THE All Basotho Convention (ABC) is going through a protracted process to choose a successor for Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, who announced last month that he would soon step down due to his “waning stamina”. Several names have been thrown around but three front runners have emerged. Among them is chairperson Samuel Rapapa, deputy spokesperson ‘Matebatso Doti and Deputy Secretary General Nkaku Kabi. ABC secretary general Lebohang Hlaele (LH) this week spoke to Lesotho Times (LT) editor Herbert Moyo to clarify why the process of selecting one person to replace Dr Thabane has taken this long. Below are excerpts of the interview. Also see story on page 6.
LT: It has been close to a month since he announced his intention to retire and in our previous discussion you had indicated that you would want to have this process may be concluded by the time Parliament opens. You said want to take a name to Parliament, which you will give to the Speaker of the National Assembly to say this is the successor for Prime Minister Thabane. Where we are now, we now know that parliament is opening on 21 February 2020. Where are you in terms of that? Are you ready? Have you got the successor?
LH: To be honest we haven’t reached a decision on that matter. We are in the process of massaging each other because it’s a very sensitive matter… We met last Sunday with parliamentarians. We did not reach a conclusion on a name. We feel very strongly that the decision lies with the national executive committee (NEC) of ABC. However, we wanted the parliamentarians to have a buy-in. Not to make a decision; but to have a buy-in so that at the end of the day, the parliamentarians and the mother body, everybody should actually own the process and feel that they were part of the process. Now, we said to them, they can throw in a name or names, and those names will be proposals to the NEC. And once we have the names, we will be in a position to say who is the best candidate among these people.
But there’s a principle that guides us. That is the principle of hierarchy in the party. Now, that is the principle that you cannot undermine. You must be guided by that principle because if you don’t, you are leaving everything to chance. Next time somebody will be saying, you know, a leader of the party must be a Prime Minister and somebody will say no, this happened previously. We did not consider the leader as a prime minister; we took somebody from Parliament… So, we don’t want to set a bad precedence. We will stick to the hierarchy of the party. That is the position that I’m putting, we will stick to that.
LT: That’s the position of the NEC?
LN: That is my position, not the NEC’s. That is the position that I will pursue in the NEC when it sits next week. I’ll pursue this position and engage other members of the NEC until we agree to disagree, if we don’t. The persuasion intended is to show members of the NEC the bigger picture that we should not be bogged down by the precedents that will never sustain our party in the future. We should never regret that this is what we have said and this is what we have done. We should maintain the correct principles.
LT: Next in line is the deputy leader of the party, Professor Nqosa Mahao, who has already ruled himself out on account of the fact that he is not a member of the National Assembly. You have also ruled yourself out for the same reason. Who is next in line after the party leader, the deputy leader and the Secretary General? Who is next in line in terms of your understanding of the party hierarchy?
LH: My understanding is simple. When the leader of the party goes, the deputy come in. If the deputy is out, then the chair come in.
LT: The chair comes before the secretary general?
LH – Yes. The chair comes first. After the chair comes the secretary general of the party. So, the deputy and the secretary general are out but in terms of our hierarchy, it’s the leader, the deputy leader, the chair and the secretary general.
LT: So, in other words, your personal position is that the successor should be Mr Samuel Rapa because he’s the chairperson? And seeing that Mr Rapapa is the chairperson, are you advocating for Mr Rapapa at a personal level?
LH: No. Not at a personal level, at the secretary general level. I am the secretary general of the party, a person who is expected to advise the entire committee about the direction of the party. Now I’m saying in terms of the hierarchy of the party, remember, the ABC conference was held and it elected Rapapa as the chair. Once that happened, it means that the rank and file of the ABC has confidence and trust in this man. Now, nobody can remove that. Only the conference can actually pronounce itself on Rapapa. Now, we are actually carrying a mandate as the NEC… Now, in the NEC, Rapapa is the second in line and Rapapa must be trusted in that position on behalf of the ABC members who have shown confidence and trust in him… If we bring in confusion and debates, we are bringing in our personal and selfish interests, not the interests of the party. The party has pronounced itself to say this is the man. If Mahao was in Parliament, there wouldn’t be a debate again because he would be the second in charge.
LT: As the secretary general you want to advise your colleagues to follow the hierarchy. Are you implying that among your colleagues there are dissenting voices that do not want to follow the hierarchy to extent that they must be advised and convinced on this? Or is it your colleagues in the NEC or is it the legislators? Where is the conflict because you also talk about the massaging of each other’s ego?
