Ntlhoi Motsamai – Lesotho

Ntlhoi Motsamai – Lesotho


Date: May 1, 2002
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When Ntlhoi Motsamai, 40, became Speaker in Lesotho in 1995, members of parliament insisted in calling her “Madame Speaker Sir”. It is a measure of change in Lesotho that now she is simply referred to as “Madame Speaker” or ‘Mme ‘ (the Sotho word for madam) Speaker.

Initially, both the National Assembly and the public doubted whether a woman, and the youngest speaker in Africa at that, would ably carry out the responsibilities of such an important post. She has not only achieved this, but has also made it her business to ensure that women in parliament have a voice.

Her ability is attested to by the fact that in November 2002, the SADC Parliamentary Forum (PF) elected Motsamai as chairperson of the regional body that represents the 1800 male and female members of parliament around the region. And her commitment to women is underscored by the fact that she hosted the SADC PF Regional Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (RWPC) meeting in December 2002, where Lesotho launched its own women’s parliamentary caucus.

Carving this niche for herself in a “man’s world” has not been easy. On many occasions when she attends functions for speakers globally Motsamai has been politely informed that she is in the wrong room. For instance, at the Commonwealth Speakers’ Conference held in Botswana in January 2002, one of the ushers told her: “The venue for spouses of speakers is next door.” Even in Lesotho, where one would have assumed that the speaker would now be known, such “mistakes” are common. Motsamai recalled an incident in which “I stood near my car waiting for the police usher to open the door. Instead, they overlooked me and were shouting among themselves: ‘where is the gentleman for this car?’ They were obviously looking for a male owner.”

Motsamai became deputy speaker in 1996 at the age of thirty-three. She became speaker in November 1999 after the death of the then speaker, and was re-elected in May 2002. At the time she became speaker, there were only three women parliamentarians in the National Assembly. Now there are thirteen and Motsamai has done her best to make them feel at home. The changes have provoked resistance from male members. She recalls how male MPs mocked her in the beginning when she insisted that women be represented on standing committees. Her no-nonsense but diplomatic style has won her support among most MPs. Male MP’s described her as firm, but warm and humane. She is also said to be a shrewd and focused manager who is pushing hard for parliamentary reforms. As one male MP put it: “The Speaker is brave and confident to push for these changes despite the many hurdles.

She was instrumental in the establishment of the parliamentary committee on HIV/AIDS. She is also at the forefront in encouraging MPs to work together across political parties.”


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