations.

Nevertheless, the street vendors are insisting on their application being heard to finality.

Dr Majoro, Health Minister Motlatsi Maqelepo, Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli, army commander Mojalefa Letsoela, the Ministry of Small Business Development, Cooperatives and Marketing and Attorney General Haae Phoofolo are the first to sixth respondents respectively. They are being represented by Attorneys Monaheng Rasekoai and Kuili Ndebele as well as Adv Christopher Lephuthing.

The application was initially supposed to be heard by Justice Tšeliso Monapathi on 22 January 2021 but he postponed it to 7 February 2021 to allow both sides to file additional court papers including affidavits and heads of argument.

However, the case could not be heard on Sunday as the court buildings were being fumigated to stop the spread of Covid-19. The matter was then postponed to the following morning. Although the normal practice is for cases to be heard during week days, they are sometimes heard on Sundays to ease the backlog.

But on Monday, Justice Monapathi was again forced to postpone the case, this time to 14 February 2021, because the applicants were not ready to proceed.

The applicants had still not filed their heads of argument and they therefore pleaded for the postponement.

"We are not ready to proceed. We ask for indulgence to file our heads by Wednesday (yesterday) and we also apologise for not being able to paginate the file," Adv Komota pleaded on behalf of the applicants on Monday.

The vendors' plea did not go down well with Justice Monapathi who said he had "sacrificed so much in order to hear the matter".

"I was so desperate and still are desperate to have this matter finalised. There must not be an impression that the court is delaying hearing this matter. We are sacrificing for this case to be heard. Let us come back on 14 February so we can hear this matter," Justice Monapathi ordered.

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