Africa-Press – Lesotho. Matumelo Ramoqopo has become the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF)’s first female to be promoted to the rank of Major General, the highest rank any woman has attained so far in the local army.
The promotion was announced and made by the Chief of Defence Staff, Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela, on March 7, just a day before the global Women’s Day celebration of women’s achievements and noting strides to drive gender parity.
Major General (Maj Gen) Ramoqopo follows distinguished African female soldiers in the league of Maj Gen Aderonke Kale, appointed the first female Major General in the Nigerian Army in 1994, setting a record not only in Nigeria but in the entire West Africa; and, Maj Gen Proscovia Nalweyiso who in 2017 became the first female Major General in the Uganda People’s Defence Force.
She was also the first woman soldier to hold such a rank in East Africa. Her name is now etched in continental military annals along Maj Gen Fatuma Ahmed, who in July 2018 was promoted to become the first Kenyan female soldier to hold the rank.
Maj Gen Ramoqopo was born 1968 and raised in Roma, Maseru, as Motšelisi Mochesane, and has, with this promotion, become an inspiration and beacon of hope for female soldiers within the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and all women across the breadth of Lesotho.
She is testament that women are capable and can hold high ranks even within a male-dominated military setting. This was not the only first for Ramoqopo, since she is also the first woman to hold the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the LDF; the first woman to go for the LDF Staff Course; and, the first woman to command the King’s Birthday celebration parade in 2015.
She is also the first person to enlist with the army in her family. As much as many admire her achievements and promotions, Maj Gen Ramoqopo says these firsts have put a lot of pressure on her because any failure on her part will not only be attributed to her but can ruin chances for other female soldiers to be elevated to the LDF command structures.
“Being the first woman to do a lot of things in the LDF comes with pressure. I have to make sure that I win or pass at all times as I represent all women, my failure will affect them.
But the positive thing is that my being able to achieve things and make a mark as a woman will translate into more women being given a chance to prove their mettle in future,” the new Maj Gen says.
Maj Gen Ramoqopo began her primary education at Roma Primary School and proceeded to complete her high school education at St Mary’s High School where she obtained her Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC).
She then joined the LDF straight from high school in 1986 when she was 18 years old. She says she did not even like being a soldier, but was persuaded to join the force by her friends.
She did all this behind her family’s back which wanted her to pursue her tertiary education soon after writing her COSC examination. Growing up, Ramoqopo says she had liked the LDF, but not for herself.
She perceived a job in the military as a job only fit for men, and, as a result, never saw herself part of the outfit. “I loved the LDF from a distance,” she reveals.
Ramoqopo continues that she was raised in a humble home where her parents did not have much, but ensured that she and her siblings do not sleep on empty stomachs.
She says as a child she could see that her parents struggled, but putting effort to ensure that their needs are met. Her mother loved education so much that she wanted nothing for her daughter but to enroll at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) and get a degree.
However, Ramoqopo had other plans for herself. She says being the child she was, she felt like she had studied enough and wanted nothing to do with education – especially joining the NUL.
But with her sister’s persuasion under the directive of her mother to go back to school, she ended up considering applying for admission to one of the tertiary institutions outside Roma.
However, she adds that before she could send her application to any school, her friends persuaded her to try her luck and apply for advertised positions for female soldiers at the LDF.
To please these friends, she succumbed to the pressure, applied and was interviewed. Later on, to her dismay, she heard her name among the list broadcast over Radio Lesotho to report at the army barracks for enlistment. Her family was not aware that she had applied to join the army.
Upon learning that her application had been successful and was expected to report for basic military training, her sister persuaded her to join the force on condition that she would pursue further studies while already working as a soldier.
Maj Gen Ramoqopo says she was still reluctant to join the LDF and it took a lot of persuasion from her sister for her to eventually decide to report for enlistment.
