HA MAMATHE – SENATE Masupha sits in her family home in the village of Ha ‘Mamathe in Lesotho, under a portrait of her late mother.
The inscription on the portrait, written in the Sesotho language, acknowledges her mother’s role as principal chief of Ha ‘Mamathe and the villages that surround it, a position that she held for 12 years before her death in 2008.
Outside, the carefully tended flower garden, wooden trimmings on the porch and old sandstone buildings have a story to tell. For generations, members of the Masupha family have lived and served as chiefs of this area. David Masupha, Senate Masupha’s father, was principal chief before his death in 1996, and was a direct descendant of King Moshoeshoe I, the revered founder of Lesotho.
“My parents were chiefs for all of their lives that was their right. I felt very secure when I was growing up,” recalls Masupha.
“But when my mother passed on, I was taken out of my comfort zone. There was a sudden tension in the family about who would inherit the chieftainship. I was a victim of this tension, because it was as if I wasn’t even there.”
Masupha is the only child in her family, but Lesotho’s laws prohibit women from inheriting the chieftainship. Women can take on the role if their chief husbands die, but afterwards the position can be inherited only by a male heir. When talk in the family turned to the possibility of evicting Masupha from her parents’ home, she decided to take action. In 2013, she filed a case with Lesotho’s Constitutional Court for her right to inherit the chieftainship, arguing that the existing law was discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional.
But the court rejected her case as did the Court of Appeal one year later, where the judge argued that modernizing the rule was a matter for Parliament.
Masupha’s uncle, her father’s younger brother, took over as principal chief, but she continues to live in her parents’ home and to battle for change that she believes is long overdue.
Laws that prohibit women from inheriting the role of chief have been invalidated in South Africa and in Namibia, Botswana and Zambia, women can now be appointed chiefs on the same terms as their male counterparts.
Meanwhile, little has changed in Lesotho. Sitting in her small, cluttered office in the capital Maseru, Thabane gives an exasperated half-laugh.
“You can only discriminate against someone who exists, but in Lesotho’s laws on succession and inheritance, women are not even mentioned, they are entirely overlooked.”
The Lesotho government has not responded to a request for comment.
“A woman in Lesotho is not discriminated against, she simply doesn’t exist,” says Kuena Thabane of the Lesotho Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), which has been supporting Masupha’s fight.
Among Lesotho’s 22 principal chiefs, who make up the majority of the country’s Senate, Khoabane Theko, principal chief of Thaba Bosiu, says he is the lone supporter of Masupha’s fight.
“A girl child does not choose to be born as a girl, so in my opinion the laws that discriminate against her are totally heinous,” says Theko, speaking at his home near the historical mountain fortress where King Moshoeshoe I established the Basotho nation.
He points out the hypocrisy in the current system, in which female chiefs who take over from their husbands are generally well respected, yet their female children are denied access to the role.
“We don’t consider the brilliance of a girl child and what she might be able to bring to the chieftainship if she was given the chance to rule,” he says.
Most other principal chiefs disagree. Peete Lesaoana Peete of Koeneng and Mapoteng holds firmly to prevailing cultural norms, arguing that in Basotho culture, a woman marries into the man’s family and any future children belong to his clan.
“It cannot work the other way around,” explains Peete. “If a girl child inherits the chieftainship she will take it out of the family when she gets married; she will derail the royal lineage. She cannot marry a man into her family. That is culturally taboo.” Thabane is frustrated by this view that privileges tradition above all else and believes culture should not always be preserved.
Masupha agrees, rejecting any logic that sees women getting married as an obstacle.
And she’s hopeful that her constant campaigning, while having little effect on the laws of the land, is starting to have impacts at a grassroots level.
She begins to smile as she describes how some women in her community who are facing gender-based violence or discrimination often confide in her.
“This tells me that they understand my fight and that it’s made them look at the reality within their own families and break the silence and speak out,” Masupha says.
And it’s a learning experience for her too. “Their experiences tell me that my case isn’t only happening within my home, it’s also happening within my community.”
But raising Masupha’s case with men and women at a bustling intersection in her home village reveals a divided community.
Mpoetsi ‘Mamosa Lereka, 43, stands out from the crowd in her trousers and heels, a rare sight in rural Lesotho, where most women wear skirts or dresses.
Her face lights up when she hears Masupha’s name. She remembers when her mother was chief and welcomes Masupha’s challenge to the entrenched gender stereotypes that still govern the views of so many in Lesotho, including many women.
