The maverick of Lesotho

The maverick of Lesotho

MASERU – Likeleli Tampane, 45, breaks down in tears when asked about the formative years of her turbulent yet exciting life.
That comes as a bit of a surprise to us.
That is because for years, we have been psychologically conditioned to see Tampane as some sort of a maverick, a fearless woman, who is not afraid to take on the Establishment during fierce debates in Parliament.
Tampane’s reputation is that of a woman who is not afraid to speak her mind.

For her troubles, Tampane has had to live with the unwanted tag that she is an “uncouth” woman who has no respect for Basotho’s age-old traditions and norms, particularly respect for her own culture.
Those traditions, according to moral purists, have something to do with “unquestioning respect” for authority which is mostly vested in men and traditional leaders.
Because she has refused to be “boxed in by culture”, Tampane has always found herself on the wrong side of societal expectations.

It is a fight that her critics say she has sometimes taken on with some audacity.
And for her outspokenness, Tampane has often courted the ire of her male colleagues both in Parliament and outside.
Twice Tampane, who is the MP for Senqu constituency in Mokhotlong, has been suspended from Parliament.
On one occasion, she was involved in feisty exchanges in the House over the controversial wool and mohair regulations, sparking a brawl in Parliament that brought international opprobrium on Lesotho.
Her political party, the Democratic Congress (DC), says both suspensions were based on spurious charges. The DC fought tooth and nail to overturn the suspensions.

That is why it was so difficult to reconcile this public persona of a strong woman with the softer side that was on show last Friday during the two-hour long interview.
That interview revealed that she too was human. That she too has a softer side on her underbelly.
Tampane struggles to keep her emotions in check as she narrates how she fell pregnant, in her rural village in Mokhotlong, when she was barely 17.
She was in Form C.

With no support structure, Tampane was virtually on her own. Her no-nonsense father would have none of that and “expelled” her from home telling her to go to the “owner” of the pregnancy.
With no support structure, Tampane was frightened and overwhelmed by the fear of the future and the sheer weight of responsibility as she contemplated how she was going to raise a child out of wedlock.
Her own mother also advised her to elope to the “boy” who had impregnated her, not knowing that the culprit was her teacher who was much older than her.

It is that particular incident, 29 years ago, that appears to be the driving force behind Tampane’s “troubled” relationship with authority.
Instead of weakening her, that incident appears to have galvanized her political career and how she relates to power.
“That made me very strong,” she says.
“I’m not ashamed of my past and some of my weaknesses. I don’t fear anything. I take risks as long as it will benefit my party and my people.”

Tampane blames a “culture” in which young girls are taught, from a very young age, “not to say no”.
“We were taught not to argue with someone older than you, particularly if he is a man. We were taught to obey, without questions,” she says.
Tampane is at pains to paint a picture of a woman who is not a rebel.
“In line with our culture, they think I am not well behaved, that I am disrespectful. That is because they expect women to shut up, but I will never shut up,” she says.
“Whatever comes into my mind, I just speak out. I don’t fear anything.”
Tampane has had to battle such negativity at all levels of society.

As a woman MP in a remote district that remains beholden to very traditional ways of life, she sometimes still struggles to assert her authority when she calls some village meetings.
There are certain places that are still off-bounds for her as a woman. For instance, she is not allowed to get close to the cattle kraal. Some Basotho still believe women who do so will bring “bad luck” and “decimate” the family kraal through diseases.

“Sometimes I find myself in direct conflict with the chief,” she says. “Some chiefs still won’t allow me, as a woman, to address some political gatherings. They still have not accepted me as their MP.”
Tampane admits that having such “archaic” views in the 21st century makes her work very difficult.
“I am not able to get to some communities and address them,” she says.
But being the wily politician that she is, Tampane says she sometimes have to resort to outright bribery to get her way.
“I sometimes have to buy some gifts for the chiefs and some needy ones within their communities to soften their hearts.”

Tampane says she wants to see a “cultural revolution” in which the girl-child is empowered with ideas.
“My idea is to retire before I am 60 and set up a foundation to help disadvantaged girls,” she says.
Tampane says Lesotho is in the grip of a serious economic and political crisis that should be squarely blamed on Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s leadership style.
She says Thabane got the position of premier when he was already very old and no longer mentally agile.
The result is that his backers within the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party are taking advantage of him and are now running rings around him.

“I would advise Thabane to step down immediately, July is too far,” she says.
Tampane was alluding to Thabane’s statement last month that he now intends to step aside by July 30 due to advanced age.
Thabane’s announcement to step down came after he was subjected to relentless pressure from his own party following accusations that he had orchestrated the murder of his first wife, Lipolelo Thabane, in June 2017.
His wife, ’Maesiah Thabane, has since been charged over the same murder. They both deny the charge.
Tampane says the Lipolelo murder makes Thabane’s position as Prime Minister highly untenable.
She accused certain government ministers of abusing the Prime Minister by “pushing their own political agendas” while hiding behind Thabane’s back.

