‘Let’s bury hatchet and move on’

‘Let’s bury hatchet and move on’

MASERU – HER parents separated when she was just a toddler and political persecution amid abject poverty was a staple.
Welcome to Dr Mahali Phamotse’s eventful childhood.
“Our history is not our destiny,” she tells thepost.

Yet, it appears the tumultuous childhood could have shaped her future – both academically and politically.
Now a sports minister and the secretary-general of the Alliance of Democrats (AD), Phamotse began interfacing with the treacherous world of politics as a child.

And it was the separation of her parents when she was just a toddler that forced her into school earlier than her peers, a development that guaranteed her “torturous” late nights of reading political news stories for her semi-illiterate grandfather.
The abject poverty made her resilient, a quality she can count on today.

Phamotse recalls the horror of her father being stripped naked and whipped in front of his terrified children.
Her father Makhothatsa Mafeka’s crime was his association with the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) and a perceived supporter of its military wing, the now defunct Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA).

She was barely 10 years old when she experienced first-hand the trauma befalling children whose parents and close relatives were persecuted for their political beliefs.

Born in Ha-Shepheseli in Leribe in 1969 to a couple from economically and educationally unequal families but deep in BCP politics, Phamotse’s early life was eventful. She does not know when her mother, ’Mamoeketsi Mafeka, separated from her father but vaguely remembers that at age three she was already living with her mother’s family in Salang, Mokhotlong.

Living in the workers’ quarters of a hotel where her mother was employed and her maternal grandfather, Seth Putsoane, was a manager; Phamotse only knew that she had a father although she did not know him at the time.
Although she was too young to comprehend what was happening, Phamotse says she was troubled by the frequent night raids at the hotel by white police officers with dogs.

Strapped on her mother’s back, they would scramble into hiding from police officers who suspected that the hotel was a hiding place for African National Congress (ANC) refugees who had escaped apartheid in South Africa.

When she was not at the hotel, Phamotse would be at grandpa Putsoane’s home in Salang but even there, trouble was always waiting for the family.
Putsoane was one of the elders in the Lesotho Evangelical Church (LEC) and a strong supporter of the BCP who was suspected of harbouring the LLA guerillas.

“Time and again the police, soldiers and members of the BNP (Basotho National Party)’s Lebotho la Khotso (Army of Peace) would raid the family,” Phamotse says.

“I grew up seeing and hearing these things. I was already being soaked up in adult politics from infancy,” she says.
Unlike her peers, Phamotse attended school at age three because there was nobody to babysit her at home. So a family friend who was a teacher at a local primary school volunteered to take her to class every day.

She could read Sesotho fluently by the time she formally registered for school at age five.
Those reading skills would come in handy when her parents reunited three years later.
An uncle – her father’s elder brother Lentša Mafeka, called on her to read for him daily news articles.

It traumatised her then. But with hindsight, she connected to current events at an early age.
The mother had stayed in Mokhotlong to continue working at the hotel and Phamotse and her two siblings had to live with their uncle and his eight children.

Phamotse was the only one who could read fluently in the household as all her cousins did not attend school because Uncle Lentša was a traditionalist who preferred initiation school.

Uncle Lentša depended on a Sesotho weekly newspaper which was published by the Lesotho Evangelical Church, Leselinyana la Lesotho, for vital political information and analysis.

But he could not read. Neither could any of his children so Phamotse became an asset in the family.
When all other children were asleep, uncle Lentša would wake her up and instruct her to read the newspaper for him.
“It was my job every week to read him stories when the paper comes out. I was traumatised because of pictures of dead people I saw in the newspaper,” Phamotse says.

“The stories were so heart-wrenching that my uncle would shed tears and I would find myself crying too,” she says.
A deeply entrenched BCP activist, uncle Lentša and his son-in-law who was a LLA cadre, used to harbour LLA combatants at home and the house was frequently raided.

“One day the uncle’s son-in-law came home wounded and the soldiers followed his trail of blood to our house,” Phamotse says.
“You can imagine how they behaved when they arrived at the house. However, they arrested nobody because my uncle and the son-in-law had run away,” she says.

With uncle Lentša in hiding for a whole month, it was left to Phamotse to supply him with food in a forest where he was staying.
“I would take a basin full of clothes and disguise as if I was going to the river to wash the clothes. At the appointed time I would sneak to the forest to give him food,” she says.

This happened until the soldiers gave up their search.
Phamotse says she failed Form B, partly because she no longer wanted to go to school, prompting her mother to quit formal employment to focus on the development of her family as a housewife.

Meanwhile, Phamotse’s father lost his job in the mines and returned home, resulting in poverty engulfing the family.
Her father had a college diploma and was regarded as one of the most educated people of his generation but his educational certificates were destroyed during the numerous political raids on the home.

“So, perhaps out of frustration after losing his job as a miner, he would publicly insult the BNP government when drunk,” she says.
It was during these raids that his father would be stripped naked and whipped in front of Phamotse and other children.
This sad history, however, has not made Phamotse an angry woman.

In fact, as an adult she has been at peace with the BNP as a party and its members.
“My grudge with the BNP ended a long time ago when I was a child,” he says.
Phamotse says she believes that whatever was done against anybody “was not a party policy but crime perpetrated by individuals who happened to be members of the party”.
“All parties have their bad sides. Crimes committed by members of a party should not be taken to be crimes committed by the parties,” she says.
“I personally believe that legal means should be followed to prosecute individuals who committed crimes instead of labelling a whole party as a group of criminals,” she says.

“In most cases you will find that members of the party do not condone acts of some influential and powerful members of their party and they don’t join them in such acts.”

Phamotse says even the Democratic Congress (DC), which she left last year to join the AD “is not a bad party.”
“Let’s bury the hatchet and move forward,” she says.

Phamotse says history is valuable for people to learn so that they avoid mistakes of the past.
“That is what got me out of the class at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) where I was a lecturer to join politics,” she says.
She says many times she would go to Leribe and meet with her former students who would tell her that they were without jobs.

“It did not matter to me which party they belonged to but I felt pity for them. They are Basotho youth who have been educated with our taxes and we need to give them a chance to develop this country,” she says.

Now as the newly elected AD Secretary General, Phamotse says her core task is to “build a party that will answer to the needs of the poor people”.
“As my leader often says, we do not discriminate. We want everybody on board,” she says.

Phamotse says the AD seeks to build a nation with people who are tolerant of each other’s religious, political and social belonging.
“I have a job to go around the country and promote the spirit of national oneness. The AD is and will continue to be a party promoting this.”
She says the party promotes reconciliation “because we wronged each other in the past but we need each other if we want to build an economically, socially, culturally and politically strong nation”.
“My job is to ensure that the AD becomes so strong that its leader will one day become prime minister,” she says.

Caswell Tlali

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