THE Constitutional Court ordered the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) to reinstate three female soldiers who were fired after they fell pregnant before spending five years in service as required by the LDF regulations.
In 2014, the LDF introduced a standing order barring its graduates from falling pregnant during their first five years of service because of what former army commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, said was a demanding schedule at the time.
The standing order immediately applied to 50 females out of the 299 new soldiers that graduated in 2014, with Lt Gen Tlali saying there was no room for child-bearing because of the heavy artillery the soldiers would be using over the next five years.
“This group will not be expected to have children for the next five years because we have very big things planned for them,” Lt-Gen Kamoli said at the time.
“They are going to be using very heavy weapons which require people who are strong and healthy.”
Three female soldiers who subsequently fell pregnant were expelled from the force early last year and they dragged the army to the High Court demanding reinstatement.
The three are Privates, Lieketso Mokhele, ‘Masaule Letima and ‘Masine Ntsoha.
However, in a landmark ruling , the Constitutional Court declared the standing order illegal and invalid.
Justices Ts’eliso Monaphathi, Semapo Peete and Sakoane Sakoane said the standing order failed the test of legality, rationality and “reasonableness” and was thus invalid.
“This court therefore, with immediate effect, orders that the decision of the Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force in discharging the applicants is reviewed and set aside. The Standing Order No.2 of 2014 issued by the Commander of the LDF is declared illegal and invalid; the applicants are reinstated back to their positions and ranks in the LDF without any loss of benefits arising therefrom; and applicants to be paid costs of the suit,” Justice Sakoane said.
The Federation of Women Lawyers immediately welcomed the ruling with its Programmes Coordinator, Thusoana Ntlama, saying women had nothing to apologise for as they were within their rights to fall pregnant.
“Women’s reproductive health is a right and it must be respected. By that we are saying reproductive health implies that women have a right to a healthy and safe sex life. They have a right to reproduce and the freedom to decide if when and how often to do so,” Ms Ntlama said.
She emphasised the importance of reproductive health, as a crucial part of general health and a central feature of human development.
“We are therefore happy that the courts acknowledged and respected these sexual and reproductive rights; and that the women who were structurally victimized will soon go back to their respective positions.”
“The LDF was discriminatory, oppressive and unfair to have denied their families children during their reproductive years,” she said.
In their legal battle, the women were represented by Attorney Monaheng Rasekoai and supported by Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), FIDA and Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC).
The three women enlisted in the LDF in 2013, at the time when private Mokhele was already married while private Letima was granted permission by the LDF to get married on 17 June 2015.
They fell pregnant at different periods before they were fired by the former army commander, Tlali Kamoli. The former commander, is currently detained at the Maseru Maximum Security prison for various charges including murder and attempted murder.
According to the court papers, Kamoli said the three women should have abstained from sex for five consecutive years, adding that they should have used 100 percent safe contraceptives, if at all they really wanted to remain in the LDF.
In her affidavit, Private Mokhele indicated that she was already pregnant when the order was passed on 3 March 2014, arguing that no explanation was given for the new order.
“I immediately informed my superiors about my condition and also expressed my shock and dismay at the order,” she said.
She stated that a few days later, she was issued with ‘a show cause notice’ for having disobeyed the order, “which expressly prohibited pregnancy of female soldiers.”
Private Mokhele argues despite her reply to the letter, the former army commander dismissed her from the LDF.
Meanwhile, in her affidavit, Private Letima also indicated that she was on contraceptives but was shocked when she found out that she was pregnant.
“It scared me when I discovered that I was pregnant because I knew I was in trouble at work.
“Desperate, I even considered abortion, but my conscience would not allow me to commit such a sin. I took a risk and decided to keep the baby because I knew that abortion is illegal in Lesotho and that I could end up in jail,” she said