Women fight for chieftainship

. . . mother-in-law says widow is a concubine

By Keiso Mohloboli

BEREA — A chieftainship squabble is raging in Berea district’s ‘Mamathe Ward (Sehlabeng) with ‘Maletlatsa Masupha attempting to remove her late son Letlatsa Masupha’s widow, ‘Mathabeng Masupha, from the throne.

‘Mathabeng took over the chieftainship as her late husband’s heir because the couple never had any children in their marriage.

According to family members who spoke to the Lesotho Times on condition of anonymity, it was only natural for ‘Mathabeng to succeed her late husband because she was familiar with the said office as she had been executing the chief’s duties even when her husband was still alive.

But ‘Maletlatsa is now mounting a spirited fight to dethrone ‘Mathabeng, refusing to recognise her as her son’s widow by calling her a concubine.

A family member privy to the matter told this paper that ‘Maletlatsa was hellbent on deposing her daughter-in-law because she wants her late son’s younger brother Abia Masupha to be installed as the ‘Mamathe Ward chief.

According to one of the family sources, ‘Maletlatsa is spreading word that ‘Mathabeng is not fit for the throne, arguing that she was not legally married to the deceased Masupha.

“’M’e Maletlatsa has been determined from the onset to depose ‘Mathabeng and have Abia installed as chief,” the source said.

The source added that although ‘Maletlatsa did not have a problem with ‘Mathabeng when Letlatsa was still alive, all hell broke loose when she launched a smear campaign against ‘Mathabeng to discredit her.

“’M’e ‘Maletlatsa claimed that she did not know ‘Mathabeng and that she was only her son’s live-in lover. She went as far as claiming the two were not married,” the source said.

‘Maletlatsa took away the stamp from the Sehlabeng chief’s office on the grounds that she does not know her (‘Mathabeng).

“Letlatsa’s wife handed over the office’s stamp to her mother-in-law then turned the tables on her by calling a public gathering to inform the community to go to ‘Maletlatsa’s house for documents to be stamped,” the source said.

The community, the source said, was angry about the stamp incident and immediately proceeded to ‘Maletlatsa’s home in a protest march to “reclaim the stamp”.

The dispute saw the Principal Chief of Ha ‘Mamathe, Majara Masupha, intervening by convening a family meeting in consultation with the District Administration office of Berea and the Director of Chieftainship at the Ministry of Local Government, Mikia Molapo.

Chief Majara told this paper on Tuesday that he was shocked by ‘Maletlatsa’s allegations that ‘Mathabeng was an imposter because ‘Maletlatsa herself “introduced ‘Mathabeng to me while complaining that Chief Letlatsa and his wife had deserted her”. “But after the death of Chief Letlatsa, his mother claimed not to know his wife alleging that she was just a concubine,” Chief Majara said.

Chief Majara further revealed to this paper that Chief Letlatsa married ‘Mathabeng in a civil marriage and their 2007 marriage certificate serves as proof.

Again, Chief Majara said, the Chieftainship Act, 1968 section (10) (2) stipulates that anyone who is against the appointment of a chief’s successor should “go to the courts of law for objection”.

“I told ‘M’e ‘Maletlatsa to stop the fight and that if she wants to challenge the civil marriage certificate that ‘Mathabeng has, she should simply go to court,” Chief Majara said.

Chief Majara also firmly warned that if ‘Maletlatsa continues to fight ‘Mathabeng over the chieftainship “I will initiate a court case against her”.

The appointment file that was opened by the Principal Chief of Ha ‘Mamathe, Chief Majara Masupha, at the Ministry of Local Government verifies that “the deceased Chief Letlatsa was civilly married to ‘Mathabeng Masupha in 2007”.

Meanwhile, Director of Chieftainship Chief Mikia Molapo clarified that in chieftainship laws there was no provision for mothers-in-law to “approve or appoint the successor of a chief to the throne”.

Chief Molapo also maintained that under the Chieftainship Act, section (10), the rule of succession gives the Masupha family power to appoint the successor of Chief Letlatsa from “his sons rotating from the older house if he married more than one wife”.

“But Chief Letlatsa had no children and so the Act gives ‘Mathabeng the honour of taking over the throne,” Chief Molapo said.

He also confirmed that after the appointment by the family, ‘Mathabeng was officially announced and introduced to the community at a public gathering as is the norm.

“During the official announcement and introduction of the successor, members of the family who are not satisfied are granted a chance to express their grievances to the courts of law,” Molapo said.

According to Chief Molapo, no one opened a case against ‘Mathabeng’s appointment.

Instead, Chief Molapo said, her motherin- law decided to “steal” the stamp out of ‘Mathabeng’s office.

Molapo indicated that the trend of families feuding over chieftainship is growing even though “I have no exact statistics to establish the increase”.

He said he suspected that the unemployment dilemma affecting most Basotho was the major factor, adding that children from chieftainship families “fight for seats as the alternative”.

Gender Links Lesotho board member Rethabile Pholo said he finds it very unfair for ‘Maletlatsa to humiliate ‘Mathabeng despite being her late son’s legal wife.

“In the eyes of the law both customary and civil marriages are equal and that makes ‘Mathabeng the legal wife to Chief Letlatsa,” said Phoolo.

He added: “’Mathabeng is an absolute and rightful successor to her husband’s throne.”

According to Pholo, Lesotho is one of the signatories of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Gender Protocol for Empowerment of Women, to eliminate gender discrimination and to “achieve gender equality and equity legislation, policies and programmes”.

Pholo also emphasised that ‘Mathabeng being a female and the deceased’s second wife does not grant ‘Maletlatsa or “our cultural behaviours to disgrace ‘Mathabeng in front of the community she leads”.

He said it was unfortunate ‘Mathabeng’s humiliation comes during the 16 Days Activism against Gender Based Violence.

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