- “it’s no secret that I don’t see eye to eye with Hlaele, Masoetsa”,
- “ABC conference will help clear the mess in the party”,
- “I will still be PM regardless of outcome of the conference.”
TWENTY months have passed since former Finance Minister, Moeketsi Majoro, succeeded his boss, Thomas Thabane, as prime minister. However, his time in charge has not been plain and smooth-sailing especially due to endemic infighting within his own All Basotho convention (ABC) party and the recent attempts by the party’s national executive committee (NEC) to oust him. Added to that, the prime minister has faced criticism from several quarters for allegedly failing to decisively deal with several challenges bedevilling the nation, including the thorny issue of police brutality and the rampant killings that have plagued the country over the past two years.
Tomorrow, the prime minister and his fellow ABC members will begin a three-day conference to, among other things, choose a new party leader to replace Mr Thabane who has led the party since its inception in 2006. Dr Majoro will fight it out with deputy secretary general Nkaku Kabi, chairperson Samuel Rapapa and former secretary general Samonyane Ntsekele. Some party members say a loss to any of his rivals, could spell doom for Dr Majoro’s chances of remaining prime minister’s until general elections due anytime from September 2022. They say a loss will most certainly end his hopes of securing a fresh mandate in the event the party wins the elections as its new leader would have to take over. But Dr Majoro is insistent he will remain prime minister regardless of the outcome of the party’s elective conference, unless he loses the confidence of MPs and they pass a no confidence vote against him. This because the election of a prime minister and election of party leaders are two different processes. Lesotho Times (LT) senior reporter ‘’Marafaele Mohloboli yesterday sat down with Dr Majoro, for his first ever detailed newspaper interview since he became PM 20 months ago, to discuss these and other pertinent issues. Below are excerpts of the interview:
LT: The ABC special conference to choose a new leader is on this weekend after you lifted the restrictions on economic and political activities imposed as part of measures to fight Covid-19. The conference had initially been banned last week by the police citing the Covid-19 restrictions. But some of your ABC colleagues have accused you of ordering the ban because you allegedly fear losing heavily to fellow contestant, Nkaku Kabi. What’s your response to these allegations?
Majoro: I am not the one who gave the directives. I don’t understand how those alleging this connect the police’s decision to my aspirations. How do they link me directly to the issue of the police permit for the conference?
It is incorrect to even say that I would reverse the decision of the police to grant a permit for the conference. What I said to my colleagues was that I, as the deputy leader of the ABC, would want us to go to the conference. Let’s not make a noise about this but give me a chance to go and find out how this issue can be approached.
But I never said I would stop the conference. I knew and believed that the conference was inevitable and it is surprising that the ABC secretary general (Lebohang Hlaele) and spokesperson (Montoeli Masoetsa) made these allegations against their party’s deputy leader and against the government.
It is not secret that I do not see eye to eye with the secretary general and the spokesperson. We are not in the same faction. I cannot recall a single day when they were on any radio station speaking in support of this government, or communicating anything in support of my position in the NEC.
Ntate Thabane has given us an opportunity to fix things by stepping down and they hope somebody who is their (Hlaele and Masoetsa’s) favourite will be elected to replace him (Thabane). If it’s not me (who is elected), then I will step aside from the ABC NEC.
The conference will clarify my situation because for the 20 months that I have been in office, the NEC has been unable to support its own government. It plots against its own government.
It’s a messy situation and I have no interest in allowing this current mess to continue and I want clarity for the sake of the ABC. Why would I want such an undesirable situation to continue by going against the conference when our leader has announced that he is stepping down?
On Monday when the conference is over, there must be a new leader from whichever faction. That new leader’s authority must not be contested because the ABC members would have spoken. Whoever wins must help us reunite as a party. I thank Ntate Thabane for the opportunity he has given us.
LT: But it has been said you and Mr Thabane lead different factions. Mr Thabane himself has alluded to that point?
Majoro: Lesotho’s media fraternity has been complicit in these false narratives that there is a Thabane faction and a Majoro faction. This has gone on unchallenged for a long time and yet it is false. There is no Thabane faction or Majoro faction.
We are actually very close. You will recall that when Ntate Thabane left the office of prime minister, he said to me, “take over; let’s unify the ABC and forge ahead”. When I was co-opted into the NEC, he spoke from the heart and told me to step in.
I worked closely with Thabane in 2015 and 2016 while he was in exile and we always sat down to discuss the future of the party. We have always been close.
There were many attempts to have me fired when I was finance minister and yet I was never fired even though he was the only man who could have done that easily. Instead, he handed over the premiership to me?