“Among all the Prime Ministers who have served this country, he is the only one who really messed up things big time. He did not take that case (Lipolelo murder) seriously,” she says.
She says before Thabane steps down though, he must summon the courage to call all party leaders in Parliament and “confess to them the mistakes he did”.
That way the country can have some measure of closure and move on, she says.
But what perhaps raised Tampane’s ire most was the Thabane government’s promulgation of new wool and mohair regulations in 2018.

The regulations, which were swiftly condemned by opposition parties as draconian, banned Lesotho’s farmers from exporting their wool and mohair to a South African broker.
Instead, Lesotho’s farmers were all forced to sell to a Chinese national in Lesotho, Stone Shi. The regulations, which have since been repealed, sparked a vicious fight with farmers after Shi failed to pay on time.
Tampane says the wool and mohair regulations were clearly designed to impoverish Basotho while enriching a foreign national.

“The farmers used to get paid within two months but now they have to wait for as long as five months,” she says. “The amounts have been slashed as well and farmers are not happy at all.”
There is massive poverty in the villages, their livestock is dying and they are not able to grow crops because of drought and their only way out was wool and mohair, she says.
“My family also relied on wool and mohair and I am not happy at all.”
The 2017 election was a protest vote against the then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili whom the people felt had overstayed, she says.

“By voting for Thabane they expected more from him. Basotho had lots of hope that he would transform their lives. But they now realise they were sold a dummy,” she says.
The result is that people are angry and want the quickest opportunity to “kick out Thabane and his ABC” party from power.
“The people are telling us that 2022 (when Lesotho is scheduled to go for the next elections) is too far,” she says. “He (Thabane) promised too much and then failed to deliver.”
She says there is palpable anger in the rural communities against Thabane and his ABC party over their unfulfilled electoral promises.

For instance she says during the election campaigns, Thabane had promised to push down the ages of those who qualify for the old age pension scheme from 70 to 60 years.
“He failed to do so and the people are angry,” she says. “They are telling us that we are suffering and that 2022 is just too far.”
She believes Thabane’s biggest undoing was his over-reliance on a foreigner “who does not know anything about Lesotho” as a political adviser.

John Xie, a Mosotho of Chinese descent, was appointed Thabane’s political adviser in 2017, a move that was sharply criticised by Basotho who saw it as an attempt to position the Chinese on the front seat of the feeding trough.
John Xie has been accused of parceling the biggest construction tenders to Chinese-owned companies.
Tampane says what has let down Thabane most was his decision to marry a young wife, ’Maesaiah, “who is not afraid to do terrible things and still defend those bad things”.

“She (’Maesaiah) was never in love with Thabane and the country otherwise she would never have done some of the things she has done,” she says.
“She has embarrassed this country.”
For Tampane and her DC party, the feeling is that Thabane and his ABC party have shot themselves in the foot. They have simply become un-electable.

To capitalise on these weaknesses, Tampane says her leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, is not “resting” but is crisscrossing every district in Lesotho on the campaign trail every weekend.
“He is always on the road campaigning. He also has a strong presence on social media,” she says.
Tampane says her DC party hopes to tap into the current disillusionment with the ABC to win the next election.

“We are ready to govern,” she says.
But that would represent a magnificent turnaround after the party was thumped at the polls last time.
Tampane agrees that the 2017 election was a protest vote against Mosisili and what people perceived to be human rights violations perpetrated by his government, particularly the killing of Lt Gen Maaparankoe Mahao and many others.

“Those were terrible things that happened but Mosisili apologised (for the wrongs that were done by people under his government),” she says.
While he was never directly linked to such killings, Tampane says Mosisili set up a commission of inquiry to allow the law to take its course.
“Unlike us the problem with the current government is that it has never acknowledged any of its mistakes.”
Tampane was born on December 26, 1974 in Mokhotlong. She says her father, a very strong man, would illegally grow dagga, which was seen then as a virtual cash crop in Mokhotlong.
He would then take the dagga, in 50kg bags, across the border into KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, for sale.
She too would sell little joints of the illicit drug to the village boys, nicely packed in boxes of matches.
“We viewed it as a means of survival and were proud to do so. Growing matekoane was just like growing maize for us,” she says with a giggle.

Even though she had to leave school when she fell pregnant, Tampane never gave up on her dream to acquire some education. She went back to school and eventually completed her Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC).
She also later enrolled for a certificate in adult education as well as a degree in Pastoral Care and Counselling at the National University of Lesotho. She even graduated with a Masters in Public Sector Management from Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe, in 2011.
Her role model while growing up was Dr Khauhelo Ralitapole who was a trailblazer for Lesotho women in politics.
“She made me realise that politics was not just for men; women too could be good in politics,” she says.

Abel Chapatarongo & Mamakhooa Rapolaki

 

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