Catholic Widow in Lesotho Leading Campaign to Address Youth Addiction to Drugs

Pontsho Florina Tumisi. Credit: Credit: Fr. Paul Tatu/Lesotho

Pontsho Florina Tumisi watched helplessly as the school performance of her daughter who had always been an A-student plunged. She had always been disciplined, striving to make her mother who had been widowed at only 20 proud of her. 

Even as Tumisi anxiously studied the change in behaviour of her daughter, nothing she saw indicated that the girl, then a teenager, was using hard drugs. But one day, when she disappeared from home for days, Tumisi knew that she was dealing with more than simple adolescence.

A search revealed that the girl, now aged 22, was using crystal meth and other drugs. This realization threw the mother of two, a Catholic native of Lesotho, into despair.

“I felt so helpless. I was widowed at a very young age. My daughter was only two when his father died. We practically raised each other. I never saw her ending up as she is now. It is not common to see a girl involved in things such as drug addiction,” Tumisi shared in a Monday, April 8 interview with ACI Africa.

She added, “Here was my only daughter, an A-student who was getting lost before my eyes. I desperately tried everything to stop her from using the drugs, but nothing worked. The more I flogged her, the deeper she sank into the addiction.”


Credit: Fr. Paul Tatu/Lesotho

As she struggled with her daughter’s drug addiction, too scared to open up about the condition, the 40-year-old member of St. Vincent Catholic Parish of Lesotho’s Archdiocese of Maseru came across a story on the Internet she instantly felt she related with. She read on Facebook about a woman who had been stabbed 20 times by her son and left for dead.

“I looked for the woman to give her moral support since I understood the pain she was going through beyond the physical wounds her son had inflicted on her. In no time, we had a support group of more women who were going through a challenge that was similar to ours,” she said.

Initially, Tumisi and the other women who were dealing with the addiction of their children would talk to give each other moral support. But one day, they decided that they had had enough of the suffering and the crying. At that point, they formed an association they christened Mokhosi oa Mongoana (MoM), which is loosely translated to “The Cry of a mother for her Child”. That was in April 2023.

Sharing the inspiration behind the formation of Mokhosi oa Mongoana with ACI Africa, Tumisi says, “We wanted to get psychosocial support for ourselves and for our kids. We wanted to have places of treatment for them. We wanted them to have safe spaces. After rehabilitation, we wanted them to acquire skills, so as to feel useful in society.”

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Credit: Fr. Paul Tatu/Lesotho

A year later, MoM has welcomed over 150 women from across the 10 districts of Lesotho, the high-altitude, landlocked kingdom encircled by South Africa.

The women are seeking to rescue their children from the bondage of illicit drug use. Their journey has been one of blood, sweat and tears in a country that does not have a single rehabilitation facility for recovering addicts. They live a day at a time in a society that still stigmatizes drug addicts and their families.

Tumisi says that drug addiction is still a taboo topic in Lesotho. “People speak about addiction in hushed tones, and parents whose children are addicts are considered loose with their morals and failures in life,” the member of St. Anne’s Sodality movement says.  

Enclosed within South Africa, Lesotho has a population of just about a little over 2 million people. Tumisi tells ACI Africa that it is through the country’s porous borders that the drugs, which she says used to be “a South African problem”, are now making their way to the country.


“Initially, we believed the illicit addiction was a South African problem. But now, as it appears, when South Africa is cold, it is Lesotho that sneezes. Foreigners, who are coming into Lesotho are the ones bringing the illicit drugs with them, sometimes with the help of locals,” she says.

Credit: Fr. Paul Tatu/Lesotho

Asked whether drug addiction is alarming in Lesotho, Tumisi says, “Alarming is an understatement. This is a pandemic.”

In the fight against drug addiction among the children and the youth, it does not help being a single parent, Tumisi says, and explains, “Addicted children become unruly. And it is not easy to control an unruly child when you are a single parent.”

However, not every married woman gets the support from their spouses when they seek help in dealing with their children who are addicted to illicit drugs.

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Tumisi says that some men in Lesotho feel that their authority is undermined when their spouses ask them for help to deal with such children.

Again, there is no treatment yet for people who are addicted to illicit drugs in Lesotho. Tumisi says that the addiction is not seen as a health challenge but a criminal one. The Church also has not seen it as a spiritual challenge.

Because the country’s only rehabilitation facility was closed down in 2020, addicts turn into mental cases and are referred to psychiatric facilities, she says.

In Lesotho, drug addiction is linked to gender-based violence.

Credit: Fr. Paul Tatu/Lesotho

“Two days ago, a woman was found buried under her own bed, killed by her own son. It turned out that the young man was a drug addict,” Tumisi shared with ACI Africa during the April 8 interview.

She added, “Addicts can do anything to get high, and when they are high on illicit drugs, they can do anything, including sexual molestation and killing.”

“Our children are killing us mentally, spiritually, financially, and otherwise. Many are in tertiary intuitions and are not graduating from school,” she laments.

A year after its formation, MoM members have managed to push Lesotho’s legal system to implement harsher punishment for drug offenders.

Tumisi says that for decades, the country has been lenient to drug peddlers who are required, under the law that was formed in the 1970s, to pay only about 1,000 Loti (US$54.00). But MoM pushed for the implementation of the country’s 2008 act that fines drug lords and users up to 2 million Loti (US$108,027.00).

Additionally, the association is journeying with young addicts, who are on the journey to recovery from their addiction.

MoM members have also been in talks with various stakeholders to have rehabilitation facilities put up across Lesotho to provide treatment for addicts.

Tumisi envisions a drug free Lesotho with young people who are gainfully employed.

“We need to see these people getting treatment. We need to see a Lesotho that is getting a little but sober. As it is now, with all these youths getting into addiction, we’ll have addicted teachers, addicted government officials, and addicted people everywhere,” she says, and adds, “As we celebrate 200 years as a nation, we want to see a more productive Lesotho, a soberer Lesotho.”

Credit: Fr. Paul Tatu/Lesotho

In the fight for a drug-free Lesotho, Tumisi sees immense potential in the Basotho population, which is 45 percent Catholic.

“The Catholic Church is known in Lesotho for having made such a big impact in education, in health, and in many other areas of development locally. I believe that the Church can make a huge impact in addressing this drug pandemic. The Church has the muscle to facilitate the construction of rehabilitation centers across the country,” she says.

The Biggest challenge for MoM is funding, Tumisi says, and explains, “Advocacy needs money. We are operating at a zero budget. We are a new organization that has no funds at all. We use our own money.”

“We have come up with creative ways to raise funds. We have organized a gala dinner on April 27 to raise some funds. We urgently need to construct our first rehabilitation centre,” she told ACI Africa on April 8.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.