“When it comes to leadership, we always vote for men in Lesotho. We are made to believe that men should be leaders; that’s our mentality,” she says, adding: “We sideline ourselves as women. It’s long overdue that this inheritance law changes; we need more women leaders in this country.”
‘Makhotso Makhoebe, a slightly older woman in a skirt, warm jacket and beanie, is one of those who opposes change. Shading her eyes from the harsh midday sun, she shakes her head as she speaks.
“Women should not be given leadership,” she says. “They don’t deserve that kind of power they have many more weaknesses than men and they don’t know how to talk to people. We don’t trust them. It’s good that Senate Masupha lost her case.” Inside the Masupha family home on the edge of Ha ‘Mamathe, Senate Masupha reflects on her uphill battle.
“Patriarchy is entrenched in the fabric of our society, to the extent that women themselves see it as a normal way of life and continue to enforce it,” she says, a hint of tiredness in her voice.
She sighs, shifts in her seat and then raises her head, her expression still determined as she points out the progress toward gender equality made by Lesotho’s neighbors.
“There’s no way that Lesotho can sustain its current retrogressive laws,” she says. “It’s only a matter of time before we get to where we’re supposed to be.”
l The As Equals reporting project is funded by the European Journalism Centre via its Innovation in Development Reporting Grant Programme. Photos by Meri Hyöky. — CNN
Lesotho’s own brandy
ROMA-“Go, eat your food with rejoicing, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for already the true God has found pleasure in your works,” so says the Big Book.
Driven by that divine, Mohapi Pule has gone a step further – by coming up with a new type of brandy – to make you merry.
The brandy, Mountain Spels Brandy, will make the heart of the dying man rejoice.
“The healthy nutrients in fruits that make brandy, end up in you when you drink it,” he said.
Pule studied nutrition at the National University of Lesotho.
His brandy is made by fermenting fruits into wine. The wine is then distilled into a brandy. It carries the flavour and the aroma of the original fruits.
The story began when Pule was born in Quthing, Mphaki. He was born to a hardworking mother who brew traditional beer like no other.
“She brew beer well before I was born. She is still making it to this day,” he said.
His passion for brewing was probably “born” even before he was born. Mothers have a hidden way of passing not just their looks but their passions to their children.
As he grew up, he found that he was still intertwined with his mom’s brewing business in one way or another.
“Mostly, I am expected to fetch water for the brewing process. That, I still do to this day when I visit home,” he says.
Two decades later, Pule found himself in the Roma Valley, doing BSc in Nutrition.
“At some point, I found that I had lost purpose in life. There was not a thing that I could say, well, I was passionate about this thing or that thing.”
That situation, of course, threw him into some serious soul-searching.
It brought him back to his roots.
“During this period, I recalled that when I was younger, I used to imagine helping my mom do the packaging of the beer she was making and helping distribute it countrywide,” he said.
From a young age, the issue of subsistence business didn’t appeal to him. But that imagination came and passed. Now here he was, worried that he might not amount to anything in life.
Then, boom! An idea came!
What if he produced an alcoholic drink?
He could have thought about anything to do as a business but, lo and behold! He thought about his mother’s passion!
One of the things he loves about alcoholic beverages is that they are popular.
“I haven’t seen products as popular as alcoholic drinks,” he said.
He might be wrong or right but the reality is, the rest of the world has for generations found delight in alcoholic beverages – some to the extent of overdoing it to their injury!
“Mabele khunoana ralitlhaku thabisa lihoho. Mabele u tsoa kae e le khale re u batla re sa u thole? Ueeeena mabeeeele!” (Loosely translated beer brewed from sorghum make men happy. We’ve been looking for you from afar, you sorghum. In short, this is a praise poem for the Sesotho sorghum brew).
But then came the most difficult part. Which specific beverages should he focus on and how would he do it?
He decided that he would focus on ciders. He realised that not many people in Lesotho were making ciders.
He started experimenting at home and realized how difficult the process was. He just couldn’t get it right. To worsen matters, he also did not have the right equipment.
But like most successful innovators, he just knew that he had to start his business right away.
Pule says he then learnt about other forms of beverages: the spirits. Spirits are very high in alcohol content. Here we are talking the likes of whiskey, vodka and brandy.
He was particularly interested in vodka. He went into one NUL laboratory and, with necessary permission, began testing a number of spirits and doing a lot of research about them.