LH: We are in a democratic organisation and in that process, you must engage each other on any matter. I cannot force things on people because leaders are elected democratically by members. If you have an opinion, or a view, that view must be tabled and discussed until we agree. This is one of those views that I have and I strongly believe in the view that hierarchy cannot be compromised. So, maybe some of the members of the committee have a different view from the one; there is nothing wrong with that. But what is important is engagement, engagement and engagement. That’s where the word massage comes in. We must nurse each other until we say this is the end of the road and as the executive, this is what is going to happen.
LT: You have been nursing and massaging each other for over a month now and still there is no consensus. The last time we spoke to you, there was a likelihood that Parliament could actually open on 14 February 2020 and now we know for a fact that it will open the 21st. Do you think that by the time we get to the 21st, the party will be ready to submit a name to Parliament?
LH: That is our hope. As I’m saying, we are meeting next week and hopefully, the party will pronounce itself next week about a name and the date of departure of the Prime Minister. Remember the Prime Minister is a deployee of the party. He never applied for that position. He’s accountable to the party.
LT: In other words, the date is going to come from the party. What are you doing? You’re also in negotiations with him over the date. I know you’ve spoken about it, but again, for the record, when do you hope as a party, that’s the Prime Minister should be leaving? What date are you looking at?
LH: I can’t be precise on the date because even if we put a date, that date must be put before him, for him to say yes or no. So, the date must be agreed between us and him as part of the collective. He is a part of this collective.
LT: In these meetings that the NEC has been holding, has he been involved?
LH: He has not been involved physically. However, he has known about these meetings and apologised for personal and other reasons. He has been a part of the processes but not physically.
LT: You have your three candidates that you put forward namely Mr Nkaku Kabi, Mr Rapapa and Ms ‘Matebatso Doti. We have heard that the MPs also wanted to have their own names, various names have been thrown around. Which names can you confirm have been submitted to you?
LH: For now, the MPs have failed to submit names to us. We were of the opinion or hope that on Sunday they’ll be in a position to present the names but that didn’t materialise. I think that can happen anytime soon but for now, there are no names.
LT: So, this talk about Dr Majoro, the Finance Minister, and others so far is just talk? There is nothing formal?
LH: Those are rumours… Those are rumours for now. We don’t have facts.
LT: What really has been happening for the past month? Submission of a name seems a simple and straight forward task… If things that may be considered basic have not happened in a month, what then has been happening in your meetings, plus the meetings that you have held with the members of parliament? What exactly is going on there?
LH: It’s not as simple as you think it is. I have said to you we are coming from a bitter fight that started last February. You cannot expect that by this time there is trust between all of us or between two factions. We are trying to work towards that trust. The danger with factionalism is that it does not know quality, factionalism knows numbers. Now, when people go to meetings with the intention to vote, as it was the intention on Sunday; you see so many people coming there and realise that, no, here people thought that they would vote and therefore these heads were counted and they were going to vote for so and so maybe. But it did not materialise and that is not our intention, our intention is to discuss and reach consensus. We should avoid voting because voting is divisive in most cases. It is not as easy as you think.
If a certain faction, because we have three factions as I am told… If all factions have their candidates whom they believe are ready to take this position, you will be unable to bring these factions together at once. It will be a long process to talk until you reach an agreement.
So, that has been the road that we have taken. I’m saying every road or route has its end which is called a cul-de-sac. We are heading for a cul-de-sac where all of us, including the parliamentarians, will agree that we have reached the cul-de-sac. And once we have this dead-end, the NEC takes its control because powers lie with the NEC. We did not even intend to give these powers to them but we are saying, “have a buy-in that all of us we feel that we own this process”. But if they fail to do that, power still resides with us and we will actually implement what is best for the party and for the nation. That is the bottom-line.
LT – You talk about three factions. In the past we knew that there was a faction backing Prof Mahao and then we also knew that there was a faction backing Dr Thabane. Now there are three factions. Who are these factions backing?
