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Leave the military to do its own business-Ramakoae

Silence Charumbira

GROWING up in Morija, ’Matšepo Ramakoae wanted to become a doctor. Throughout her childhood she was exposed to European medical practitioners who worked at the nearby Scott Hospital in Morija.

All that was to change when her miner father returned from South Africa with a severe injury and narrated what the doctors had to do to treat him. Just the thought of seeing blood changed her mind.

But she remained ambitious. More ambitious than her siblings and peers who were at home with prospects of becoming teachers in the nearby schools and nurses at Scott Hospital.

Born to James Koko Molise and ‘Mamolise Molise on 3 March 1954, Ms Ramakoae fondly remembers her upbringing where her family always had guests who came to sleep over at their house while their relatives were in hospital or waiting mothers.

However, it is her parents’ hard work that has moulded her into the person that she is today.

“My father was a miner in South Africa and my mother was a domestic worker and a farmer,” Ms Ramakoae said.

“I always cherish my parents’ hard work that enable them to take us through school.”

The second of nine children, Ms Ramakoae’s family extended much further than her eight siblings.

“Even today, I still have people that I call siblings but we are not even related because since we lived in a missionary area, ordinary people would bring their children to stay with us. Some waiting mothers would come and leave their young children with us while they were in hospital. This has made my family very broad.

“I also grew up in a very strict family. My mother would never allow us to visit relatives. I would long to visit relatives on holidays but we were not allowed. Instead, we had to work in the fields. And I hated working in the fields. The only time that I liked it was when we had paid helpers and we would also get paid for our small portions.”

Instead of working in the fields, she loved working in the kitchen and her mother’s domestic work for French missionaries nurtured her love for cooking.

Although, she had initially wanted to be a doctor, she got the impression that injured miners had their limbs cut off using hacksaws and that dampened her love for the profession.

“I decided that my way out was to enrol into a school outside Maseru and asked my father but he refused. I then went to his best friend, the now late Mr Lemeke, who was a teacher and asked him to intervene. He was like a brother to my father and was the one who would receive the money that my father sent for our upkeep.

“I wanted to go to St. Mary’s High School but that failed because I was never a Catholic so I settled for Lesotho High School.”

Soon after leaving Lesotho High School, she then got married and had her daughter Motselisi Ramakoae, and immediately joined the civil service where she started off as a counter clerk. She had just acquired a certificate in accounting.

Afterwards, she then decided to return to school and acquired a Bachelors’ of Commerce degree from the National University of Lesotho (NUL). She graduated in 1981.

She specialised in management and immediately joined the Prime Minister’s Office which, at the time, was recruiting people with her qualifications.

This enabled her to learn all the functions and operations of the government intimately as her task was in organisation methods.

“Even now, some say I know too much but it is all I have ever done because I have never been in the private sector.”

During her time in the prime minister’s office, she took different courses in different European countries among them England and Sweden and she says the skills that she and others in her group acquired at the moment have long disappeared from government operations.

“That management programme…was extremely good in the sense that it taught us how you should run a ministry, how you should liaise with other ministries and the most effective and efficient ways of dealing with the government ministries… We knew everything…but that is not happening anymore. I do not think the civil service will ever do well if we do not train our people like that.”

Ten years after her first degree, she then decided to do her Masters’ degree having side lined the thought out of the desire to continue living with her daughter.

“I would turn down scholarships just to be with my daughter. I chose to enrol later when my daughter had grown but even when I finally went to study my Masters’ in Policy Analysis in the Netherland and she was now in university; I would ensure she joined me during her holidays.

“Having seen that my job involved a lot of travelling, she also did not like to be left alone. At that time, the father was working for De Beers Mine which was in the mountains. So that meant that she would literally be left in the care of someone else which I did not like. Later on, we separated with my husband and that meant that I had to take care of her. And for me, it was my priority. The masters’ was not the priority.

“However, I left her and the decision to send her to boarding school early helped me. She went to St Stephens High School, which was far away. It was better when she was in boarding school and I could talk with the principal. I would send the principal some money and tell him not to tell her that I had sent money. If ever she needed anything, he would tell her that he was lending her money.”

On return from Netherlands, she was to be transferred to the Auditor General’s office where she worked in the performance audit unit, an area she concedes afforded her serious exposure.

Afterwards, she briefly worked as the director of environment having been recruited by the late minister Shakhane Mokhetle.

