MASERU – ’MAMAKHETHE Phomane, 53, has a pathological hatred of Sesotho proverbs that, in her opinion, promote the abuse of women in their matrimonial homes.
One such proverb is ngoetsi e ngalla motšeo. The proverb seemingly encourages married women to stick with their abusive husbands and, when the going gets tough, to seek refuge in the kitchens, where they supposedly belong.
Another she hates says mosali o tšoara thipa ka bohaleng, the imagery of which is a woman clutching the sharp blade of a knife as she protects her children, property or herself during an attack.
A knife, according to Phomane, has a handle safe to be held by a hand, in contrast to the blade which can result in injury.
“A lot of women die because of these sayings,” lamented Phomane.
“I think they promote abuse because women are not expected to speak out about their abuse,” she said.
Phomane describes herself as “the proud daughter of ’Masetšoana and Retšelisitsoe Ramakhula”.
Notice how she starts with her mother when she introduces her parents, something that may be considered culturally offensive by some die-hard traditionalists.
“I am proud of my upbringing,” said Phomane, the founder of the feminist SHE-Hive organisation. The organisation advocates for equality of women with men and promotes women’s rights in a highly patriarchal society.
Phomane attributes her desire to fight for the rights of the marginalised in society to her “tough and strict” mother.
“I am who I am because of the way she raised me.”
“I wouldn’t report to my mother when other girls beat me as she would quiz me instead of fighting in my corner. So I had that strong background and I found it unfair to see other children being treated as softies and I didn’t understand her,” she said.
“Maybe somehow she knew she had to raise me to be a fighter considering the challenges that women face.”
She said at 16 years, she got pregnant after her first sexual encounter.
“I wouldn’t say my behaviour led me to that and I was very attached to my daughter, young as I was, and some people even thought I planned my pregnancy,” she said.
She said her attitude towards a lot of things changed after she became a mother.
Six years after giving birth to her daughter, Phomane married her husband, who is now late, although they didn’t date for long.
“Our marriage was very good at the beginning, for at least six months,” she said.
She said things then changed as her husband became aggressive and abusive.
“I felt I couldn’t take it anymore,” she said, referring to her decision to frequently leave her husband.
“The experiences were unbearable. He would go for days without talking to me. My life changed and every time I ran back home he would come and apologise and convince my parents that he loved me.”
“He loved me but I realised that growing up in an abusive environment had an impact on him. He didn’t understand what love was. It wasn’t easy for him, all the horrible things he did to me he interpreted them as love. He abused me so much.”
She said she stayed in an abusive marriage for 20 years. Each time she returned home, her mother would tell her that the experience was not new and many women were holding on rather than flee, she said.
She said her mother would tell her that “all families go through this and mosali o tšoara thipa ka bohaleng”.
“I went back home so many times but I kept returning to him and on my return there was no difference. The abuse would continue.”
The situation progressively got worse when “he strangled me and threatened to kill me with a knife”.
“That’s when I realised I couldn’t take it anymore and left for good. I left with my children. I formed a group with my friends where we used to counsel each other about our problems. My daughter was still in school back then.”
She said one of her friends, Joyce Moletsane, and many other women offered tremendous support.
“Their support was amazing and they gave me the support that my family failed to offer.”
Church members were also supportive.
“I hated the support I got from my family because it was a selfish one. I was always expected to go back to my husband regardless of how abusive he was. Their advice depressed me instead of helping me. I wouldn’t have been where I am today if I had continued to take their advice,” she said, adding that it led to frosty relations between her and family members.
“Things are going well and I feel like it’s payback from God for all the pains I endured.”
She said she still faces challenges, “but they are nothing compared to what I went through”.
“I had problems in my marriage and I even thought of killing myself.”
Phomane was at one time a finance manager at the Lesotho Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (LENEPWHA) before being kicked out on accusations of stealing the organisation’s funds.
At home, her husband would accuse her of staying late at work because she was having adulterous affairs at the office.
So, when she arrived home after being fired, “burdened with pain, my husband kicked me out as well saying I was worthless”.
“I had to stay with my daughter at her rental room and depended on her school stipend for survival,” she said.
“In a way, I believe it built me to be the woman I am today and it’s another reason why I stayed at She-Hive regardless of how hard it was at the beginning because I was comfortable here.”
She said her daughter was very worried about her mental state due to the rough experiences she endured.
“My daughter encouraged me to find something to keep myself busy during the day when my son was at school,” she said.
She said she also experienced “endless” dreams of women crying out for help so she approached her pastor about it and asked her to talk to God for interpretation.
“That’s how this association was born in 2012 with the support of friends. Its existence is spiritual and I believe it’s my calling, a calling I am content with.”
