EVERY August Lesotho joins South Africa in commemorating women’s month.
Women’s month was originally aimed at commemorating South African women’s spirited fight against repressive apartheid laws in the 1950s.
Now women’s month commemorates women in general, including Basotho women’s fight for emancipation from gender-based violence, rape, killings and other socio-cultural and economic ills.
But according to analysts, Lesotho merely goes through the motions and the month is rendered a meaningless ritual by the continued failure by the government, police and other stakeholders to stop violent crimes being committed against women on a daily basis.
As if to illustrate the meaningless nature of the commemorations, unknown ruthless killers struck in Koalabata, Berea on 1 August 2020- the very first day of the women’s month- and gunned down four women including an octogenarian and a septuagenarian.
A week earlier, on the eve of women’s month, another group of killers had struck in different parts of Leribe district killing two women in separate incidents.
The trail of unsolved murders is very long. Even in the rare cases where the suspects have been apprehended by the police, the judiciary has inexplicably failed to ensure justice for the victims.
It is therefore no wonder that analysts are raging at the meaninglessness of women’s month commemorations in Lesotho.
Only concrete action and not lip service will address escalating women’s rights violations, the analysts say.
In the latest killings in Koalabata, unknown killers gunned down ‘Malehlohonolo Tšiame (60), her mother ‘Makali Molibeli (87), ‘Matšooana Makepe (40) and ‘Maselone Lelakane (36).
The quartet met their untimely deaths when the gunmen stormed Tšiame’s house on Saturday evening and opened fire on them.
The Koalabata murders have left women’s rights group She-Hive’s executive director, ‘Mamakhethe Phomane, dumbfounded and seeking divine intervention to halt the scourge.
“We need to pray hard and ask God to intervene because it is obvious that these murders are happening because of deep-rooted anger and the desire for revenge,” Ms Phomane told the Lesotho Times this week.
“We are gravely concerned about these killings and we are calling on everyone to hold hands, pray together and heal our country,” she added.
But for the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC)’s deputy leader and newly appointed Law and Justice Minister Professor Nqosa Mahao, the solution does not lie with prayer. It lies with concrete government actions as well as actions by women themselves to deal with the scourge of gender-based violence (GBV).
Last year before his appointment to cabinet, Prof Mahao railed against the then Thomas Thabane regime over its failure to arrest some unidentified burglars who stormed the ABC’s Lithabaneng legislator ‘Matebatso Doti’s home and subjected her to a horrific knife attack, ironically on the eve of women’s month.
Prof Mahao said that it was disheartening that Ms Doti was attacked just a few days before women’s month.
He said local women should take the cue from their South African counterparts and stage protests against gender-based violence.
“If you are able to, ladies please go out there and call all women across the country to join you in telling the government that enough is enough. We can no longer stand and watch these heinous crimes that our mothers, daughters and sisters endure. Some have been murdered mercilessly. This has been going on for far too long and there are no signs of it coming to an end.
“I know that you are great worshipers but God helps those who help themselves. It is now time to confront the government and remind them that one of its major mandates is to ensure the wellbeing of the citizens so that a Mosotho woman like ‘Mé Doti can sleep soundlessly in her home.
“Police should tell us how many criminals have been arrested since the beginning of this year (2019). They should tell us how many have appeared in the courts of law and how many have been incarcerated. You (women) must stop talking and take action. You have our support as men,” Prof Mahao said.
Now that both Prof Mahao and Ms Doti are in government (Ms Doti as Social Development Minister), they could perhaps spearhead the fight against all forms of violence against women.
Prof Mahao crucially heads the Law and Justice ministry and he should take the judiciary to task over its failure to speedily try some cases of violence against women and murders that have been brought before it. He has only been two months in the job and it is still too early to say whether he is faring well or failing to bring pressure to bear on the judiciary to speedily try cases.
One such case that has not been brought to trial is that of Lebohang Nkuebe who brutally murdered his live-in partner, businesswoman ‘Mathabang Radiile. The murder, which shocked the Ntširele community in Khubetsoana, occurred in January 2018.
Ms Radiile’s four-month-old grand-daughter was seriously injured after being sprayed with acid in one of the most gruesome cases of women and child abuse in Lesotho. But more than two years later, the case has not been tried even though the suspect is known.
Time is not on the government’s side and it needs to act fast to stem the tide of the killings of women which continue to escalate with each passing week.
Analysts like ‘Matau Futho-Letsatsi and Manteboheleng Mabetha say the answer lies with the government authorities rising from their slumber and enacting laws to specifically criminalise gender-based violence.
“Customary law practices that discriminate against women should be outlawed,” said Ms Futho-Letsatsi who serves as director for gender in the Ministry of Gender, Youth, Sport and Recreation.
“The government should base its policies and laws on international human rights conventions, protocols and declarations that Lesotho has signed and ratified.
“There must be specific legislation criminalising gender-based violence (GBV). Many women in marriages or partnerships often find themselves at the receiving end of GBV because there is no law criminalising it.”
She said a draft bill law against GBV was crafted in the early 2000s but it is yet to be tabled in parliament due to the political instability that has resulted in frequent changes of governments.
She said the enactment of such legislation criminalising GBV and imposing harsh sentences on offenders would go a long way in stemming some of the violence against women which resulted in their deaths.
Ms Mabetha, who is Gender Links Country Manager for Lesotho, said Lesotho’s major problem in dealing with GBV stemmed from lack of relevant laws.
“There have been many cases of femicide that have not been resolved because of the absence of legislation that deals with GBV. In most cases the perpetrators get off lightly with assault or just walk scot free because their offences cannot be prosecuted under the existing laws.
“Currently GBV cases are treated as common assault under the law and carry very light sentences. It’s only when a woman dies from GBV that the courts appear to take the matter seriously but this would be too late in addressing the problem.
“There is therefore a need for the urgent enactment of laws to protect women and children from GBV. However, such legislation is still at the planning phase. The ministry of gender has been seized with this matter since 2000 and up to now there is no minister who served in that portfolio who managed to push the draft act against domestic violence to a level where it can be presented in parliament,” said Ms Mabetha.
She said educational campaigns targeting males from an early age were also needed to build a society that respected women’s rights and refrained from rape, violence and murders of women.
Ms Futho-Letsatsi said another way to deal with violence against women would be to involve principal chiefs in the fight against GBV.
“Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro could also request His Majesty King Letsie III as head of state to address this issue. He could also invite the principal chiefs to His Majesty’s round table against GBV.
“The principal chiefs will take that baton down to their areas where they will plan action against GBV in their communities with ward chiefs and area chiefs,” she said.
Something has to be done to save the women. Whether it be harsher sentences or awareness campaigns against violence, something has to be done quickly or many more women will die at the hands of ruthless killers.