Photo © Meri Hyöky / Text by Leila Hall
Nthomeng Majara made history last year, when she became the first woman in Lesotho to be appointed as the country’s Chief Justice.
The reactions to her appointment, she says, were overwhelmingly positive: “I got messages of encouragement from all spectrums of society. I felt honoured and humbled by such a huge vote of confidence in me.”
Majara has a clear view of the changes that she would like to bring to Lesotho’s judiciary, and is confident that her ambitions will not be affected by the fact that she is a woman.
“I’m notorious for being a very firm person. Nobody would want to intimidate me simply because I’m a woman. I’ve been a judge for a long time, and people know what to expect from me.”
“I want to change the laid-back culture of the judiciary. There are frequently delays in the hearing of matters and the delivery of judgements. I want to correct this, because justice delayed is justice denied.”
“I also need to be more stringent with matters of discipline within the judiciary. We need a proper and effective complaints mechanism. If somebody is found guilty of misconduct, they need to face the consequences. We also need a clear and more transparent procedure for the appointment of judges.”
“Another major problem is that all our Superior Courts are located in Maseru. It’s high time that we decentralise. We need a minimum of two other High Courts in the northern and southern regions of the country. This would make it easier for people in remote areas to access justice.”
With regard to gender equality in Lesotho, Majara speaks positively about recent changes in the country’s laws. However, she also acknowledges that there is still a lot that needs to be done.
“The passing of the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act did away with inequality within marriages. We also have good laws insofar as sexual offences are concerned. Good laws, however, are not enough. The challenge lies in the implementation of laws, and in educating people to make them aware that such laws exist.”
“We need to do away with customary laws that discriminate against women, such as the law that says that only male children can inherit chieftainship. There is no reason why, in this day and age, we don’t have girls inheriting from their parents. We need to convince our parliamentarians that it is high time such laws are changed.”
“We also need to help women believe that they have what it takes to be in leadership positions. It is disappointing that the number of women in Lesotho’s cabinet is on the decline. I want to empower younger women generally but more especially those within the legal profession to rise and become part of the higher judiciary. There is no reason why women shouldn’t be able to do whatever it is that men can do.”
“To the young girls out there: my message to you is that everything is possible. Nobody is smarter or better than you simply because they are male. Look up to positive female role models, but don’t try to be a carbon copy of somebody else. Be the best of you: that is why we are all different. We are all here for a purpose. Work hard, believe in yourself, and nobody will be able to stop you from being or doing anything that you aspire for.”