Level the playing field and women will excel: Matela

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Herbert Moyo | Bataung Moeketsi

IN HER fairly short time in the banking and communications industry, Lesotho Communications Authority’s (LCA) chief executive officer ‘Mamarame Matela has developed a “Thatcherite reputation” as an iron lady who wants everything done by the book.

Those close to her say she is not afraid to ruffle feathers in her relentless pursuit of good corporate governance practices.

It has only been a year and four months since her April Fools’ Day appointment as the first Mosotho woman to head the LCA. But there is certainly no fooling around with her and even the telecommunications companies can testify to that.

She has reined in mobile communications companies and forced them to stop their age-old practice of deducting airtime from consumers whenever their data is depleted.

“Consumers have rights. They should be allowed to decide if they want their airtime deducted for data,” Ms Matela told the Lesotho Times this week.

LCA staffers have also felt her the impact of her crusading zeal to root out unprocedural practices and get them to stick to the authority’s core business.

Prior to our interview with her this week, some LCA staffers had complained of her iron-fisted tactics and “draconian measures” which include banning employees from accessing personal loans from the authority’s coffers.

“She (Ms Matela) is a Johnny-come-lately who has stopped us from accessing personal loans from the authority,” one LCA staffer had told this publication.

“We have been accessing these loans ever since the authority was established in 2000. You can’t just come in and stop an age-old practice which benefits employees,” the staffer added.

When these claims were put to her, Ms Matela shrugged and her face took on a sterner appearance very much like a no-nonsense school head giving a recalcitrant child a tongue-lashing.

“We have to do things by the book. Some of these LCA staffers are the same people who apply for loans, vet their own applications and approve them. As one who has a football background having played for Matlama Ladies, I can tell you that in football we say that you cannot be a player and referee in the same game.

“As a lawyer, I can also tell you that there’s an expression which says that you cannot be the judge and the jury of your own case.  It doesn’t matter how many years such malpractices have been going on in the LCA. They must be stopped and good corporate practices should be implemented,” Ms Matela said.

Given her background in banking and law, it is not difficult to see why she is a stickler for the rules.

“I worked in the banking industry as head of the legal and compliance department. Issues of compliance including enforcing good corporate governance practices were at the core of my work.

“Whenever you are dealing with public funds, you can’t afford to bat an eyelid. You should treat people like potential fraudsters and implement measures to ensure public funds are protected from misappropriation and fraud. That’s the background that I come from.”

Listening to her descend the staircase of memory to speak of her family background and upbringing in the tough Sea Point, Maseru ghetto, one cannot help but feel she was destined for her lofty position and other big things from an early age.

“My family is originally from Makhunoane in Butha-Buthe but I grew up in the Thibella area of Sea Point.

“You could say I’m a location girl. I grew up as a tom-boy. When you have grown up in a tough environment, you learn a lot about life. Probably that’s why I can’t be easily intimidated,” she says of her upbringing in the tough neighbourhood where there was crime, bullying and a host of other vices.

Her family was a female-headed household with strong women who made for excellent role models.

“My mother worked in the media and communications industry. She was the first female director of information at the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology. My grandmother actually ran the post office. She used to connect switchboards and even ran training programmes at the post office. So, it was a natural progression for me to follow in their footsteps.

“My mother kind of forced issues by advising me to study communication science. I followed her advice and majored in industrial psychology at the University of the Orange Free State in Bloemfontein in 2000.

“I later studied for and graduated with an honours’ degree in Law (LLB Hons) from the University of Pretoria in 2007. I went on to do articles and I got admitted as an attorney in South Africa in 2009. I worked for a law firm in Pretoria for a while.

“While in Pretoria, I worked with various organisations, giving advice to various clients as they applied for licences with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) as well as accreditation with the South African National Accreditation System (SANAS)- a body which gives accreditation for quality managements systems, environmental management systems and laboratories among others.

“When I came back to Lesotho at the end of 2012, I worked for a commercial law firm in Maseru before joining the banking industry in 2015. Issues of compliance with good corporate practices were at the core of our activities. That’s essentially the background that I come from before being appointed the first female chief executive officer of the LCA on April Fools’ Day last year.”

This August, Lesotho is celebrating Women’s Month. For Ms Matela, the commemorations and any other lobbying should not be for preferential treatment for women.

While a firm believer in women’s rights, she feels women must not be treated as victims to be given preferential treatment when it comes to jobs and positions in any sector.

She would rather governments and society create a level playing field to allow women opportunities to excel just like their male counterparts. Thereafter, merit and not affirmative action should be the criteria for appointment to top jobs.

“I am a mother of five- three boys and two girls. It is important for me that I don’t see people in terms of gender, in terms of whether they are male or female. I see human beings as people who have the ability to achieve whatever they set their minds to.

“While it is important to consider women’s rights, I find it difficult to be treated as a ‘handicapped’ person because I’m a woman. I wouldn’t want anyone saying, ‘Oh shame, she is a poor female who needs to be helped along’. If a woman has the ability then they should be given a chance to succeed just like her male counterpart.

“For me, the fact that I have three little boys and two young ladies is a lovely experience because I am seeing these five human beings blossoming and quite frankly; the sky is the limit for them regardless of their sex.”

Her demeanour begins to change and she becomes a starry-eyed fan as she opens up on her undying love for Matlama Football Club and musicians Juvy oa Lempimpara and Selimo Thabane.

“Nna ke Letlama (I’m a Matlama fan). Mighty blues all the way,” she giggles excitedly as she recalls her formative years in Sea Point suburb which is home to the country’s most decorated football team.

“I actually played football for Matlama Ladies’ team around 1996. I played as goalkeeper and in defence because I was a big player who couldn’t run fast. I believe there’s nothing as beautiful as being the one to stop a striker in his tracks and silence the crowds backing them.

“So, I really love football. Beyond our borders, I’m a Buccaneer (Orlando Pirates supporter). I’ve supported them ever since the days of their prolific striker, Jerry ‘Legs of Thunder’ Sikhosana. In England I follow the Red Devils’ Manchester United,” she said.

Ms Matela also enjoys various kinds of music and counts Selimo Thabane and Juvy as her favourite local musicians.

“My favourite musician is Selimo. He does a good job. Juvy oa Lempimpara also does a good job.

“But I will also dip into South Africa’s gqom music from time to time. I will dance to your Durban’s Finest, Master KG and Jerusalema. I am not going to lie and say that because I’m a Christian, I only listen to Rebecca Malope. When the beat is good and even when the words don’t make sense, I will enjoy the music. I am easy going like that.

“I dance with my kids as a form of exercise. I am a true family person and therefore, you will always find me with my kids or my husband or both (husband and kids). I am Christian. I am a core believer in Christ too.”

When she finally ushers us out of the LCA boardroom, we are more than convinced of the truth in the statement that steely exteriors can also mask warm and easy-going characters.

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