MASERU – Mpone Chale can’t hear. She says she struggled to learn through her life because there was no sign language or interpreters in all her schools.
Lebuajoang Mokhele is a Mophuthi who grew up speaking his Sephuthi language until he had to go to school and failed, because he was forced to learn only in English.
Motale Khaba’s 22 year old mentally handicapped daughter is pregnant after she was raped by a neighbour. She spent a month in a mental hospital, but he goes on with his life.
‘Makapane Hlabanyane was abused for years by her now ex-husband. When she fell pregnant and delivered a stillborn her uterus was removed without her consent – and she was told it’s because she was HIV positive.
In primary school, Dee Malelu was so afraid to go to the playground or the toilet, they stayed in class the whole day, because teachers told other kids to undress them and see what’s between the legs.
Yes, these are stories from Lesotho, the horror lives that vulnerable women, youth, the disabled, LGBTQI and baPhuthi communities face daily in Lesotho.
At the centre is a society that teaches children that “these rights of yours are the reason we have so much crime, and the cause of the breakdown of the fibre of our society.”
Many people in Lesotho believe that beating-up children is the best form of discipline, but act surprised when those children become abusive adults who know no other way to show disapproval and disappointment.
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads: “All humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” But many Basotho have never heard of this line, and those who have, believe it has no meaning.
The theme for this year’s human rights day is “Reducing Inequality, Advancing Human Rights’’.
The UNDP Resident Coordinator Betty Wabunoha said in her remarks that “One recent study conducted indicates that in Lesotho income inequalities grew by 13% between 2017 and 2020. Overall unemployment is 32.8%; highest among women at 39,7% and youth at 32.3%.”
These inequalities mean that Mpone Chale will always trail behind her age-mates, just because she can’t hear.
“It’s a challenge for us to reach the same levels as people who don’t have disabilities because from class 1 to class 4 Sesotho is the only medium of instruction. Disabled people struggle to follow because our first language or mother tongue is sign language.”
She says even after passing form E (high school) she continued to struggle to get into tertiary institutions.
“When we go to hospitals to seek medical attention, sometimes we get the wrong medication so there too, there should be sign language interpreters so that we too can have the freedom to participate and get services.” She says.
“We appeal to the government to make sign language the third language or one of the official languages, to overcome the communication barriers that we face.” Says Mpone.
Lebuajoang’s story is no different. He says teachers didn’t care that he didn’t understand English, and it is possible that some people still don’t even know that Baphuthi exist.
“When we played we spoke Sesotho, isiXhosa and Sephuthi, yet we still played together, but in class we had to speak English. I failed English at form 5, I repeated and failed again, and only passed the third time”
When Motale Khaba found evidence that her disabled daughter had been violated by a neighbour, she went to the police, but she didn’t get any help.
Someone advised her to talk to the Lesotho National Federation of Organisations of the Disabled – LNFOD, and it referred her to one of its members, the Intellectual Disability and Autism Lesotho.
“We went to the police who referred us to prosecutors. We told them that she is mentally handicapped, the prosecutor said he needs a letter, so the police sent her to Mohlomi mental hospital where she was kept for a month before they gave her the letter. Says Motale.
She says when she went to visit her the hospital was filthy, but she had to stay there until she got the letter.
“She finally got the letter, but we are still waiting since we first reported the case in January (2021). She is pregnant, but the police say it’s complicated.”
LNFOD’s Mafumane Makhele is responsible for Motale’s case, and she too is now frustrated.
“We have a huge challenge, a man is not arrested, but the victim is committed to a mental hospital and traumatised further. Honourable minister we have a serious challenge of our justice system that is failing us. We have 15 cases of people with disabilities who were abused in TY, but nothing is happening with them.”
‘Mamalapane Hlabanyane says her life has been hell since she got married. For years, her husband beat her up, and eventually forced her to have sexual intercourse in full view of their children.
“I thought getting married means you will be loved eternally, but I was wrong. The last straw was when I realised that he would kill me. I lived like that for many years. I would run to the police at Ha Mabote where we have moved to, but he had friends at the station so my cases were never resolved.”
In 2011 she fell pregnant, but the assault continued. That October she was due for delivery by Caesarean section because the medical staff said the baby’s heartbeat was faint.
She lost the baby, and the medical staff told her that she was critical so they had to perform another operation.
“They told me that they couldn’t stop the bleeding so they decided to remove a part of my uterus, but they left the rest still bleeding. Now I have to always carry spare clothes and sanitary pads everywhere . I can never have a relationship because if I have sexual intercourse everything disintegrates. I long to be like other women, I long to be loved but it’s not easy.”
“Mamalapane says she has been to many ministers of health but all in vain, until recently when she was told the reason for her second operation.
“I was told that my uterus was removed because I am HIV Positive. I wondered how many women living with HIV will have their uteruses removed when they deliver babies because of stigma.” She said, struggling to hold back her tears.
“The doctor that performed the procedure was transferred to further their studies when we filed complaints, and upon their return, their life continues as normal, but mine is at a standstill.”
For Dee Malelu, being different has cost her her family and her church.
“Some of us don’t conform to gender, and that brings us a lot of ridicule. When we grow up we are told that Lesotho is a Christian country, but only when it suits us. The question is – what is Christianity?” Dee asks.
When she realised that she wasn’t just a boy, or just a girl, and she was rejected elsewhere, she thought the church would give her solace and refuge, but it didn’t.
“Some would say that I have demons and they could fix me, but when I didn’t change I was expelled. Church discriminated me, and it was worse because the church was at my home, so I had to leave home and rent a place to live.”
She says she got accustomed to being called a thing because when she was in public, or in a taxi, people would say “is it a boy or a girl?” So she thought “I am not human, I am a thing.”
“But maybe it affected my parents too? Maybe they wished I could change so that they could go to church and live their lives without scrutiny in society.” She laments.
“The schools we went to, the teachers who taught us, they would say “behave like a girl, what kind of girl sits like you?” Sometimes I would sit in class the whole day afraid to go outside to play or to the toilet because other kids would be told to follow me and undress me to see what’s between…”
“Our schools discriminate and are not inclusive. Even the proposed comprehensive sexuality education is not enough because we don’t want to accept that there are people who are excluded in our institutions.” Says Dee Malelu