Our unsung heroines

Our unsung heroines

OFTEN times we celebrate the achievements of women from all walks of life. However, when it comes to our very own heroines we know so little. Almost everyone in Lesotho knows who Winnie Madikezela Mandela is, but very few know the women who in a highly patriarchal Lesotho were able to make it to the top. This article is devoted to some of those women, a reminder of who we should be remembering during the African women’s month.

One of the women Lesotho needs to celebrate during this month is Mrs ‘Masechele Ntšeliseng Khaketla, a novelist and teacher who is hailed for being the first woman to attain a degree. Her achievement was no small feat as in those days education was mainly the terrain of males. She also went an extra mile and formed two private schools, an immense contribution to the development of education in the Mountain Kingdom.
It is vital to note that one of the schools she founded had among its students His Majesty King Letsie III. Khaketla was also an assessor in the high court of Lesotho. That for me calls for a celebration of a life lived well.

There is also Mrs Anna Matlelima Hlalele, the very first woman to be a cabinet member. ’M’e Matlelima was chosen by the military government to be a deputy minister during their reign in 1986. She was chosen at a time when culture still dictated that a woman’s place should be in the kitchen.
However, for this feisty woman that old adage took the back seat as she joined one of the highest offices in the land. She is currently a member of the Maseru Senior Citizens Women Association.
Soon to follow in the footsteps of Mrs Hlalele was Ms Limakatso Ntakatsane, the very first woman to lead a political party in our country.

While politics has always been known as a territory for males, ‘me Ntakatsane was not deterred as in 1992 she formed the Kopanang Basotho Party which unfortunately performed dismally in the 1993 general elections. Regrettably, me Ntakatsane passed away before the era of the proportional seats, maybe she could have made it to parliament. Celebrating the braveness of this lady who led a party during trying times is thus a necessity.

The return of democratic rule in 1993 did not only bring democracy for Basotho but also came with a fully-fledged woman minister. Dr Khauhelo Deborah Ralitapole, the only female in a cabinet of eleven ministers. She did not only serve as a sole woman minister she also went further to become the leader of a political party. She also did the unthinkable when she resigned from cabinet in solidarity with her cadres that had been sacked by the then prime minister Dr Ntsu Mokhehle.

One of the characteristics of Dr Ralitapole that should be celebrated is that she voluntarily retired from active politics, a very rare aspect among African politicians.
There was also ’m’e Mamoshebi Kabi, a Motimposo constituency Member of Parliament that also became a cabinet member in a male dominated political landscape. She had, prior to being a member of parliament been a political activist who at some point served time in prison because of her participation in politics.
At her funeral, her cadres praised her for serving her country with diligence. However, when they left her at the grave yard they soon forgot about her and the contributions she made for Lesotho to get back to democratic rule.

In current day politics we have Hon Keketso Rantšo, the first woman to hold the position of secretary general in a political party. She also broke away from the Lesotho Congress Party to form her own political party. Even though the task of forming breakaway political parties is often being carried out by men, Hon. Rantšo was never shy to embark on that dreaded journey.
Hon Rantšo has been in the spotlight lately for being the Minister of Labour and employment, a position that has, in the month when we celebrate women seen her being ridiculed and insulted with unprintable insults by the very same women that should be celebrating her.

How can we forget Hon. ‘Manthabiseng Phohleli, our very own deputy Minister of Health, when celebrating women of note? She is one woman who ditched a cabinet post just a day after being sworn into office. She later on jumped ship to form a breakaway party that is part of the current coalition government.

There are so many women to celebrate during this month. However, as Africans we have a bad culture of celebrating people only when they are no more. It is time for us to start giving credit to women while they are still alive. We can no longer tell ‘M’e Ntakatsane and ‘M’e Kabi how grateful we are that they became our pioneers in the political arena.

We also do not have a chance anymore to tell ‘M’e Masechela how she inspired us to get an education. Nonetheless it is not too late for women to celebrate bo-‘M é Hlalele, Ralitapole and Phohleli.
I challenge the political party women’s leagues and the NGOs that deal with women related issues to celebrate the lives of the phenomenal women that have and still continue to make the flag of the beautiful Mountain Kingdom fly high.

By:  Kelello Rakolobe

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