LH: Factions meaning there are three candidates. There is Prince Maliehe’s faction. He is a candidate. There is Majoro, he is a candidate. ‘M’e Doti is a candidate. Rapapa is a candidate. You find that Rapapa and ‘M’e Doti are presumed to be in one faction, that of Mahao. What surprises us is, again, Prince and Majoro were assumed to be in Thabane’s faction or the State House faction but that faction also has two candidates. Hence you say they are three now. It’s Maliehe, Majoro and Rapapa and ‘M’e Doti. These are factions because they people who have followers, whether they are three members or four or ten, but these are groups.
LT: So, there are people who want Prince Maliehe to succeed Dr Thabane?
LH: They want Prince, there are those who want Majoro, there are those who want ‘M’e Doti and there are those who want Rapapa. Now, you come in with a principle of removing these names, remove them. The principle is hierarchy. That will kill everything unless educated otherwise by another principle. Maybe somebody will say in the course of debates, now we hear this principle but there is another principle. Let’s engage on that principle also.
LT: When a motion of no confidence was found in Parliament by Ntate Khomo in June last year, the party had a clear position to say that Mr Rapapa would take over as the caretaker Prime Minister. If that no confidence motion had been tabled and voted upon with that consensus, Mr Rapapa was then going on to finish the current term which runs up to 2022 and then there would be elections. How is it that now you suddenly have a situation where it seems to be “free for all”? Maybe we can understand the other faction when it throws in other names because they are opposed to the process. How is it that we now have this situation where there are so many people when initially the preferred candidate was just Mr Rapapa?
LH: Mr Rapapa was not a candidate for the ABC, he was a factional candidate and that faction was working with the opposition. And we’re looking at numbers. Like I just told you, factionalism is about numbers, not quality. We are looking at numbers that should the vote of no confidence issue pass, we would beat the government hands down. That did not happen. Now we are in a different phase where people will advance different reasons why they one person and not the other. There’s nothing wrong with that. All names have been withdrawn in one bag and we will debate, and those debates will indeed keep on eliminating candidates. Only debate will eliminate one, two, three and four until we are left with one. That one person will be presented to our coalition partners and ultimately to the Council of State, the King and the Speaker of Parliament.
LT: What qualities are you looking for in this ideal candidate to become Prime Minister? What sort of person do you want?
LH: We haven’t reached that stage. We haven’t talked about criteria for now. Even the quality of the person, we haven’t reached that stage. All I’m saying is that it’s an issue of hierarchy that we are talking about. That is the only matter that we are talking about. That is the only matter that when you go through social media, people will say, “but why talking about hierarchy now, so and so was never considered in the 2012 elections; so and so was never considered in the 2017 elections. Why now?” You can’t keep on doing things because they happened three years ago or 10 years ago; you can’t. You must reach a stage where you’re saying, enough is enough, let’s correct and move forward.
LT: When you say so and so was not considered, are you saying that Mr Rapapa was not considered for a ministerial position?
LH: No. Mr Rapapa was not in the executive then. Let me make an example. On social media, I read something that said, “why is this matter of hierarchy being raised now? Mr Hlaele who was the deputy secretary general was deployed in the Senate. Yet Mr Mosenene who was a deputy chair, in terms of hierarchy is actually higher than the deputy secretary”? Which is correct. In terms of hierarchy, remember I’ve said it’s the leader, the deputy leader, the chairperson, the secretary general, the treasurer and so on. These are offices but once the deputy comes, the deputy chair has more power in terms of hierarchy than the deputy secretary general and so on. That is correct. That happened. The ABC has also deployed someone in Parliament, I want to believe that, who was not even a member of any structure. This was a female deployed in Parliament. They did not belong to any structure in terms of committees but the leader or the chairperson of the Women’s League was never deployed yet she was supposed to have been deployed in terms of hierarchy. However, it did not happen. But we cannot keep on doing things because they happened 10 years ago or five years ago; we can’t. We must say things must stop here and start doing the right things. This is what we are saying.
LT: You mentioned that the next step, if you agree on a successor, will be to take this name to your coalition partners. So far, in terms of the process, have you engaged the coalition partners? What are their feelings towards what you’re doing? Are you engaging with them along the way and what is their attitude to what is happening?
LH: No. There is no confusion to the coalition partners. They know that the ABC has majority in the parliament. They also know that the ABC must provide a name to succeed the Prime Minister. They know that once that process is concluded the ABC will meet them and introduce the name to them so that they go to the Speaker of Parliament as a collective to say here is a name. The Speaker of Parliament will now follow the correct channels up to when the name is announced in Parliament.
