Widows who are bucking the trend

Widows who are bucking the trend

MASERU-WHEN transport industry mogul Thabiso Tšosane died in 2015 the smart money – to quote an over-used cliché – was on his business empire to quickly crumble while erstwhile rivals swooped down to pick up the pieces.
But five years down the line not only is the empire still standing strong, it has diversified, spreading its tentacles into the property sector where during the late Tsosane’s times it had little to negligible presence, all thanks to some really hardnosed decisions by ’Mathabo Tšosane, the late tycoon’s widow now sitting at the helm of the business.

“Because I had been in the industry for a long time I was able to see even before my husband passed away that the business would not become very profitable in the coming years and started looking at ways to diversify income streams,” says ’Mathabo, speaking to thepost in an interview last week.
With its stable income flows from rentals, property is a far more solid base for the family business empire than the volatile taxi industry where fortunes can be made quickly and lost even quicker.

Surely, the late Tšosane, were he around, would certainly be very proud of how ’Mathabo has held forte in business, defying the odds in an economy and society where widows generally struggle to keep their deceased husbands’ ventures going.
But ’Mathabo is the first to admit that it wasn’t easy keeping the ship afloat, even with the advantage that she was never a spectator in the business but played an active role during the time her husband was alive and running things.

In fact, she said she never had the chance to mourn her husband. She said because of the cut-throat nature of the transport industry she had to immediately step into the breech to keep the business running and safeguard her children’s inheritance.
The knowledge gained while her husband was still alive helped to position her in good stead in an industry that arguably is home to some of Lesotho’s worst male chauvinists and misogynists.
“The taxi industry in Lesotho is male dominated and most owners do not involve their wives in the business,” says ’Mathabo.

“Wives are often overlooked and children get more involved (in running the family business). My husband always insisted that I learn about the business,” she says, adding it was one of the smartest things her husband ever did to teach her the ropes of the industry and allowing her to gain the skills she would dearly need once left on her own.
And when time came for the tough calls to be made ’Mathabo was equal to the task such as when she had to streamline and reorganise the business, getting rid of some of the more expensive to maintain vehicles such as the Mercedes Benz minibuses her husband loved to operate and using the proceeds to help finance expansion into property.

“I sold most of the vehicles, they were mostly Mercedes Benz sprinters and Man buses and as a result were high maintenance (assets),” she says, without saying how many vehicles she sold away or how many she has left in the business.
According to ’Mathabo, other factors that prompted her to sell off some of the vehicles were that she was not able to easily source spare parts like her husband used to, as well as the factor that a

bigger fleet was much harder to manage and therefore susceptible to other risks such as increased theft of money and vehicle parts by drivers.
“It is true I was able to dodge huge challenges like losing cars or drivers stealing money or selling parts,” she says.
While she was busy navigating the difficult terrain that is the transport industry, ’Mathabo also had to juggle several balls in the social sphere where society puts a heavy and undue burden on widows of successful business people, always waiting to see and jeer when their living standards begin to drop because of reduced income.

“When you lose a spouse you also lose the joint income meaning you cannot afford everything you used to afford while you were together,” she says, adding that she had to make hard decisions, adjusting her lifestyle and letting go of some things while holding on to what was important to her children.
“I had to keep my children in school but had to live a less flashy lifestyle than when my husband was alive,” says ’Mathabo.

She adds, “society will paint you anyway they want, some will say you have hit rock bottom but do not mind them. Accept that you are alone and create a lifestyle to suit you.”
Yes ’Mathabo’s life is far from perfect, and so is anybody else’s. But one thing that is clear is that she is one widow who has succeeded where many others have failed – keeping a business left by the husband running and even expanding it in the process.

Another woman bucking the trend of the fate of most widows in Lesotho is 38-year-old ’Makatleho Motsie, whose husband died in 2018, leaving her with two daughters to raise.
Motsie, unlike in the case of ’Mathabo, never quite involved herself in her husband’s transport business.
She had to quickly learn the ropes once he was gone.

“I was never seriously involved in the business, I basically ran minor errands like picking up (vehicle) parts,” says Motsie, whose husband was a giant of the transport industry.
However, left with no option but to keep the business running and the bacon coming home, Motsie proved a fast and courageous learner. And just like ’Mathabo, she also never took time to mourn her husband but quickly moved in to keep the family ship afloat.

“I would go to the traffic department offices for renewal of vehicle permits when I was still in mourning wear. I would be up at 5am when the cars left the yard and see to it that they were back at the end of the day,” says Motsie.
“I was thrown in the deep end and I had to swim or sink. I chose to swim.”
Motsie, who says she never thought she would last long in the transport industry nor live up to the reputation of her husband who was one of the sector’s big men, says she is determined to drive the family business to greater heights but in her own space and time.

“I know that things can no longer move at the same pace that they moved at under my husband. He was passionate about this industry and I am only learning to build at least half of that passion,” she says. “All I can do is run this race at my own pace and shut out society’s noise.”
But ’Mathabo and Motsie’s heart-warming stories are not the normal tale of every widow in Lesotho or across much of southern Africa.
For widows, be they of rich or poor men, often quickly fall on hard times, with their in-laws rejecting them for one reason or another, or simply grabbing whatever wealth was left behind by the deceased husband.

In some cases, in-laws accuse the widow of witchcraft and causing the death of their relative and use this as an excuse to chase the poor woman away or to grab whatever the husband left behind.
It can even get worse once accusations of witchcraft and black magic are raised, with some widows unfortunately ending up losing their lives after being labelled witches.
That is what happened with ’Makatleho Sekonyela, the widow of a former transport magnate Sekonyela Sekonyela.

She was in 2012 shot dead by none other her own son who accused her of killing his father and brother and of planning to kill him too, presumably so she could inherit all the wealth left behind.
The son turned murderer, Chief Sekonyela, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in April 2012 for the crime – what a waste of an innocent woman’s life and that of a young man, himself.
But an even far greater tragedy is that widows continue to face unjust treatment including murder as happened with ’Makatleho when they could make huge contributions both to their own families and to society in general if only they could get the support as happened in the cases of ’Mathabo and Motsie.
It is even more worrying when the cruel and retrogressive treatment of widows is seen against the fact that 13.8 percent of Basotho women are widows, according to the 2016 Census.

Lemohang Rakotsoane

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