He is the only one person who has always protected me against all the ills formed against me. Ntate Thabane protected me, even when there were those who wanted me out as prime minister.
LT: It is clear that you feel strongly about your relationship with Mr Thabane over the years. But the word out there is that Mr Thabane and his wife, ‘Maesaiah, have thrown their weight behind your fellow contestant for the ABC leader’s post, Nkaku Kabi. He currently seems to enjoy more support than you among ABC members in the NEC?
Majoro: It is a lie that Ntate Thabane supports a particular candidate. He is a very seasoned politician, a founder and member of the team that put together the constitution of the ABC. He understands it, he knows his limitations as a leader, and he knows the risks of making certain decisions including supporting factions.
He knows what would destroy a party; he knows how BCP and LCD were destroyed. He knows when to speak and he knows that even if he supported a particular candidate, he can’t disclose that. He can never say it out in the open.
It is therefore a lie to say that he has given his support to any faction. He is not a fool. It is not him who is saying this. There are what we call the president’s men who are always ready to surround themselves with power by using the name of the prime minister. Ntate Thabane has been a victim of that.
It hurts when one is watching from a distance when all these things are happening. We all have a narrative that he is being used and he is being played. You would cry if you see this at play; it’s sad to watch. But despite his old age, he has played a very clever role. Despite everything, his instincts have always directed him well.
LT: Some ABC members have said that you have not enjoyed the full support of the party’s NEC since you became prime minister in May 2020. It is said that you have not particularly enjoyed the support of the secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, and spokesperson, Montoeli Masoetsa. Is this true and if, so, how does this make you feel?
Majoro: (Laughing). This is not about feelings, it’s all about work. There will be time for all that but not now, these are very insignificant issues that I will not lose any sleep over because there are more important issues regarding the responsibilities that I have to accomplish in order to ensure service delivery to the populace. We have a lot to achieve in that regard.
I just brush them (Hlaele and Masoetsa) aside. If someone hates you, that’s not a big deal. We are not in the party to make friends and love one another. We are there to seek power and maintain power for the sake of Basotho to get quality services.
People who hate each other can still work together and it is exactly what we are doing. We need to put our differences aside. I need the secretary general and the secretary general needs me too. Our hatred is nothing compared to the responsibilities we have. We work together each one wielding his own spear and it’s never about feelings.
LT: Some ABC members have said that the special conference had been called to decide your fate after you refused to step down when you were recalled by the NEC on 2 December 2021. There is a belief that if you lose the contest for the leadership post, then your fate is sealed and you will no longer be prime minister. What is your take on that?
Majoro: The first thing that has to be understood is how I became prime minister. A prime minister is a person who enjoys the support of the majority of the members of parliament regardless of which party the MPs belong to. As things stand, I’m still enjoying that support.
The process of electing a prime minister is different from elections in the political parties. So, by Monday, even if I would have lost, there will still be the requirement that whoever wants to change the prime minister would have to do so through a motion of no confidence. If it happens that I no longer enjoy the support of the majority of MPs, I will have lost. But as it is, I am still enjoying the support of more than 50 percent of the MPs.
These (electing a prime minister and electing a party leader) are two different processes. You then realise that we (some in the ABC), and the media, are pushing false narratives. So, the simple fact of the matter is that if there are those that will still want me out of the prime minister’s office, they shall have to work on the legalities of doing so by passing a vote of no confidence (against me) in parliament. That is the only way they can achieve that.
If someone else wins (as ABC leader this weekend), then it means there will be continuation of two centres of power until the elections are held. One centre of power being the party leader and the other being the prime minister.
But if I emerge the winner in this race, we’ll unify the party leader and prime minister in one person and return to normalcy as per the Westminster model.
That’s what we have always followed in Lesotho but we made history when our prime minister (Thabane) retired from his position (in May 2020) but did not simultaneously step down as party leader.
There is an encroaching narrative of how Lesotho’s government should be run. There are some who are looking to the South African system even if that country is a republic. It so happens that in our NEC, there are some who are steeped in the South African way of doing things.
With South Africa, the ANC MPs are 100 percent appointees of the party and in Lesotho an MP is an appointee of the constituency (that elected him) which comprises of members of other parties. In Lesotho, you become the people’s MP and you have a mandate to satisfy all the people (in your constituency) and not just your party members.
So, we can’t talk of deployment in our system as some people are doing because this is not South Africa where people in government are said to be deployees of the party. We can’t switch from the Westminster model to the ANC type of politics like some people are doing and want us to do.
