SHE has been described in many ways, from being difficult, militant, and confrontational, to being downright impossible. But Gender, Youth, Sport, and Recreation minister, Likeleli Tampane, says she is not ashamed to own it all because “it neither takes a thing from me nor erodes my worth”.
Lesotho Times Special Projects Editor, Bongiwe Zihlangu, recently sat down with Tampane for a one-on-one interview. Tampane, who will be contesting elections in October 2022 in her native Senqu constituency in Mokhotlong under the Democratic Congress (DC) banner, talks about her difficult childhood, introduction to congress politics, how her family environment shaped her life, as well as her journey as a university political leader.
Tampane also talks about the Senate’s apparent refusal to pass the Laws of Lerotholi (Amendment) Bill, 2022. The law seeks to economically empower widowed women who were married under customary law, by giving them legal rights to control their late spouses’ estates. Excerpts:
LT: Please briefly tell us who Likeleli Tampane is, your family, educational and political background.
Tampane: I was born and raised in Mabuleng in the Mokhotlong district. I come from a family of staunch Catholics. I attended primary and high school in Mokhotlong. After high school, I worked as an unqualified teacher and also had a stint as a librarian. I came to Maseru for my tertiary education, starting at the Institute for Extra-Mural Studies (IEMS) where I acquired a Certificate in Adult Education. Thereafter, I enrolled with the National University of Lesotho (NUL) to pursue a Diploma in Pastoral Care and Counselling, followed by a degree in the same discipline. After that I did my Masters in Public Sector Management and graduated from Africa University in Zimbabwe in 2011.
I come from a family deeply rooted in the congress political ideology. I led the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) youth at NUL during my time at the institution and I handed over the baton to Selibe Mochoboroane, who is now the Movement for Economic Change (MEC) leader. He was succeeded by the current Deputy Prime Minister and Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu. I will be the first to admit that it was challenging particularly because I was a woman. Secondly, I was undermined by some people for doing Pastoral Care and Counselling, which they considered inferior. People who studied courses like law and political science were held in high regard. But I have always been strong politically. I got this from the maternal side of my family. Some of them were members of the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA). I lived and breathed congress politics.
LT: When you talk of political strength, what comes to mind is your militant nature. People tend to think that you are aggressive. What do you have to say to that?
Tampane: Indeed, I am militant. I do fight a lot and my background is partly responsible for this. My cousin, who was living with albinism, was killed by the Basotho National Party (BNP) government. He was taken into the wilderness and tossed down a cliff. That was at the height of intense fighting between congress parties and BNP. We were not able to retrieve his body. That pain stayed with me because the abuse continued. My parents were harassed by the then government on allegations that they hid some rebels at home. They were referring to my late mother’s siblings who would come home from time to time. Soldiers came to camp near our home, so I grew up with anger and wanted to become a soldier so that I could get some revenge. But studying pastoral care and counselling changed me.
LT: You have been described as many things, from being difficult, militant and confrontational, to being downright impossible…
Tampane: I am a short-tempered person, just like my father. I inherited that from him (chuckles). I am energetic and fast. I am also a generous and compassionate person. I am moved by people in need of help, and I get heartbroken when I see people being abused. My father used to beat my late mother; hence the anger lives on in me. But that does not take away from me or erode my worth as a person and my compassion towards others. Sadly, people take advantage of me and my political status. Unfortunately, I have also to deal with a lot of criticism. People say I am arrogant because I am the type of woman who is not economical with the truth. I tell it like it is. I call a spade a spade. People misunderstand me. I am a loner. I keep just one friend and I remember how shocked she was when I told her that while I appreciated her presence in my life, she should not crowd me. I am that honest. But she understands me now.
You will recall that I was ridiculed and had my parliamentary privileges taken away by parliament because I was fighting for the rights of wool and mohair farmers. My father was a wool and mohair farmer. For us to eat, dress and go to school, all the money came from wool and mohair. I was fighting for my people. Do you still remember that when everyone shied away from telling Ntate (Monyane) Moleleki to leave the DC just before he formed the Alliance of Democrats (AD), I stood up bravely to tell him to go as it was the right thing to do? I was taught to respect people, not fear them.
