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ABC talks collapse, again

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

THE latest round of talks aimed at reconciling the warring All Basotho Convention (ABC) factions collapsed this week amid claims by the Professor Nqosa Mahao-led camp that ABC leader and Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his team had negotiated in bad faith.

The ABC has not known peace ever since its February 2019 elective conference where Prof Mahao clinched the deputy leader’s post despite the express opposition from Dr Thabane and other senior party officials. They argued that Prof Mahao was a relative newcomer who should not be parachuted to the party’s second most powerful position ahead of seasoned party stalwarts. Previous talks and court litigation have so far failed to end the impasse which has seen Dr Thabane “expel” Prof Mahao and his fiercest allies, Lebohang Hlaele (secretary general), Samuel Rapapa (chairperson), Montoeli Masoetsa (spokesperson) and his deputy Matebatso Doti.

The quintet, who were “expelled” last month for alleged insubordination after they convened and addressed rallies in apparent defiance of Dr Thabane’s orders for them not to do so, hit back by suspending Dr Thabane and other senior officials from the party. They were only stopped by a High Court order from holding a special party conference on 6 July 2019 which would have expelled Dr Thabane from the party.

Even as the sides have pending court cases against each other, they still agreed to meet for talks on Sunday aimed at resolving their differences. News of the latest round of talks was first revealed by ABC spokesperson Montoeli Masoetsa at a weekend rally in the ‘Makhoroana constituency. Flanked by Mr Rapapa, Mr Masoetsa thanked ABC supporters for rallying behind their faction in the power struggle and informed them that they were due for talks with Dr Thabane and other senior party officials that Sunday evening in Maseru.

He said the talks were aimed at ending the feuding which had effectively split the party and threatened to collapse the two year-old governing coalition.

However, in a subsequent interview with this publication in the aftermath of their meeting, Mr Masoetsa said the Sunday talks, which were chaired Dr Thabane, barely got off the starting blocks and were immediately abandoned.

This after the veteran leader gave in to his team which urged him not to accept Prof Mahao and his allies as the new NEC as per the 12 June 2019 High Court judgement which recognised their election in February. Dr Thabane’s team was made up of senior party members Moeketsi Majoro, Tlali Mohapi, Likhapha Masopha, ‘Malelaka Lehohla, Motlohi Maliehe and Nkaku Kabi.

“They were opposed to the talks because they have already promised to nominate Majoro as the deputy leader and to reinstate Ntsekele as the secretary general. So, they said the talks were not necessary because their minds were made up,” Mr Masoetsa said.

He alleged that there was a looming split within the ranks of Dr Thabane’s backers, commonly referred to as the ‘State House faction’, as some of them wanted the new NEC to be allowed to assume office.

“There are two factions in the State House where one team is rooting for us to be allowed into office. But the other team ordered Ntate Thabane to immediately call off the meeting because they had already agreed among themselves that talks were not necessary. He (Dr Thabane) just sat there and did not say anything further after he was told to call off the meeting,” added Mr Masoetsa.

After the latest collapsed talks, the ABC appears headed for a formal split as Prof Mahao is known to enjoy the backing of at least 19 legislators who have already appended their signatures to a petition calling on Dr Thabane to allow the former National University of Lesotho Vie Chancellor and the rest of the new NEC into office. The same legislators have also thrown their weight behind a no confidence motion in parliament against the Thabane administration. Given the fact that the motion enjoys widespread support with the opposition, it is highly likely that Dr Thabane will not survive a parliamentary vote against him.

At the ‘Makhoroana rally on Sunday, Mr Rapapa accused former secretary general, Samonyane Ntsekele, of offering bribes to induce some of the legislators to dump the Mahao camp and thus save Dr Thabane from a humiliating defeat in parliament.

Mr Rapapa said that Mr Ntsekele’s tactics to weaken the Mahao camp had already cost them the support of one legislator who had since defected to Dr Thabane’s team. He did not reveal the name of the legislator who had abandoned them.

He however, alleged that Mr Ntsekele had promised Ms Doti her former cabinet post as Social Development minister if she jumped ship and joined the Dr Thabane side. Ms Doti was one of the first casualties of the fallout from the elective conference when she was fired along with Dr Thabane’s son-in-law Lebohang Hlaele (former Law and Constitutional Affairs minister). Although Dr Thabane did not give reasons for sacking the duo in February, it was widely believed that they were shown the exit door for their open support for Prof Mahao.

And on Sunday, Mr Rapapa alleged that there were attempts to woo back Ms Doti into the Thabane fold by dangling the prospect of her reinstatement.

“He (Mr Ntsekele) promised one legislator that his truck would be hired for use as part of the government’s fleet. He promised another legislator that he would secure employment for 50 people in that legislator’s constituency if he agreed to leave us. He promised another legislator that he would talk to Ntate Thabane to reinstate her to her former post as the minister of social development (‘Matebatso Doti). He also promised another a ministerial post,” Mr Rapapa said.

The ABC chairperson said they had anticipated the machinations and skulduggery from their party rivals and strategised on how to effectively counter them.

“We had a meeting where we agreed that legislators in our camp had the right to take up the positions that (Mr) Ntsekele promised them but not at the expense of the truth.

“We are also giving the talks with the other side a last chance and if there is no amicable solution to our differences, we will continue our businesses from where we left off. Your patience has empowered us. We appreciate your support throughout this tormenting journey.

“There were unfounded rumours that I too was joining Ntate Thabane’s faction but I am not doing that. I am wearing my regular clothes today only because (Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo) Mahase issued an order that I should not wear the party regalia.

“The war is almost over. By the end of today’s (Sunday) meeting, we want to see the leader Thabane working with his deputy Mahao, chairperson Rapapa and his deputy (Chalane) Phori. We expect to see secretary general Lebohang Hlaele working with his deputy Kabi, spokesperson Masoetsa and his deputy ‘Matebatso Doti. We want to see all of them sitting together at one table. This shall be communicated at a press conference in Maseru tomorrow (Monday). But if things pan out differently, the fight continues,” Mr Rapapa said at the Sunday rally.

However, his hopes of a reconciliation were not to be as the talks flopped on Sunday. Even the press conference that had been planned for Monday to announce the outcome of the talks was called off, leaving Mr Masoetsa to communicate the collapse of the talks in an interview with this publication.

Mr Kabi initially promised to comment on the aborted talks yesterday. Later in the day, his mobile phone rang unanswered.

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