Hands off Letsatsi Ntsibolane

Hands off Letsatsi Ntsibolane

César Chávez, an American labour leader and civil rights activist, said: “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.”
This is true of Letsatsi Ntsibolane, the fiery Lesotho Association of Teacher (LAT) spokesperson, who has been suspended by the Teaching Service Department (TSD), for allegedly calling for an illegal strike.

As he battles his tribulations, Ntsibolane should remember that the future belongs to people of his kind and all those who fight for workers’ rights.
It is indisputable that the provisions of the Lesotho Constitution are binding on governments, authorities and persons.

Section 29, (1) of the Constitution says: “Lesotho shall endeavour to ensure that every person has the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts.”
Since human rights are enshrined in our Constitution it follows that the provisions containing our fundamental rights are also binding on governments, authorities and persons.

Among these fundamental rights we speak of are rights to life, dignity, personal liberty, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and association.
There is no doubt that by suspending him from Lithabaneng High School the TSD is violating Ntsibolane’s right to freedom of association.

Teachers have the constitutional right to join a trade union. They have the right to join the union of their choice and the right to leave a union. They cannot be dismissed from their jobs because they are performing trade union activities.

The TSD therefore has no justification to suspend Ntsibolane over union related matters.
The TSD is accusing Ntsibolane of announcing an illegal strike and being absent from duty on the days of the illegal strike. In addition, it says alleges that he illegally engaged, on different occasions, one Palesa Maapesa, Nthati Mabooe and Teboho Pheane to stand in and perform his teaching duties while he was absent from school (work).
I will dwell on the first and second accusation. It is my belief that the third accusation is a serious allegation that should have been dealt with separately.

There is something curious about the timing of the TSD decision.
It seems to have been contrived to instil fear in the teachers who have been striking on and off for months.
To achieve this ulterior agenda the TSD seems to have deliberately misdirected itself when handling Ntsibolane’s matter.

Why write the dismissal letter at the time when teachers have applied for the certificate of approval for their contemplated strike action?

In seeking to punish Ntsibolane the TSD is trampling on section 16 (1) of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Lesotho which provides, amongst other things, that: “Every person shall be entitled to and (except with his own consent) shall not be hindered in his enjoyment of freedom to associate freely with other persons for ideological, religious, political, economic, labour, social, cultural, recreational and similar purposes.”

Clearly Ntsibolane was hindered from enjoying his freedom to associate freely with labour movements and carry out trade union duties.
It also violated International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions which Lesotho ratified and is a signatory to. Convention, 1949 (NO. 98): “Workers shall enjoy adequate protection against acts of anti-union discrimination in respect of their employment.”

The government will do everything possible to punish a Mosotho fighting for his rights. Yet they do very little to protect the few job opportunities Basotho have in this country.
Why are we condemning ourselves? Where does this self-hate emanate from? Why are we insulting the teachers? I sincerely believe that teachers should have collective bargaining rights, employment security, and a decent standard of living in this country.

I do not believe Ntsibolane needs to approach the courts of law. The Minister of Education must intervene and the TSD should reverse the decision.
Ntsibolane is an unsung hero to thousands of teachers. He is being victimised because of his uncompromising commitment to fighting injustice, especially when it is waged against the teachers.
He has marched and participated in strikes. He has been threatened and suspended from work, yet he stands firm to fight for a better life for all teachers.

Ramahooana Matlosa

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