Phomane said starting and then holding the organisation together was difficult because of lack of funding but that did not kill the dream.
“It’s not easy to control unpaid people who work for the organisation.”
The organisation’s key objectives, amongst others, are “to eliminate all forms of Gender Based Violence (GBV) by encouraging communities to embark on the struggle to end domestic violence”.
What holds the organisation together amid the difficulties is the fact that it was formed by a survivor of domestic violence who feels that the justice system is “too slow in its implementation of strategies to end gender-based violence,” said Phomane.
“I feel it’s everyone’s responsibility to act towards abolishing GBV.”
She-Hive, which has 12 employees, offers daily counseling, psychosocial support and legal advice.
She said they target every victim of abuse through different programmes.
“We help them cope and not see their abuse as the end of the world,” said Phomane, who was forced to single-handedly run the organisation “for a long time” due to lack of money to pay staff.
“Having worked with other Non-Governmental Organisations such as the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) and LENEPWHA, I knew I can use some of the (government) ministries with a similar mandate as mine,” she said, singling out the Ministry of Gender, which “supported me so much with staff”.
“It survived the worst without salaries or anything.”
Despite working with unpaid voluntary staff, She-Hive won the Gender Links trophy of GBV and Conflict Resolution in 2013 and 2014, just seven months after starting operations.
“I was proud and surprised to win against organisations that had existed for years. I knew it was God’s doing.”
She said she strengthened other women by sharing her story but others would call telling her that she was embarrassing herself.
“I knew my goal, I kept on sharing. I even told members that when they feel ready they can tell their stories too. I believe that’s how I attracted more members and funding.”
She said this irritated her now late husband, who accused her of making money using his name.
“I kept on sharing despite his views because all I wanted was to help other women. Some victims even committed suicide while others lost their minds. I wanted to let them know that they can survive the aftermath of abuse.”
After the death of her husband, Phomane had to fight a legal battle to wrestle her house from a woman he was now living with.
She won with the help from Women and Law in Southern Africa – Lesotho (WILSA). She is now living in her house.
“It wasn’t an easy fight. At some point, I felt like giving up but I couldn’t because I was conscious that I had to encourage other women,” she said, adding: “I went through all the processes the court wanted until a court order was issued.”
She-Hive is now spreading its wings to three other districts in Leribe, Berea and Mafeteng.
“I have indeed seen the grace of God. It wasn’t an overnight success and I still pinch myself to make sure it is really happening.”
Her second husband was shot dead in 2018, putting her through another round of trauma after she was accused of killing him and a fight ensued as family conflicts delayed the burial for two weeks.
“The sad part is that those people are now my dependents although they were at the forefront of harassing me and wanting to kill me.”
She said after her husband’s burial, there were attempts to convince the Master of the High Court to grab her property.
“They failed dismally because he had refused to sign divorce papers after years of staying apart.”
The couple had been married in community of property.
Phomane said she even used the incident to raise awareness among women who entered into marriages without legitimate documents.
“I felt pity for her (the woman who was living with her husband) and I taught other women to avoid being victims as well,” she said.
She said men, as the major perpetrators of GBV also need counselling “because talking to women only is pointless”.
“We have to create awareness for men,” she said, adding that they have established a programme called Iphahlolle which targets men.
“If men can get counseling as well, it will be very helpful and maybe reduce the rate of domestic violence. Most men only understand GBV when we talk about their daughters,” she said.
She said the country still has a long way to go in addressing GBV.
Her experience showed her that courts need to change their approach towards the granting of bail to people accused of committing GBV.
“Men get bail and return home to their victims. Full of anger, they repeat beating the woman or even end up killing them.”
She said domestic violence cases will not decrease “until this bail issue is addressed”.
Phomane urged MPs to speedily work on the Domestic Violence Bill, which has already been tabled in the House.
“I wish it can be finalised and see where that can lead us.”
She said they have had experiences of badly injured GBV victims approaching the organisation for help.
“Afterwards, they would return to the perpetrators and cases would be withdrawn because such women would say they don’t even know why they are in court.”
She advised women in abusive relationships to leave before things turn fatal.
“Once you see abuse, take action before it’s too late. Be selfish and put yourselves first before properties or children. Do everything for yourself first and then you will be able to live for your children,” Phomane said.
Lawyer in trouble
A local lawyer, Advocate Molefi Makase, is in soup after he flew into a rage, insulting his wife and smashing her phone at a police station.
It was not possible to establish why Adv Makase was so mad at his wife. He is now expected to appear before the Tšifa-li-Mali Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.
Earlier on Tuesday, he was released from custody on free bail on condition that he attends remands.
Magistrate Mpotla Koaesa granted Advocate Makase bail after his lawyer, Advocate Kefuoe Machaile, pleaded that he had to appear for his clients in the Court of Appeal.
