According to tradition, only men can inherit the chieftaincy title in Lesotho, the land-locked mountain kingdom of southern Africa, Now, one woman, Senate Masupha, is seeking to change this. Masupha is the daughter and only child of David Masupha, former chief of the Ha Mamathe, Teyateyaneng, Thupa-Kubu and Jorotane villages and a direct descendant of King Moshoeshoe I, founder of Lesotho's reigning dynasty. When her father died in 1996, her mother took up the position, as tradition allowed widows of chiefs to become custodians of the title until a male heir is ready. When her mother died in 2008, the title went to her uncle, her father's younger brother. She decided to take the matter to court when the family started moving to evict her from her father's house. "My parents were chiefs for all of their lives—that was their right. I felt very secure when I was growing up. But when my mother passed on, I was taken out of my comfort zone," he told CNN.
In 2010, Masupha challenged the kingdom's Chieftainship Act before the Lesotho Constitutional Court, arguing that it is discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional. While acknowledging that Lesotho is lagging behind in gender equality, the court nonetheless dismissed the case, stating that the law conforms to the traditions ofthe Basotho people. Masupha took the case to the Court of Appeal, but it was again dismissed, with the judges saying that modernizing the law is the responsibility of Parliament.
Many African countries including South Africa, Kenya and Ghana, have invalidated laws that prohibit women's right to inheritance and succession—unlike Lesotho. Masupha has not given up on her fight, however. She continues to assert her claim, and campaign for the rights of women in Lesotho. (Face2FaceAfrica, Sept. 18)