Fired pregnant soldiers demand M500k each

Fired pregnant soldiers demand M500k each

MASERU – PRIVATE Lieketso Mokhele could not believe her ears when the then Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander fired her for falling pregnant. In a letter in 2015, Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli told her that she should have abstained from sex for five consecutive years.
She was also told that she had an option to use a contraceptive that was 100 percent safe if she wanted to remain in service.
Private Mokhele says she had not been briefed that it was an offence punishable by dismissal to fall pregnant within the first five years of joining the army.

Private Mokhele and two other women, Privates ’Masaule Letima and Sina Ntsoha, have now sued the army demanding compensation of M500 000 each. Their legal battle is being supported by the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), an ecumenical society fighting for human rights, and the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC).

The case was heard in the High Court this week. Pt. Mokhele told thepost this week that she is in dire need of a job.
She is looking after her two-year-old toddler, a younger sister, a disabled brother and an unemployed husband who survives on odd jobs.
“I did not pass my COSC very well hence I went for supplementary classes at Sefika (High School) where I was doing English and Accounts,” Pt. Mokhele says.

“At the same time I was looking for a job and I applied when the LDF called for applications,” she says.
“I remember the time I was called for military training. I was to write my exams at the supplementary school but I immediately dropped everything and went to the LDF.” She joined the army in 2013.

“I was never told that pregnancy within five years in the army is prohibited. I became pregnant in 2015,” she says.
Pt. Mokhele says she was given maternity leave and was later called by the army where she was given a dismissal letter.
“Mind you by that time I was supporting my younger sister with her tuition fees while my brother is disabled at home and expecting me to provide for the family as my father died a long time ago,” she says.

“The commander told me that I did not adhere to the laws and regulations governing the LDF because we could have abstained,” she says.
“He said we were a bad influence in the army.” She feels that the expulsion was unfair.
Private ’Masina Ntsoha says she wants M500 000 as compensation.

She says her dismissal was unfair because she miscarried when she was four months pregnant and she no longer had any pregnancy that would affect her duties.
She says the commander said it came to his attention that female soldiers after their pass out fell pregnant at an alarming rate and the practice jeopardized military discipline and compromised military duties.
“I was told that pregnant soldiers are incapable of performing military duties. They are unable to carry weapons for any duty or physical training, they cannot roll or crawl. Therefore they lack combat readiness which is (critical to) every defence force,” she says.

Their lawyer Advocate Nembeka Ngckaitobi says LDF is “a government institution that houses professional soldiers and not children’s home where the soldiers are treated like children with limited capacity to conduct their adult lives as alleged”. Private Mokhele says there is no proof of her willful disobedience. She says no breach was established but the reasoning employed is that she ought to have engaged in preventative measures which are 100 percent safe in spite of the fact that she is married.

Besides, the women soldiers say the rationale behind the standing order was never explained. “If the standing order had been communicated as a military policy prior to the recruitment phase, one could have made an informed decision whether to join the army or not,” Private ’Masaule Letima says. She insists that she was under the impression that all was well until she ultimately discovered that as a result of the contraceptives she had been using, she had an irregular menstrual cycle.

“As a result, I had not suspected that I was pregnant and assumed that the vaginal bleeding I had experienced as a result of pregnancy was my menstrual cycle,” she says. “It is of significance to note that LDF enlist people whose ages range between 18 and 24,” she says.
According to LDF Standing order No.2 of 2014, the LDF has a policy that all soldiers after recruitment training should be deployed within operational units where their duties entail amongst others, forward bases (patrols), physical training, guard duties, providing security at key areas and assisting any government ministry in matters involving security. The case continues.

Senate Sekotlo

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