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‘This is no country for women’

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MASERU – The lesson ’Makhomo Ramatlapeng must surely have learnt after two years of dueling against and losing to her brother in the courts, she ought to have known from day one — when it comes to land in Lesotho, it’s a man’s world.
When in 2014 Ramatlapeng’s brother, Mohapi Jessie, tried to kick her out of their parents’ home she headed straight to the High Court, filing an urgent application asking the court to prohibit her brother from denying her access to the property or to stay there.

Although younger than his sister, Jessie is the eldest son of their family and upon their mother’s death in 2010 – the father had died seven years earlier — he inherited the family home as dictated by Lesotho’s patriarchal customary law that holds sway when it comes to inheritance of property and land tenure in general.
As anyone familiar with these matters would have guessed, the High Court in May of the same year upheld Jessie’s absolute right to the parental home, dismissing his sister’s bid to claim any right to the property.

But Ramatlapeng — who is married and had moved in with his brother’s family at their parents’ old house because she had left her matrimonial home following differences with her husband — was not going to take it lying down.
She escalated the matter to the Court of Appeal, asking it to overturn the High Court ruling.
But in October 2016 ruling that effectively ended Ramatlapeng’s fruitless struggle, the court upheld the High Court ruling and quoting from Justice Mathanzima Maqutu’s 2005 book, Contemporary Family Law: The Lesotho Position, had this to say:
“The firstborn son of the first ‘house’ is the universal heir and head of the family and all unallocated property vested in him.”

You could call the ruling a resounding victory for patriarchy. But by declaring the supremacy of male rights in matters involving land and property ownership, the appeal court was not breaking any new legal ground.

According to a report released by Habitat for Humanity Lesotho (HHL) a fortnight ago, the right for women to access land in Lesotho remains so severely marginalised thanks to what has proven to be a change-resistant patriarchal customary law that dictates that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.
The report titled, Women’s Access to Land and Housing in Lesotho, acknowledges the various legal changes and reforms as well as administrative tools adopted and put in place in recent years to try to open up more space for women to access land more easily.

But it says these have had limited success chiefly because of an entrenched customary law that continues to exist side by side with the new laws. In fact, the traditional law holds primacy over the new legislation when it comes to adjudicating issues and disputes to do with deceased estates.
For example, the report points out how the customary system of allocating land was abolished by the Land Act of 2010 which empowered local authorities to allocate land in their area of jurisdiction in consultation with chiefs.

But that new arrangement is a patently ineffective in addressing the issue of women accessing land given the fact that the chiefs that must be consulted are the custodians of customary law in communities whose job is to defend and uphold it.

Another inconsistency pointed out by the researchers is how Section 18 of the country’s constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination which, of course, means women should not be discriminated against when it comes to land ownership.
But what the same constitution grants by the right hand it promptly takes away by the left when through Sub-Section 4 it ring-fences customary law to leave it just as effective as before and women as disadvantaged as they were ever always.

“Section 18 of the constitution of Lesotho prohibits discrimination. However, Sub-Section 4 provides that Section 18 shall not apply to customary law (which is the law on marriage, divorce, burial, succession), thus perpetuating the minority status of women under customary law” the report reads in part.

It further noted how the constitution accords equal rights to men and women, while there is legislation that grants widows the right to retain land upon the demise of the husband, but all these were undermined by customary law.
“The inconsistency between the constitution and the customary law in prescribing a widow’s status on land inheritance undermines women’s capacity to inherit land and housing in Lesotho,” the report said.

Compounding the situation is the fact that customary law — the primary means by which the subordination of women has been institutionalised in Lesotho – applies to most of the land in Lesotho, where it is traditionally administered by chiefs on behalf of the King.
In addition, the report said that while patriarchy is more dominant in rural areas than in towns, the fact that it is reproduced in male-dominated decision-making institutions means there is really no sphere of society that is immune to the clearly biased system.

It is a situation that land use planning expert Dr Resetselemang Leduka said calls for Basotho to start asking the difficult questions about their culture and customary law. He said it was time to ask how customary law could be reformed and developed to make it more consistent with the constitution and the requirements and needs of today’s society.
“Whose customs are these that are governing us. Do they still answer to today’s needs?” asked Leduka, who is a lecturer at the National University of Lesotho and sits on the board of HHL. He added: “We need to define customs and culture and have them answer to today’s needs.”

The director of HHL, Mathabo Makuta, said it was in the interests of the country to empower women by granting them better access to land, adding that unlike in yesteryears many women of today were breadwinners of their families.
She called on all players to put their heads together to come up with a mechanism to drive women access to land.

Adv. Staford Sharite, the deputy chairperson of HHL, who is also assistant registrar at the High Court, said while patriarchy was largley to blame for women’s failure to access land it would be simplistic to put the blame solely on men.
There were many women also at the forefront of depriving widows of their right to inherit land. “We have a lot of cases where female in-laws are hustling a woman out of land and housing of their late husband,” Sharite said.

Sharite called for the establishment of a land dispute resolution authority to handle land rights and land ownership disputes in a fair and equitable manner.
And one case that illustrates well the need for an overhaul of the current land tenure system as advocated by the HHL team is that of Ramatlapeng’s.

Here was a woman whose marriage was on the rocks and because of it had fled her husband’s home to go live in rented accommodation that was so poor her brother asked her and her young child to come live with him at his house. His house was their parents’ old home where they grew up and which he had inherited.
When relations soured between the two, the brother decided to kick the sister out, a decision the courts declared legal because under the law he had no obligation to share the property with her because she was not a man.

The High Court, in a finding that was upheld by the Court of Appeal, said the brother was obliged to share their parents’ home only with his male siblings. It further said that as a married woman, Ramatlapeng had her own matrimonial home to live in.
One can only wonder whether as they handed down the ruling, the judges did not privately wish the law was such that they could give more prudent advice to a desperate woman than telling her to leave her ‘parents’ house’ to go back to her troubled matrimonial home.

Rose Moremoholo

 

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Lesotho’s own brandy

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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.”

Own Correspondent

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Ready-to-cook vegetables

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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.
It’s time!

Own Correspondent

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A new, co-operative chain store

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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?
Nope!

“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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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!
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.”
  7. 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.”

Own Correspondent

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