Advocate Makase is facing two charges of breaching peace and malicious damage to property.
According to the charge sheet, on October 5, 2023, within the precincts of the Leribe Police Station, Advocate Makase allegedly used obscene, threatening, or insulting language or behaviour, or acted with an intent to incite a breach of the peace.
The prosecution alleges that the lawyer shouted at his wife, ’Mamahao Makase, and damaged her Huawei Y5P cell phone “with an intention to cause harm” right at police station.
During his initial appearance before Magistrate Koaesa, Advocate Makase expressed remorse for his actions and sought the court’s leniency, pleading for bail due to an impending appearance in the Court of Appeal.
His lawyer, Advocate Machaile, informed the court that an arrangement had been made with the police to secure his release the following day, as he had spent a night in detention.
Advocate Machaile recounted his efforts to persuade the police to release him on the day of his arrest.
He noted that the police had assured them of his release the following day, which indeed came to fruition.
Following his release, he was instructed to present himself before the court, which he dutifully complied with.
Advocate Machaile underscored Advocate Makase’s standing as a recognised legal practitioner in the court.
Notably, he was scheduled to appear in the Court of Appeal but had to reschedule his commitment later in the day to accommodate his court appearance.
Advocate Machaile asserted that Advocate Makase presented no flight risk, as he resides in Hlotse with his family and has no motive to evade his legal obligations.
He respectfully petitioned the court for his release on bail, emphasising that he had demonstrated his ability to adhere to the court’s conditions.
The Crown Counsel, Advocate Taelo Sello, expressed no objection to the bail application, acknowledging that the accused had a forthcoming matter in the Court of Appeal.
Consequently, the court granted Advocate Makase bail without any financial conditions, with the stipulation that he must not tamper with state witnesses and must fully participate in the trial process until its conclusion.
Trio in court for killing ‘witches’
THREE elderly women were all stabbed to death with a spear during a deadly night after they were accused of being witches.
Three suspects, all from Ha-Kholoko village in Roma, appeared in the High Court this week facing a charge of murder.
They are Jakobo Mofolo, Oele Poto, and Pakiso Lehoko.
They accused the elderly women of bewitching one of Poto’s relative who had died.
The stunning details of the murder was unravelled in court this week, thanks to Tlhaba Bochabela, 32, who is the crown witness.
Bochabela told High Court judge, Justice ’Mabatšoeneng Hlaele, last week that he had been invited to become part of the murder group but chickened out at the last minute.
Bochabela said in March 2020, he was invited by Rethabile Poto to come to his house in the evening.
He said when he went there, he found Mofolo, Poto, and Lehoko already at the house. There were two other men who he did not identify.
“I was told that the very same night we were going to do some task, we were going to kill some people,” Bochabela told Justice Hlaele.
He said he asked which people were going to be killed and was told that they were ’Malekhooa Maeka, ’Mathlokomelo Poto, ’Mampolokeng Masasa.
They said the three women had successfully bewitched Rethabile Poto’s uncle leading to his death.
Bochabela said after he was told of this plot, he agreed to implement it but requested that he be allowed to go to his house to fetch his weapon.
He said Lehoko was however suspicious that he was withdrawing from the plot and mockingly said “let this woman go and sleep, we can see that he is afraid and is running away”.
Bochabela said the only person he told the truth to, that he was indeed going to his home to sleep instead of going to murder the three elderly women was Mofolo who also told him that he was leaving too.
He said he told Mofolo that he felt uncomfortable with the murder plan.
Bochabela said he left and when he arrived at his place he told his wife all about the meeting and the plot to kill the women.
He said his wife commended him for his decision to pull out.
“I told my wife to lock the door and not respond to anyone that would come knocking looking for me,” Bochabela said.
He said later in the night, Rethabile Poto arrived at his place and called him out but they did not respond until he left.
Bochabela said in the morning they discovered that indeed the men had carried out their mission.
The village chief of Ha-Kholoko, Chief Thabang Lehoko, told Justice Hlaele that it was between 11 pm and 12 midnight when he received a phone call from one Pakiso Maseka who is a neighbour to one of the murdered women.
Chief Lehoko said Maseka told him to rush to ’Mampolokeng Masasa’s place to see what evil had been done to her.
“I rushed to Masasa’s place and on arrival I found Pakiso in the company of Moitheri Masasa,” Chief Lehoko said.
He said he found the old lady on the bed, naked with her legs spread wide.
“I was embarrassed by the sight of the old lady in that state, naked and covered in blood,” the chief said.
He said he went out and asked Maseka what had happened but Maseka referred him to Moitheri Masasa.
Chief Lehoko said Masasa told him that there were people with spears who had threatened to kill him if he came out of the house.
