Feature

Tales of a financially illiterate widow

…She blew her compensation benefits and is now left to fend for her life

…Scratches the surface to put food on the table

Mojabeng Moalosi

“I now run an informal poultry business which has both good and bad days,” Limakatso* says while busy preparing evening food for 120 chicks.

Dressed in blue overall pants and gumboots, her passion in handling her chicks, says she comes from a point of sleeping on an empty stomach.

Limakatso is a widow and mother of two.

He husband who was a police officer for 25 years left for work one morning and never returned back home.

“Assuming the responsibility of putting bread on the table for my children is one of the hardest tasks in my life,” she says with a sad face, saying she has never thought of handling the family’s finances as she simply saw it as not her turf.

“He left early in the morning that day, going to work as usually. I never thought that our normal goodbye kiss on my chick was a final goodbye.

“Later in the afternoon of the same day, two men unknown to me knocked on my door and when I opened, I realised they were with my female neighbour. Their facial expressions were pregnant with a lot and when they disclosed that my husband was involved in a car accident, I felt like the whole world just fell on me. I thought perhaps he was injured but they said he died. I didn’t instantly make sense of their news, it made no sense that the love of my life will never return home,” she narrates.

The grieving Limakatso added, “I loved my husband with all my heart and soul and saying goodbye to the one person who not only spoiled me but was the literal pillar of the family simply just shuttered me. He was the sole breadwinner and losing him felt like the end of the road,” she reminisces.

Being a new widow with no financial literacy or any ability to handle money, Limakatso indicates that life after her husband’s burial changed.

“A few months down the line after his burial I started receiving different bereavement support payments from his work and insurance monies started reflecting. Seeing such a lot of money, I thought to myself, ‘life is easy’, she adds.

Like most women in Africa, Limakatso’s access to finance is disproportionately low.

Despite substantial overall progress in 2017, the World Bank reported that 1.2 billion more people had bank accounts than in 2011, however the Bank noted that there is still a 9% gap between women’s and men’s access.

“In sub-Saharan Africa, only 37% of women have a bank account, compared with 48% of men, a gap that has only widened over the past several years,” the Bank said adding that the figures are even worse in North Africa where about two-thirds of the adult population remains unbanked and the gender gap for access to finance is 18%, the largest in the world.

“Instantly I felt on top of life, I mean I had a lot of money, a house and the only thing that made sense to me was to live a better and easy life.

“I started drinking and throwing parties with the aim of releasing the stress and in a way grieving for losing my partner. At the time it didn’t dawn on me that the more money I spent the less I remained with. Worse, I literally didn’t have any safety nets for rainy days. I never thought of what life was going to be going forward since I had never worked in my life

“I never thought of getting a financial advisor nor did I think of investing part of the money towards my children’s fee. I still felt safe because my husband left us a house and a car. So, with my little imagination life was still going to be normal,” she says.

She narrates how it is that when she couldn’t pay for her son’s school fees did she realise she was now financially in trouble.

Limakatso says running an informal poultry is hard because other times she is unable to survive.

“I am struggling because I don’t even know how to run a business, how to keep my books. To be honest, things are not easy at all and all my so called friends have vanished into the thin air now that I don’t have the money,” the widow says.

Speaking with Newsday, the Founder of IFO Lapeng, ‘Mamookho Rebecca Makhalemele says the issue of Financial illiteracy is the biggest problem facing most Basotho women.

“I am so excited that you decided to raise this issue of financial illiteracy which is a problem for most women in Lesotho, and particularly widows,” she says.

She says IFO Lapeng has approached the Teba management to offer financial and psychological assistance to women whose husbands have died at mines, to prepare them for the financial change they experience.

“Women from rural areas when they receive monies after the death of their husbands, the first thing that comes to their minds is maintenance of their households,” Makhalemele says.                          

She indicates that in South Africa, before widows are given their bereavement support pay-outs, they are given financial training in preparation of the change, as well as how to handle large sums of money.

“…however, in Lesotho most of the women are thrown in the financial den with no knowledge of how to handle finances.”

She adds, “Our government must step-up and make available finance resources necessary to guarantee stability and safety for widowed women and their children.”

Tšepiso Sesioana, a psychologist in a separate interview with this paper mentions that Lesotho’s economy is managed by men.

“Most jobs that provide a good payment or source of income are occupied by men, while women have to assume minority positions. Most women are clueless about issues of economy,” he says.

Sesioana adds that financial instability is one of the greatest reasons why after gaining the supposed financial freedom, most women are unable to sustain the financial freedom for long.

He notes that in cases of divorce, women opt to reunite with their partners due to lack of sustaining their finances.

“In a case where there has been a separation, one needs to be financially wise, with some level of education, but that’s not usually the case.”

He adds, “Most women learn the hard way after the death of their husbands. They don’t learn how to manage the finances in the presence of their husband, thus handling bereavement support “

“When one receives, for instance, one hundred thousand in the account, she assumes that it can be a life cover amount which would last forever.Lack of knowledge on finances leads to most women suffering,” the psychologist says adding that women are being endure the abuse by their husbands under the pretence that as men they are the sole breadwinners and women are equivalent to children.

*Not her real name suspen

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