He began saving some of the money he earned from the National Manpower Development Secretariat in the form of student allowance so he could buy equipment. Saving was not easy. The subsistence money was already not that much. Having to share it with a business was asking a little too much.
But Pule was so determined that he did it, bought equipment that allowed him to develop what he thought was “vodka”.
However, after buying the equipment he immediately realised that the equipment was to make brandy not vodka.
“Now I was forced to get into brandy by chance,” he said.
It was a mistake that he has never regretted having realised that there are very few individuals who were making brandy in Lesotho.
Pule had to throw himself fully into experiments. He read books about brandy production. He even enrolled for an online course on distillation.
In the end, he began to see some light.
“I began to feel some difference in the taste of my produce,” he said. “When I shared my produce with my lecturers, they were over the moon!”
With that encouragement, Pule began packaging his brandy and is now selling it to family and friends.
“My small equipment means that I can’t produce much. However, If I were to get bigger equipment, things would be much better.”
ROMA – ’MATUMANE Matela, a National University of Lesotho (NUL)-trained nutritionist, is an example of how a nutritionist should think and act.
Matela makes and sells ready-to-cook vegetables out of produce from her own farm or produce she preferably buys from local farms.
“When I make a dish, as a nutritionist, I make choices that ensure a typical package is packed with nutrition,” Matela said.
Today, we examine an interesting story of the lady who is determined to ensure that you eat healthy despite your busy schedule.
It started with her experiences in life.
She describes herself as an extremely busy woman.
She likes getting things done.
As the busy amongst us will say, the busier you become, the less you watch your diet.
She couldn’t escape the trap!
“My busy schedule meant that I ended up eating junk and I was gaining weight,” she said.
With time, she came to her senses.
As a nutritionist, she recalled that the best way to preach was to preach by example.
So, was she preaching what she practised?
Clearly, she wasn’t.
She had to find an option to maintain the busy schedule and eat healthy at the same time.
The beautiful thing about nutrition is that the healthiest foods are the closest to us: fruits and vegetables.
Some scientists even claim that our bodies seem to be designed to thrive on fruits and vegetables.
“Have you ever wondered why looking at a ripe raw peach on a tree is mouth-watering but looking at a fat cow isn’t?” asked one scientist.
Well, whether we were designed for fruits and vegetables or not, the truth is that they are good for our bodies.
That’s what good science tells us.
And we somehow “know it” too if you have heard about anything called intuition.
So one day she found herself increasingly eating fruits and vegetables.
It’s easier to change a religion than a diet, they say.
So it is commendable that she changed her diet at all.
“The idea was to chop as much vegetables as possible and put them in a fridge so that in future, I will just pull them out and cook.”
She wasn’t proposing something new.
Who amongst us doesn’t enjoy the convenience of just pulling up chopped frozen vegetables and cooking?
Little did she know that what she was doing was putting her on a path to a brilliant business.
It took a post on a social media to achieve just that.
“I took a pic of the chopped and packaged vegetables and posted them on my social media account. The reaction was swift. I began getting questions like, “how much?””
It immediately dawned on her that she could be sitting on a great business idea, after all.
So she gave it a try and started selling.
To her surprise, people started buying.
In fact, “I get orders for my products almost on a daily basis.”
That is how interested people really are.
This to an extent that her business now gets up to four irregular employees, she included, when the demand is high.
She said her training in Agriculture, Home Economics and Nutrition has helped her to give a thought into what she was doing.
For instance, where possible, she grows her own crops and sells them as first preference.
She has grown spinach, butternut, green pepper, onion, herbs and beans.
She is also in the process of renting more fields to grow more vegetables.
Then she empowers Basotho producers by requesting them to supply.
Going for foreign produce is the last resort.
Look at her packages and you realise something.
The “7 colours” proverb comes alive.
Those seven colours (several colours actually) may have been designed to appeal to your eyes but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The colours of vegetables mean a lot in terms of nutrition.
Each colour gives you something different.
So, the more colours in one meal, the merrier.
To drive this home, let’s go a scientific route for a second.
Red, Blue and Purple: These vegetables contain substances that are good at reducing the risk of stroke, cancer and memory problems.
White: The likes of onion or garlic may help lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer and heart disease.
Orange and Yellow: Carrots immediately come to mind.
These vegetables contain substances called carotenoids which may help improve your immune system and help to improve the health of your eyes.
Basotho, it would appear, have long known a thing or two about the relationship between carrots and eyes.
