Women in politics should rise above petty fights and squabbles and work together. We must support other women to make it to the top echelons of politics and positions of power’, says Social Development Minister ‘Matebatso Doti.
She has done and seen it all, proving herself in the tough world of politics where only the fittest can survive.
The June 3, 2017, parliamentary election was yet another stern test for
‘Matebatso Doti. But just like in previous such high-stakes contests, the unassuming All Basotho Convention (ABC) politician emerged victorious once again in the Lithabaneng Number 36 Constituency.
Ms Doti, 65, who was appointed Minister of Social Development after the election, makes no secret of her strategy for success, insisting hard work, innovation and honesty have always been at the heart of her illustrious political career.
Growing up in a family in which both parents were actively involved in politics, Ms Doti was one of the few lucky girls who received political orientation at a tender age. At just 13 years of age, she already knew why becoming part of a powerful force that makes decisions in one’s community was important.
She was an ambitious girl who felt strongly about education and would often think: “If only I could learn how to manage and lead people, I would make my village a better place”. The young girl had witnessed how her mother, ‘Machakache Chakache, despite her participation in politics, had not fulfilled her political potential.
What made the situation even more depressing was that her mother was not the only woman in her community with immense political potential, but could not have the much-needed breakthrough due to lack of education.
“My mother is my role-model. Other women from my village could have also gone far if only they had received training to help shape their ideas and then present those strategies on the right platforms,” Ms Doti said.
Eager to see her daughter become the successful politician she herself had always wanted to be, the determined mother convinced her husband to send their child to study politics in Cuba. In 1972, at the age of 20, she finally enrolled into a one-year programme on Political Campaign Strategy at the Institute of Politics in Cuba, setting her firmly on the path to serving the public.
The training revolutionised her understanding of governance issues and patriotism and further boosted her self-confidence and belief that she now had what it took to lead her community.
“My parents supported me a lot. After Cuba, they sent me back to school to do a series of management courses with the Institute of Development Management (IDM) in Maseru. This strengthened my capability to work with and mobilise people, manage resources and importantly understand how coordination, creating systems and procedures were instrumental for sustainable development,” Ms Doti said.
Over the years, she has worked in a number of Government Ministries including Education and Training, Agriculture and Food Security, Finance, Health and Public Service. This experience further shaped her political career, and from time to time, she would discuss her own vision for Lesotho with the likes of the current Prime Minister and ABC leader, Dr Thomas Thabane.
“He was the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health at the time I
was working there. I admired the way he worked with people, his sense of duty and efficiency,” she said.
However, when Dr Thabane formed the ABC in 2006, Mrs Doti decided not to immediately become active in politics as she was in the civil service. But in 2009, she opted for early retirement to join the ABC against the advice of her now-late husband, Mr Phallang Doti. Her husband passed away in May 2017 after a short illness.
“Having worked in the army for many years, he was a man of great discipline. He did not want his family mixed-up with politics. Eventually, he had to understand that all these years, my life had somehow revolved around politics. For me, politics was and still is a way of life; it shaped me and denying that would be denying myself.”
After joining the ABC, not even the sky was the limit for Mrs Doti who went on to be elected Chairperson of the party’s Women’s League of the Lithabaneng Constituency in 2006, she worked tirelessly in this crucial role with her focus on ensuring women in the ABC were united.
With her deeper understanding of strategies to mobilise communities, she immediately captured the hearts of many people in her constituency. She then won her constituency in the 2012 National Assembly, and subsequently was appointed Minister of Social Development in the first coalition government led by Dr Thabane.
A decision-maker for the last eight years, Ms Doti has no regrets over the path she took in her later life.
However, she did not forget to handover the rich knowledge her mother shared with her to her own daughter, who also happened to be her only child.
“I believe it is important to help our children understand that life is not a bed of roses for them to be well prepared for the challenges they will meet through life. For me, it becomes a real issue especially if the children are girls because education empowers them to be able to also contribute to the development of the country,” she said.
However, she was quick to point out how she wished women, particularly those in politics, could unite and work together.
“Women in politics should rise above petty fights and squabbles and work together. We must support other women to make it to the top echelons of politics and positions of power,” she said.
Ms Doti believes while conflict is necessary, for the development of any society, she says it could also be harmful if issues are not managed properly and resolved timeously.
Lack of sustained collaboration amongst women in politics, from the grassroots through various levels, she said, was one of the reasons why it was tough for many women to make it to the top in their chosen professional fields.
Women, she explained, needed to understand the risks of participating in politics divided and how investing time on trivial fights could affect their mandate to champion issues affecting them and the girl-child.
Ms Doti further explained how in the dark world of politics in some constituencies, women were stabbing other women in the back, while others viciously plotted with some male counterparts on how to discredit and pull down promising female candidates.
“When a woman politically decapitates another woman, it is a sad development because womankind fails as a result. Womanhood miscarries not because women are not capable of being leaders; we fail collectively because of our incapacity to appreciate the global efforts by other women influencing the participation of many women in politics. These efforts have empowered many women in Africa to be courageous enough to participate in male-dominated sectors such as politics and not to be intimidated by positions of power. As a result, if we are failing, it is because we have lost focus on the bigger picture and we are just busy dwelling on ourselves not what we can achieve if we combine our skills, energies and ideas,” Ms Doti said.
Radical transformation was needed for women to have a common vision of the Mosotho woman they would want to see in 30 years, she said.
“We would definitely want to see our girls being better than us. Women make things happen at the grassroots. We would like to transfer that energy and that thinking to bigger political platforms such as the cabinet and at international level,” she said.
The minister emphasised the importance of making women in politics aware of their responsibilities and how they should relate with other women both in and out of the political sphere.
Ms Doti further said unless women are well-organised, the future of Basotho women in politics is doomed because of the country’s patriarchal system which largely does not accept females to be in positions of power.
“Politics is about decision-making, good governance and contributing to the formulation and implementation of programmes that seek to improve the lives of the people. As a woman, I always try to create opportunities for fellow women because I have a deeper understanding of their challenges. I also know the importance of empowering a woman in the development of communities. I need partners to do more through the Ministry of Social Development.”
As Minister of Social Development, she said her responsibilities go beyond her constituency and political party. She is passionate about ending vulnerability through social assistance programmes that ensure the betterment of poor communities.
“I am against the long-term provision of social assistance, particularly if the people being supported are able to work. It is our responsibility, as the government, to create opportunities for such people. I would be happy to see poor families or people graduating from vulnerability to being able to provide for themselves sustainably.”
Social assistance programmes, she highlighted should be designed in a manner that prevents “a dependency syndrome”, hence the need to tighten targeting, management, monitoring and evaluation.
“While social assistance plays an important role in protecting communities from shocks, there is also need for us to work towards reducing the financial burden on government by ensuring that we make the economy respond to the needs of the people. Creating employment is top on the list of what we must do to make life better for Basotho,” Ms Doti added.