Toka Letsie – Lesotho

Toka Letsie – Lesotho

Date: June 25, 2012
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Chief Toka Letsie is one of two chiefs that sits on and represents the other chiefs in the 22 person Quthing District Council as determined by local government legislation in Lesotho (see Chapter four). Men make up the majority of councillors at the district level and most chiefs in Lesotho are men. However, Letsie inherited his chieftaincy from his mother; the reason, perhaps, why he is more open to having women play a role in the decision-making of the community.

There had been considerable tension between the chiefs and local councillors (especially women councillors) in Lesotho since the 2005 local elections. “Councillors and chiefs appear to have conflicting interests and this confuses people,” noted a civil society participant in Quthing.

“Chiefs believe that they should be ruling communities and don’t see where the councillors fit in,” added another. “There is confusion within communities regarding roles; they do not know where to go with their issues. Some chiefs still think that women should not have opinions with regard to governance. ”

But Letsie does not share these views. On the contrary he believes that having women in local government is good, “because we should share everything including work. And it is important for women to be there because they are exposed to many life experiences and they are flexible and they are all over.”

Despite the resistance to quotas among men in Lesotho including a high court challenge (see Chapter three) Letsie believes that the quota system is good, “because it is a step towards gender equality and all sections of society are being given a chance to exercise their ability in decision-making” he says.

He does not believe, as others do, that it is necessarily unfair, “as the government simply pulled up a section of society that was suffering from marginalisation for a very long time.”

Letsie says that there has been a change since the increase in participation of women at local level because women now feel more confident to exercise their ability. Letsie welcomes the fact that women councillors are seen a role models. He adds that there have been changes in service delivery, for example there are now village nurses who help with basic health services and assist pregnant women.

Letsie admits that there is resistance from chiefs to local government but says that he believes in local government and strongly supports it. “In the beginning there was friction due to misunderstandings and the fact that chiefs felt threatened.” However, he maintained that a series of workshops with councillors and chiefs have helped to clarify roles and mandates. He believes that this new system works because previously chiefs had limited resources and mandate to access all areas of people’s lives.

But culture still plays a big role. According to Letsie, “The minority status of women and cultural practices still limit women from accessing decision-making structures. People in the urban areas understand about gender equality but people in rural areas and villages still treat women as minors and this will take some time to change.”

The challenge, according to the chief, is for government and other stakeholders that are involved in making laws and implementing them to inform and educate citizens and translate the laws from English into Sotho. Whilst work has been done with WLSA (Women and law in Southern Africa) Letsie advocates that this should be extended to cover larger parts of the country because many people are not informed or enlightened. He believes that councillors are also in need of such education.


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