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Court gives ABC factions two weeks to negotiate

Mohalenyane Phakela

ACTING Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase has given the newly elected and outgoing national executive committees (NECs) of the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) until 19 May 2019 to resolve their differences which threaten to split the party and possibly bring down the current coalition government.

Justice Mahase issued a court order after the two ABC factions consented to talks aimed at reaching an out of court settlement. Should they fail to agree, the factions will return to court for a full hearing of an application against the election of the new NEC.  A verdict will then be delivered on 29 March 2019.

The two factions have been locked in a bitter struggle which has seen the old NEC refuse to hand over power to the new NEC voted into office at the party’s elective conference early last month.

The old NEC alleges that the elections which ushered in National University of Lesotho Vice Chancellor Professor Nqosa Mahao and former Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights Minister Lebohang Hlaele as deputy leader and secretary general respectively were marred by vote rigging.

Mr Hlaele, Prof Mahao and the rest of the newly elected NEC have not been able to assume office after their election was challenged by three ABC legislators Habofanoe Lehana (Khafung), Keketso Sello (Hlotse) and Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe).

The trio allege that the polls were marred by gross irregularities which made it impossible to achieve a credible outcome. Yesterday, Justice Mahase issued an order giving the warring factions until 19 March 2019 to resolve their squabbles.

She also reviewed her earlier ruling (rule nisi) which barred the new NEC from assuming office and permitted the old NEC to continue running party affairs until the finalisation of Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane’s application for the nullification of the election of the new NEC. But the old NEC is restricted to making administrative decisions only.

“By consent of all parties, the rule nisi issued by this honourable court on 13 February 2019 is hereby reviewed and…the parties shall hold negotiations and conclude such negotiations on or before 19 March 2019 and the Assistant High Court Registrar, Realeboha Makamane, shall mediate such negotiations,” Justice Mahase ordered.

“During the settlement negotiations, the outgoing NEC shall only make bare administrative decisions on behalf of the first respondent (ABC).

“During the settlement negotiations, neither party shall address the media about the party affairs and they shall issue a joint press statement before close of business on 7 March 2019 informing the general membership of the 1strespondent (ABC) about the decision to hold settlement negotiations.”

The order also enjoins the factions to discuss and agree on the agenda of their talks “with the aid of the mediator (Mr Makamane) prior to the first mediation sitting.”

“By consent of all parties, the rule nisi is extended to 20 March 2019 at 9:30am for substitution with the final settlement terms.

“Alternatively, if the negotiations have collapsed or failed by 19 March 2019, then the matter shall be heard on 20 March 2019 at 9:30am and this honourable court shall issue and deliver its judgement on 29 March 2019 at 9:30am.”

The outgoing NEC also agreed to suspend its planned disciplinary measures against Mr Hlaele and other members of the new NEC pending the outcome of the negotiations.

Mr Hlaele was recently slapped with a letter by the old NEC requesting him to show cause why he should not be suspended from the party.  The show cause letter against Mr Hlaele stems from an accusation that he “fraudulently” authorised the appointment of K.J. Nthontho Attorneys to represent the ABC in the case in which Messrs Lehana, Sello and Mohapinyane are seeking the nullification of the results of the party’s 1 — 2 February 2019 elective conference.

Should the negotiations succeed, they will bring to an end the infighting which has threatened to split the ABC and even bring down the government. The ABC is the main partner in the governing coalition that also includes the Alliance of Democrats, the Reformed Congress of Lesotho and the Basotho National Party.

Besides the lockout of the new NEC from the party offices in Maseru and the court challenge, the acrimony between the two sides has also led to sensational claims by Mr Hlaele that some ABC officials were using the State House, the official residence of the Prime Minister in Maseru, to plot his assassination. Mr Hlaele is the son in law to the Prime Minister and ABC leader Thomas Thabane. He is married to Dr Thabane’s daughter, Advocate ‘Mabatšoeneng Hlaele, who is representing her husband’s side.

Yesterday, Advocate Hlaele addressed scores of ABC supporters who had thronged the High Court and informed them of the latest developments where the two ABC factions agreed to settle out of court.

She said the factions began negotiations “to settle out of court on Monday and we have been in talks till 11:00am today (yesterday) hence the matter did not proceed in court”.

“The court has certified the negotiations process and given them (the old and new NECs) two weeks (to reach a deal). The process will be spearheaded by the ABC leaders while we, as their lawyers, will only serve as legal consultants.

“ABC members should understand that these will be closed negotiations which will not require any bad publicity. The prevailing spirit is that of good faith. It is time to put individual feelings aside and the interests of the ABC first,” Adv Hlaele said.

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