Sunday, January 24, 2016

Morena Oa Ka: My Chief

On May 9th, 1968, the Parliament of Lesotho enacted the Chieftainship Act. The Act was
“To make provision determining the nature and duties of the office of Chief, the status and relationship of various offices of Chief one to another ad to the people and the Government, the holding of a succession to offices of Chief, the tenure of office of Chief, the exercise of the functions of an office of Chief during the minority, incapacity or other disability of the holder, to provide for the publication of lists giving public notice of the holders of offices of Chief, to provide for the discipline of Chiefs for the purpose of improving the quality of the Chieftainship as a whole, and for related and connected matters.”


The Chieftainship Act of 1968 did not introduce Chiefs to Lesotho. Instead, it took a longstanding tradition dating back long before the Basotho tribes joined together to form their own country under King Moshoeshoe I in the 1800s and maintained throughout British colonization and recorded it as law with two years of gaining independence and self government.

Ntate Thamahane and our local councilman speaking at
a pitso or community meeting.
According to the Act, the primary responsibility of the Chief is to “support, aid, and maintain the King in his government and to serve the people in the area of his authority.” The Chief is also responsible for the protection of the people within his area of authority, reducing and preventing crime where possible. Some of the things that fall under his purview include keeping track of livestock and ownership through official entries in individuals’ livestock books and earmarking all animals, providing his official stamp on all manner of correspondence from villagers to government, NGOs, and bills of sale, signing off on birth, marriage, and death certificate applications, officially adding new residents and long term visitors to record books, assigning village land to villagers, and maintaining safety and order in the village. It is an all encompassing job.

As the Chieftainship is inherited, there is great variety in the education and energy of the many Chiefs in Lesotho. In my village, we are blessed to have a brilliant and dedicated Chief. Ntate Thamahane (Taw-maw-haw-knee) is very well educated, completing his university education in Canada. He spent many years working in the professional sector; most recently as the CFO for Telecom Lesotho. He inherited the Chieftainship from his father in the mid-eighties; however, he served primarily in abstentia until his retirement three years ago. His three uncles (including my host grandfather) each served in his stead during that time.

Despite being retired from his previous career, Ntate Thamahane is incredibly busy here in the village. His responsibilities include the job responsibilities listed above, tending to his own herd of goats and overseeing his herdboys, and oversight of the village’s agricultural scheme. On top of this, he also studies law for entertainment and self edification. He takes his responsibilities as a chief very seriously and dedicates the majority of his time to the village.

A local police constable, Ntate Thamahane, and my at
an event in our community.
Ntate Thamahane explains that people must leave his office feeling heard and understood. The “Chief
must be a person who shall be so accommodating of all culture…a man of patience; he must listen and hold his tongue when people talk.” While the Chieftainship Act acknowledges that the Chief must be impartial, Ntate Thamahane takes it a step further, choosing not to participate in vices that might not align with his responsibilities as Chief. He does not drink, smoke, or talk badly about other people.

He is a well-respected Chief and people react to the things he says. He attributes this to his parents, saying, “Fortunately I was taught by parents…to respect the villagers so they will respect me.” It was his father who taught him that the Chief must be a patient and impartial listener and must not partake in bad behavior. His father put great effort into ensuring that Ntate Thamahane was well educated, but stressed that he had a responsibility to use that education in his work as Chief. According to Ntate Thamahane, many well educated Chiefs choose not to return to their villages as being a Chief pays less than most jobs in Lesotho and requires so much time and energy. He, however, used his education and professional skills for the overall betterment of the community, finding financial support for and starting the irrigated agricultural scheme.

Ntate Thamahane in his office on the day
of our interview for this blog post.
One of the struggles of being a dedicated Chief is a profound lack of personal time. Although the Chief’s office is officially open from 8am to 5pm, people will come at any hour they need the Chief. As his neighbor, I can bear witness to this as I have seen people waiting outside his office at 4am and knocking on his door at 10pm. Additionally, it can be hard for people, including Ntate Thamahane, to separate the man from the role of Chief. He has given villagers his own money to visit the doctor, his own food to eat, or his own money for a necessity.


At the same time, Ntate Thamahane is quick to point out, “I enjoy this job because of all types of challenges that come in. It is a good thing to teach people and I always feel good. Even if I didn’t get paid, I would do it.” Later in our conversation, he repeats himself, “I enjoy this job. I would hate to see anyone disturb me in this job because I do it best as I know how.” 

1 comment:

benjamin Hall said...

Would love to call someone "Chief" in a non sarcastic manner. Keep up the great blog, Beth.