DIVISIONS in the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) widened this week as two warring factions held two different rallies in Berea and Mafeteng against local political parties tradition that no constituency is allowed to hold their separate rally while the leader is addressing another.
ABC leader and Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, who is widely believed to be siding with his party’s old national executive committee (NEC), addressed a rally in Mafeteng while Professor Nqosa Mahao, who won the deputy leader’s post in the party’s elective conference last month, addressed another rally in Berea on Sunday.
Prof Mahao and the new NEC’s election is however, being challenged by three ABC legislators namely Habofanoe Lehana (Khafung), Keketso Sello (Hlotse) and Mohapi Mohapinyane (Rothe).
The trio alleges that the polls were marred by gross irregularities which made it impossible to achieve a credible outcome. The court case has since caused serious internal fighting in the 12-year-old party, with Dr Thabane warning of a possible split.
Dr Thabane’s fears of an imminent split were however, rebutted by outgoing ABC chairperson Motlohi Maliehe.
Mr Maliehe, who was in August 2018 suspended from the old NEC for publicly attacking First Lady Maesaiah Thabane, acquired the least of votes in the deputy leader election won by Prof Mahao. Mr Maliehe accused Dr Maesaiah of exerting undue interference in the party and government affairs. His suspension was lifted at the last minute, allowing him to contest for last month’s elective conference. In this wide-ranging interview, the Lesotho Times Senior Reporter Pascalinah Kabi (LT) talks to the outspoken outgoing ABC chairperson, Motlohi Maliehe (MM), who accuses Prof Mahao of being the root cause of the party’s power struggle.
LT: There is a new school of thought that suggests that the ongoing power struggle in the party is superficial and that there are hidden causes of these problems. As a founding ABC member, what do you think is the root of the ABC conflicts?
MM: History tells us that all our political parties have at some point experienced internal squabbles and bickering and unfortunately, the ABC has fallen victim to this tradition. The root causes of internal squabbles in Lesotho politics is that politics are regarded as employment. Basotho have an understanding that being a member of parliament and minister is glamorous and one can amass serious wealth but this is just a misconception.
People only realise that they have wasted their time once they are in parliament, especially businessmen and women who are forced to neglect their businesses for parliamentary work. Profit margins in their respective businesses drop drastically while they are waiting for their monthly salaries. Some of them end up missing most of parliamentary sittings, only coming here once or twice in a month to make time for their businesses.
The causes of the ABC infighting or power struggle is therefore self-serving individuals who want to make a living out of politics. People want to have positions in the NEC because they know that they will make it to parliament. Even if they lost constituency elections or do not stand for elections at all, they know fully well that they will be high on the party’s proportional representation list if they are in the NEC; it is a licence to the National Assembly.
Due to this scenario, there is a dark cloud hovering around the ABC and this is despite having clear administrative rules and regulations in place. The ABC constitution clearly spells out that one can only be voted into the NEC if they had gone through all the necessary steps spelled out in the constitution. The constitution stipulates clear timeframes for one to become a member in the branch, constituency and national committees. It further states that one must conduct their affairs in a certain way for them to quality for elections into all these committees.
We now hear a professor (Mahao) who has been nominated to stand for the NEC elections by people who do not have a clear understanding of the ABC constitution. The NEC executed its mandate well, followed all the steps of ensuring that he does not contest in the elections. We all know that those issues landed in the courts and personally, I was shocked by the Court of Appeal ruling.
When we registered the ABC, with its constitution as it is on 9 October 2006, this clause was never challenged. This clause is not peculiar to the ABC. We came with it from the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) who in turn, inherited it from the Basotho Congress Party (BCP), which gave birth to all these parties. Why is this clause being declared constitutional now? In my own understanding, political parties, associations and non-governmental organisations have their own clauses to control and manage the affairs of such organisations. Members should abide by their respective organisations’ constitution. This is what has caused all of this noise in the ABC.
In their own human shortcomings, people think that following all these processes spelled out in the constitution is a waste of time and have jumped the que. The ABC was formed in 2006 and it is not our business that you did not join it at the inception or some few years later. That person must be patient enough to complete their preliminary five years before they can become NEC members as stated in the constitution.