LT: Former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili of the Democratic Congress (DC) as well as other congress parties have publicly expressed their frustrations at working with the ABC. How would you describe your working relationship with the DC as your main coalition partner thus far?
Majoro: For all I know, coalition governments can be extremely difficult arrangements. The ABC may as well say the same things about the other parties in the coalition. I can tell you that there is nothing as difficult and as taxing as working with small parties. They are so difficult to work with. They have little to lose. You can be manipulated and be held hostage by them because the responsibility of keeping the government intact lies solely with you.
Ntate Mosisili has experienced it before when the DC was in a coalition with the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (2015 to 2017). I used to feel for Ntate Mosisili because the other parties had a say in the decision-making which was way beyond what they actually brought to the table.
Getting that balance right is very important.
Having said that, my working relationship with my deputy, Ntate (Mathibeli) Mokhothu (of the DC) is great because we consult each other. But I would be lying if I said it’s a walk in the park. The DC has its own plans and policies and so do we. There are times when we clash. Being in governance is not like going for a wedding.
But I’m happy with our arrangement. We are here to work for our people and each of us has an obligation to protect their territory. As you know, there have been several attempts to dismantle this coalition. But the largest party and the second largest are not easy to break down unlike when the coalition is dependent on several small parties.
Given the chance, I would still work with the DC because there is more stability when working with a bigger party unlike working with many troublesome small ones.
LT: There is general perception that you are not responsive enough in the face of overwhelming evidence of police brutality. Is that a correct view? If not, what is the government doing to deal with police brutality? Why haven’t we seen any prosecutions of rogue police officers or even at least a reprimand of the police commissioner from you?
Majoro: That is an unfair perception. I have been clear that police brutality has no place in our government. We will protect our people against any rogue police officers and I have told the police minister (Lepota Sekola) that I want the reform of the police service. I want the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) to be transformed to deal with complaints against the police instead of being a toothless dog.
For every incident (of police brutality) that has been reported, I have demanded an explanation. I have commissioned an inquiry into the allegations of the brutalising of Advocate Napo Mafaesa and I’m still waiting for the report. I cannot tolerate police brutality.
I have made resources available to the police to ensure that they do their work in service of the nation using modern policing ways. We have strengthened our forensics laboratory and there is a fully functional DNA machine at the police’s disposal to help in the investigations of crimes.
Torture is unacceptable to my government and those who have committed any atrocities will have to account for their actions.
LT: What is the government doing to address the rampant killings which have earned Lesotho the dubious distinction of being Africa’s murder capital and sixth most homicidal nation in the world on the World Population Review murder rankings for 2021?
Majoro: The killings were particularly rampant in 2021. The month of October was murderous. We set up a policing unit to combat this. The issue is quite complex because it emanates from Famo gangs and illegal mining activities in South Africa which lead to attacks and counter attacks. These people can quarrel in South Africa and come here to settle their scores by killing more people.
We have security forces who are already working on this matter. Our intelligence service is also working together with its South African counterparts because we feel that this is a regional problem.
We have lost guns which belonged to the police and we still haven’t recovered them. On our own we can’t combat the illegal mining activities which give rise to these killings hence we need our neighbours. We have also engaged Basotho in the diaspora to help us with an analysis of these events.
We are also rolling out some crime prevention actions like community policing forums and we believe that we will eventually win.
There is also a radicalisation of Basotho by people who are busy taking advantage of our people’s vulnerability. We will be in big trouble if this goes unchecked. We need to move and move decisively. The radicalisation that’s happening in Mozambique is already happening in Lesotho as we speak. It is a regional problem calling for regional solutions. The Famo gangsterism and illegal mining are part of developing terrorism practices.
LT: There is perception that Lesotho’s economy should have flourished under your watch given your economic background. But that hasn’t been the case. Instead, things are worsening and many people are suffering. Why hasn’t your advent brought about the hoped-for economic turnaround?
Majoro: We know the solutions. When I got into office, I already knew what I had to do.
But the Covid-19 induced lockdowns have destroyed the economy. Everything has collapsed because production has been affected. South Africa and the United States are our major export destinations but orders from those countries have dropped immensely.
We are collecting far less money than we used to collect. Our SACU revenues have dropped from over M8 billion a year down to M4, 5 billion. We are even struggling to pay suppliers.
Government does not have enough resources hence the decision to lift the Covid-19 restrictions to try and revive the economy. 2021 was a brutal year and I hope 2022 will be a year of economic recovery.