Photo © Meri Hyöky / Text by Leila Hall
For over fifty years, ‘Mathabiso Mosala has been at the forefront of the struggle for women’s rights in Lesotho. She is co-founder and President Emeritus of the Lesotho National Council of Women (LNCW), a coalition of women’s organisations that was formed in 1963, three years before Lesotho gained its independence.
Over the past five decades, the LNCW has achieved a formidable amount in the country. A primary focus of the organisation has been the establishment of vocational training centres that provide young people from poor backgrounds with a range of skills, including sewing, carpentry and business management. Four of these centres are still in operation.
“We’ve successfully trained more than 5,000 people,” says Mosala proudly. “We’ve made it possible for women to make money for themselves, thanks to the skills that we have given them. Our centres are not expensive, and we’re not concerned with academic qualifications. If people have hands, they can be taught to use them.”
The LNCW has also played a key role in pressuring the government of Lesotho to pass a number of laws that protect women’s rights. Among these is the Legal Capacity of Married Person’s Act, passed in 2006, which gave Basotho women the right to own and manage property. Another milestone was Lesotho’s 1995 ratification, albeit with reservations, of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
“In the past, a woman used to be her husband’s wife, her father’s daughter, and even her son’s daughter, because by law the eldest son was the head of the family,” says Mosala. “Now, a woman can go to the bank or buy a site without being accompanied by a man. Many things have changed for the better, but we still won’t be satisfied until CEDAW is ratified without reservations.”
The LNCW has steadily expanded over the years, and it now serves as an umbrella body for 13 member organisations who work with diverse sectors of society on a range of issues.
Mosala’s experiences and achievements are just as varied. She has travelled widely, representing the LNCW at seminars and conferences around the world. In 1993, she was nominated by King Letsie III to serve as a member of Lesotho’s Senate, a position she held for five years. She has received many awards in recognition of her work, including the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Lesotho African Women’s Awards ceremony in 2012.
Mosala is also a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. Now, at the age of eighty-three, she says she still finds time for her twelve grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
“I have to know what’s going on in their lives!” she laughs. “When they come back from school I always check their books to make sure that the teacher is doing well.”
“I am proud because I have helped many people put bread on the table,” says Mosala. “I know that I have done something to make a difference in the lives of others, and I think that is something that people should aim for.”
“It took 30 years for our vocational schools to be officially accredited by the Ministry of Education, but we never tired in our efforts, and we continued with our work. Some things have changed for the better in this country, but many things haven’t. The next generation of young Basotho activists have a lot to do for the next 50 years.”