Whoever is voted into the NEC before completing their first five years as an ABC member has violated the ABC constitution and we will have to act. The main problem is that a person (Prof Mahao) who did not quality to contest for elections has been voted into the NEC. He was dumped on us by the courts, this is the root of our problems. What surprises me even more is that the ABC leader held a rally in Mafeteng last week and according to our ABC administrative regulations, all of us are expected to support the leader’s rally yet some people (Prof Mahao camp) held their own rally on the same day in Berea. We only have clashing rallies with the leader during election period because we have one message from the party manifesto yet the so-called deputy leader, whom there are mourning about, addresses that rally. He did not go to the leader’s rally to support him and I wonder where he is going with this. Where is he taking the ABC? As an experienced politician, whose only profession is politics, I am optimistic that this will eventually come to end. The issues are being dealt with by the courts and the leader’s main message on Sunday was that we should all be patient until this case has been concluded yet still, the new NEC member whose eligibility we are questioning is addressing rallies as though he is the ABC leader.
LT: Are you saying that the court applications or ABC members are not questioning the eligibility of the entire NEC but only the election of Prof Mahao as the deputy leader?
MM: The deputy leader position is the only questionable post given that the Court of Appeal declared that a clause of our constitutional which barred him from contesting for elections, is unconstitutional. We registered that constitution with the Law Office which falls under the very same courts of law that declared the ABC clause unconstitutional.
The ruling is so funny, it makes it even funnier when people take party politics or church issues to courts. Maybe this is why this country is not progressing. We have serious problems, serious nepotism issues that apply even when it is unnecessary. I would relate more than this but I chose to end it.
LT: You were once very vocal against the very same NEC that you are now working with, alleging that it is corrupt and that is working with the First Lady to undermine party leadership structures. Why have you chosen to side with it now?
MM: I have never said the committee is corrupt. The committee can never be corrupt because there is nothing that it does which can be seen as means to engage in corruption deeds. What happened is that, I had issues with national governance issues. I complained that the government had neglected its core business of delivering services to the people. I complained about this issue not that the committee was working with the First Lady as such. Instead, I saw her meddling with administrative issues both in the party and in the government.
That was my complaint. I argued that the First Lady should busy herself with her equally important social issues. That is her responsibility, not to meddle with party or government administration. Apart from that, I am part of this committee. The courts have declared that we continue to be in office until the case has been finalised and I am part of the outgoing NEC.
We stepped on each other’s toes. We had our own misunderstanding and I publicly said they erred when they suspended me. They ended up accepting that they had violated the constitution when they suspended me without following proper procedures.
Knowing and understanding the ABC constitution fully well, I did not go to court. I exhausted all internal remedies until the matter was resolved. The professor should have followed that procedure until the matter was resolved. I followed the procedures to the latter, this is why I am working with this committee. The source of our misunderstanding was not maize or sorghum, we only fought over administrative issues. We were never enemies.
LT: There was a time you alleged that Mechachane legislator Nyapane Kaya was fired from his post as Minister of Health because of his refusal to award tenders fraudulently. It is said that the ABC electorate decided not to renew the mandate of the old NEC because it is either corrupt or works closely with corrupt people. As a vocal activist against corruption, where do you stand now?
MM: I will repeat my answer and even strengthen it. There is no way members of the ABC NEC can be corrupt. Only those who become ministers can be corrupt because that is where corruption may take place. I am not part of government now. I am here to fight that corruption.
Unlike when I was still a cabinet minister, I am now free to fight corruption by all means. I am going to fight tooth and nail for Butha-Buthe people to get services from the government. I will fight corruption because it deprives people what is rightfully theirs — services. It is not easy to fight corruption when you are a cabinet member. I am fighting against corruption better when I am outside.
LT: Are you now certain that there are no external forces that would prevent the old committee that is temporarily in office, from discharging its oversight mandate on government business?
MM: I really cannot say yes or no because I am part of it and attend its meetings which discuss issues and make decisions. You must know that it is not easy to discharge our mandate now because of the court case, we have to be very careful when exercising our rights to ensure that we do not violate court orders. However, anything that would attract external influence, I am here to fight it just as I have always done.
LT: We are reliably informed that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summoned the old NEC after Prof Mahao approached it. What was all about that meeting?
MM: Fortunately, I was part of that meeting. We were attending parliamentary portfolio committees on Thursday when the secretary general, Ntate Samonyane Ntsekele received a call from an acting oversight committee chairperson, requesting for a meeting at Avani Lesotho. Together with Ntate Ntsekele, Futho Hlooho, we went to the meeting. They informed us that professor (Mahao) came to them, carrying a very big file. In that big file, there were documents which he used to detail how the NEC elections took place and asked them to intervene.
To our surprise, this educated Mosotho man who is a professor in law, chose to approach the SADC Oversight Committee with issues that are being dealt with in the courts. SADC has not given this committee a mandate to deal with internal party politics. Its mandate is simply to assist Lesotho in her quest to find a long-lasting peace, security and political stability at national level.