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LT: You are passionate about women leadership, and you’ve been vocal that it’s time Lesotho to be led by a woman…
Tampane: I feel it is time for Lesotho’s women to lead. We need to see a female prime minister at the helm, perhaps things will look better for our country. A female premier will change the mindset of men who see women as objects. Men prey on vulnerable young girls and women. I want to see what will happen should women take over. Nowhere in the constitution does it say women cannot lead. But because we are in a patriarchal society where we are reluctant to push hard and reach our full potential (as women), we are not doing anything. That is why you see most women being reluctant to join politics and lead because of how they are conditioned. Women who stand out are given all sorts of names and their female counterparts mock them saying they act like men. I recall that when I first contested elections in 2012, I was fresh from school and earning half salary from my job then. I was a divorcee too. I’ve cried enough but my tears have dried now. Well, they might stream down from time to time because that is my name (Likeleli means tears).
LT: The National Assembly recently passed the Laws of Lerotholi (Amendment) Bill, 2022. But it appears to be stuck in the Senate. What is the problem?
Tampane: We have just successfully passed the Laws of Lerotholi (Amendment) Bill, 2022 empowering widows to have control over their husbands’ estates. Widows have been treated like children when their spouses die. As per Lesotho’s bicameral parliamentary system, when laws have been passed by the National Assembly, they are then referred to the Upper House/Senate for approval before they are submitted to the King for royal ascent. We referred the draft law to the Senate where it seems to have hit a brick wall. We have been told that when my ministry entered this journey, they left Chiefs behind. Although we are being accused of not consulting them, I can assure you that we had adequate consultations. I am hurt because those chiefs in the Senate are supposed to be the feet, eyes, ears, hands and voices of their subjects, including widows. Those chiefs know that there are so many civil cases instigated by widows regarding estate wrangles. I do understand what they are saying but I would like to appeal to them to help us pass the law and then we deal with the rest later. The chiefs’ main concern is that while we had consultations, they were done a long time ago. Their second major concern is that the National Assembly does not have the mandate to amend the Laws of Lerotholi. It is wrong for them to even say that. Parliament has the power to amend laws as provided for in the constitution. But what has hurt me the most is that Chief Khoabane Theko is an angry man and he is dragging unnecessary issues into this. He is rejecting this law and influencing other chiefs to follow suit because of his deep hatred for the congress movement. I am not advocating for this draft law to be passed because of politics. Any minister from other political parties would do the same. Chief Theko says that we hate chieftaincy and want to end it. There is nowhere in that draft legislation where it says we want to end chieftainship. We have realised that Ntate Khoabane has immense influence on principal chiefs, and he knows it. I just think that he is not being fair to the house. Ntate Khoabane is the one who runs the show. And remember that this is my opinion and not that of DC or the government. I insist that if Ntate Khoabane continues to discredit a good cause, then he might as well vacate the senate and join party politics. If only he did not include politics and just saw me as minister of His Majesty’s cabinet. The saddest part is that the draft law has not been included on the agenda of the Senate by the Business Committee. Mind you he is a member of that committee. We have been to the Senate following up on the draft law on two occasions and on both occasions, we had to turn back because the Bill was not on the business of the house. Senate’s rejection of the Bill because of Chief Theko is a blow to the progress already made. And you will recall that passing the Bill is one of the conditions for Lesotho to qualify for the US Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) development compact.
LT: There is a growing list of highly educated women like Nthati Moorosi, ‘Mamarame Matela and Retšelisitsoe Matlanyane emerging from the corporate world to join politics. As a seasoned female politician, what do you have to say to them?
Tampane: My message to women joining politics is that they must stand firm and believe in themselves. They must always trust their instincts and follow their consciences. I am very happy to see many women including former First Lady ‘Maesaiah Thabane going into politics. More parties are being led by women. It says we are gradually waking up from the slumber and preparing ourselves to bring change. I just want to quickly caution women against forgetting who they are: they remain women no matter how far they can go politically. I want them to learn to campaign differently from their male counterparts, such as guarding against reckless speech, their general conduct, and to refrain from neglecting their families. They must be other women’s roles models.
As women, we don’t support each other. When someone forms a political party, they are judged and crucified as though they have committed a crime. I applaud strong female leaders.