April 9, 2024


4 min read

Senate rejects administration of inheritance bill

Senate rejects administration of inheritance bill

Chief Joel Motšoeneng

Story highlights

    Principal Chief believes the bill risks undermining Basotho cultural heritage
    He is also concerned about potential conflicts within families and increased incidents of violence

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THE Senate has rejected the Administration of Estate and Inheritance Bill, citing insufficient time for a thorough review and concerns over the expanded jurisdiction granted to the Master of the High Court.

Despite the Senate's rejection, the National Assembly has passed the bill, awaiting Royal assent.

In an interview with Public Eye, Principal Chief of Leribe Chief Joel Motšoene highlighted the significant challenge posed by the short timeframe allotted for review.

He noted that although the Prime Minister had engaged with the Senate on the matter, the bill was already under discussion in the National Assembly before the Senate received the document.

Motšoene explained that discussions took place within the Legislation Committee and the National Assembly social cluster, where decisions were made without Senate involvement.

"Our primary objective was to secure Senate endorsement to ensure Lesotho's qualification for the Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC II)," Motšoene stated.

He expressed concerns about the bill's potential impact on the Customary Law of Lerotholi, which he believes risks undermining Basotho cultural heritage.

Furthermore, he criticised the bill for granting the Master of the High Court increased authority over family matters and for its exclusive focus on white weddings, neglecting other forms of marriage.

"According to the Senate's procedural framework, the bill was meant to undergo committee review before being presented in the House, which unfortunately did not occur. The entire process lacked transparency. We advocated for placing the bill on hold and notifying the American counterparts so that we could engage the public first. We were adamant about not making decisions on behalf of the public without their involvement," he remarked.

Motšoene also expressed concerns about potential conflicts within families and increased incidents of violence, as children born out of wedlock would now be entitled to inheritance rights on par with legitimate children.

In a similar vein, Naka-La-Mohlomi, a non-profit organisation focused on the public interest, has raised objections to the inheritance bill.

They argue that the English version of the law is encroaching upon the Customary Laws of Lerotholi concerning inheritance.

Moorosi Moshoeshoe, the co-founder of Naka-la-Mohlomi, highlighted their primary concern regarding the bill's infringement on the Customary Law while allowing the English version to supersede it.

He emphasised the significance of Customary Law to Basotho culture, which spans 156 years of tradition and collaboration with other tribes.

Moshoeshoe cautioned against merging these divergent legal systems, suggesting it could erode cultural identity and likening it to historical practices of colonial cultural assimilation and suppression of black leadership.

 "What astounds us even more is that these Americans, who advocate for Basotho to amend their laws, still uphold their own laws dating back to 1776, a fact they proudly acknowledge to this day. The issue lies in their discriminatory stance against our way of life and culture, which we have embraced for over 200 years, established by our forefathers. We deem this cultural imperialism," he remarked.

"We urge the College of Chiefs to assert control over matters concerning Basotho culture, as is their responsibility as Chiefs. Furthermore, we encourage that this law be returned to the Basotho people, the rightful owners of this culture, and communicated to them through public gatherings in their communities. This process should be facilitated by the offices of the principal chiefs to ensure transparency," he added.

On March 25, 2024, the Legislation Committee of the Senate convened a session inviting stakeholders and interested individuals to provide input on the Administration of Estate and Inheritance Bill, 2024. This engagement was conducted in accordance with Standing Order 69, which mandates the Senate and its committees to facilitate public participation in legislative and other processes.

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Customary law in Lesotho comprises Basotho customs, codified in the Laws of Lerotholi, whereas general law encompasses Roman-Dutch Law imported from the Cape and Lesotho statutes.

Lesotho's customary law is governed by the Laws of Lerotholi, which were enacted in 1903. At that time, Lesotho was predominantly patriarchal, and women's societal status was not recognised.

According to customary laws, the heir to immovable property is typically the firstborn male child.

The inheritance bill seeks to modernise laws pertaining to inheritance, estate administration, and distribution, covering deceased individuals, minors under guardianship, mentally incapacitated persons, and those absent from Lesotho without legal representation.

It also aims to regulate wills, beneficiaries' rights, and address related matters.

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