"This Matter of Women Is Getting Very Bad": Gender, Development and Politics in Colonial Lesotho

Article excerpt

Marc Epprecht. "This Matter of Women Is Getting Very Bad": Gender, Development and Politics in Colonial Lesotho. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 2000. ix + 281 pp. Biographical sketches of informants. Notes. Bibliography. Index. R190. Paper

By challenging existing orthodoxies about gender roles and women's accomplishments in the development of Lesotho, Marc Epprecht has made a major contribution to our understanding of the dynamics of that small country and of the regional environment in which it is situated. Like any work that emphasizes a previously neglected factor, however, it occasionally creates new interpretive problems by making that selected element the master variable in situations in which it was just one relevant element among many.

Epprecht builds his analysis of women's roles on the previous efforts of Elizabeth Eldredge, judy Kimble, Colin Murray, and Eddie Maloka to provide a gendered historical analysis that complements the more male-centered analyses of Leonard Thompson and Peter Sanders. Epprecht's most important insights concern the twentieth-century phenomena about which he developed new primary data from the many interviews conducted during the research for his doctoral dissertation. While not a theoretical discourse on gender, the book is an application of such materials to Lesotho and is quite accessible to the serious reader. The high quality of the study belies Epprecht's unnecessary apologies in his introduction for being a white, expatriate male writing about African women.

Epprecht is at his best in describing and evaluating hitherto neglected women's kopcmos, namely, homemakers' and church organizations that allowed women to assume new voices and greater control of their destinies in both secular and religious domains. he also does a first-rate job in explaining the social reforms initiated by the Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Bonhomme, which coexisted, paradoxically, with an oppressive and restrictive view of appropriate female roles. While he redresses prior scholarly neglect of Catholic groups, his range of interviews seems to have been somewhat skewed, so that Protestant voices are not given an equivalent hearing.

His portrayal of Regent Paramount Chieftainess Amelia 'Mantsebo Seeiso as a proponent of democratic consultation and solidarity and as a protofeminist reverses earlier, overly negative and sexist evaluations of her, but it ignores the substance of unfavorable assessments of her reign. …