Hence the famous saying, “o jele lihoete” (they ate carrots), often applied to good sportsmen or women with symbolically “good eyesight”.
Green: Green is life. Green vegetables come packed with chlorophyll, a chemical that scientists believe can boost your immune system, eliminate fungus in your body, clean your blood, lead to healthy intestines and give you boundless energy.
As a bonus, her Home Economics background is such that she is armed with a host of recipes for each of the packages she sells.
She has great dreams for the future.
“I want to see my products decorating the shelves of big supermarkets,” she said.
A new, co-operative chain store
ROMA – ’MAKUENA Lesiea is spearheading the creation of a cooperative chain store that will sell Lesotho products only.
The store is being developed under the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation Hub and it will be incubated by the Hub.
“Have you seen it? Basotho are producing like never before,” Lesiea said.
“However, their products are hard to see in the markets. We want to change all that.”
The store, she said, will open branches in all districts of Lesotho, starting from Maseru.
Visit any supermarket in Lesotho and check the products on the shelves.
You will be shocked to realise that, in general, just one percent of them are made in Lesotho.
The other 99 percent comes from elsewhere.
Is it because Basotho are not producing or can’t produce at all?
“Having worked directly with the NUL Innovation Hub and the Tsa Mahlale TV programme under the Hub, I have travelled the depth and breadth of Lesotho and I was amazed at the amount of work Basotho are doing,” she said.
What is the problem?
Basotho products are not given sufficient platforms to prove themselves.
“Credit where it is due, some shops are beginning to accept and sell Basotho products,” she said.
“However, they are barely making a dent because Basotho products, being at their infancy, cannot receive full attention unless by a store that is designed to give them full attention.”
Such a store doesn’t exist.
She said the idea is not to compete with any of the existing stores because “we are getting into a new territory altogether, we are addressing a different market”.
So listen to Lesiea as she presents some features of the store that will surely persuade you to join the bandwagon:
- Customer and producer confidence: The store, she said, will achieve two things.
First, when they see masses of Lesotho-made products in one place, Basotho customers will slowly grow confidence in them.
The confidence will shoot to the roof when the customers experience that many of the products made in Lesotho are already way ahead of foreign competitors in terms of quality.
Secondly, the store will give Basotho producers an assurance that their products have, at least, one store that is willing to take them, dark or blue.
More production will come from such assurance.
- Selling “everything”: The store will sell everything from fruits and vegetables to processed foodstuffs to clothing and building materials (if Thabure car will be in production by then, it will be on the shelves too).
“Suppose what we want to sell is not locally made, we will never cross the border, any border, to find its equivalence. We will encourage Basotho to produce it until they do.”
- We mean business: whereas Basotho are beginning to produce, their products are still all over the place.
You bump across them in some few willing stores, in expos and trade shows, or as being sold by individual resellers. Those are good efforts, but they are not enough. In fact, many in Lesotho have come to see producing and selling as being more of an art, a hobby, a therapy or a hustling than a business, “so we are seriously moving away from such a casual approach, we mean business this time around.”
- Ownership: So when you enter this store, you could be purchasing a product made by you in a store owned by you. What a difference!
- Reasonable standards: the store will only demand reasonable standards. As a struggling Mosotho, try taking your products to some of the local shops and you are, at worst, turned away without reason or, at best, given a long list of standards you must meet before they can take your product.
“In our case, as long as your products are reasonably of good quality, you are in. NUL Innovation Hub is already testing many Basotho products. We won’t ignore quality, but we won’t use it as a way to prevent Basotho products from growing either.”
- A cooperative chainstore: From contributing as little as M50 per month, members will use a continuous financing model to ensure that the store doesn’t just end in Maseru but reaches the ten districts of Lesotho.
Each branch will start at a medium scale in order to grow along with Basotho products. We won’t ask for investors to come from anywhere, “we will be investors ourselves.”
- An export launch pad. “We are often told to export our produce. The obvious question is, if you haven’t convinced your own people to consume your own products, how can you convince people in other lands to do so? Why should they take you seriously?”
However, the store is not meant to be a local store forever.
It will be a means by which we export our products to other countries in the future.
When we export the store to Soweto, we export it along with products from Lesotho.
Don’t say no because we have seen Chinese shops and Indian shops and, of course, South African shops, filled to the brim with Chinese products and Indian products and South African products in many countries.
“If they can do it,” Lesiea ended, “so can we.”
“Because if it is there in some of us, it is there in all of us.”
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