They were surprised and we were equally surprised but apologised and informed them that we were surprised that he had chosen this route when the courts have ordered us to negotiate an out of court settlement. We do not know what pushed him to go that route but it is true that SADC called to inform us that the professor had reported the matter to them. I am shocked that a person of his calibre can engage in such questionable actions.
LT: Is SADC mediating between the old and the new NECs?
MM: The oversight committee was just informing us that it has been approached. They told us that the committee did not have the jurisdiction to deal with this matter because it was an internal party politics matter.
LT: As an individual member of the ABC, do you have issues with Prof Mahao?
MM: I do not have issues with him as an individual because I really do not know him. I have seen him around and we have greeted each other. However, I know him from a political background when he was a member of the Popular Front for Democracy. I do not know him as an ABC member. I know nothing about his ABC membership.
There are self-respecting civil servants who support ABC but I have never seen him attending an ABC rally in a respectful manner just like the civil servants do. Therefore, his ABC membership is questionable, I keep wondering what type of membership he has when I, as the founding member of this party, do not even know about it.
Even his own constituency is divided over his membership. Some say he only became a member in 2016 while others say he had a 2015 ABC membership card. Cards can be sold, they are all over the constituencies and some are in my constituency. There is a high likelihood of someone getting a card through fraudulent means.
LT: Had the deputy leader position been won by any other person apart from Prof Mahao, would you have accepted the results even if you had lost?
MM: I would not have a problem. Whoever won would have been accepted; I would not have a problem with that because I am a democrat. The main problem with him is that he is going to lead a party whose members do not know him. ABC is a democratic movement.
It allows everyone who qualifies to contest for elections to do so if they want to. We do not question people’s past political homes when they join this party because we want all Basotho to become ABC members but we want new members to leave behind their bad habits when joining this party.
We only want the good things, no one is perfect and even in the ABC and there are people who still complain about certain issues. However, our main problem is that people bring their bad habits in the ABC, wanting to continue to push the very same bad habits in the party. That we will not tolerate because we have our own party administration structures.
LT: You were once suspended by this NEC, Prof Mahao’s election into the NEC is being questioned. Although your issues are not really similar, you may understand his issues better because you were fighting the NEC, the very same he is now. Why are you not sympathetic with Prof Mahao?
MM: I stand for the truth and while in pursuance of that truth, I do not buy people’s faces. Whoever is wrong should be told that he is wrong and I am not ashamed to do so. With a straight face, I tell one when he is right and when he is wrong.
So, I will only sympathise with people who are on the right side of the law regardless of who they are. You should understand that it was not the first time I was suspended. I was already suspended when I left the LCD. I was suspended for speaking against evils, the same evils that I despised in the ABC and will continue to despise if they continue.
I am bold to say that I will always speak against any evil deed. Just because I was suspended does not mean I need to sympathise with him, I stand for the truth.
LT: There are allegations that you have changed the tone because you have been promised a ministerial position in exchange for supporting the cause of this old NEC?
MM: Oh God, this is baseless. Naturally or legally, no one can be promised a ministerial post. Ministerial offers are closely guarded secrets of the Prime Minister. Even when he wants to appoint you as minister, he will never tell you. Once he has decided and everything have been finalised, the Government Secretary will call you and say “the Prime Minister wants to see you”.
I have been made a minister twice and once you arrive there (State House), the Prime Minister will immediately inform you that he has appointed you as a minister. He does not tell you that I can only make you a minister if you do this and that. These are baseless speculations.
People think that way, forgetting that the Prime Minister does not give reasons for appointing or firing a minister. I have not been promised a ministerial position. I have no interest in being a minister, I have said it before that I am a Butha-Buthe legislator.
I represent my people in parliament. You are unable to deliver for your people when you are a minister because you are part of the executive. You cannot question cabinet decisions that are against your constituency. Now that I am not a minister, I am going to be a pain to these ministers so that they deliver services for my people.
LT: Is ABC likely split given that you are now holding two parallel rallies on the same day?
MM: You know, I have no fears that we will split but I am not in other people’s hearts and do not know what they are planning to do.
There might be some people speculating or planning to split but my conscience is clear, I do not think it will happen but without mincing my words, anyone who violates the ABC constitution should be disciplined at the end of day. However, there is a highly likelihood of some people jumping ship but I do not think ABC can split.
LT: But there is a possibility that some might jump ship?
MM: Actually, I must not shy away from the reality and traditional history of this country’s political landscape. Historically, parties which went through internal squabbles ended up splitting and ABC is not immune to this tradition.