SALC Joins the Fight to Repeal Lesotho Law Banning Women from Becoming Chiefs

January 18, 2012

Through the variety of legal cases and jurisdictions in which SALC has worked, SALC has developed expertise regarding women’s rights as well as comparative constitutional law and international and regional law.

SALC is challenging Lesotho’s discriminatory Chieftainship Act, which only allows the first-born son to succeed to chieftainship. SALC filed submissions in Masupha v Senior Resident Magistrate for the Subordinate Court of Berea and Others a landmark case that is due before the Lesotho Constitutional Court next month with a decision expected in late 2012.

The Applicant, Senate Masupha is the first-born daughter of a chief.  When the Applicant’s father passed away the Applicant’s mother succeeded to the chieftainship and upon her death a vacancy was created in the office of the Principal Chief.  In terms of section 10 of the Chieftainship Act, the applicant is barred from succeeding to the chieftainship on account only of her being a first-born daughter. The Applicant is calling on the Constitutional Court to declare the relevant sections of the Chieftainship Act unconstitutional and permit women to succeed to chieftainship.

Intervening as amicus curiae (friends of the court), SALC’s submissions argue that the law is unconstitutional under the Lesotho Constitution as well as under Lesotho’s international and regional obligations. In SALC’s opinion, universally denying women the ability to succeed to chieftainship entrenches the view that women are subordinate members of society and this is a fundamental breach of their constitutional rights. The submissions highlight how gender inequalities contribute to the disproportionate impact HIV/AIDS has on women and the importance of ensuring the rights of women for an effective response to HIV/AIDS.

The submissions serve to ensure that laws which explicitly promote discrimination in the region are repealed. It is hoped that the Lesotho Constitutional Court will follow the approach that has been used by other courts in the region.  The Constitutional Court in South Africa has struck down laws which promote discrimination in cases of inheritance and succession. Courts in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania have also all struck down laws which deny women the right to inherit solely due to their gender. Moreover in Botswana, the Court of Appeal in Attorney-General v Dow struck down a law denying children citizenship only if their mother was a Botswana citizen.

For a copy of SALC’s submissions please click here

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