“I didn’t work there for long because I was also assigned to go and work in the directorate of police, a new unit that was established with the help of the British to enhance efficiency of the police. The idea was to ensure that the police concentrated on policing and not administrative issues. While in that department, I worked with former prime minister Phakalitha Mosisili who was the minister at the time.

“…My tenure in the post showed me the hardships that the police endured. Their conditions of service were bad… We also set up a police complaints unit and another commission that was attached to that same department.”

She was to be transferred to the then newly formed Ministry of Defence in 1999 becoming the Principal Secretary and the first woman to work in the ministry.

“I remember my father would always say to me; ‘Why do all these men always throw you around when you are a woman’? However, privately, he would tell his friends he had wanted me to be a boy. I did not like it and I wanted to prove that girls can also do well just like boys. And fortunately, I did that. My father was so proud of me and would give every other delicate task to me. He would even consult me about the family’s budget and whenever he wanted to give my mother money. I literally controlled the family’s purse because my father trusted me up his death two years ago at 91. He was my friend,” she said.

It was in the Ministry of Defence that she worked with the late Lieutenant Maaparankoe Mahao in crafting the Defence Act and also implementing some logistical policies to ensure that the operations of the army were within the confines of the budget.

“We were very close and he was part of a good team. These were teams that helped me understand the military… I knew that my role as the PS of defence was not to know what the military does in terms of actions and what they do, mine was administration; work on the budget. When I was appointed, the military had a huge budget but that was unsustainable.

“…we trimmed the budget ensuring that the military remained efficient. I can proudly tell you that I was able to push that they were given more helicopters. They were given more helicopters because they needed them and because they used them to transport educational materials, to do health programmes, to build the bridges. They were given what they wanted. Then we cut on their rations; we didn’t need a whole carcass to feed 20 soldiers in the in the district.

“The military used to work well. Now I see these tender issues everywhere and I think we must improve. The military should be allowed to buy its own things. At that time, we bought uniforms in England. Those were the best uniforms. Now we allow them to have substandard uniform and then it’s piled and all that. It’s not good. Sometimes they buy poor quality shoes. These shoes are not of the quality that they want. Let them do their own things.”

“…The ministry was created to ensure smooth civil-military relations. The officers should know what they’re supposed to do and that will keep the stability of the country. It was sad…as politicians we want to surround ourselves with the military because we think that is what power is about. However, you don’t get power from that. You get power from service delivery, doing things that are going to help the country get out of the current mess. I think and I wish that the reforms that we are working on now would change that and ensure that there is no interference with the military,” she said.

On leaving the Ministry of Defence, she was then appointed one of the commissioners in the police complaints authority. In her long government service career, she has also held posts in the Ministry of Communications as Principal Secretary and Chief of Protocol in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“In 2006, I then decided to join politics. That’s when the All Basotho Convention (ABC) was formed. We worked very for the ABC. I stood in the elections in 2007 in Matsieng but I lost. The reason for the loss was poor campaigning. I registered my candidature very close to the election itself so I could not campaign properly. At the time the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) was really strong so you needed to be on the ground to dislodge them.”

The election loss gave her time to reflect as she had to sit at home because she was now jobless having resigned from civil service. She took the time to work on her personal projects in catering and farming while also strengthening the grassroots of the party.

“I had started some piggery and poultry projects with my father. I also had a catering business and did not even think myself as a learned person who had been a principal secretary before. I learnt from one of my professors that if you start a business, do something that you love. So, I went into catering because I loved cooking having been inspired by my domestic worker mother.

“I also did consultancies. Even now I am still consulting because I know a lot of people. I am engaged by different organisations among them the Southern African Development Community (SADC).”

In 2012, she eventually won the Matsieng constituency and was appointed deputy Finance Minister. However, she was to lose the constituency again in the 2015 snap elections because of internal party problems in the grassroots. She then went back and resolved the problems and won the June 2017 elections and has continued to work with the grassroots.

She said one of the biggest problems was that party national executive committees interfere in constituencies thereby bringing instability.

“That is why I lost the elections in Matsieng in 2015. Several other candidates also lost. By 2017, we already knew how to deal with those challenges, so we worked hard to change. Now I am running the last lap. Once I finish the current term, then I do not intend to continue in politics,” Ms Ramakoae said.


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