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Inheritance row spills into Constitutional Court

Nat Molomo

MASERU — A bitter fight over inheritance between a late Quthing tycoon’s son and his stepmother has spilled into the Constitutional Court. Teboho Lepule, 38, and ’Manthabiseng Lepule are fighting over the estate of Thomas Lepule who died in 2006. Lesotho’s apex court, the Court of Appeal, ruled in ’Manthabiseng’s favour last April but Teboho is not taking it lying down and has now appealed to the Constitutional Court.

Court of Appeal President Justice Michael Ramodibedi in April ruled that the estate belonged to ’Manthabiseng, who married her sister’s widowed husband and raised Teboho as her nephew and stepson. ’Manthabiseng’s sister, ’Mateboho, died in January 1987 when Teboho was 12-years old and in December of the same year ’Manthabiseng married Thomas.

But when Thomas died in 2006 he left a hotel, two bottle-stores, six buildings which are rented to shops that include Ellerines Furniture Store and Cheapest Supermarket as well as two residential sites in Lesotho and South Africa.
He also left two other business sites. Other properties include cars, trucks and tractors. Justice Ramodibedi ruled that since ’Manthabiseng and Thomas had married in community of property she is the rightful heiress.
The judge had also relied on a family decision signed by close family members giving ’Manthabiseng rights as the heiress.

Teboho had also signed the same document. He however later had a change of heart and sued ’Manthabiseng over the inheritance. After ’Manthabiseng won the case in the Court of Appeal, Teboho approached the Constitutional Court claiming that the court had acted against the law. Teboho is asking the Constitutional Court to stay the Court of Appeal’s judgment pending the finalisation of his case.

He wants section 20 of the Court of Appeal Act 1978 struck down as unconstitutional and void. He wants the Constitutional Court to set aside the Court of Appeal’s judgment saying it is clashing with the constitution.
Teboho says the Court of Appeal was supposed to have dealt with whether its judgment would be effective retrospectively or retroactively but “for reasons unknown to me, the Court of Appeal did not decide this issue”.

He says it denied him a fair hearing as contemplated in the constitution. Teboho says he is the rightful heir of Thomas’ estate because when he was born in 1975 he was the first son of his parents and he accrued rights to inheritance under the customary law. His parents were married customarily. ’Manthabiseng married Thomas under civil law after ’Mateboho’s death in 1987.

Teboho says in 2006 when he signed a document giving ’Manthabiseng rights as the heiress he was made to believe that he was acting in terms of the Land Act 1979 not the inheritance law under the Basotho customs.
He also says although he was 31-years-old he was still a minor under customary law because he had not yet married.

On the other hand ’Manthabiseng says she is the one who built the estate together with Thomas and she has every right to inherit the property. She says Teboho received money from Metropolitan Life Insurance together with his siblings as Thomas had allocated before his death. She also says Teboho turned down her offer of a truck, tractor and a hired building. Teboho argues that he only received M30 000 from Metropolitan.

He says ’Manthabiseng was married after his mother’s death and she “cannot claim that my father and my mother did not have any property of their own and to which I am an heir by custom”. “This explains why she does not specifically say so or indicate which property belonged to my parents,” Teboho argues. He says ’Manthabiseng’s marriage “could not have the effect of retroactively or retrospectively superseding or depriving me of my rights or interests as a customary heir I acquired upon birth”.

He says ’Manthabiseng was only appointed as a trustee of his inheritance. Arguing that he did not mean to leave ’Manthabiseng with nothing, he says he had not included eight sites some of which are developed and house two Ellerines shops and a supermarket in his claim.

He also has left a Nissan truck, two vans, a twin cab and a tractor for ’Manthabiseng. ’Manthabiseng says Teboho is not appreciative of what she has done for him and how she regards him as her own son.

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