Ex-LCA boss Matela enters the political fray

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. . . pleads with women politicians to work together across political lines

FORMER Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) CEO, ‘Mamarame Matela, caught many by surprise over the weekend after she was unveiled as deputy leader of the Teboho Mojapela-led Socialist Revolutionaries (SR) party. She replaced Nkhetse Monyalotsa who dumped the party for the Nqosa Mahao-led Basotho Action Party (BAP).

She was unveiled to party supporters at a glittering gala hosted by Advocate Mojapela on Saturday evening at Avani Maseru Hotel.

Lesotho Times (LT) Special Projects Editor Bongiwe Zihlangu caught up with Adv Matela to discuss her unexpected plunge in the dog-eat-dog world of politics. Below are excerpts from the interview:

LT: Your entry into politics, as deputy leader of the Socialist Revolutionaries (SR), caught many by surprise. What drove you to this decision?   

Adv Matela: I have always been interested in people’s well-being, having come from Maseru’s biggest slum, Thibella, near Seapoint. I was able to interact with people from different walks of life. I used to herd cattle. My parents didn’t have cattle, but I herded somebody else’s cattle. Some days we would walk with the cattle past the main circle in Maseru up the Mpokho hill where the parliament building is situated. That’s when I learnt about wild plants and all. All that I did with a family friend, a very old and dignified man called Moteiti Makae. Among the cattle I herded was a black and white bull.

That thing was huge, a beast that compelled the traffic to make way for it whenever I crossed the road with it. I would walk with Ntate Makae until I had to go to boarding school at St Stephen’s High School in Mohale’s Hoek. I had attended primary school at Ha-Hoohlo where I met kids from all walks of life. They would mock me for my origins in the Thibella slum. I also was called ‘Mamonoto (the scrawny one).

That mocking helped build my character and strength me. What people don’t know is that Sea-Point, Thibella and Stadium Area will make you tough. It’s not an easy environment. Throughout that time, I was always notoriously in green track pants, a yellow and red polo neck. I also had a yellow blanket and short hair. That was me when I was herding cattle. I remember that very distinctly. I believe that journey that you walk in life culminates in who you become. I have always cared about other people’s interests.

I would clean up the coops of the chicken that my grandmother reared. Those were my humble beginnings. I have always wanted to go to school and learn as much as I possibly could. I studied Journalism. I also studied Industrial Psychology at the University of the Free State. Law came much later.

My mother worked on issues of trade and investment. She really got me interested in those fields, but I was afraid of the big equations in economics that my friends were always complaining about at varsity. I then resolved that I would study trade and investment from a legal perspective.

I also used to attend conferences by the likes of UNICEF. I finished school and got married. I then did my Bachelor of Laws Honours (LLB Hons) degree after my marriage. I completed that degree at the University of Pretoria and I must be clear that I did not do criminology and all the other things. All I did was commercial because I wanted to understand trade and the elements that we can take advantage of such as international treaties and funding that could assist in Lesotho’s development and growth.

LT: You have forged a career in the corporate sector and you have swapped that for politics. What should the nation expect from you?

Adv Matela: I’m not interested in sitting and waiting for a position to open so that I can earn good money. I don’t want money. I want change for my people because the way things are now makes me very uncomfortable. Many people don’t have jobs because of Covid-19. In the not-so-distant future, people will be going to other people’s homes to steal food instead of electronic devices and gadgets.

When people don’t have jobs and they start opening up spaza shops in their yards, the Land Administration Authority (LAA) will be the first to come to them demanding that they pay ground rent, yet these people don’t have jobs. They are raising HIV orphans and trying to make a living.

What got me interested in the SR is that I have always wanted to work who is concerned about the welfare of Basotho. I can’t help being angry when I see how much people are struggling and suffering in silence. Some might voice their grievances on radio but there are those who are deep in the highlands who have no platform to tell their stories of suffering.

We continue to recycle the same people in government but expect a different outcome. I think they call it madness. There must be a way in which we can shift our thinking, instead of expecting a snake to give birth to a lizard. Who is going to fix this country for the benefit of our people? We are bringing kids into this world but what are we preparing for them? Even if we ship our children off to schools abroad, ultimately, they will come back home to poor services and an environment with no infrastructure. If you don’t get into politics and change things, who do you expect to do it for you?

That failure to get into politics is the reason why you find octogenarians and nonagenarians in parliament promulgating legislation that affects the youth in the 4th industrial revolution. Younger people are shying away from parliament. How then does a 90-year-old person understand the needs of an 18-year-old? They are generations apart and therefore don’t understand some of these things. How do you relate to the needs of the youth when the only thing you understand is how things used to be?  That is why I have taken the plunge into politics.

I joined the SR because it is one party that has consistently spoken out against corruption in high places. We must be able to make tough decisions for the nation to rise. I have five children that I am raising; two girls and three boys. There are many young women, young and upcoming professionals who look up to me. Everywhere I have worked, I have made a mark.

The SR stands for the principles I abide by. There are a lot of things that I felt comfortable with when I joined the revolutionary movement that is the SR.

We have seen people coming and promising the electorate fly-over roads and the like but fail to deliver once in office. The only thing I would want is a stable government that does not change every two years. For instance, if SR is in government, it can work and be subjected to evaluation after the prescribed five years of the life of parliament. Coalition after coalition destabilises government and consequently very little can be achieved under such conditions.

LT: Rumour has it that you were not even aware that you would be unveiled as deputy leader at the gala dinner over the weekend. It is said that you thought it was just a welcome dinner for you as a new SR member. How true is this and what were your feelings the moment Adv Mojapela announced that you were the new deputy leader?

Adv Matela: When I joined SR it was not because I was expecting to be given a position. I am a revolutionary at heart. My actions have always been revolutionary hence I went to school and studied hard for the betterment of my people.

So, for me it was not about the position. It does not matter what position I get as long as the job gets done.

But in all honesty, I was shocked because I thought I would just be an ordinary member who would help in the party programmes in the build up to the elections. I just wanted to contribute to the growth of the party.

LT: You waxed lyrical of SR leader, Mojapela’s qualities. What are those qualities?

Adv Matela: Believe me, my leader, Advocate Teboho Mojapela, is a principled man. He is a firm disciplinarian. You will not see people getting drunk at an SR rally. First, it’s serious business and when that is done, people can then relax and have fun. Those are some of his principles. Not that he is a dictator, but he is trying to push for good morals within society.

LT: What advice do you have for fellow women in politics?

Adv Matela: The ultimate purpose of going into politics is to ensure that we have good morals and provide an environment for people to flourish. For the longest time women have been marginalised in many spheres of life. Men make decisions. When you are outspoken as a woman you are hounded like I have been.

So, I’m saying to the ladies, let’s band together. Let’s work together for the betterment of our country, understanding that we are Basotho first before we are divided along party lines. Let us stand for principles that will help develop our country and help our youths grow into better leaders of tomorrow. Let us work together overlooking our party differences. Let these gentlemen give us this country for a year or two, they will see what a difference we can make.

Women are always fighting and bickering. It is the saddest thing for me because the people I have always had issues with wherever I worked were always women. It is women who push each other down. I believe in uplifting and bringing the best out of women.

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