By Sr Phatsimo Veronica Ramokgwebana from Botswana 

A Stigmatine priest Fr. Dr. Benedict Mosiuoa Makhata C.S.S was on the 14th September awarded a Doctorate in Trauma and Counselling under the research topic: Migrant Basotho women in Domestic services in South Africa; a Pastoral Challenge. His PhD award was conferred by the University of Pretoria.

Fr. Makhata was born in Lesotho in the Makhata’s Village and belongs to the Congregation of the Stigmata of our Lord Jesus Christ (Stigmatines). He was ordained to the priesthood on the 26th October 2013 and was appointed to work at Ga-Rankuwa and Winterveld Districts in the North-West Deanery of the Archdiocese of Pretoria. In his daily pastoral activities, he met many people with various life challenges, both young and old. He realized that there is need for one to study so that one can be knowledgeable about certain pastoral challenges that need to be addressed in the parish. Having consulted his then Superior, Fr Benedict Leseteli C.S.S, Fr Makhata proceeded with his academic journey with the Honours Degree in the year 2016 at the University of Pretoria under practical theology, studying pastoral care and counselling (2016-1017). His studies were motivated by the love for his congregation rooted in the Charism of the Stigmatines for the needs of the Church. He highlighted that he was inspired by the contributions of the founder of the Stigmatine Congregation St. Gasper Bertoni towards education and the formation of the youth. The ministry to the youth or formation of Youth is at the core of the congregation. In 2017 he pursued the Masters at the same University and his field of specialization was trauma and counselling. He started his PhD in 2019 under the research topic: Migrant Basotho women in Domestic services in South Africa; a pastoral challenge.

This research took him two and a half years to complete. His study was provoked by seeing many Basotho women working as domestics in South Africa. Fr Makhata used to see these women on his way to the office in the streets of Pretoria. “I used to see many Basotho women, both young and old, on the streets just staying there looking for a job. Some possessed legal documentation while others did not have any. As a concerned priest, I got interested to visit and conducted interviews with them.” In his findings, he realized that these women give love to the children of other people while their children back home in Lesotho are not taken care of because they were more concerned about the financial or economic issues that affected them. They needed money to send to their children for school and for the sustenance of their families. Some of these women were employed by good families and some struggled to find a job. Some were even treated well while others were not treated well. “I discovered that it was really a pastoral challenge because back at home their families were suffering and their husbands felt lonely. It is indeed a challenge to the church in a sense that, when the children are suffering the marriage is not taken care of. When some of these women return home, they do not go back to their husbands as their husbands would be married to someone else or even cohabiting. Staying away from home changes the mind-set and the behaviour as well,” mentioned Fr Dr. Makhata. As a matter of fact, he developed his eagerness to find the reason why these women were leaving home and the role of the church in such matters?

The academic journey was not as simple as one would think despite the eagerness and interest to study as well as having a government scholarship. As a Lesotho citizen Fr Makhata was awarded a government bursary to do his studies as well as getting a scholarship from the University of Pretoria. Therefore, financially he was not struggling much even though at times he would need internet connectivity to do his research and some other things. Based now in Lesotho and working in the Archdiocese of Maseru, Bethany Mission, one of the challenges was to travel to Pretoria and work on his PhD research. His congregation was always ready to assist with the latter even though challenges remained.

During his research he was especially challenged especially when interviewing a woman and as a priest being a male, asking them deep questions about their personal lives citing one interesting theory he applied on his research called ‘Pitiki’. It is a ceremony of women, performed when the midwives celebrate the birth of a child. This Pitiki theory is where women gather together and share deep issues about marriage. It was somehow interesting and challenging at the same time since only women could attend it. As a male person one was not allowed to enter into Pitiki. Fr. Dr. Makhata requested some women to gather information for him so that he could then analyse his research. Interesting enough, culturally men used to go and work in the mines in South Africa. Things have changed as it is women going to South Africa to work as domestics as most men have since been retrenched in the mines. In addition, this helped him get a clearer idea of the mind-set of the people in Lesotho and their struggles to earn a better living, hence the women are the ones who now provide for their own families.

Asking him of what good his doctorate would benefit his congregation and the Church in Africa, Fr Dr Makhata mentioned that the research is very important to his congregation because today we see that many people are traumatised, many people are stressed and many people go through depression. “So I see this study as good for the congregation especially here in Africa where we have many pastoral centers in which we can teach young people through workshops, seminars and give counselling. This seems to be very essential and vital for the congregation. It is my intention to apply my knowledge and practice and all that I have learned so as to contribute to the well-being of the congregation.”

His message to the African Religious is to be motivated and see that it is good for their faith and for the faith of the community at large that further studies be done. “Most of us are capable but I feel we are very comfortable in our various religious communities or in our own dioceses. Therefore, I would like to encourage our young religious and priests to take education seriously because when we are educated we are better placed to assist the church in a professional manner and understand the needs of the people. This will also help us avoid things which can lead us astray because as a young priest, from experience, I have realised that we have a lot of energy to do anything but sometimes we find ourselves loitering and doing things that are not good for the church.” The church should encourage the young religious and the young priests, young brothers and sisters to further their studies in order to enable them to participate in the intellectual life of society. Moreover, it will be good for the church because then these can be sent anywhere there is a need. Each and every one of us has to apply and share his knowledge and thereby assist the people of God. Our main intention is to make sure that our people are healed. As I said, I have specialized in trauma. Trauma affects people physically, psychologically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. During this period of the Covid-19 pandemic many people are traumatised and they need us as pastors and religious so that we may journey with them.

Currently Fr. Dr. Benedict Makhata C.S.S works as a Lecturer at the International University of Lesotho and has also started a small consultancy under the Stigmatine’s social welfare project where he conducts counselling to people with various needs. With this initiative he seeks to inspire young people especially those in formation and aspirants to the priesthood. They have to realize that a priest is not only the one who is in the parish and doing pastoral work, but the priest can be a lecturer, a professional counselor and embrace a different vocation journey within the vocation to the priesthood.