Women are the pillars of strength in many Basotho families, while also holding similar influential roles in some sectors of the economy.
However, over the years, women have also come to understand that the development of any nation is dependent on their equal participation in politics.
That participation at various levels has enabled female members of society to become an integral part of decision-making and allowed their contribution towards nation-building.
Lesotho also has her own fair share of women in politics who have stood against heavy odds to have their voices heard in parliament and cabinet—institutions which have been dominated by men for years.
The Lesotho Times (LT) met with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Mrs Keketso Rantšo, who is one of the few women who have changed the face of Lesotho politics, to discuss a wide range of issues, among them what the future holds for the country’s female politicians.
LT: Your journey to becoming a minister, we are told, was not an easy one, as the appointment is said to have met with stiff resistance from some of your detractors. What keeps you strong and on top of the political game?
Rantšo: I am a very determined woman who knows what she wants and where she would like to go. I have learnt that with determination, there is nothing I cannot achieve. Like you rightly said, politically, my journey has been a tough one, before I could land the post of Minister of Public Works and Transport and also my current position, which is the Minister of Labour and Employment. I don’t believe the battle is over yet because there is a lot I have to achieve now that I got the opportunity to make a difference in Basotho’s quality of life. However, what has kept me going over the years, is the determination to become part of the structures which influence the development of my country and people. Each day, I feel I have a responsibility as a female politician to rise above trivial issues and focus on contributing towards attaining positive transformation for my country. Nothing can take away my passion for politics because for me politics is what defines who we are as a people. We are judged based on how we develop as a society and how we manage and sustain the democracy that we are. It is that understanding that keeps me going and afloat.
LT: But what challenges you the most politically?
Rantšo: The fact that people look up to me for answers and solutions, which I am mandated to provide, is my biggest challenge and motivation at the same time. When people entrust you with a huge responsibility, it is hard to disappoint them. As a result, every day, I execute my duties knowing that there are high expectations to make a positive difference. I know as a female politician, I also owe it to my fellow women to help create opportunities for them in the various sectors of our economy. Being a woman, I also understand the challenges women face and their passion to be the energy that propels development in their families. For me, support for the empowerment of women, particularly those in the rural areas, is of great importance.
LT: Earlier on you said you are one of the few lucky female politicians who excelled mainly because your family supported you. Do you think enough is being done at various levels to promote the total participation of more women in politics?
Rantšo: I don’t think enough is being done to help create an environment that promotes women’s participation and also for us to have a society that accepts women as competent decision-makers, more so in politics. Although we got our independence as far back as 1966, we are still challenged by the fact that many people still view politics as men’s business only. They see women as not having what it takes to perform or make it as leaders, be it in civic organisations or the private sector. I attribute this to how we are socialised to view politics as a dirty game, which no decent woman can survive. I think if politics is dirty, then it is because some people prefer to play it dirty, otherwise politics also has rules that govern it to allow fair play. It is important to understand that it is through politics that we can all contribute towards shaping the destiny of our country, become a vibrant democracy and attain good governance. Importantly, decisions made by politicians in parliament and other political structures affect both women and men, so I don’t see why politics should only be a preserve for men. I think as women in politics, we have a big role to play to encourage other women to see the importance of having their voices and concerns heard. We should help other women, especially in our respective constituencies, to be confident and believe in themselves. At national level, we need to implement mechanisms that can help create space for more women at a higher level. Women constitute more than 50 percent of the country’s population. There is power in numbers and we can do it if, as women, we become well-organised.
LT: You are probably one of the most influential women in government at the moment. Where do you see yourself in say, 10 years?
Rantšo: I think as women, we should strive to see the possibilities of us going all the way without being apologetic about our ambitions to also make it to the very top. The sky is the limit, and my fellow women should embrace this. I am a minister now but, looking back and seeing where I started, I don’t see anything holding me back from achieving more. This is the mindset that every woman should have –to believe in ourselves and know that nothing is impossible in politics.
LT: It’s been two years since you became minister. What have you learnt so far?
Rantšo: Becoming part of decision-making structures was a great opportunity for me because I knew that I would be able to use my position to influence various improvements. Now I can see many situations from the inside and this has helped me gain better understanding of what we really need to do as the government to connect with other stakeholders and become better as a country. I know that for us to develop Lesotho, that would take a combination of strategies and ensuring we commit ourselves to the implementation process, a demand I strongly feel can be achieved. I have learnt the importance of collaborating, working together at various levels with the focus to create an environment that allows the growth of our people and the development of our infrastructure.
I am glad that I was accorded the great opportunity to work in a ministry that directly deals with issues of skills development to enable employment-creation and economic innovations.
LT: From your experience so far, where do you think we need to start from in order to achieve human competence, economic innovation and diversification?
Rantšo: We need a forward-looking education sector that deeply understands our economic needs and strives to respond to those needs by continuing to improve the quality of our education and the capacity it gives our people. By quality education, I mean the creation of graduates with relevant skills that can make them more active and useful. To achieve this, the government, Non-Governmental Organisations, the private sector and other stakeholders should invest in the realistic development of skills, especially those we keep importing. Through proper management and utilisation of our limited resources in the education sector, we can accrue more skills that would benefit needy sectors and strengthen others. I look forward to that time when we would confidently say we have succeeded in producing smart and creative graduates with the capacity to identify opportunities and gaps, have the ability to propel broad innovations and capacity to make significant transformation in the job sector.
LT: What role are you playing to help create businesses and employment opportunities?
Rantšo: Our major role is to contribute towards bringing out what is needed to achieve a vibrant economy because we liaise with tertiary institutions, employers and other stakeholders. We also play a role in facilitating the licensing of investors and skills needed in various sectors. What I feel is of utmost importance is for people to understand the philosophy of employment creation, that it is about all stakeholders understanding the importance of working towards developing every remunerative activity, any possible work that has the potential to generate an income. We speak a lot about developing the private sector but without understanding who really are the private sector and how can we effectively propel its development and sustainability.
We have many sectors, all of which have the capacity to create employment or create opportunities for employment, for example, textiles, tourism, agriculture and the energy sectors. As the Ministry of Labour and Employment, we feel it is important for all sectors to find each other and see how they can forge partnerships that can lead to the creation and growth of more companies and projects. It is through working together, complementing one another and doing things differently that we can have the ability to break the cycle of poverty. If it’s farming, why can’t we do it in a smart and commercial manner and go beyond the production and sale of tomatoes to making tomato-paste or can the tomatoes, a value-addition process that would make our products fetch more money and also create jobs? On the other hand, as the Ministry of Labour, we have a key responsibility to contribute towards the creation of an environment that would make all sectors thrive and ensure we achieve double-digit economic growth.
LT: Let’s talk about women’s participation in the various sectors of the economy. In your view, which sectors remain male-dominated?
Rantšo: There are quite a number of such sectors and this is because as women, we have not gone beyond what society in general expects of us. We do not see ourselves as capable enough and I think this starts at school where we sometimes concentrate on subjects that would incline us to certain sectors and shun those that give us the opportunity to study technical fields such as engineering. We need teachers to be the fighting force for the future development of women who would, in future, make it in the currently male-dominated sectors. In this country, we are still waiting for women who would make it big in mining, energy innovations, the army, aviation, construction, politics and other technical fields.
As I have said before, it is all about changing our mindsets as women and as a society. This may take a while given that the origins of women undermining themselves may be attributable to the society’s patterns in the socialisation of the girl-child. But I believe with a greater understanding of how the empowerment of women can significantly contribute to the development of the economy, this change is possible.