MASERU — Lesotho must review laws of inheritance and succession in chieftainship to accommodate the girl child, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili said on Saturday.
Mosisili made the call while addressing the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) Women’s League gala dinner to honour women who have excelled in their respective fields of work.
“These laws (succession and inheritance) should be amended as has been done with other laws which no longer function in modern society,” Mosisili said.
He said it was unfortunate that inheritance laws recognised only sons as sole heirs to their parents’ estates.
“The fact that a boy child, regardless of age, is the sole heir is unjust to girl children,” Mosisili said.
“Worsening the situation is the fact that these laws are also enshrined in our constitution and the Laws of Lerotholi (Sesotho traditional laws).
“If other laws are being amended, why not amend these laws too?” Mosisili asked.
“I say this is time for change, for us to change things that no longer work for us. I always say that the only thing that does not change is change itself.”
This is not the first time that the premier has made a call for a review of succession and inheritance laws.
In May, at the official opening of the LCD women’s league elective conference, Mosisili said there was need for a review of such laws as they oppress women.
He said he is worried by cases where girl children lose out on their birth rights because laws favour boy children.
An example is that of Princess Senate Masupha of Teyateyaneng who is embroiled in a tug-of-war for the chieftaincy of ’Mamathe in the Berea district following her mother Chieftainess ’Masenate Khabasheane Masupha’s death in 2008.
Senate’s uncle, Chief Sempe Masupha, and half-brother Lepoqo Masupha, from her late father’s second wife had been fighting for the chieftaincy in the Teyateyaneng Magistrate’s Court.
Then in February last year Senate joined in the fray, when she claimed she was also entitled to the ’Mamathe chieftainship.
Senate is the first-born daughter of the late chieftainess ’Masenate and her late husband, Principal Chief David Masupha.
Senate’s High Court order was brought to the Teyateyaneng magistrate’s court just hours before judgment was delivered on the case between her half-brother and uncle, by her legal representative, Advocate Kananelo Mosito, intercepting a ruling that could have made either Lepoqo or Sempe a principal chief.
Addressing the court, Advocate Mosito said both the plaintiff, Chief Sempe Masupha and the first defendant Lepoqo Masupha did not have a right to assume the ’Mamathe chieftainship.Mosito added that his client was the sole heir to the ’Mamathe chieftainship.
As things stand the acting chief of Ha-’Mamathe is Majara Masupha, a relative appointed by the Masupha family while the case drags on.
The Likhoele principal chief, Chief Lerotholi Seeiso, on Tuesday told the Lesotho Times that he agreed with the premier’s views on inheritance.
“I share similar sentiments with the prime minister. We live in challenging times and change is vital,” Seeiso said.
“I have in my lifetime seen situations where girl children could not claim their families’ property because the Laws of Lerotholi cited that they were married.”
The assets, Seeiso said, were eventually parcelled out to relatives thus depriving the females of what could otherwise be theirs.
He added that on issues of succession, girl children should be given the option to decline chieftaincy instead of it being “cast in stone” that their younger male siblings are the “rightful heirs”.
However, Seeiso also cautioned that much as Mosisili’s call seemed appealing, it should first “be run past the concerned public”.
“We live in a democracy and there’s no way that laws can be drawn without public participation and endorsement.”
Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA), a research organisation that promotes the rights of women in southern Africa, said it commended Mosisili for seeking to empower the girl child.
WLSA programmes manager in Lesotho, ’Mamosa Mohlabula-Nokana said Mosisili’s focus was the organisation’s main goal.
“Our strategic plan from 2011 to 2015 is to ensure that laws governing inheritance are reviewed to accommodate the girl child,” Mohlabula-Nokana said.
Mohlabula-Nokana lamented that although the Land Act 2010 cited that every person had the right to register land, it was also limited because it did not say that “girl children should also inherit land”.
“Therefore, the Land Act is as good as nothing because according to tradition girls can’t inherit land,” Mohlabula-Nokana said.
“We congratulate the PM if he has seen it fit to advocate the empowerment of the girl child because it makes our job of advancing their rights easier.”
WLSA was established in 1989 to improve the legal situation of women in southern Africa.
The association says there is a need to explain laws that affect women’s lives and reform those that violate their rights.
The Federation of Women Lawyers in Lesotho (FIDA), which was established in 1998 to conscientise women about their legal rights, said Mosisili’s proposal was a welcome change.
FIDA programmes coordinator, Thusoana Ntlama, said the prime minister’s call comes at a time when the organisation was seeking to change laws “to benefit the girl child”.
“I am referring to the Administration of Estates, Succession and Inheritance Laws, which greatly marginalise the girl child,” Ntlama said.
To achieve its goal, FIDA is being funded by Freedom House, a United States human rights group, to travel nationwide to educate women about their rights.
“We will be showing these laws to the public, particularly areas which are oppressive to women and how they can be changed for their absolute inclusion,” Ntlama said.
Ntlama said Mosisili’s suggestion would also assist the organisation in dealing better with cases of children who were deprived of their late parents’ property by relatives.