By Nthakoana Ngatane
VIENNA, AUSTRIA – Mpho Sello was born in Hlotse, Lesotho. When she was 12 she moved to the capital Maseru and eventually went to the National University of Lesotho.
Like many of her peers she looked for a job in South Africa and got it, in Cape Town.
Throughout all those years and with all her achievements, Mpho says she always felt like a second class citizen.
“In Lesotho and South Africa it’s like women are born to be married and stay married to men at all costs. Your dreams and ambitions don’t matter if your ultimate goal isn’t to get married. If you don’t agree with that narrative, like me, you bottle your opinion or your life will be difficult.” says Mpho.
She says one of the reasons she decided not to get married was when she overheard women telling another newly married woman to be submissive to her husband.
In Sesotho it’s called “Lithlobohanyo”
On the evening of the wedding the families of the bride and groom meet with the newlyweds together for the first time, and usually the bride’s family will tell her to behave, respect her husband and in most cases never leave even if he ill treats her – “a ngalle motšeo”
“I was young at the time, but it still didn’t make sense to me especially coming from another woman” says Mpho.
Mpho, and I met after many years in Vienna, Austria with my friend Neo Masokela who lives there. One evening after a late night out around midnight I saw a young woman walking in a quiet deserted street, by herself, texting on her cellphone and wearing a dress the same length as Mpho and Neo’s dresses – very very short.
We were in a taxi so to me Mpho and Neo were safe in their short dresses but this girl!
I thought to myself – apparently aloud -“does she have any idea the danger that she is attracting?”
In my head her cellphone would be grabbed at any moment, a man who believes she enticed and seduced him with her short dress would grab her and rape her, and while any of the two were happening she could very likely be killed.
So Mpho heard me and told me her story, about why she moved to Germany.
“Some years back I visited a friend in Sweden, and for the first time in my life I saw women being treated not like work horses for older people and men, but as individuals. I saw women wearing what they want and no one remarked or rebuked them. For the first time in my life I felt that I didn’t have to fight someone to think what I want, be what I want and who I am, and wear what I want” says Mpho
So she decided that she wanted to live in Sweden or at least in a similar country.
She went back home and applied for a permit to look for work, and she got it for Germany. She spent nearly a year learning German, and eventually got the job as a business analyst for an IT company in Munich.
In the first few months after starting her job, Mpho went out for drinks with her male colleagues.
Just before the last train was due to leave, around midnight, she said her goodbyes. She says she hesitated a bit because she thought at least one of the guys would walk her to the station to make sure she is safe. She says not only did they not move, they didn’t even appear to think it was necessary.
Mpho says “I picked up my jacket and walked out, and there on the street women like me were walking unaccompanied by men. I then realised and remembered that I was in a place where both men and women are safe alone during the day and at night. I live in Munich because I am safe.”