She was skeptical at this time though, because other recruits had already reported for training while she was still debating. She had a hidden wish, though, that she gets send back home when she arrived at the barracks for reporting late but, to her disappointment, she was welcomed.
Ramoqopo points out that her initial impressions about the military were confirmed when she entered the army base, indeed this was a man’s world. There were a few female soldiers, and al were working as nurses while others were deployed in the army’s administration units.
She recalls that they were issued only trousers, and no dresses, when given their first military uniform, indicating with laughter that everyone was even addressed as ‘sir’ – male and female.
She notes with appreciation, however, that things have changed over the years. After completing basic military training her group was informed that they would proceed for further training as nurses, a career she says she detested and wanted nothing to do with it.
Once again it took the persuasion of family and friends to convince her to take up nursing, and she joined a group 13 female soldiers enrolled at the Queen Elizabeth II School of Nursing and studied general nursing and midwifery for four years.
Only two graduated with her, others dropped out while others were left behind and graduated in the following years. It was while she was basic training that foundations for the army’s Makoanyane Military Hospital (MMH) were made, and on their return they found it complete and already running.
The hospital was then operating with a group of nurses that was trained at Qacha’s Nek for some 18 months, while some of its nurses were seconded from government hospitals. General Ramoqopo first began working at MMH as a qualified soldier nurse in 1991.
As the first woman in the LDF to be promoted to the rank of Major General, she says her promotion ought to be a motivation to all women, showing them that they are capable of doing whatever men can do.
All that is required is to work extra hard and have confidence in their womanhood, she says. Women should strive to break the perception that females are weak and can only be offered favours for them to achieve or be promoted to certain positions, the Major General adds.
Being promoted or appreciated for a job well done does not come as naturally and as easily for women as it does to men, she said, articulating that women always have to walk an extra mile.
“I always advise women to work extra hard and have love for their jobs, not because they are looking for promotion but because they want to stand out in whatever they do.
I know our task as women is already tough enough as we are wives and mothers to our children and having to perform all these tasks to best the best of our ability is a challenge most times.
“Being a woman in the Lesotho Defense Force is hard, as it gets really hard to impress your superiors, you have to work extra hard and put more effort than men to get noticed.
“Men are naturally promoted to higher positions without anyone doubting their capability to execute the mandate of the office they have been promoted to. But a woman is always undermined and doubted that she could possibly hold the office,” she says.
She, however, notes what she calls for serious changes within the army “unlike in the past where women were hired to flaunt their beauty or to fill nursing positions only, now women are commanders in the LDF, women go on patrol and hold high ranking positions.
” She believes says her promotion is due to the hard work and dedication she has put since she joined the LDF, a step she adds is bound to bring hope to all women in the LDF that they too will hold high ranking position provided they work hard.
When she joined LDF, the highest rank that was held by a woman was that of a Major and for years no woman was appointed to any rank higher than that. Since joining the army in 1986, Maj Gen Ramoqopo has attended and successfully completed various courses.
She studied Senior Command and Staff course at Nanjing Army Command and Staff College, in China and is also an alumnus of the Zimbabwe Command and Staff College in Harare.
She has also attended Medical and Logistics Management training for officers and strategic courses focused on the army medical departments in the USA for future African Leaders in 2002 and 2008, respectively.
She also attended International Humanitarian Law and Defence Attaché courses in Lesotho in 1999 and 2015, respectively. Ramoqopo also attended a peace keeping course for staff officers and another peace keeping course for battalion commanders in Zimbabwe.
She is a trained legal cadre and is a general nurse and midwife trained by the National Health Training College and Queen Elizabeth II Nursing School.
Her military decorations include the Military Medal for Meritorious Service and the Military Service Medals. She was also awarded Best Non-Zimbabwe Defence Force student award by the Zimbabwe Command and Staff College in 2007.
She was also awarded Best Woman Achiever in the LDF by local radio station, MoAfrika FM, in 2011 and the Best Woman Achiever Award by St Felix Church in 2018.
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