On Sunday we met with the MPs in one of the chambers of Parliament to debate. The issue was that we want to have a name today, meaning on Sunday. Now, there were other views that, no, let’s wait until we know the date that the Prime Minister will step down. When I read social media messages, they said that the SG of the party said, no, we cannot have a name until we have the date of the departure of the Prime Minister. That is not true. I never said that. These were discussions among the legislators themselves. All I said is that I can realise that you are unable or afraid of making hard decisions. The danger or the threat that I’m seeing is that if the Prime Minister wakes up tomorrow, Monday, and says I’m leaving now, the deputy leader in terms of the Constitution will take over. The Deputy Prime Minister will take over until you have sorted yourselves out. The danger again is that the Deputy Prime Minister is a shrewd politician. It may be possible that once you’re saying now let’s talk, you’ll find that because of his performance for two or three months, we will be divided and say let’s leave this man to carry on until 2022. Because of his performance and cooperation between ABC and his office, we will be saying now let’s forget about this thing, let’s allow this man. That is another danger. Those are dangers that I showed them.
These are two dangers that you’re actually heading to if you are failing to make a decision.
LT: So, you were saying they should make a decision when, what was your submission?
LH: My submission was, give us a name for consideration so that as the NEC we decide and meet our coalition partners, to say this is the man that we have decided upon as the ABC NEC, failure of which if the Prime Minister steps down tomorrow, automatically the deputy takes over. And in that process, because of the cooperation, because of performance, some of us would be saying there’s no need to remove him. Let this man take us through to 2022.
LT: That is understandable. There is the issue of the Acting Chief Justice Maseforo Mahase. You petitioned the court order the setting up of a tribunal to investigate and determine the fitness, or lack of it, for her to remain in office. But while you did that the Prime Minister has since gone on to recommend His Majesty King Letsie III that she be appointed the substantive Chief Justice. What’s your reaction to that? And while you have the problems with the way that she has conducted herself, here is the leader of the party recommending that she be appointed substantive Chief Justice, notwithstanding the controversies that were there last year with regards to the way she handled ABC cases, and notwithstanding the latest controversy where we see the granting of bail for the First Lady. What are you doing about it now that you have a pending court case but the Prime Minister is recommending her appointment as substantive Chief Justice.
LH: Herbert, what you are asking me is not an impossible question, but rather difficult because you’re expecting me to answer for the Prime Minister, as to why is he is recommending the appointment of the acting Chief Justice, yet there are these outstanding matters around her. I don’t know. But my letter to His Majesty was to make him aware of the outstanding case against the Acting Chief Justice because I feel very strongly that she is not fit for that office. You have just touched on the recent matter around the bail and so on. That, again, strengthens my case against her and I’m saying I’m expecting to hear from the courts, because I have been informed reliably that the three judges have been appointed to hear my case.
LT: Are the appointed judges foreign?
LH: No. They are local judges. Whether they will also recuse themselves or continue the case, it’s something else but I hope and pray that they don’t become cowards. They must deal with the matters. I am not looking for any favour from anybody. I’m actually saying justice must be served to every Mosotho regardless of their position because all of us, that’s my belief, we are equal before the law. So, the law must take its course for all of us as Basotho. I’m just waiting patiently for the day where this case is heard and a judgment made.
LT: There was also talk that you are going to follow up your letter with a court application to stop the King from acting on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Is that something that you have already done?
LH: No. I said, in that letter, that should that recommendation by the Prime Minister to the King be confirmed, I will have no option but to follow a legal route. Now that everything is at a standstill, there is no need for legal action because there is nothing to challenge. I’m just waiting to see what is going to happen but I suspect that the date which was targeted by those who actually wanted to confirm the Acting Chief Justice was the opening of the High Court; last Monday and that did not happen. So, let’s wait and see what is going to happen in terms of the envisaged confirmation of the Chief Justice.
LT: You’re saying that there are three Lesotho judges who have been appointed to handle your case.
LH: I haven’t confirmed it but I heard it from the grapevine that three judges have already been appointed to handle the case.
LT: How could local judges be appointed when Justice Mahase successfully applied for the recusal of all local judges from hearing the case?
LH: The judgement of the three judges, if you go through it, talked about themselves. They explicitly said they would talk about their own recusal and not that of other judges. That is why the other judges are coming in, if that is true. They will also talk for themselves. They will recuse themselves; continue if they so wish.