He said Maseka said he knew that Masasa’s neighbour, ’Malekhooa Maeka, was a light sleeper and she could have heard something.
The chief then sent one Patrick Lehoko to Maeka’s house to check if she had heard anything but Patrick came back saying Maeka was not at her house.
“I immediately stood up and went to ’Malekhooa’s place,” Chief Lehoko said.
He said when he arrived, he knocked at her door but there was no response so he kicked the door open, went in and called out ’Malekhooa Maeka by name.
Chief Lehoko said he then lit his phone and saw her lying in bed covered in blankets.
He said he then went closer to her and shook her but she was heavy.
Chief Lehoko said he tried to shake her again one last time while still calling her out but he touched blood.
He said he immediately left and went back to tell others that Maeka seemed to be dead too.
“I decided to go and buy airtime from the nearest shop which I had passed through near ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s home.”
He said on his way he met one Sebata Poto who asked him who he was.
Chief Lehoko said he only replied by telling him that the two women, Masasa and Maeka, had been murdered.
He said Sebata Poto told him that “’Matlhokomelo has been stabbed with a spear too”.
Chief Lehoko said he rushed to ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s house where he found her seated in the middle of the house supported by her children with blood oozing from her chest, gasping for air.
“I stepped out and went to get airtime, but I found her dead when I returned from the shop,” the chief said.
The case continues.
Opposition fights back
THE opposition is launching a nasty fightback after Prime Minister Sam Matekane defanged their no-confidence motion by roping in new partners to firm up his government.
Matekane’s surprise deal with the Basotho Action Party (BAP) has trimmed the opposition’s support in parliament and thrown their motion into doubt.
But the opposition has now filed another motion that seeks to get Matekane and his MPs disqualified from parliament on account that they were elected when they had business interests with the government.
The motion is based on section 59 of the constitution which disqualifies a person from being sworn-in as an MP if they have “any such interest in any such government contract as may be so prescribed”.
Section 59 (6) describes a government contract as “any contract made with the Government of Lesotho or with a department of that Government or with an officer of that Government contracting as such”.
Prime Minister Matekane’s Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) has a history of winning road construction tenders. Other Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MPs, most of whom were in business, had had business dealings with the government.
It is however not clear if the MPs were still doing business with the government at the time of their swearing-in.
Matekane’s MGC Park is housing the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which is a government institution established by the constitution, getting its funds from the consolidated funds.
The motion was brought by the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Lekhetho Rakuoane who is a key figure in the opposition’s bid to topple Matekane.
The motion appears to be a long shot but should be taken in the context of a political game that has become nasty.
Advocate Rakuoane said the IEC’s tenancy at the MGC is one of their targets.
“The IEC is one of the government departments,” Rakuoane said.
“It is currently unethical that it has hired the prime minister’s building.”
“But after the motion, he will have to cut ties with the IEC or he will be kicked out of parliament.”
The Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said although the IEC is an independent body, it can still be regarded as part of the government because it gets its funding from the consolidated fund.
The Basotho Covenant Movement (BCM)’s Reverend Tšepo Lipholo, who seconded the motion, said the Matekane-led government “is dominated by tenderpreneurs who have been doing business with the government since a long time ago”.
“Now they have joined politics, they must not do business with the government,” Lipholo said.
He said some of the MPs in the ruling parties are still doing business with the government despite their promises before the election to stop doing that.
“Those who will not abide by the law should be disqualified as MPs,” Lipholo said.
“Basotho’s small businesses are collapsing day-by-day, yet people who are in power continue to take tenders for themselves.”
He applauded the Abia constituency MP Thuso Makhalanyane, who was recently expelled from Matekane’s RFP for rebellion because he withdrew his car from government engagement after he was sworn in as an MP.
“He set a good example by withdrawing his vehicle where it was hired by the government,” Lipholo said.
Rakuoane said during the past 30 years after Lesotho’s return to democratic rule, section 59 of the constitution has not been attended to even when it was clear that some MPs had business dealings with the government.
“This section stops you from entering parliament when doing business with the government. Those who are already members will have to leave,” he said.
Rakuoane said they are waiting for Speaker Tlohang Sekhamane to sign the motion so that the parliament business committee can set a date for its debate.
“The law will also serve to assist ordinary Basotho businesses as they will not compete with the executive,” he said.
“There are many Basotho businesses in business these MPs are in. They must get those tenders instead.”
The new motion comes barely a week after a court application aimed at disqualifying Mokhothu.
The government-sponsored application sought the Constitutional Court to declare Mokhothu unfit to be prime minister because he was convicted of fraud in 2007.
Mokhothu has been suggested as Matekane’s replacement should the motion of no confidence pass in parliament.
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